In this article, I want to get you thinking about your value as a customer success (CS) professional a little bit differently and I’ll do so by showing how the value of CS success can be found simply by looking at the tools a fighter pilot uses every day.

My name’s Mike Lee, I'm the Director of Customer Success at Spreedly, and in this article, I'll talk about the value of customer success in the COVID era.

Spreedly is a payments orchestration organization that helps fast-growing merchants and platforms get more flexibility on their digital payment strategy. Customers such as Rappi, one of the largest food delivery companies in Latin America, use us to be able to quickly expand to new markets and immediately accept payments in geographies.  

Seatgeek, another example, is an event ticketing company that uses Spreedly to increase the likelihood of online payment successes. This gives them more revenue and enhances customer experience.

My team at Spreedly is very proud of how we grow our customers, create that relationship and trust, and really enhance the experience they have.

For this article, I would like to take a moment to have you think about our value as customer success professionals a little bit differently. I like to take abstract ideas and connect them to what customer success is and what it could be - this article is no different.

What do CS and fighter pilots have in common?

When I was young, I wanted to be this guy...

tom cruise

Not Tom Cruise, the star of the movie Top Gun, but who he represents: a Navy fighter pilot. That's what I wanted to be and I still kind of want to be that. Top Gun is my absolute favorite movie, I know almost every word of it, I've seen it about 70 times now.

I actually learned all the words to That Loving Feeling simply because when I was young, I thought maybe I could use it as a pickup line as Tom Cruise did in the movie.

Being a fighter pilot didn't work out but I still dream about it sometimes. When I was young I wanted to fly an F18. This is an F18 fighter plane taking off an aircraft carrier.

customer success

If that didn't work out I wanted to be a fighter pilot flying an F14. This is what an F14 is.

customer success

A matter of life and death

All kidding aside, I want you to take a moment to imagine for a moment that your customer used your product as a matter of life and death.

  • How would you engage with them?
  • How would you provide pertinent information?
  • How would you quickly respond to urgent needs?
  • Or the quality of their success plan if that's not working out?
  • How would you guide them in a stressful situation?
  • What would the value of CS look like to them?
  • Would you be able to put yourself in their shoes?

Admittedly, chances are, the use of your product is not life and death. But the feeling you got thinking about how a pilot relies on her product as a matter of life and death is a level of empathy and understanding you need in every single interaction you have with your customer.

  • How does my product make life better for my customer?
  • And if it isn't providing that value, how can I help?

That's a question we should all ask every time we engage. It may not be a matter of life and death, but your customers use your products to grow their businesses, hire employees, make life better for their teams and their customer.

In essence, it could be life and death, or maybe success and failure.

The value of CS can be found

What if I told you the value of CS can be found simply looking at the tools that a fighter pilot uses every day? Would you be interested to know more? I hope so.

the value of customer success

About me

A little bit about myself - this is my family here on the right-hand side.

customer success

I'm a husband of 15 years, a father of three, the two small ones are twins. I'm an aviation enthusiast, obviously, I wanted to be in the Navy. I have 24 years in the IT industry from development to systems engineering and now in customer success.

I have a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from Alabama A&M University, an MBA from UMass and now I'm a doctoral student at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte.

My focus is the moderating effects of customer success on perceived and actual value in SaaS tools.

I'm the Vice-Chairman of the Durham public schools Board of Education, it keeps me busy. Also, I have a dream to fly faster than the speed of sound. Obviously, I wanted to be a fighter pilot. If anyone reading has any connections that can make that happen, I would absolutely entertain anything you may have - reach out to me on LinkedIn, I would love to chat.

Back to the fighter pilots

Here we have two fighter pilots in their cockpits in flight.

customer success

The one on the left is an F15. The one on the right is the F22. Obviously, any aircraft has a lot of controls, tools, products that the pilots use every day. But in this article, I want to focus on these two little screens, called heads-up displays.

customer success

Heads-up display

A heads-up display is a little piece of glass that sits in front of a pilot that provides information. The pilot can see about their environment, their aircraft, their targets, so they don’t have to look down and take their eye off of the target, the goal.

Let me show you what this looks like in real life.

The value of CS can be defined here

The value of customer success can be defined by where this little circle is:

customer success

This is a circle, not a zero. It's a representation. What does that mean?

customer success

What you're looking at here is what is in a heads-up display for a fighter pilot. There's a lot of information on here and pilots are successful only if they can consume a lot of information and make decisions on it.

Let me get you acclimated here, what we're looking at because it's very important to what this article is about.


This pilot is turning to the left, you can see the horizon is facing down, going from left to right going down. That means the airplane is turning to the left, you can see it by the horizon here in the middle, the line that's going across.


This is the altitude, so the pilot is flying almost at 20,000 feet - 19,910.

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Flying at 431 knots.

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Speed of sound

This is the speed of sound, the representation of how fast you're going relative to the speed of sound.

speed of sound

They're almost going Mach one, which is 1x the speed of sound, but at just under it.


This big circle in the middle is the target circle, that's where you want to target.

speed of sound

In terms of your customers, think of this target as where they're headed to get their goal, their strategic priorities, their promotions, whatever you want to think about it as.

The Piper

Our little friend here is called the Piper. Technically, it's called the Predicted Impact Point. Some people call it a pip, many people call it a Piper.

predicted impact point

The Piper, just a little small circle, is one of the most important pieces of software on the tool.

The Piper has a very special purpose, it's constantly calculating information based on how the aircraft is moving, and how the targets are moving. The purpose of the Piper is to tell the pilot where the aircraft has to be pointed in order for his ammunition to hit the target. Meaning you have to aim where your target is going to be in order to hit the target when it gets there.

There's a lot of information that goes into this calculation; the speed of the target, the speed of the aircraft, how fast both the aircraft and the target are turning, wind speeds, all of those sorts of things.

In fact, this is the only item at the pilot’s disposal that continuously changes based on information from the pilot and the target. From the customer and their desired outcomes.

The Piper in action

Let me show you what this looks like.


What you see here on the left-hand side is the heads-up display of an F16. F16 is moving towards this target in which they're flying at the same speed and there's no need for the Piper here because they're already on track to hit that. If the pilot were to fire right now, it would hit the target straight ahead.

However, if this target were to turn quickly and do some sort of evasive maneuver, what would happen is our Piper will show up and say, "Okay, Miss pilot, you need to point your ammunition at this spot, because this is the direction the target is moving. You need to fire there so that you hit the target in which you're going towards".

predicted impact point

That's the purpose of the Piper. Extremely important-  life and death. How does this equate to customer success?

Who is your customer?

Let's take a step back. Who is your customer? How do you define your customer? What is the customer to you?

  • Some may say it's a paying company, a company who pays us for our service.
  • Someone who buys our product.
  • How about a potential person or a potential company? That could be a customer.
  • It could be defined as ACV-based.
  • Someone who's in need.
  • Anyone who engages in the interest of value.
  • Someone who buys our technology.

These are all absolutely correct answers but from the customer success perspective, I think we have another set of customers. Maybe we don't look at them as customers, but I'm here to propose that we do.

customer success

External and internal customers

We have another set of customers, and those would be internal. The internal organization in which we represent. Customer success does not mean external customers only.

Customer success is the conduit

You won't find this in any book or any certification but I believe customer success is the conduit in which value is realized between our customers, both internal and external.

internal customers

Both of our customers, internal and external, consume advice, guidance, and other information related to each other, to better their processes, goals, and outcomes.

Who is the only group in the company that has inside knowledge and relationships with both customers? We do. And it's even more important to solidify those relationships we have with both customers internal and external in times like this where economic challenges and COVID-19 have changed lives and businesses for so many.

What I'm saying here is, we're the conduit, we're right here in the middle and we service two sets of customers. Both sets of customers rely on the same information about each other to be successful.


Our external customers rely on the information we have about our product, the capabilities, the features, the functionalities.


Our internal customers rely on information about how external customers are using the product, what they think about the product, how challenging it is, those sorts of things to better their product.

Let me give you an example.

  • Product - Who do product come to, to understand how our customers use the tool? Yes, they may go directly to customers periodically but they need to understand the challenges and the goals customers have with our products. That's a great place to be for us.
  • External customers - Obviously, we are the trusted advisors, we are the people who are telling them where they need to be and how they need to use the tools to be successful. That's our job.

CS is the guide

customer success

Let's not forget about what the Piper represents, that special tool that advises the pilot on where her product needs to be including her speed, direction, and angle in order to hit the targets. In times of stress and challenging situations, CS is the guide that our customers need.

customer success

We're their trusted instrument in their heads-up display. We help them use our software and aim at their targets, goals, and outcomes and we guide them to aim to be successful. The leading indicators we look for in our metrics, sentiments, and engagements, is the same principle as the Piper.

We do the same for our internal teams. We guide the product showing them how targets are moving, how pilots, our users, are using the product, what direction they're going, what goals they want to achieve, what their targets including how and when they move are so our companies can adjust our roadmaps, plans, and products based on where our customers are going.

customer success

And as the challenges change, so does our position. Both customers are of equal importance and it's time we start guiding them as such.

We know our customers and are able to guide them through their goals and challenges. When we're able to do that we create unbreakable loyalty. But that loyalty goes both ways, the same loyalty you build with your customers can be built with your company, the company can start to see your CS group as trusted advisors.

How to show your value as the Piper

So, as you go back to your jobs, I want you to think about a couple of things here you can do to show your value as the Piper.


1. Know the industry changes due to COVID-19

First thing, know the industry changes - what industry are your customers in? At Spreedly we have customers in a wide range of industries, but my customer success managers work to understand what's going on in those industries so we can guide based on our product, we have to do that.

2. How have their strategic goals changed?

This is an opportunity in every engagement you have to look at how your goals have changed over the last year, things have changed in a way no one could predict. It changed for every single company.

Some companies took hits, and they're having challenges. Some companies got better, they did well. Like at Spreedly, we had companies like delivery companies who did well because everybody's ordering food for delivery. But some companies like hospitality, they went down, they have challenges.

3. Enter each interaction with an abundance of empathy

Let's look at that in every single interaction, an abundance of empathy. Understand that something has changed with every single company, understand the change, understand where their target has moved.


1. True voice of customer in every interaction

Internally, create a true voice of customer in every decision, no matter how small. Many companies already have this, but be the seat at the table at the board meetings, at the executive leadership meetings, the design meetings, the billing change meetings, you have to be there to be the voice of the customer in order to guide your company to where it needs to be to help the customer.

2. People over processes

Take a moment to review your processes. Does this process help me guide our customers proactively in the direction they need to be to hit their targets? Every time.

3. Review your journey and experience maps

Sometimes, journeys and experience maps have to change in times of COVID-19 or global pandemics, or huge economic changes. Sometimes your journey has to change. You can't fit every customer into a journey when things have changed so rapidly for them.

customer success

Remember, you are the Piper, you lead the customer to where they need to be to get to where they want to go.

Customer success is uniquely positioned to be the trusted adviser to both the customer and the company on the path to reach the target especially in trying times such as a global pandemic.

customer success

Thank you.