What Is Customer Success?

Dan Morris | March 29, 2019

Word "success" is spelled out

There appears to be near universal agreement that customer success is critical to a business’s bottom line. What there is less agreement about, however, is its precise meaning. Let’s take a look at a few definitions from industry leaders.

Hubspot defines customer success as an “organizational function that helps customers get maximum value out of a product or service.” ClientSuccess expands upon that definition, explaining that it’s a process of “building relationships with existing customers, understanding in depth their company and product goals, and helping the customer meet those goals through day to day contact.”

Meanwhile, renowned customer success consultant Lincoln Murphy explains customer success as “when your customers achieve their desired outcome through their interactions with your company,” where desired outcome is defined as “what the customer needs to achieve and how they need to achieve it” and interactions with your company include everything from “the earliest touch points of marketing and sales, moving through closing and onboarding, and continuing through their entire lifecycle.”

Customer Success vs. Customer Experience

Customer experience (CX) includes all of the interactions that a customer has with a company — from the earliest stages of customer discovery and continuing on through research, purchasing, and after the sale as the customer begins to actually use the product or service.

One component of the post-sales phase of CX is the customer onboarding, ongoing education and training, and relationship building that comprise customer success. In this sense, then, it’s not so much that success is different than CX, but that it is simply one part of it.

Customer Success vs. Customer Support

The other key component of post-sales CX is customer support, which Help Scout defines as “timely, empathetic help that keeps the customer’s needs at the forefront of every interaction.” Rather than focusing on helping customers to wring the maximum value from a product, support provides technical guidance and solves individual customer issues, usually following a break/fix or question/answer arc.

Support is most often reactive, with the goal of helping customers troubleshoot a specific issue or answer questions that may be impeding their use of your service or product. In contrast, success typically involves proactive outreach, with the objective of increasing upsells and cross-sells, positive word-of-mouth, and successful outcomes for customers. The ultimate strategic goal of customer success is sustainable corporate profitability and growth.

As TSIA sums it up, in comparison to support, “focusing on customer success … paints a much more complete picture and ultimately allows for a more prosperous relationship to develop between company and customer.”

What Is a Typical Customer Success Job?

The most common success job title is Customer Success Manager (CSM), although the role might also be called Customer Success Agent, Executive, or Associate. The defining feature of a CSM is bearing responsibility for the success of a portfolio of customers, from onboarding to upgrading. As ClientSuccess explains, “Each customer has different needs and uses for your product, so it’s up to the CSM to thoroughly understand each customer and to be their champion throughout their entire customer journey.”

According to the Customer Success Association, the top three requirements for support jobs are in-depth knowledge of the customer, effective knowledge of the product being sold, and extensive domain expertise. Empathy for customers and the ability to successfully juggle multiple tasks at once are also required.

Speaking of tasks, here’s a list of to-dos that a CSM might be expected to complete (courtesy of Jeremy Schifeling, founder of Break into Tech):

  • Establish success criteria with all customers, allowing for real-time monitoring of customer health
  • Build relationships with VPs of Sales at all customer firms, ensuring open lines of communication for feedback and renewals/upsells
  • Design onboarding process with the goal of ___% adoption within 30 days of a contract closing
  • Oversee development of online help materials with the goal of reducing ticket volume by ___%
  • Manage customer dashboard to quickly troubleshoot issues, with the goal of decreasing churn by ___% and increasing upsells by ___%

How Does Customer Success Fit Into the Broader Organization?

In case you somehow missed the “stat heard ‘round the world,” CX will surpass both price and product as the key brand differentiator by 2020 (that’s next year!). Within this type of competitive environment, companies must ensure that they offer customers the best possible experience and that means making sure all corporate departments that interact with customers are on the same page.

The most obvious starting point for building interdepartmental alignment is between support and success. Both of these teams sit on the front lines of customer interactions, which means they are both well positioned to gain insight into the minds of customers. But, since support and success serve different functions, the type of feedback they receive will also be different. Combining the insights gleaned by each department will exponentially increase their power, boosting benefits to both customers and the bottom line.

The insights obtained by CSMs can also prove invaluable to the marketing department as it creates campaigns to build awareness and generate leads and to the sales team as it attempts to turn those leads into paying customers. On the flip side, all of the knowledge possessed by marketers about the target market can aid CSMs in building a relationship with those very people once they convert. And the same is true for the knowledge that sales reps have about customers’ pain points and goals.

Last but not least, developing a strong connection between the success and product teams can go a long way towards optimizing CX. For CSMs to do their job, they must thoroughly understand the full potential of a product or service. Who better to teach them than the company developers, designers, and product managers who created it? And this is yet another case where the benefits flow both ways, as the success department can share key feedback from customers to help the product team continue improving the company’s product or service, including refining existing features and prioritizing new ones.

To learn more about the benefits of achieving alignment between customer success and the rest of the organization, check out this recent webinar co-hosted by Squelch CEO Jayaram Bhat and TSIA’s Distinguished VP of Service Technology Research John Ragsdale: Triple Win: How Culture Can Impact Success Teams, Customers, and the Bottom Line.

Which Industries Have Customer Success Teams?

Customer success originated within SaaS companies, “born out of the need to retain customers and help them see the full value, as well as provide opportunities for further product offering ‘upgrades’ throughout their customer cycle,” explains ClientSuccess. But over time, technology companies without a SaaS offering and even businesses that are completely outside of the tech industry have come to see the benefits of customer success and have begun implementing the practice within their organizations.

Case in point, Glassdoor provides details for CSM jobs within nearly 35 different industries. Some of these — like computer software and hardware, internet and tech, consumer electronics, and business services — are to be expected. But other industries that have CSM jobs are more surprising, such as architecture and civil engineering, education and schools, and nonprofits.

Stay Tuned

At Squelch, our goal is to be a super-helpful sidekick for customer heroes, and part of our approach is providing useful information to those in and around the CX industry. As part of our series on customer success, in the coming weeks we’ll explore how to optimize the handoff of a new customer from sales to the success team and then turn our attention to the success career path. We’ll even shine a spotlight on a few of the most influential success professionals with in-depth interviews. Please stay tuned!