Why Customer Success Is Defined By The Customer

Lots of teams talk about being “close to the customer” or “customer-obsessed” but how many actually are when it comes to making an impact on things customers (vs the business) care about?

Stuart Balcombe

January 6, 2022

3 minutes

A hill I will die on… Customer success is defined by the customer.

Customer success is NOT the number of times they logged into to your software.

Customer success is NOT the number of emails they opened from your team.

Customer success is NOT the score they gave you on the latest NPS survey.

Customer success IS hitting their end of year goal and getting their bonus.

Customer success IS reducing their time doing repetive tasks so they don’t have to work overtime.

Customer success IS empowering their teammates with new data they couldn’t access before.

Act accordingly.

This post on LinkedIn got a reaction - lots of folks I really admire offering to join me on the hill – folks like Jeremy Donaldson from Totango and Ellie Hutton from Dooly who you will hear from on the podcast.

But there’s one problem - saying it is easy, doing it in practice is much, much harder.

Lots of teams talk about being “close to the customer” or “customer-obsessed” but how many actually are when it comes to making an impact on things customers (vs the business) care about?

Back when she was at Drift, I asked VP of Product Maggie Crowley about how being intentional about building habits and systems for making customers successful helped Drift stand out and break from the crowd. Here’s what she told me:

“The problems customers have and the things they care about in their day to day, means more than anything to do with our product, roadmap, and goals.”

Simply. Company stuff comes second and is in service of customers.

Here 3 specific tactics Maggie shared for orienting around customer success as defined by the customer.

1/ Be honest about what your customers need

Ask about customers’ goals beyond your product.

You should know what they care about, what they wake up thinking about. Things like:

  • What are their OKR’s?
  • How do they get their bonus?
  • What do they need to show to get promoted?

Be explicit about documenting these goals in your customer records for everyone who interacts with them to see.

2/ Build systems to scale Early on, staying close to the customer is relatively easy. You can just talk to them but as you scale you need systems and metrics.

Reduce the barriers to increasing your exposure to customers:

  • Add them to shared Slack channels
  • Add a scheduling link to your email signature
  • Take a shift on the phones or chat support

3/ Conversations > Presentations

Talk to customers without asking them to look at a mock up or to give you feedback or having a deck. Ask them what they care about - be an anthropologist and explore their world. Some open conversation starters:

  • What is the thing you are spending most of your time on this month?
  • Who is influencing your thinking most at the moment?
  • What would a successful quarter look like for you?

Before I go I’ll leave you with this soundbite from Maggie:

if you want to be this empowered autonomous product team, you have to be accountable to making an impact

Maggie might be talking about product teams but having an impact on the customer and the outcomes they want to achieve, not just the internal measure of success that may or may not be aligned with what the customer values is a universal measure of customer success.

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