Three Trends in Customer Success & Three Expert Perspectives

There are two constants in Customer Success: meetings and email. Your day will always be full of them. There are ways to get out in front of a lot of the issues and time wasters that CS teams face but it’s not easy. Reducing the number of meetings you have and not responding to emails right away are tactical band-aids. They don’t work in the long run.

Three Trends in Customer Success
Three Trends in Customer Success

As I’m preparing for a few sessions that I’m participating in at Gainsight’s PULSE conference, I’m seeing three trends that can help those in attendance become more strategic in their roles. These ideas should help you improve the overall customer experience while making the Customer Success team more efficient and productive.

Here they are:

  1. Customer Success needs to step up and lead the charge in providing the best possible customer experience.
  2. Customer Success needs to stop being a bottleneck in the information flow between the customer and other departments in your organization and vice versa.
  3. Customer Success needs to get its technology stack in order

Stop Waiting for the Customer Experience Fairy – It doesn’t exist

Go to Google and search for “customer experience should be everyone’s job”. You’ll find hundreds of results. Those articles are all correct – people from across your organization should be involved in making an awesome customer experience. However, someone needs to lead the charge to ensure that all departments that touch the customer are working in a unified and coordinated approach.

In many organizations, there is no one is looking at the entire experience of your customers and trying to improve it. This is where Customer Success has to step up. If you don’t, you will be putting out fires and trying to “fix” low customer sat or NPS survey responses without tackling the real issues.

One example of a Customer Success leader who gets it is Howard Tarnoff. Howard is the Senior Vice President of Customer Success at Ceridian. Howard recognized that the Ceridian’s Customer Success team could impact revenue growth and increase customer retention by providing an experience for customers that was second to none. Howard and his Customer Success team created the Ceridian XOXO advocate program that efficiently and effectively give customers a voice and provides the social proof to help influence prospects and new customers. Howard didn’t wait for other departments. He charted his own path and after winning several awards including three InfluenceHR and a Best Advocate Marketing awards, he’s someone that you should be following very closely. They’ve had over 1,300 customers join the XOXO program and have an NPS of 22 (which is awesome). As my dad used to say, “’nough said”.

Bottlenecks are the Death of Companies – Get rid of Them or Die

There are many bottlenecks that a CS organization can suffer from. You may not have enough resources to onboard new customers, you may have too many manual processes to handle customer renewals. Whatever the bottlenecks are, call them out and deal with them. I’ll go into depth about one deep, dark secret in Customer Success that is probably the biggest bottleneck of them all.

There is a dark side of Customer Success that few talk about. It’s something we all know but rarely share. We have intimate knowledge of the customer and that knowledge is power. Did I say that out loud? I think I violated the Customer Success code.

This knowledge is really a blessing and a curse. It’s great when other departments come to the Customer Success team when they have questions about which customers should speak to an industry analyst or which customers would be perfect to speak at an upcoming conference. However, this becomes a painful when you have many other priorities that you need to focus on and you get these “emergency” requests from marketing and sales. You have your own fires that you’re putting out – what do you do? You need to remove the CS team as the bottleneck between the customer and the other departments in your organization. You can do this and elevate the status of Customer Success to even greater heights. Let’s look at the example of Fliptop.

Farkhanda Zhublawar is the Director of Customer Success at Fliptop and one for the most forward thinking CS people I have ever met. She is part of a fast growing start-up that has limited resources but a demanding customer base. In addition, because they are part of a new software category, the product and marketing teams are hounding her for product feedback and marketing testimonials.

To better facilitate customer to customer interactions and help the product and marketing teams, Farkhanda started the Fliptop LeadersCircle advocate program. This is a portal that allow’s Fliptop’s advocates to network with each other but also allows Fliptop’s internal teams to request information directly from their customers. This allows Fliptop to generate “testimonials while we sleep” as Farkhanda says. Via the Fliptop LeadersCircle she was able to get a five star online review without the CS team getting involved (and they were really sleeping when it came in). Find and kill the bottlenecks like Farkhanda did before they kill you.

Don’t Come to a Gun Fight With a Spreadsheet – Get Your Stack in Order

It’s no longer a “nice to have”. If you want to get out in front of the issues you’re facing and make your Customer Success team as efficient as possible, you need to have a coordinated set of technologies that help you manage and support a growing customer base. This is the foundation of the examples in the first two trends I described as well. Technology can help improve the customer experience and remove bottlenecks.

Someone who is really forward thinking on this topic is Jean-Marc Bronoel who is the VP of Customer Success at HP Software. Jean-Marc has actually coined the phrase the “Customer Oriented Digital Stack”. He preaches that you need to define the right set of tools that will benefit your Customer Success needs based on your objectives.

In his case, his division of HP has invested in Gainsight for Customer Success insight, Salesforce as the master database, Influitive to manage their advocate program, G2 Crowd and IT Central Station to help generate additional leads and to capture the voice of the customer. All of these tools centre around social media. This focus on the “Customer Oriented Digital Stack” has resulted in a 138% increase in referencable customers for this HP software division.

Most CS technology stacks will look different. What’s important is define your optimal set of tools – even if you don’t currently have the budget. Put a plan in place and make the business case. You can only survive on spreadsheets for so long. Talk to other CS people and learn about what they use to make themselves more efficient. It’s worth it.

Now what?

Here are three takeaways based on these trends:

  • Think about your customer experience today. Is someone taking charge of it or is it running on its own with an absent driver? What is one thing today that you could do to take charge of this today that would help you solve a current challenge?
  • Identify the bottlenecks today that are preventing you and your CS team from being as efficient as possible.
  • Write down the different tools you use today that are core to the CS function. Identify the technologies that are either missing or not optimally configured.

Best of luck and think about the long term goals of your team.


PS – if you are attending PULSE, I hope to see you there. My bonus tip for you is to come to PULSE with 1-2 challenges that you would like input on. Go to sessions that may help you address these but also ask people you meet how they are tackling those same challenges today. Stay focused.

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