“Have those reports on my desk by five!”…Not something we hear much anymore in the world of ever-advancing technology and automated process.
Gone are the days of giving my colleagues hard-copy printouts of graphs and lines of numbers just to have to wait for three months for a person with an analytics degree to tell me that the project I’ve been working on for six months had a missing variable.
Just kidding, I never experienced that.
I did, however, watch Office Space and I have this very vivid imaginary concept of what business in the 80’s, 90’s and early 2000s must have been like with the available technology, tools, processes, and expectations of the time. Writing up TPS reports, Milton’s red stapler, taking out your frustration over the glitchy printer by killing it with a baseball bat.
I can’t imagine living like Peter Gibbons at Initech. I can, however, imagine a workplace where you have four bosses, each with different priorities and requests for you. A working environment where I do the same tasks week in and week out with what seems like no movement toward a defined goal.
I can imagine it because I lived it early on in my career. Sales guys have numbers to hit, marketing teams have content to create, engineers have products to build, but sometimes the people supporting clients end up in what seems like a never-ending loop of trying to put out fires rather than really being able to actionably help a customer.
When I began my technology career, my role’s responsibility was to provide air cover for partners and clients while they tried to scale their business. It meant, quite literally, my job was to help them achieve success. Some of these were smaller companies, some much larger, but ultimately, we had one objective –to help them buy and sell more of our solutions.
There’s an uncanny correlation to the work I was doing at that large hardware company and what I do now as a Customer Success professional. Where the activities may have differed, the goals are the same:
1. Identify customer need
2. Identify customer goals
3. Help them reach those goals
However, the problem I faced back then, was that rather than trying to learn the customer’s goals, we identified the goals we thought they should have and then spent countless hours pushing them to get there. I learned quickly that trying to be “customer centric” while simultaneously pushing our goals on our customers wasn’t actually helping either of our companies reach our desired outcomes.
So taking a step back, we, as a collective Customer Success team opted to evaluate our existing process and re-work our thinking. That process began a journey down what eventually became a global initiative in improving customer experience.
Often in organizations, and in Customer Success teams especially, the question of “why” you do things seems to get the most attention, but the “how” you do things is the afterthought. The “why” comes down from leaders and is often a reaction to something occurring in the company that needs to be reviewed.
In Salesforce’s case, for example, the “why” was because a ton of customers were leaving every month. The “how”, however, was the innovation that led to the existence of Customer Success.
At the time, Salesforce had a great number of sales folks that could bring in customers, but they lacked the onboarding and customer retention focus that allowed them to keep those customers. “How” they fixed the problem of churn came through dedicating a team to helping customers be successful with the tool they were bringing on.
In any case, the “how” can be the process by which teams start to accomplish the goals they set out to achieve. In CS, process is just the beginning of building a rock star organization. It’s important to build and iterate on the processes that you implement so as goals change, you can realign to meet those goals.
If there’s one thing we know for certain, it’s that change is inevitable. To think you got it right the first time (or the hundredth time) and then never adapt or change is a recipe for disaster.
Data: Not Just a Star Trek Character
Stick with me, there’s a tie in.
Data is the name of an android in the Star Trek franchise. While looking very human-like, he was actually a super intelligent computer that was stronger and smarter than humans. He was a vital member of the Enterprise-D crew and the captain and crew relied on him often for tactful input and decision making. He had the ability to process variables and situations with high speed and accuracy that allowed the heroes to escape certain death on multiple occasions.
What does this have to do with Customer Success? Like Data’s namesake, he collected data from the situations and events that the Enterprise encountered. He used that data actionably, and both he and the data itself played a major role in the success of the team in their missions.
Likewise, data in business, and especially in Customer Success, is vital to the success of the organization. It’s a crucial part of adapting and maturing and without treating it properly (almost as an extension of your team) it’s probable that you’ll miss the mark.
You spent hours building out processes and a foundational workflow for your team to manage customers, but what comes next? Well, you’ll determine metrics and start pulling data about your process to see what’s good, what’s bad, and what might need some tweaking. Let the data act like a member of the team by providing insight on where to go next.
While on the Topic of Space Travel…
Think of “process” as the fuel that allows your growth rocket to continue its trajectory, but “data” is the steering wheel. It allows you to course correct as you go.
As I pondered my journey of customer experience at the hardware company I mentioned earlier, I recall just how many times we got it wrong. We constantly had to try new things, month after month, quarter after quarter, and then after more than two years, we finally saw some major milestone improvements that started to demonstrate our progress.
It was only after those setbacks and our stepping back to look at the processes we’d created and the data we’d collected, that we could see the trends that allowed us to adapt and grow.
Now, having been a part of evolving companies for over ten years, I can look back on the companies that built and managed amazing Customer Success organizations and were truly customer centric and see one constant. They all really valued the “how” of building and iterating process while using data to find new ways to innovate. Some of these orgs are now authorities in their spaces, so I look up to them as models for success.
We know change will happen, how we evolve to address that change is up to us as Customer Success visionaries.