Advice to a young CSM

I have been in the field of customer focus for over 30 years and working for over 40!  From time-to-time I am asked what have I learned and what advice would I give to someone early in their career as a CSM.  Here’s a few things (in no particular order) that have aided me through my time in customer facing roles.

Customer success is great schooling

A CSM (as I understand the role) is a business coach, a relationship builder and a sales person.  Focus on what the customer is trying to achieve and how you can help them.  Learn about the link between what your product does and the operational and financial performance of your customer’s business.  This is great prep for running a team, where you have to blend relationship, motivation and business performance skills.

Customers aren’t always right but they are always the customer

If you are a good CSM you know your product and the domain it serves better than most customers.  Be confident in your advice and firm in what you expect of you customers.  Your job is to help them get results and that sometimes needs you to take charge.  Brush up on your assertiveness and remember, always be polite.

If the CEO doesn’t get it, find a new CEO

I have preached this to anyone who will listen for over 20 years.  A former CEO I worked for, Sir George Cox, then at Unisys, said “You are either customer focused from top to bottom or you’re not customer focused at all.”  George practised what he preached.  Too many CEOs say the right thing but then fail to back that up with what they do.  Don’t waste your time if the boss doesn’t get it.  Go and find a CEO that backs up fine words about customer focus with actions and investment.  You will achieve more and your working life will be far more enjoyable.

“It’s your attitude, not your aptitude that determines your altitude.”

Borrowed from Scot Andrew Carnegie (of Carnegie Hall, NY fame) these words reinforce the importance of behaviours in shaping your future.  You need to demonstrate perseverance, humility, a willingness to learn and be open to change.  A good boss can develop the skills and knowledge you need to be great but only you can shape the raw material.

Be eternally curious – never stop learning

Curiosity is the seed of learning and one thing I can say after 40 years in work is that next year, something will be different and next decade, things will be very different!  I always wanted to learn new things; I still do.  Why do we do it that way?  How do others do it?  What are the things on the horizon that might make a difference?  How does this fit into the bigger picture?  Don’t limit your learning to narrow fields.  Most significant breakthroughs and ideas have been sparked from completely unrelated fields.  One topic must be on your list: how and why people think and behave the way they do.

Never be stinting with kind words when they are deserved

A pat on the back is only a few vertebrae removed from a kick in the pants but miles ahead in results.”  Recognition need not involve cash, fancy dinners or trips away, although they may have a role to play.  I learned this from Alun Jones, former CEO of TNT Express Parcels in the UK who would send hand-written notes to employees when he heard of good deeds done.  I borrowed his idea and in one company, I had printed (at my own expense) some post cards with appropriate pictures on one side.  The other was blank save for a small message “Customer Success: Powered by Superstars.”  I would hand write thanks and congratulations to staff for their efforts and achievements.  I bet some of these cards are still on recipients’ desks.

Do your job well.  Give it all you have got or get out

Sports people say ‘never leave anything on the field of play’.  What they mean is don’t have regrets afterwards that you could have given more.  This ties back to the importance of attitudes.  Mistakes are expected, just make sure you learn from them, but not giving it your best is not on.  You are letting down your customers, your team mates and your employer but most of all you are letting yourself down.  If you stop enjoying what you are doing; get out and find something else.

Stick to your values and never jeopardise your reputation

I have learned that the most important asset I have is my reputation.  I shape that, no one else and it has an enormous impact, perhaps not immediately but eventually.  I have a clear set of values that I will not compromise.  People have asked me to do or say things that are not true or not are the wrong thing to do.  The easiest and sometimes the most profitable thing to do would have been to accede.  I didn’t.  You might lose a little in the short term but compromising your values will cost you much more in the longer term.  Your actions will follow you forever.  That doesn’t mean that I have been whiter than whiter but I would like to think my failings in this regard have been far fewer than the times when I have done the right thing.

Set your life goals and go after them aggressively

I am not going to give you a method for goal setting; there is a whole industry dedicated to that. Suffice to say you need goals and must implement the actions to achieve them.  Think of a hierarchy of goals; start with a ten-year, top-level goal and break that down into supporting, shorter term goals.  Don’t think about your top level goal in financial terms but what you want of life. Money is a means to an end. Don’t give up on your fundamental goal but recognise that you might have to change tack from time-to-time to achieve them.

Think before a big decision but don’t put it off

I have made a few big decisions in my time.  Moving my young family overseas for work, leaving full time employment to set up my own consultancy; starting a SaaS business.  There were always reasons not to do these things.  The act of making the decision brings a freedom; your focus shifts to how to make your decision work for you, whatever it may be.  Yes, think carefully through the pros and cons but the worst thing to do is to miss the opportunity by not taking the decision.  Remember, the grass is often greener on the other side, provided you give it care and attention.

I could go on but I think these are the key things.  I might write another piece about all the mistakes I have made but I am not sure there’s enough time!

Customer Success 2.0: The Charter

NOTE: Updated Feb 2018

In thinking about what was wrong with customer success, I started with a simple premise: software should be easy to use and deliver the outcomes customers buy it for ‘out of the box’, without other interventions.  When I started talking about this, some said it was idealistic and it was not possible.  Everyone has customer support and increasingly, customer success teams: it’s accepted wisdom; best practice.

I don’t agree.  I certainly don’t claim that product based customer success is easy but without lofty ambition, we all too often inflict bad software and unmet objectives on buyers the world over.  As George Bernard Shaw once said “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”  I’ll stick to being unreasonable.

I sketched out the broad brush of CS2.0 in the following statements:

  • Product is the primary vehicle for delivering customer success.  The need for a large CS team could indicate significant product shortfalls.
  • Product-led customer success guides and supports the customer in making the organisational changes they need (process and people) to best exploit your product.
  • Product/market fit is achieved when you have successful customers, not just buyers
  • A single view of the customer is a must have.
  • The CS metrics that really matters track the number, scale and speed of customers achieving their goals.
  • CS is built around a view of ideal customers common across the company.
  • Customer success is a quota carrying, revenue generating contributor to growth.

Not part of the core charter but in my list, I noted “If the CEO doesn’t get customer success; the customer won’t!”   I also added “It doesn’t matter what you call it; what matters is what you do.”

The seven elements of the charter will guide my blogging activity.

Do you think others should be added?  I tried to keep it to its essence but readily admit, I might have missed something critical.

Buying success from day one: The role of Ideal Customer Profiles

It is widely accepted that customer success starts with product and sales.  I have covered product here and now I want to talk about the importance of Ideal Customer Profiles (ICP) to customer success.

A personal prejudice: I dislike personas as beloved of many marketers.  Too many examples I have seen describe Tony or Antoinette, a 35 year old marketing manager with a degree in business studies who is striving to improve campaign performance  etcetera etcetera .…  Weasel words that do little to help me find, win and retain a customer, even in a consumer business.  I want hard facts and data on which I can build content and campaigns across the customer lifecycle.

Before I get into the detail of an ICP, let me share an example showing why they are so important to customer success.  I worked with one company that believed any B2B company was good business.  Sales went after everything that moved.  As a result, the company had very high first year churn, a significant percentage of which was down to customers that would never achieve success.  Not only were they not satisfied, many were downright angry and told everyone they could find about it.  Instead of CSMs delivering value, they were dealing with customers that wanted out of a 12 month contract that would never deliver for them  Contrast that with the view of Greg Goldfarb, MD of SaaS VC Summit Partners.  He says companies should …”not accept a booking until customer has met CS rep / accepted CS plan and vice versa.”  If CS is an integral part of the sales process, there is no way of winning a customer cannot that served.  Marketing, Sales and Customer Success all share the view of what makes an ideal customer.

For me, an Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) has the following elements:

  • Target markets: High level view of the types of companies we want to do business with.  In addition to basic stuff like industries, size and location, think about factors like life-stage, business model, culture.  Be creative!
  • Target roles: A detailed view of the specific people we want to sell to and serve.  I am talking job titles, challenges/issues, where they look for help and guidance, what groups they follow, what events they attend.  Build this picture for each of the buying roles: Decision Maker, Influencer and Users.
  • Engagement scoring: If you have done the work on target market and roles, this part comes easily.  Again by role, list out the factors that will make them more and less engaged with your company.  List these for the target market, role and the situation the individuals are in.  Remember, the customer’s context is the thing that drives engagement most.  Engagement factors include how they respond to the next element of an ICP, your content.
  • Content map and sales tools: Content is king in today’s world but context is queen!  Content is only good if it is delivered to the right people at the right time.  Your content map should address each of the target roles across the customer lifecycle: from initial interest through the buying and customer journeys.  I separate out sales tools as things that are used by your sales, account management and customer success teams to differentiate from things that can be shared with customers.
  • Success plan: What steps will be needed to make the customer successful.  This is not a detailed adoption plan but an overview of the post sale activities.  This is a combination of discovery and expectation stetting.

You can get my ICP workbook here.

You will have noticed that I said buyer journey.  Another of my pet hates are one-sided sales processes.  Most that I have seen describe what the company does with little regard for the customer – the prospect.  I just think this is bad salesmanship.  How can you sell successfully without understanding the issues, challenges and processes the buyers (an increasing number or people are involved in B2B purchases) have to go through?

Developing this style of ICP must be done with participation from Marketing, Sales and Customer Success as it will applied across all disciplines.  Ideally, the debate is founded on data about:

  • the lifetime customer value of different customer groups
  • cost to acquire and serve different customer groups
  • the addressable market size of different customer groups
  • speed of progress in the pipeline: you win good deals quickly and loose bad ones slowly

ICPs are not about reducing the available market but targeting those customers that the product and company are best suited serve.  Nor is this about favouring CS over sales.  The decision about ICPs is a strategic choice about how to maximise the growth of the company.

PS Watch out for my blog on using Engagement Scoring in churn calculations.

Product first; team second – if at all: Building products for customer success

Product is one of the biggest gaps between theory and practice when it comes to customer success.  The problem in most companies is that customer success is added as a function or team to help the customer achieve success with the product.  Just think about what that really says.  We have built this product to help you achieve something but we need a team to help you achieve something.

In fact, in many companies it is worse than that.  They need two teams to help you.  Customer Support is often the first team to be established, responsible for helping customers use the product.  That is often followed with a separate Customer Success team who add value by ensuring the customer achieves their desired outcome.  You are effectively telling customers you have built a product that can’t be used and won’t achieve the results they have bought it for without help.  Sounds strange when you put it like that doesn’t it but I bet that is what you have in your company.

I believe the starting point should be success built into the product and it starts at the outset of the business with product/market fit.  The initial product concept should be clear about customers’ desired outcomes and how the product will deliver it.  This might include:

  • Discovery process to identify the desired outcome (use case) and key data about the customer and their process.
  • Setting an achievable goal.
  • Automatic configuration of the product to achieve the goal.
  • Automated walk through of how the product is used to achieve the customer’s goal.
  • Reporting on goal achievement and how best to use the product to achieve it.
  • Data mining and machine learning to identify and prompt practices that underpin goal achievement.

Some say that this approach is overly ambitious and I am not saying it easy.  I also say fortune favours the brave and suggest the world is full of examples of people doing things that others said can’t be done.  Some of the most commonly used applications are built with a deep understanding of the customer and what they are trying to achieve.  Ever tried to contact a customer success team at Amazon, Facebook or Twitter?  Resources to help the customer do exist, it’s just that the overwhelming emphasis is on heading off the need for a success team by focusing on product first. [I will return to the true purpose of a customer success team in a future blog.]   What most companies suffer from is a legacy mindset that says customer success equals a team.

There are significant advantages to productising customer success:

  • It forces the product team to have an in-depth understanding of the customer and their goals.  This can only mean a better product.
  • It is infinitely more scaleable and therefore, in the longer term, more profitable.
  • It plays to the increasing demand for self-service.  People want things to work for them, not to have to have constant calls or emails to achieve what they purchased.

This has significant implications for how the product is defined, how the roadmap is controlled and how resources are allocated.  It also suggests that a head of customer success should have a strong product orientation as well as being hugely committed to understanding and delivering real customer success.

In a future blog, I will share a checklist for building a success based product.

What are your thoughts?  Would love to hear from you.

Onboarding: The Key to Retention for SaaS Companies | Strikedeck | Transforming Customer Success

Source: Onboarding: The Key to Retention for SaaS Companies | Strikedeck | Transforming Customer Success

Why it is vital to make the right first impression and how do you do it?  This article explores the what, why and how of on-boarding for SaaS companies.

Are customer journey maps the wrong path to success?

 

direction-1033278_1280

From the provocative title you might think I do not believe in customer focus.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  I am always looking for ways to help me and my clients improve their financial performance by focusing better on their chosen customers.  As a technique for improving customer focus, journey mapping has become a must do and there are many benefits, including:

  • Drives outside-in thinking
  • Communicate customer expectations to people across the company
  • Provide a focus for process improvement
  • Generate ideas for product innovation and user interface
  • Prioritise continuous improvement
  • Structure voice of the customer and experience measurements
  • Identify opportunities for collaboration with complementary providers

There are however failings in the way many implement customer journey mapping.  I have seen process flowcharts dressed up as customer journey maps, built without any meaningful input from customers.  Rather than see customer journey maps as a tool for continuous use, they are a one-off exercise.  Maps are built, changes made and then the resulting processes locked in as the one way.

The most significant failing however is that maps fail to represent the iterative, non-linear nature true customer behaviours.  Customers and their behaviours are often highly complex, irrational and non-deterministic.  There are almost as many decision points and options as there are customer. The response of many companies to this complexity is to overly simplify in order to make the mapping exercise achievable in a reasonable timeframe.  This often means missing nuances that make the customer experience contextually rich.  Many maps are also rigid and lead companies to customer interactions that fail to respond adequately to differences in customer needs and behaviours.

We must recognise also that developments in technology provide opportunities to significantly improve the quality of customer experiences.  Big data and real-time execution systems enable the delivery of contextually rich, highly personalised experiences.  Mass customisation of experiences may not be simple but is now achievable for those with the will.

So if  journeys are not the best answer, then what?

I believe the answer lies in ‘next best actions (NBA)’: a determination of the next step by an analysis of multiple, current customer datum points, including previous activity. Sophisticated machine learning that identifies paths that have been successful with like customers is used to improve decisions about the next best action.

Next Best Action.002

This approach is more sophisticated and contextually richer than defined customer journeys: it recognises that there are many paths to the customer’s end goal. It is dynamic not pre-determined, responding to changes in customer behaviour.

Implementing next best action will be challenging.  It requires a comprehensive, single view of the customer to provide the contextually rich basis for decisions.  Without this only crudely differentiated journeys are possible.  Increasingly, such systems will need to support real-time decisions to respond to customer activity: delays open up opportunities for customers to look elsewhere.

Customer journeys will continue to be used and have value in moving the focus on customers forward.  I do however believe they are only an interim step.Whilst in its infancy, next best actions shows great promise as a tool for helping customers take the next step in their relationship.  The technologies exist and the techniques are being used.  Challenges however are real.  Companies with legacy technology will struggle but not as much as those with legacy mindsets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Graphic source: Pixabay.

Changing culture for customer focus

Building customer focus is a challenge because it touches almost, if not all, the company.  TheCustomer.Co has developed the Customer Fit Model to help companies understand their strengths and weaknesses and plan for improving customer focus around four capabilities.  This first of four blogs looks at the most challenging aspect of building a customer focused company – creating and sustaining a customer centric culture.

Culture is the game because of its pervasive nature.  It shapes how people behave at work; their freedom and willingness to do the right thing and the metrics and processes the company implements.  Culture is not something separate from the rest of the company. Rather it is an emergent property: the outcome of the many components that shape it.  It is this circular nature that makes culture change difficult.  The things that need to change are the very things that are shaping the company.  It is akin to  changing the wings on a plane whilst flying it!

There are three levers that anyone committed to change must work on.

Values  These fundamental beliefs guide people’s actions and decisions and, used properly, are immensely powerful in shaping the company’s culture.

Effective values  shape what and how things are done.  In mature values based companies, they are pervasive; evident in the company’s processes, recruitment, development and reward and, most importantly, it’s decisions. Experienced staff members implicitly reference values – testing decisions to ensure they conform with the company’s values and spreading stories that reinforce them.

Making values implicit does not happen by chance – it takes sustained effort.  Think of when you were learning to drive.  In the early days, everything was spelled out by your instructor, who would intervene to avoid serious errors but would let you make some mistakes.  You stuck to the rules rigidly.  You practiced extensively until what initially required explicit thought and intense concentration became second nature.  As an experienced driver much of what you do is autonomic.

Embedding values needs an equivalent process.  It requires an instructor experienced in change who holds the values dear and can coach by balancing empowerment with intervention.   It requires processes to be made explicit and repeated until they become second nature – I still remember “mirror, signal and manoeuvre”, the process my instructor drilled into me for all driving events.  It requires repetition and reinforcement; the two fundamental processes of learning.  And most importantly, it requires visible and sustained leadership that is coherent with values.

Leadership  Companies are reflections of their leaders and the focus is not on what they say but, more significantly, on what they do.  As Henry David Thoreau said “I cannot hear your words for the actions that thunder above your head.”  Employees are skilled at reading leadership actions and comparing them with words.  The gap between the two is proportionate to the level of trust employees have in their leaders and inversely proportional to the challenge of achieving meaningful change.  Put simply, if the key leaders of a company do not believe in the power of customer focus, change is unlikely to happen.  It is why TheCustomer.Co does not take on customers unless that commitment to change is real.

This does not mean that leaders should have blind faith; the business case for customer focus needs to be made.  It does however mean that when the case is made (as it invariably can be) the appropriate actions must follow.  Those actions must be visible in the expectations leaders set of others but also in what they personally do.  This personal leadership must also be sustained: building customer focus is not a quick fix.  Leadership of customer focus is not a diet; it is more akin to changing to a healthy living lifestyle.  It is never a one and done thing.

The real challenge of developing customer focused leaders is that the very people that need to change are masters of the change process.  Some recognise the need and take on the personal challenge. Some do not see the need to change personally and continue to lead their companies to the same goals. Others fall foul to the other interpretation of ‘change management’ and are changed.

Those that do take on the personal challenge deserve our respect and support.  A good coach, positive case studies and good coaching are invaluable.

People  The success of any organisation depends on it people.  Even in a digital world, people are often a customer’s primary point of contact, particularly when things go wrong.  People design and enact the processes and systems that deliver the experience.  People do it all.  Customer focus needs people with the appropriate skills and, equally important the right attitudes.

That is why customer experience winners place so much importance on strengthening the ties between the company and their employees.   Research in the US retail sector shows a positive correlation between the two.

CE-EE Link

Other companies like the UK’s Nationwide Building Society have company specific figures supporting the link.  A Harvard Business Review paper suggests those that place importance on employee engagement also believe in the power of customer focus.  Digging deeper, the research examined the specific drivers of employee engagement.

Employee Engagement

`What is striking is how important it is that employees understand and can relate their work to the bigger picture.  This is not a new concept, although practice remains weak.  The most powerful example I have seen was when visiting a manufacturing plant in Japan back in 1989.  Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Sagamihara used a simple chart to engage shop floor workers in the company’s strategy.  Every team decided for itself how it was going to impact the company’s chosen success factors to achieve the benchmarks stated thus meeting the company’s mission.  Everyone not only knew how they fitted into the big picture; they had a say in how it was achieved.  Google seeks to achieve the same with its Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) – an approach I have used previously.  Unfortunately. most senior managers believe that a strategy presentation is sufficient: it isn’t.

People processes such as these are key to the organisational learning that embeds values and purpose essential to engagement.  Other key processes are:

  • Recruitment that tests for cultural fit as well as skills and experience
  • Development that coaches values and customer focus
  • Performance management that includes customer experience
  • Promotion that references the customer

I chose to address culture as the first of my papers describing the Customer Fit Model because of its importance.  If you doubt this, consider the views of two leaders of major companies, both known for their tough-minded approach to business.  After turning around the fortunes of IBM, Lou Gerstner said “I came to see in my time at IBM that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game – it is the game.”  Jack Welch who led GE through a period of significant growth said “Culture drives great results.”  And if you think this does not apply to the new successes consider Zappos – the online retailer led by Tony Hseih: “Businesses often forget about culture and ultimately they suffer for it because you can’t deliver good service from unhappy employees.”    Finally, Netflix co-founder and CEO Reid Hoffman said “We believe that when the right talent meets the right opportunity in a company with the right philosophy, amazing transformation can happen.”

Don’t wait – address your culture today!