I was lucky enough to attend The Customer Conference Europe 2022 in London, and after taking in what was a very full two days of information, thoughts, opinions, and interaction, I’ve untangled all that I experienced and observed to come away with five key points that really resonated:
1. Customer Success is not one-size-fits-all
I know you’re reading this, thinking, “Yea, duh,” but really, it isn’t.
Even though there are many strong underlying principles of CS that can guide us all, they cannot pick your organization out of the mud and turn it into a fairy princess. And then you might say, “Well numbers can! Numbers speak louder than words!” But how do you get the numbers in the first place? Is your data good? Is it clean? Can you even manipulate it in the ways you need? Well, that’s a whole different story.
Were you, dear CS leader, given a sack of beans and told, “Now go turn this into gold!”?
For many of my fellow attendees, this is what they were working with. Standing there with a sack of beans, hoping to get some guidance about where to even begin to make Customer Success viable in their organization. On the other end of the spectrum, there were the teams of folks from the startup or SaaS space, where CS isn’t just a buzzword and key stakeholders all know its value (sounds like a dream, doesn’t it?!).
Regardless of where on that spectrum attendees fell, we ended up with a big room full of people eagerly looking to meet other CS professionals after two years of primarily working from home, wondering “Does anybody else have this problem?”
The answer was a resounding “YES!”
But solving for those problems, especially depending on the industry, type of organization, and level of CS maturity, can look very different. Some attendees undoubtedly left the event with a brain full of great pieces of advice to take back to their teams to implement ASAP, while others may have walked away with their minds spinning with more questions than answers (we’ve all been there!). It was clear that the gap still exists between the many CS practitioners struggling to get their CS organizations up off the ground and those that were already part of a mature, robust CS practice, looking for innovative ways to continue to improve in the coming years.
2. Customer centricity needs to be a cross-departmental philosophy
Despite the many differences in circumstances of my fellow conference-goers, there is one theme that consistently rings true: focus on the customer. It seems like a simple idea to hand the customer the microphone (or just call them on the phone) and ask them what they really want. So, why is true Customer Success so difficult to achieve in practice? As Kristi Faltorusso, CCO at ClientSuccess put it, change starts with culture, and there needs to be accountability across the business with customer-focused KPIs. This isn’t just a job for CS.
There were many success stories shared throughout the two days of sessions, and in each scenario, everyone was bought in. Marketing, Product, Sales, and Customer Success, all sat at the same table with the customer experience at the forefront. If your organization, like many, isn’t designed that way, and Customer Success is a firefighting do-everything department, how do you reach across those silos and get everyone else to care enough to put the customer first?
Getting the data to prove the efficacy of true Customer Success and gain buy-in is just part of the battle, which brings me to my next key takeaway.
3. Incentivize growth
The proof is in the pudding, as they say. It is anywhere from 5 to 25 times more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to keep a current one. Customer Success grows the monetary value of your existing customer base by providing value in return to that customer base. As Irit Eizips, CCO and CEO at CSM Practice explained, change can be incentivized. Does your company want to see profitable growth? Put the customer first. Increase Net Revenue Retention (NRR) by implementing a proactive approach to Customer Success.
The probability of selling to a new prospect is 5-20%. The probability of selling to an existing customer is 60-70%. There continues to be a battle in some organizations over who should own renewals or Customer Success. The concern I’ve often heard is whether or not someone can be a trusted advisor and expected to upsell the customer at the same time. Well, a CS driven and incentivized renewal process is shown to yield better results! Creating a streamlined renewal process guided by Customer Success should be smooth sailing for a customer who knows the value of the product and trusts the advice of their CSM, an individual who has been there for them throughout their lifecycle.
Customer Success Managers (CSMs) with a compensation plan in the 16-20% variable range have an average NRR of over 100% for their book of business. Customer centricity isn’t altruism, it’s effective, and it provides your customers with a better product or service and confidence that their needs will be met. With that confidence comes expansion opportunities. A win for the customer can be a win for the CSM and a win for your organization.
4. The freedom to fail is key
I was encouraged to learn that in many thriving CS organizations, there is a culture that embraces failure as a learning opportunity. After all, aren’t mistakes the best way to learn? During the workshop focusing on a Growth Mindset for Customer Success, led an exercise around key aspects of a successful work culture: Learning, Feedback, Innovation, and Safety. I participated in the breakout group focusing on the “Safety” aspect, intrigued by what I considered to be a more ambiguous topic.
It turns out that creating an environment that rewards vulnerability from the top-down, gives employees more room to breathe without the fear of making mistakes, and helps them do their job with greater confidence. Some even celebrate failure collectively! By encouraging open communication without fear of repercussions, silos are broken down and solutions can arise from collective problem-solving. Chances are, if one employee has a question or makes a mistake, another employee could make a similar one. Operating under fear of failure keeps problems unchecked and a snowball effect can occur. The idea of the work environment being a “safe space” is not a new idea, but it is an important one. Everyone, including the customer, can benefit from a culture that chooses to experiment, acknowledge mistakes, learn, correct, and move forward. Humanity is a key aspect of Customer Success in this way.
5. CS in the non-SaaS space is growing
My last and perhaps strongest takeaway is that Customer Success is everywhere. It has blossomed and expanded to the far reaches of markets, industries, and verticals; it’s not just for startups anymore. So, what does that mean for the future of CS? As healthy, mature CS organizations look for ways to advance and improve, others have only just begun. I spoke with a variety of individuals in legacy organizations that know CS as a “thing they need to have,” but without any real insight into what it can and should look like (or how to build it). There is plenty of experience and knowledge in the community around best practices, how to get buy-in etc., but little around how to actually launch CS for a product in a tried-and-true behemoth of an industry where CS is a catch-all for the support and administrative work that Sales doesn’t prioritize.
Who are your advocates? How do you demonstrate value if you don’t have the data you need? Some attendees were searching for a diamond in the rough, that one other person who might be trying to start CS in their field, with specific problems that come from specific situations. It can be very difficult to foster change and make room for CS where it didn’t exist before, and legacy organizations are experiencing growing pains as they adapt their products and offerings to the SaaS world.
I will be interested to see the continued expansion of CS into more and more new industries and verticals, and what nuances will arise. It might be slow-moving, but it’s coming, and I look forward to the insights those members of our community will bring.
I left the event feeling validated in my opinion that Customer Success is messy. But messy doesn’t have to be a bad thing! The path ahead is not always clear, it varies dramatically from one organization to another, and trial and error is inevitable. Messy can also be exciting! It’s new, it’s different, and it inspires us to engage in creative problem solving, resulting in creative solutions. I was also reminded how important it is to celebrate wins, despite the “messiness” of it all, Customer Success is clearly working, and that’s a thing to be celebrated.
What I really valued most from this experience was meeting other CS professionals from all different industries, countries, and backgrounds; and learning that we’re all still figuring it out! By coming together, engaging in conversation, and sharing successes and failures with one another, we can take in new ideas and perspectives and Customer Success can continue to take shape as it evolves.