What is Customer Success?

What is CS-01

It’s been a long time since I’ve written a blog, and that’s entirely because I’ve been engrossed completely in a new employment situation. About four months ago, I took a job as the Customer Success Manager at a Social media lead generation platform.

However, I’m in a bit of a unique situation.  You see, I’m the Customer Success Manager (we’re currently hiring another), and have been so for the past 4 months.  This gives me an exciting and unique perspective on how Customer Success works.  Not only do I get to see the Customer Success process from beginning to end, but I’ve also been able to build out some of our actual Customer Success processes.

One of the things that I’ve realized is that Customer Success is completely undefined.  In the world of SaaS, we’ve had to create these departments, but each company has its own unique way of doing things. I think there’s a general confusion even within CS experts as to what the department actually entails.  And there’s even more confusion with people who aren’t in Customer Success.

As a result, I’ve decided to put together a list of what I believe Customer Success is, and what it isn’t. We’ll actually start with what it isn’t:

What Customer Success Is Not

Customer Success Isn’t Customer Support

Boy do I get this one a lot.  “So you work in Customer Support?”  Mainly this is from friends and family who still think SaaS is an attitude problem, but I still hear it within the tech community occasionally. Customer Support is a reactive element of the overall customer experience.  Typically, an issue with the product occurs and they reach out to the company with their questions, which are responded to.

It’s my belief that Customer Support should be folded into the Customer Success department (I reserve my mornings for customer support, especially since we have a lot of European customers), but Customer Support is only a small piece of Customer Success.

Customer Success Isn’t Churn Management

I think I see this too much.  Every single customer success platform that I’ve done a demo of is focused solely on churn management.  “Health Scores,” “Risk Levels,” and the like riddle these very expensive software solutions.  All of this is great, and in fact we should always have Churn in our brains, but if all you’re thinking about is Churn, you will forget the main purpose of Customer Success – which is the success, and delight, of the customers.

This is a huge beef that I have with all of these platforms, and I believe is a market gap.  Someone want to fill it?

Customer Success Isn’t Sales

Alright, here’s where I start to piss people off. Yes, Customer Success is a part of the “revenue” section of the company.  Customer Success should have a direct impact on MRR. However, Customer Success should be the third piece of that revenue puzzle – Marketing > Sales > Customer Success. Each of the three have a different mindset and have a different responsibility for their piece of the funnel.

The key difference between CS and Account Management is detailed in a great post from Totango.  Getting away from “Renewal Management” is going to be huge.

What Customer Success Is

Customer Success is Consulting

Call it the “Trusted Advisor,” but ultimately what you’re doing is consulting with the customer.  You have to see your role this way in Customer Success. It’s absolutely imperative that you are not only improving the customer’s experience with your product, but is getting valuable information that helps their business.

Our product does lead generation through Twitter.  I actually care, and make sure I let customers know that I care, about all of the leads that they’re getting, not just the ones through our platform. I want to know how their business is going and want to improve conversions and sales from all angles, not just us.  I even make business model recommendations where needed.  I’m a consultant.

Customer Success is Proactive

This is the major difference between Customer Success and Support or Account management.  Customer Success is trying to identify issues and successes before the customer does.  What will produce delight with your customers is when you let them know that you fixed an issue and they didn’t even know about it.

This is the ultimate challenge to Customer Success! Each product is different, and has its own metrics for determining what issues could arise. There’s also that “X factor” in every product that is the “I don’t know why they churned, but they did.” Customer Success needs to always be figuring this out, especially since the product should be always changing.

The other piece of this is that you are proactive about Successes.  Yes, these turn into upsells, but you also need to celebrate successes with your customer. These will produce the delight that you are ultimately responsible for, and will allow for cross-promotion with your marketing team (case studies), which will ultimately help other customers be successful. This is the piece that I think is missing from all of these CS platforms.

Customer Success is Long Term Thinking

A lot of companies wait to establish a Customer Success department.  Sales is easy to quantify, and with new tools, Marketing isn’t far behind.  Of course you need product, because they actually produce the product.  But CS seems a little frivolous at the beginning.

A company that establishes a Customer Success team early on is thinking long-term. A Customer Success team should therefore think long-term. The relationship with each customer should strengthen and last for a long time. Always be thinking far, far forward, because this will delight your customers.


These are the items that I think should be in the What is/isn’t Customer Success.  What are your thoughts?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *