So… what does Success look like for your customer? That’s the question that’s at the base of my wildly popular “The Secret to Successful Customer Onboarding” article.
BTW, this article is good… but I have another one that goes into more detail on Desired Outcome you should check out, too.
But it’s not actually a very good question. What does “success” look like for your customer? What does that even mean? Unless it’s a hard ROI, that’s a tough question to answer.
So I always found myself moving to different ways of phrasing basically the same question. And when you do that – when you have to say “in other words,…” next time just start with the “other words” and move past the confusion.
So now I ask about your customer’s Desired Outcome… but even that easier-to-understand concept has its nuances. Let me explain…
Quick Definition of Customer Success
First, let me start with the latest iteration of my quick definition of Customer Success:
“Customer Success is when your customers achieve their Desired Outcome through their interactions with your company.”
And the process used to proactively ensure that Desired Outcome is achieved by your customers is what we call Customer Success Management.
Now I’m always refining that quick definition of Customer Success – though my definitive definition of Customer Success and all of the functional areas of a business it encompasses still stands – but that’s where I am right now and I think it works well.
I’ve found that “Desired Outcome” resonates in a way that “success for your customer” never really does.
But even then, there’s more to Desired Outcome than meets the eye… and it can be a transformative concept if you’ll let it:
The Definition of Desired Outcome
Think of an advertising product.
The Desired Outcome for the customer isn’t actually placing ads. It isn’t even increasing the click-through rate on the ads. Or optimizing spend. Or… or… or…
Nope, the Desired Outcome is acquiring a customer. Something to consider with all advertising and sales enablement tools… ultimately, we just want to buy a customer.
And even if that Desired Outcome isn’t achieved 100% within the scope of the advertising product (there are factors beyond the ad that figure into acquiring a customer), that doesn’t change the fact that the Desired Outcome for their customer is acquiring a customer.
Okay, so knowing the Desired Outcome and being able to build your value prop – and ultimately your marketing, pricing, sales process, onboarding, and overall Customer Success program – around that knowledge will make your company MUCH more valuable… both to the customer, but literally more valuable as an entity.
That said, the key to leveraging the Desired Outcome is to understand that…
Desired Outcome has Two Parts
Desired Outcome has two parts… Customer Goal and Appropriate Experience.
I made the mistake originally of saying “Great Experience,” and while “great” is relative, that actually isn’t accurate.
Rather, the odd-sounding “Appropriate Experience” is much more accurate – though maybe someday I’ll come up with a better word – but what matters is that it’s the experience congruent with your customer’s expectations.
Okay, so the Goal part is fairly obvious… this is what they need to happen.
So the Customer Goal is, well, what’s required; but how you get to that Customer Goal becomes the key differentiator for you.
I like to use the airline analogy here… in the United States, I can fly on any commercial airline to get from Point A to Point B and be assured I’ll get there fast and safely.
Fast and Safe are the baseline.
But there is a huge difference in the experience of achieving that Customer Goal depending on if I fly Southwest, Spirit, or Virgin America (dated reference… RIP).
Only one will give me MY Desired Outcome and for that – in my case since I travel so much – I’m willing to pay a premium (Virgin America – sad face).
So the Desired Outcome is both the Customer Goal + Appropriate Experience… and knowing and really understanding that is huge.
At the very least it will keep you from trying to sell me a flight on Spirit knowing that I would rather walk… or just not go than fly that airline. But the up-side potential of knowing that is where things get super-exciting.
When it comes to prioritizing development and design resources, you should consider…
How to “Weight” the Two Parts of Desired Outcome
When I mention those two parts, I’m frequently asked how you should weight them; does Customer Goal matter more than Appropriate Experience or vice versa, and to what degree?
Customer Goal is a given. It just is. Of course, through Customer Development, you may discover that the actual Goal they’re focused on is a subset of what you originally thought, reducing the effort needed to get them to that point, which is great. But no matter what, required means just that… required.
So this question is really more about “weighting” the experience side. A part of me wonders when I get this question if it’s not an attempt to explain away the need for – or to avoid altogether having to spend time/resources on – the “experience” side of things.
Okay, so it’s a legitimate question, but one – I’m afraid – that lacks a great answer, because… it depends.
Which is why I say “Appropriate” Experience and not “Great” or “Awesome” or “Modern” or whatever. It’s appropriate. That’s all.
If you are selling something to developers, you might not just be able to get away with a very basic UI that just “gets the job done” … you may be able to get away with no UI… just an API. But once you move beyond developers – if that’s a valid direction in which to move – your (potential) customers may find that API-only approach a bit lacking.
If you’re selling to Early Adopters, that cohort will usually be okay with – and even expect – an experience that others along the maturing product lifecycle would not be willing to.
And just to be clear – because I believe words matter – it’s not accurate to say they’d put up with a “bad” or “poor” or even a “limited” experience… it would be a completely appropriate experience for them.
But as your product matures and you move beyond the early adopters, you will likely have to adapt the experience to be appropriate with the new cohort of customers.
So how you “weight” the Appropriate Experience side of “Desired Outcome” totally depends on the customer you’re selling to and their expectations.
Of course, if you don’t know what type of experience your customers want/need/require/expect … then you don’t know your customers well enough.
As a quick side note for super-early-stage startups…
Why Minimum Viable Products (MVPs) often Fail
One of the reasons Minimum Viable Products (MVPs) fail (and give the entire MVP concept a bad name) is that the creator solves for the Customer Goal and not the Desired Outcome.
You see this all the time when a startup has a “functional” product – technically the product allows for the “job to be done” – but the experience is incongruent with the expectations of the customer.
Think about it… how can a product that helps you achieve your Goal still suck? Because the experience is incongruent with your expectations / needs / wants/ desires.
That’s why the key to success is in understanding that…
Customer Success is tied to Desired Outcome
This is where “Desired Outcome” really starts to shine as a way of thinking about Customer Success.
It’s our job to understand what the customer is trying to accomplish, but moreover, it’s our job to understand how they want to accomplish it.
And of course the airline analogy I used can play out in other transportation methods, too, but also in pretty much every product and service category.
But in technology, we’re seeing this all the time:
Enterprise software is being disrupted by cloud offerings even if on-premises products do the same thing AND there is infrastructure in place to support them simply because the cloud experience is preferred.
Products with old-feeling (Legacy) UIs are being displaced by products from smaller vendors who understand the need in certain market segments for a great, modern UI, to the point where UX is more important than feature parity.
Mobile-first startups are disrupting even “modern” cloud providers as consumer desires are evolving faster than “legacy” cloud providers can – or are willing to – keep up with.
Uber disrupted the awful experience of taxis or – like in Dallas – disrupted the inefficient valet procedures at popular restaurants.
So while helping your customer achieve their Goal, helping them achieve their Desired Outcome is even better.
And some people are willing to pay more for that Desired Outcome.
So… does “desired outcome” resonate better? I think so.