I’ve been a student and cynic of job titles that are more marketing hype than they are relevant. For example, I’ve been very candid in my writings at DXC Technology about the need for chief digital officers in a world where everything is digital. It’s like having a chief oxygen officer in the building to ensure that employees can breathe.
Over the past 5 years I’ve observed a migration of strategies specifically related to customer success from the sales and marketing teams to a formal organization with an identified leader.
Those of us who have run customer-facing organizations have always regarded the client’s success as a given, largely as a result of their buying high quality products and services from our organizations.
Customer relationships used to be tended through direct face-to-face communications between buyer and seller. However, along with digital transformation have come new strategies for making customers happy and successful 24×7. For good or for bad, we’ve all seen how this communication is now often replicated by chatbots on web sites.
So how does having a customer success executive at the table differ from an organizationally distributed version of making clients happy the old-fashioned way?
Recent experience tells me that customer onboarding has become a more formalized stage in the post-sales process. It has always been there, but the formal “onboarding” or “kickoff” calls have become standard in starting new programs.
Going back to the relationship between customer success and digital transformation, it makes sense that clients will increasingly need to be trained on the variety of real-time services that were previously delivered via email attachments, PowerPoint decks and phone calls.
The word “escalation” is foundational in the customer success vernacular. I found it quite intimidating when I first heard it on a project I was working on — perhaps because it gave me a flashback of being sent to the assistant principal’s office. But in this context, it reinforces to the client that someone is monitoring every aspect of a project each second to determine whether more immediate action by a higher-level problem solver (i.e., escalation) is mandated.
One of the most important skills of the customer success executive is the ability to understand that the customer must be both internal and external. Internal service organizations will regard customer success as that experienced by stakeholders in the business units they serve. This can be as simple as employees successfully leveraging new technologies deployed in their workplace. The more the internal customer experiences success with technology and processes, the greater the likelihood that the client will experience the byproduct.
Think about how we all cringe when a customer service representative says, “I’m sorry, but we just installed a new order fulfillment system, and we’re still working out the bugs.” Internal customer failure begets external customer dissatisfaction.
Finally, customer success executives must be able to quantify the difference they make in the business. This can be tricky, as much of what they do is of such a qualitative nature, and there can be some ambiguity related to whether the salesperson’s skills affected upsells or whether customer happiness drove increased revenues.
Many organizations still use a seat-of-the-pants measurement approach that combines increased revenues and reduced service calls. However, an increasing number of business-to-business enterprises, much like consumer companies, are now using Net Promoter Scores to determine whether customers would recommend the product or service to their peers.
As the role matures, the tactics used by customer service executives will vary. However, the overall goal is clear: Find ways to concentrate certain aspects of the organization’s sales or service activities to better reinforce the importance of the business relationship.