Customer success isn’t static, and nor should it be. Like the world around us, the needs of our customers are ever-changing. Keeping up can be tricky, but don’t worry because in this article I’m going to explore how customer success can evolve with the modern world.
To keep things simple, I’m going to break it down into a few key talking points:
- My customer success philosophy: what it is and what it isn’t
- How customer success is evolving in current times
- The future: customer success 3.0
But before we dig in, a little about myself.
I've been in the CS space for more years than I want to admit, but there was never a question of where I was headed. It was always going to be customer success for me!
I've been at Box for a few months now. Prior to this, I was at other companies such as WeWork and Dropbox.
Throughout my time in CS, I’ve seen it continuously evolve. I can’t wait to share my insights with you.
My customer success philosophy
"How can I help you?"
We’ve all heard that phrase. It might even be the go-to in customer service, but in reality, it’s pretty vanilla. What’s happening is you’re putting the responsibility on the customer to answer the question for you.
Instead, try coming to a customer and saying, "Here's how I'm going to help you.”
We want our CS to come in with already-baked ideas. Give your customers something to react to.
Coming to a customer with an opinion or an observation will make a far greater impression than some throw-away stock phrase. Put yourself in the customer's shoes: you’re much more likely to seek help from someone who has an opinion, a thought, or a strategy.
Come to a customer with something in hand to offer, avoid empty phrases.
How customer success has evolved with the modern world
When I oversaw the global customer success team at Stack Overflow, I was really part of the process of evolving my team to address the global issues, especially during Covid-19. One of the trends that I noticed was that customers were expecting us to look at them and their situation more intentionally and more intensely.
You need to take a good look at how your product serves customer expectations and needs.
How is it going to help your customers reach their goals? Again, come with concrete ideas and suggestions, such as, “This is how we’re going to manage your workflow and your ROI more effectively.”
Global customer success teams
With more people than ever working remotely, now is the time to become an expert in the international market. How you engage with customers in North America is obviously going to be very different from how you're working with your customers in Germany, for example.
Be aware of cultural dynamics and the processes that are in play around contracts and renewals. Be aware of the different personas that are engaged. This is going to be a huge part of whether or not you're going to get your renewal number and if you're going to grow accounts.
Believe it or not, I've seen some CS leaders approach their multi-regional practice in the same way that they handled their business in the United States.
They quickly learned that it's not effective. You have to have an understanding of what really drives business in that market, and how your product fits into what that market is asking for. Try to anticipate what they might be expecting from you.
Educate yourself on different cultures
We all have different times of year that are sacred. All cultures have this in common. Every region has some nuances from a cultural perspective, and it really helps to be aware of this. Plan for different holidays and festivals. Maybe you could even set up your own global team.
Just bear in mind that it's important to give some autonomy to the global team. Each region could develop its own voice. Variety is the spice of life, as they say. And when you're engaging with customers of different cultures, it might pay off to bring a slightly different flavor to the table.
I've even encountered Canadian accounts who, within certain cities, want you to speak French. Even if they speak English, you have to have somebody that can speak French, because that's where they're gonna feel most comfortable.
Respect customs and traditions
Imposing or infringing upon sacred times of year is no minor hiccup! In the worst-case scenario, it’s definitely going to drive business in the wrong direction.
I can share an anecdote with you. I had a CS leader who was trying to forcefully push through the vacation time in India. This was a person who was connected to the network and in the industry.
I told him he needed to back off, but he didn't. Lo and behold, he actually lost a lot of accounts. They were upset that he reached out during their downtime for a renewal.
As we've already discussed, proactivity can take you a long way, but sometimes sensitivity and empathy can take you further.
Customer success 3.0
Customer success 2.0 saw CS evolve from a cost center to a profit and growth center. So, what does customer success 3.0 look like?
I believe that for CS to evolve, we will have to make it our mission to actively inform and influence the product and the customer journey.
We will have to become aware of how the product itself is going to be improved and evolved across the customer journey. How will the customer experience be shaped based on the feedback that we're bringing in? What are the customer conversations that are happening around the product? Customer success needs to be a constant, continuous dialogue between the CS team, the customer, and the product.
For this complex interplay to take place, utilization of technology and data is really going to be key. This takes me to my final point…
AI and the customer experience
I mentioned how CS 3.0 will encompass a continuous dialogue between CS and customers. Well, AI is going to play a pivotal part in making it happen. Would you really have a CSM spend all their time fielding responses and relaying basic information back to customers?
You want your human CSMs to be freed up to dive into deeper engagement with customers. What can a CSM handle that AI can’t? Have you ever heard the phrase, “The customer is always right?”
If you want them to be successful, then no, the customer is not always right.
A CSM will need to challenge a customer when needed, which is obviously a more complex engagement, and you wouldn’t leave that to AI. AI can free up CSMs from this deeper, more complex engagement.
Let AI tell clients what they want to know, leave it to the CSM to tell them what they need to know.
Proactivity is key. Going forward, CS needs to be a continuous dialogue between the client, CSM, and product. Make sure you’re there every step of the customer journey.
In these current times, be aware of nuances in international clients. Staying educated on different cultures can only improve customer success.
AI is going to be an essential part of 3.0. But it’s a utility, it’s not a substitute for human problem-solving.