Customer Success – What’s in a Name? Part Four

In the fourth part of his series, Alex Monaghan looks at how and when to engage your customer success team.

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Published: October 31, 2023

Alex Monaghan

Alex Monaghan

This is the fourth in a series of five, so we’re into the home straight. Three previous customer success articles have discussed the purpose of customer success, outlined some of the things which can help you achieve it, and suggested how you might measure the success of customer success, which is not as straightforward as you might think. This fourth blog in the series looks at how and when to engage your CS team.

Engaging customer success

Engagement is complex. Everyone wants a piece of the customer – marketing, sales, product, and more – so the first question is, who owns the customer post-sale? My suggestion is that this should be customer success, but only if you are doing CS properly and only if there is openness to involve other teams when appropriate. I have two guiding principles for what is appropriate: any engagement should add value for the customer, and it should also advance the relationship in terms of value, maturity, or shared vision.

In my experience, the best way to engage with a customer is to build a broad relationship across multiple stakeholders and levels of the business.

Who should you engage? In my experience, the best way to engage with a customer is to build a broad relationship across multiple stakeholders and levels of the business. Your sales team should know the budget holders and business owners. Your engineers or service team should be familiar with the customer’s users and operations team. Your execs should at least have spoken with the executive sponsor. Legal, marketing, support and other relationships may also make sense. These are not all required in every case, but a single point of engagement is what Scots call a “shoogly peg”: sooner or later, it will lose traction, and then you’ll have no relationship left. Invite the CIO to a sporting or cultural event, offer the head of IT a ticket to an industry show, take the first-line support SME for coffee and a sandwich. Do all these things at a time and a place which is convenient to the customer – show them you are in touch with their world and in tune with their priorities.

How and when you engage is very much dependent on your processes and your customer’s processes. Here are some examples:

Sales

As a minimum, introduce the concept of customer success and a maturity model (crawl > walk > run > fly) during the sales process, introduce somebody from CS, and ask what the customer would class as success. Do not do full CS discovery at this stage unless there is a good reason: sales is about closing a deal, not about building a lifelong relationship, and the simpler the process can be, the more likely you are to win the business. If CS is a big sales advantage, a USP compared to a plug-and-play solution, for example, then call it out – but don’t engage more than necessary. Unless the customer process requires in-depth customer success engagement before the sale, it just wastes everyone’s time. CS engagement in earnest should start with onboarding.

Onboarding

Customer success should own and manage this and begin the process of customer understanding and discovery. Onboarding is probably the second most important function of customer success, and usually the most intensive. Other teams might deliver, but customer success owns the success of onboarding. For me, onboarding is not about walking in cold and telling the customer what you think they need to know; it’s about continuing the relationship built up during the sales process, restating your shared goals, handing the customer off to the CS team and other teams but also ensuring that the customer introduces customer success to all their stakeholders, and of course, agreeing on the success plan discussed in previous blogs in this series.

Training

Customer success should lead to drawing up a training plan for the customer to ensure success based on the maturity model. CS should be involved, and they should track the outcomes against the customer’s goals. While customer success need not plan or deliver the training themselves, they should present the plan to the customer and be involved at least as a liaison between the customer and any training team. Perhaps your training is custom for every engagement, but more often, a training plan will be assembled from standard components and delivery methods. In either case, it is up to customer success to explain why this plan has been chosen, how it is unique to this customer, and how it matches their needs to ensure success. Tracking delivery and progress towards measurable goals should also be the responsibility of CS, in my view, perhaps with the involvement of sales or professional services managers.

Operations

Once the customer is up and running – or at least crawling –  customer success can engage via regular reviews of customer results to demonstrate value, track progress towards customer goals, and agree on the next steps. Technical advice on any issues (proactively, if possible) and product/positioning updates can be based on these reviews. This is perhaps where CS brings the most value across a customer’s lifetime, monitoring progress toward agreed customer success targets and making sure the customer is aware of this and is taking all necessary steps. Your experience with other customers and your ability to interpret trends in this particular customer’s data should allow you to spot problems early and provide a gentle nudge to correct them. This is not as immediate or as specific as individual support tickets but provides valuable oversight and visibility for longer-term trends. The frequency of reviews is down to customer needs and preferences, as discussed in a previous blog in this series.

Support 

While CS need not be involved in raising or resolving tickets, a good customer success team will track tickets, be aware of ongoing issues, and escalate for resolution, often proactively. CS may offer assistance or workarounds outside the normal support process when appropriate. If an unresolved issue is threatening the achievement of customer goals, it is in everyone’s interest to find a solution, and CS should be leading the way on this. Just as sales staff sometimes become almost part of the customer’s team, CS managers and technical experts can act as an additional customer resource to solve problems innovatively while the normal support process works through its analysis, development, testing and release cycles. Hot fixes, temporary license upgrades, staff augmentation, and other outside-the-box suggestions should come from customer success, with a matching business case based on the customer relationship.

Marketing

We all know that marketing is an important business function, but it is also a frequent source of conflict and frustration for customers. Nowadays, even prospects do not always want to be sold to – they want to come to suppliers with their requirements ready-baked. Existing customers feel even stronger about this, so use the established customer success relationship to present and explain product updates and measure customer satisfaction. Work through CS to obtain case studies, testimonials and reference calls. Even if customer success does not own the customer officially, engaging through that CS relationship can be a very smart move for marketing.

Summary

Who owns the customer after a sale? That is a good question, and the answer depends on your commercial model. Is Sales driven to sell more to existing customers? Is support measured on the same things as customer success? This can be a discussion and maybe a case-by-case decision, but it needs to be clear to everyone, and the customer should be left in no doubt. Sales, professional services, marketing and others should feed into customer success if customer success owns the customer relationship.

Every customer success contact should add value for the customer, and the customer should understand that value.

Regardless of who officially owns the relationship, never forget why you are engaging as the customer success team. Every customer success contact should add value for the customer, and the customer should understand that value. Avoid situations where your customer asks, “Why am I doing this? Why did we have that meeting? What did we achieve in today’s session?” I’ve heard all of these more than once, often because the customer relationship was not strong enough, or there was insufficient discussion and positioning beforehand, or someone outside customer success was calling the shots. CS should always engage as though they own the customer relationship, as though the customer’s priorities are also customer success priorities.

Whoever owns the customer, and whatever other priorities customer success may have, customer success is responsible for the customer’s success – the clue is in the name.

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