It’s hard to explain to everyone in an organization – that their role includes “marketing”. And focussing on constant innovation. Hence the term “Customer Success.”
[Note: Thanks to the interest of our dear readers this post from September 18, 2018 is updated April 7, 2021. During COVID everyone was forced to become more tech friendly. We hope that this revised post will help our dear readers prepare better for a post COVID world}
The Customer Success term is particularly popular in the SaaS (Software as a Service ) industry. SaaS companies need customer renewals. To do so, SaaS companies try to align the organization including programmers, sales , finance to working towards customer success. SaaS companies also have a separate Customer Success function that faces the customer and helps in getting the most out of the SaaS product.
With Customer Success, the customer defines success and this keeps changing with time. There are three forces working here:
- Technology: Technology changes fast and if you do not keep all eyes on your customer success: You miss the boat. For example, cell phones now have excellent cameras that you can make videos with. Consequently, the digital average camera market has disappeared. Similarly with cell towers giving out good wireless signals you suddenly don’t see GPS devices being sold in US retail. Car makers are shy of selling $2000 GPS as original equipment. Customers at car showrooms actually laugh (loudly!) at suggestions of a pre-installed car GPS. Technology adoption has grown exponentially during COVID restrictions as this McKinsey article suggests.
- Customer is constantly learning: No matter what your product or service- your customer keeps learning- fast. Their knowledge and skills improve- fast with your product, their own goals and competitor offerings. Just think of a GPS user – who now relies on her/his cell phone. This customer went through a time when they probably had both devices in the car because wireless was less reliable. Now customers use direction apps like Google Maps. In automobiles, the auto parts market did not decline that much as people needed their old cars to avoid public transport. These cars needed more repairs and folks tried Do-It-Yourself (D-I-Y) as this Forbes article explains.
- Customer learning is very easy: If you have lesser calls coming to your tech-help call center folks don’t assume that your product has become easier. It’s just that your customers are finding easy answers on the web, that work! No customer wants to interact with a business in person or phone because it takes too much time. And it can be frustrating (recall the our prompts have changed press 1, press 2 routine). Besides, the call center employee is Googling the answer anyway. Instead, customers find solutions online that work. For most common and sometimes uncommon problems answers are on the first page of Google with even videos on YouTube. Learning sources includes all global solutions and competitors.
These three forces together are upending marketing. Traditional marketing assumed that the customer was passive and just waiting for the right “marketing message” that explained why she should buy our product. Instead the customer is empowered to make choices with all the information easily available.
With an empowered customer who is “showrooming” -its fatal for marketers to think that if only you got your message to your target customer- you could win. Not so. Because the customer is always learning and demanding at least what is available online. Thus working towards customer success may be the alternative to get the entire organization on the marketing page.
What is customer success? To us, customer success is about where your customer wants to go tomorrow.Your product may take the customer to where she wants to be today but the product may become irrelevant due to the rapid influence of the three forces above.
Our idea of customer success builds on the great idea of Michael Schrage Who do you want your customer to become?. Schrage suggests that Henry Ford did not just create a car but created customers who started driving. Now think of all the movies you have seen where driving was an integral part of romance, action and crime!
There was no automatic feedback loop for Henry Ford to improve the car and make it better . Ford motors had to rely on traditional market research in the early days .Like the aircraft industry the auto industry is also adopting Internet of Things (IoT) and your maintenance reminders will get smarter.
Google, on the other hand, depends on searcher feedback to make the search engine better and better. If people think that an answer is good that answer is pushed up in SEO and Google becomes better next time that query pops up.In the process, when more customers view a page or video it signals that it is answering the query the customer had typed. The customer really does not have to share a page on Facebook for the page to become better ranked. Views of a page against a search query is good enough to rank the page higher. This is the reason that we watch YouTube videos that have higher page views and traditional media talks about how many views a video or TED talk has.It ‘s hard to build a product like Google that automatically becomes better every time someone uses it. If you think about it, legendary brands like Coca Cola do not have an automatic machine based system of becoming better. However digital businesses like Amazon and Netflix rapidly use big data to improve their recommendation engines. In fact, if you see some of the Netflix shows and movies that have been produced during COVID they are all pretty decent. Even without a lot of on location film shooting. Our guess is that Netflix data gives clear guidelines to producers of what works and what does not. For eg. when many viewers stop watching a show at a particular point in the story, the data signal is clear. Avoid such a story turn in your new production.
Here is how to think about Customer Success when you want to unlock innovation in your organization:
Customer Success for Today: The idea of customer success forces the entire organization to look at whether the customer is successful today and ask ourselves what we can do to make customer success happen in our individual organizational roles. For example, if you asked Accounts Payable about their role in Marketing, you might get a confused look. However, if you asked “How could you help our customer success?” your friend in Accounts Payable would remember that they take 7-10 days for refunds and reducing that time would go towards more customer success.
Customer Success for Tomorrow: Is much harder to guess unless you are thinking in the “customers shoes”. Most search advertisers try to buy competitor brand names keywords instead of trying to understand the customer learning forces that are at work. What a competitor’s customer is searching for beyond the competitors brand name is far more insightful about where the customer wants to go. No matter what you sell, your customer is getting better in terms of knowledge and skills and naturally customer expectations are rising every day.
Asking every member of your organization (including the Janitor) the constant question What does our Customer Success Tomorrow look like? may be the key to unlocking constant innovation.