The first question I am often asked at customer meetings is: “What does a Customer Success (CS) team do?” It’s a reasonable question as CS programs run the gamut, from being a new name for account management to being a “churn prevention team.” But, for companies, making customers successful can often be forgotten in the rush to achieve internally focused results.

My team and I look after the CS function for a small, but rapidly growing, disruptive, enterprise software company. As such, our long-term success is dependent on creating raving fans from the visionaries and pragmatists in our user community – so they can become change agents within their organizations. To support those individuals, visionaries, and pragmatists alike, CS teams need to understand what success really means to them.

A definition of success could be: “Customer success is achieving a desired and defined business outcome through their use of our technology”.

What this simple sentence means is that as we engage with our customers, a CS team must always be keeping a close eye on the customers’ desired outcomes, and ensuring the entire team, including Sales, Professional Services, Support, and Executive Management, are supporting that outcome through every interaction. It also means knowing how to measure the success, and when to declare victory on any given business initiative or project.

But success can be several things at once for a customer. Ours is an iterative platform, meaning success with one use-case or application often breeds additional use-cases sometimes with the same client team, or sometimes with new teams in a different part of the business.

Success with one team can result in an internal reference for another, which is powerful validation of the solution. Therefore, we are often working with different client stakeholders, within the same company, and to coordinate different outcomes also becomes part of the CS mandate.

That leads to my updated definition of a strong Customer Success program: “The proactive orchestration of each customer’s journey, meeting ever-evolving, and multi-faceted business objectives”. Typically, a CS team at a technology solution provider will walk through a journey of three phases with each client, all tied together by the definition of customer success above.

Discovery

If success means achieving business outcomes, then identifying those specific outcomes is the first step, usually followed by identifying the metrics we will use to measure success and building the target use case. Validating the success criteria and associated success metrics is a central part of the project kick-off, and are revisited in project reviews, steering committee meetings, and other checkpoints as the project and relationship progresses.

Onboarding

The first step in onboarding is to get customers using your technology. That means installing the software, ingesting documents, and training. As installation and configuration starts wrapping up, the processes in using a technology must be operationalised, and client personnel trained so they can be self-sufficient.

Most (but not all) of my customers leverage our professional, training, and legal Services teams to help with installation, enablement, and operationalisation, and the processes for each of these are well-defined and managed discrete components. The Customer Success team works throughout the onboarding stage to ensure that the tasks around implementation, enablement, and training are all aligned with the business outcomes the client is expecting.

Where there are attached business transformation initiatives that your technology is part of, my team and I will also work closely with the client team considering those objectives, and throughout the whole onboarding process, CS coordinates and drives the regular steering meetings that ensure alignment between technical and business activities.

Business-As-Usual

This is the day-to-day running of the contract ecosystem, and creating an environment such that “declaring victory” can be unambiguous and achieved by validating the original success scenario and business case, then identifying success criteria for the next phase or use case and start again!

The transition from onboarding to ‘business-as-usual’ means making decisions about how a technology will evolve. Some clients are implementing to a static state, but most are at the first stage of continuous improvement and evolution. Of course, this is known early in the project, so the customer enablement and training elements of onboarding will have been developed with this in mind.

This is also the time where decisions must be made around ongoing support — you need to ask yourself the question whether standard product support is enough for the client’s team, or is one of the enhanced support options more suitable?

On the business side, the transition to business-as-usual is a good time to review the business case, and the other success criteria that were set during the discovery phase. My team and I also use this time to design the scorecards that will be used to measure ongoing success and tracking to the continuously evolving business objectives.

So, What Is Customer Success?

“Customer success is achieving a desired and defined business outcome through their use of our technology”. This means a Customer Success program is a fundamental component in how you make sure your customers achieve their business outcomes. There are many components, but I, and my colleagues in CS, always stay with that first principle as we work with customers to orchestrate their journey and as their business objectives change and evolve.