Do businesses understand customer success?

With many companies still grappling with what it means to be truly customer centric, others are turning it into an art

The strongest companies are those that embed customer success as a philosophy not as a function.

So says Ian Robson, who was with Salesforce during the early days of customer success. However, despite being nearly ten years down the line, and companies adopting customer success left, right and centre, he believes many still do not really understand it.

“It’s unusual now for software-as-a-service companies not to have the concept of customer success management, but what we’re seeing is a wide variety of execution models,” he says. “Some companies have simply renamed sales account managers as customer success managers, some have renamed their support team. It’s obviously not the case that renaming an existing function puts you in the customer success business.”

Customer success will only become more pervasive as it is embraced by all companies with multi-year service contracts

Maurice FitzGerald, author of four books on customer-centric strategy, says the biggest risk to implementation is a mission to sell something through your customer success function.

“In true customer success, the company’s mission is that the customers get the return on investment they expected. A lot of software companies are jumping on the bandwagon with customer success because they feel they have to, but you know they don’t really believe in it if they give those people sales quotas.”

Companies need to move fast to keep up with customer success

Exponents of true customer success include companies such as Salesforce, ZenDesk and Slack. Mr Robson, who now helps implement customer success through his consultancy Success Methods, describes this as “bringing an entire library of best practices, case studies, experience and knowledge that can be applied to every customer to help them move as quickly as possible to a point where they’re releasing significant value from their investment”.

But customer success is an area that’s moving fast and, while other companies are still struggling to catch up, progressive businesses are already evolving the concept, changing the way they measure it away from internal metrics such as customer retention and on to metrics that directly measure the success of their customers.

“While the indirect measures of customers renewing and expanding revenues are a good proxy for them being happy, it’s not as accurate as looking at the metrics that specifically describe the success of customers,” says Mr Robson.

Mr FitzGerald adds that customer success will only become more pervasive as it is embraced by all companies with multi-year service contracts. “I see it spreading across industries,” he says. “I’ve already been involved with a commercial lettings company and a couple of banks where non-renewal is an issue. The software business is just the first to deal with this problem.”