The Crisis of Confidence in Customer Success: Presentation Recap

December 10, 2019

Marley Wagner

Category: Customer Experience, Customer Onboarding, Customer Retention, Customer Success as a Service, Customer Success Resources, Customer Success Strategy, Education Marketing

Since 2013, the Customer Success Association has been hosting Customer SuccessCon, a conference designed to look at the current state of the profession and into its future. It brings together some of the most experienced and forward-thinking minds in the Customer Success community. ESG was proud to sponsor and present at all of this year’s events.

At the most recent SuccessCon in Berkeley, CA, ESG CEO Michael Harnum addressed a major issue that’s holding the Customer Success industry back — companies that haven’t fully bought into the idea of Customer Success, or don’t realize just how crucial it can be.

As Customer Success professionals, we know how critical CS is to the overall success of your business. We know that we’re one of the most important components to a company’s continued longevity — especially in this SaaS-heavy economy. And yet, we still find ourselves trying to convince the C-suite that CS is worth it.

The message is simple but complex at the same time. That sounds contradictory, but think of it like another simple-but-complex problem: health and wellness. We know that we eat a lot of bad food and we don’t exercise enough. We know that the simple solution is to eat more vegetables and move around more.

But think about how complicated we make the concept of health, with all the superfoods and the magic ingredients and crash diets and pseudoscientific exercise clothing. When we return to basic, simple solutions, we can make real progress.

We believe that the CS community at large would benefit from a significant lift in confidence. How? With a simple, five-part framework to both lift your personal profile and elevate your organization’s CS efforts.

Part 1: Mindset

Everything starts with mindset. Mindset may be an overused term, but it’s not just a buzzword. In Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset, she outlines two basic mindsets: growth mindset and fixed mindset. It’s important to note that these are not things you’re born with, nor are they immutable qualities of the person you are today. Your mindset is a choice you can consciously make. Seriously. You can change from one to the other, and the entire perspective with which you look at the world will change.

What’s the difference? It’s sort of like the “nature vs. nurture” debate. People who choose a fixed mindset tend to believe that you either are or aren’t good at something, and there’s not much you can do about it. People pigeonhole themselves behind labels like “visual learner” or “uncreative” or “not good with numbers” as though there’s nothing they can do about it.

If you choose to have a growth mindset, you tend to believe that anyone can be good at anything with the right actions, information, and motivation. Skill comes from practice, not from inherent talent. Here are a few more examples:

When you choose a Fixed Mindset:

  • You want to hide your flaws so that no one judges you
  • You stick with what you know to keep your confidence up
  • You let your failures define what you are and aren’t good at
  • You believe that romantic relationships should come naturally if you’re compatible with the other person
  • You think that a failure constitutes wasted effort

When you choose a Growth Mindset:

  • Your flaws are a to-do list of things you can improve about yourself
  • You keep your confidence up by finding new things and making sure you’re always learning
  • You see failures as temporary setbacks
  • You believe that a lasting relationship comes from working together to overcome differences
  • You’re focused on the process, not the outcome, so failure becomes a learning experience

If you’re too afraid to fail, you’ll never try anything new. If you shy away from new things because you’re afraid of looking bad when you don’t know what you’re doing, you’ll be stuck in place forever. With a new mindset, you can learn, grow, and move forward.

Check out our upcoming event schedule and past event recaps

Learn More

Part 2: Strengths

There are formal strength-finding exercises that you can go through to get a list of your professional skills, or you can take the simple approach: ask someone. Ask a coworker or boss. Ask a spouse or partner (but be prepared for more honest feedback than you might have been expecting).

Here’s another approach: think about the last time you had a really good day, either personally or professionally. It’s happened to all of us (hopefully recently) — you got home and thought “wow, I really knocked it out of the park today.” Take a moment to think about exactly what went so right that day. Make a mental inventory of the things you did well that made it a good day. Those things probably align with your strengths.

When you know your strengths, you can go all in on them and bet big on them. If you can set yourself up to spend your time on the things that excite you and the things that you’re good at, you can take your own success to the next level.

Part 3: Value

Humans waste a lot of time trying to match other people’s value without paying attention to our own. Knowing your own value, and knowing how it fits in with the value that others present, is crucial.

We’ll use Michael’s favorite type of metaphor to explain this one: a sports metaphor. Imagine an offensive lineman on a football team. He’s one of 11 teammates on the field at any given time, and he doesn’t have the flashiest role — he’s not going to throw for 400 yards or rush for three touchdowns. That’s not his job. What he can do is to keep the guy lined up across from him from sacking the quarterback, and he can set up blocks for the running back to run past. If he does that, the coach isn’t likely to ask anything more of him — even if the team loses.

That’s where your value comes in. Some people want to be the quarterback or nothing — if they can’t contribute something game-changing, they feel like they’re not contributing at all. But in trying to go from 0 to 10, we lose sight of the incremental value of a 3 or a 4. Be honest with yourself about what you bring to the table, realize your own value, and contribute what you can. If everyone on the team does that, you’ll be unstoppable.

Part 4: Growth

You don’t have to believe in our framework for Customer Success — we’re just one set of ideas. Take the points that you like from this article, a few points from somewhere else, and create something that you can build on.

When you do that, two things will grow: the first is confidence — the ability to show everyone else how important your job and your industry are — and the second is the thickness of your skin. Working in CS isn’t easy to say the least, and it can often feel like you’re running uphill with a weight on your back just to show your investors or your stakeholders that what you’re doing matters.

Part 5: Learning

If you’re reading blogs about Customer Success (like this one), you already know the value of learning. It should come as no surprise that at ESG, we think one of the biggest advantages anyone can give themselves is a dedication to continued learning. After all, “education” is right there in the name!

Things are changing quickly in the business world, in the digital world, and in the Customer Success world, and those who are dedicated to continuing to learn will be the ones at the forefront of the new world, no matter what shape it takes.

Your single biggest opportunity for competitive advantage is to accelerate your learning, so create a plan for yourself. There are hundreds of options out there for reading articles, listening to audiobooks, watching webinars, downloading whitepapers, or subscribing to YouTube channels in an effort to keep learning.

A Final Message

Michael’s final message to his audience was a simple one: stay in the fight. It will come as no surprise that this message came in the form of a sports metaphor, but you can take your pick of any metaphor or visualization that works for you, as long as the message is clear: we need to make sure we represent how critical our function is.

The job of a CS professional is demanding. Presenting yourself to an executive is demanding. And it can be a difficult fight to stay in — you’re going to take a few hits along the way. You don’t have to throw a knockout punch every time you enter the ring. You just have to keep getting up.