Why Customer Success Looks Different Abroad

March 4, 2020

Danielle Hawkins

Category: Customer Experience, Customer Success as a Service, Customer Success Strategy, Voice of the Team

As companies worldwide begin to see the necessity of Customer Success as a part of their overall organizational strategy, many hope to implement it in a manner as fast and far-reaching as possible. Without proper research and planning, this can result in varying definitions of what Customer Success looks like in different markets, even within the same company.

So, what is Customer Success?

Well, we certainly know what it’s not, and that’s strictly Customer Support or Sales, or a new name for Account Management. But it is so intrinsically tied to these established entities that identifying where exactly Customer Success fits in can get a bit tricky, particularly outside of the US.

In the US, the birthplace of SaaS and Customer Success, many companies have had the opportunity to experiment with and iterate upon their CS practices before taking them global. However, as the rewards of Customer Success have become clear in recent years – companies now find themselves scrambling to implement it worldwide.

Though implementing Customer Success in new markets is imperative for many organizations, it isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. How can companies effectively set up their CS operations in markets like EMEA, which is comprised of over 44 different nations, all with their own distinct languages, cultures, and business practices? An attempt to gently lay a blanket of US best practices and processes over a multifaceted continent of intrinsically different styles of working probably isn’t going to cut it.

You can’t build a healthy, functioning Customer Success team in any environment without first establishing what Customer Success means to your business and what it aims to accomplish in your target market. A common initial mistake is failing to analyze how Customer Success practices might differ for countries of 10-50 million people as opposed to the goliath of 327 million in the US.

For example, a high-touch vs. low-touch approach to customer interaction might look completely different depending on market size. In the US, it is often unreasonable for a CSM to take the time, effort, and cost to travel the 1,400 miles from their office in Miami to their customer in Chicago every quarter to deliver a QBR in person. However, with different a geographic make up, like in Europe, it may just be a matter of hopping on a train for a couple hours to another part of the same country to foster that relationship by shaking hands with the customer and speaking with them face-to-face.

Going global

An obvious solution for companies aiming to lower their cost-to-serve is to use remote capabilities for CSMs to efficiently interact with more customers. Discussing important business outcomes over a Zoom meeting between New York and Texas is common and widely accepted by most Americans, but it’s possible that teams abroad might need more convincing. Why set up a Skype call with a customer when you could be on their doorstep in 30 minutes?

Furthermore, won’t the customer feel less ‘loved’ if you do that, and won’t that impact the customer experience? Maybe yes, maybe no – the importance of face-to-face interaction varies from one culture to another, and although the world is more connected than ever, some local practices still outweigh those of the digital age.

Many countries are very accustomed to personal interactions in both everyday life and business culture, whether it’s sticking to a regionally specific brand because they know the guy that makes it and they trust him to produce a quality result, or continuing to use your product because they know and have built a relationship with their CSM.

From the inside out

You’ll frequently hear us talking about Customer Success and customer experience ‘from the outside in’ – putting customers above all else. But without clearly defining and communicating the goals of CS internally, blurred lines can develop between CS and the other departments within your business. It can be easy for CSMs to be lumped into a Sales or Support category – both of which are often focused on pleasing the customer, rather than empowering them.

This can be particularly critical in markets where Customer Success is newly introduced – a new CSM might come directly from a Sales or Support background and without proper guidance could easily assume that their interactions with customers would remain largely the same as in their previous roles.

Customer Success aims to proactively provide the processes, framework, and guidance for an effective and positive customer experience, but it can often end up being treated as a reactive customer satisfaction entity. In some instances, to keep the customer happy, a CSM might do something for the customer that the customer should really be learning to do themselves.

It’s critical that new practitioners of Customer Success understand that the goal is not to enable the customer to succeed because their CSM has done everything for them, but for the CSM to empower, guide, and support the customer to independently use the product to maximize results.

This key point can often go amiss when companies attempt to hastily throw together a team of CSMs from different backgrounds and expect them to immediately adopt the proactive, consultative approach at the center of Customer Success. Although the new CSMs may have strong qualifications, this can not only cause confusion among a team but can also lead to inconsistency in customer experience.

Evaluating CX

How should you evaluate the customer experience to ensure that none of those potential inconsistencies exist and that you’re meeting customer expectations? There are many widely used methods; surveys, NPS, etc., and while results from these tools can provide valuable insight, the results can sometimes be akin to comparing apples to oranges (or as they would say in Germany, comparing apples to pears).

A survey asking the customer to rate the product or a process on a scale from one to ten can yield considerably different results depending on where the customer is based. Giving a score of seven out of ten could mean ‘better than average’ to some and it could be a rave review to others. It can be difficult to know how each individual market tends to perceive the rating and grading of things in their culture.

For example, an American might have no problem giving something they like a ten out of ten review, but to a French person, where (starting from grade school) it is almost unheard of to receive a perfect score – a seven out of ten could mean they are very happy and satisfied with a product. Whereas the American perception of a seven out of ten could be that it has left something to be desired.

This difference in perception is something to be carefully considered before deploying a scoring system and taking in customer feedback. In fact, this same phenomenon has been tricky for the healthcare industry for years, as the validity of pain assessment tools has been brought into question time and time again.

Simply asking a patient to rate the pain they are experiencing on a scale of one to ten can have disastrous results depending on the cultural, socioeconomic, and linguistic background of the person answering the question and the number they choose to describe the intensity of their pain. The difference between how the patient communicates the severity of their pain on that scale and the way the medical practitioner has been trained to interpret and treat that level of pain may be completely misaligned.

Bringing it all together

We know that a healthy, functioning Customer Success operation has become key to the success of a SaaS product. Customers with that positive guidance and connection are able to make the most of a product, use it confidently, and are less likely to churn. So when expanding to new markets, it’s vital to lay the groundwork for what strong Customer Success looks like, and to consider the cultural differences and local best business practices to make the most of bringing an exciting new aspect of customer interaction into the mix.