9 Things Customer Success is Not

The definition of Customer Success has been clearly laid out.

What goes into Customer Success Management has been fully documented.

But there’s still a chance that you have a misconception or misunderstanding about Customer Success that could keep you from fully embracing this potentially transformative concept.

So I want to make sure any preconceived notions about Customer Success aren’t standing in your way of understanding something this powerful.

So let’s go through a few things that Customer Success is not…

1. Customer Success is Not Magic

Simply claiming to be a customer-centric company isn’t enough to magically make your customers successful.

Even operationalizing Customer Success Management and hoping it will magically transform bad-fit customers into successful, growing customers isn’t going to work.

In fact, if you’re knowingly acquiring bad-fit customers (those without Success Potential), then you are setting up everyone who will work with the customer after they become a customer for failure. You’re also setting the customer up for failure.

Customer Success, when done correctly, can have results that appear magical (customers stay longer, buy more, invite you into other parts of their business, and advocate for you externally, ultimately driving up the value of your company), but behind those seemingly magical results are a lot of changes that have to happen and a ton of work.

2. Customer Success is Not Just a Department

It’s critical that you understand the difference between Customer Success and Customer Success Management.

But even if you understand that difference, if you have a part of the company that’s responsible for Customer Success Management (whether you call it that or not), then it’s easy to fall into the trap of “it’s their problem.”

But unlike the old adage, “everyone’s in sales” … everyone really is in Customer Success.

Even if you have a Customer Success Management department, the cross-functional realities behind true customer success dictate that everyone must be working toward the same goal.

Customer Success has the potential to be transformative, but you have to work together as a company to unlock that potential.

3. Customer Success is Not Only Account Management

Customer Success Management is not just another name for Account Management.

Traditional Account Management failed because it literally treated customers like Accounts… literally like numbers.

Account Management was focused on Renewal and Expansion from the company’s perspective only. Account Management didn’t care if the customer was “successful,” only that they would take the latest offer we’re trying to shove down their throat.

Traditional Account Management doesn’t work anymore, but Customer Success-driven Growth absolutely does. This is why the function of Account Management, which is still required, should sit within, roll-up to, or otherwise be governed and monitored by Customer Success Management.

Historically within Customer Success (yes, historically), it was said that Renewal and Expansion (upsell, cross-sell, etc.) happen because a customer is successful. But looking at it that way is what allows for the error of applying “new business” sales or traditional Account Management tactics to renewals and expansion when that’s the exact wrong approach.

Rather, Renewal and Expansion are actually part of a customer’s success; in order for the customer to achieve their ever-evolving Desired Outcome, they’ll likely need to stay past renewals and will likely need to consume more of our core product, adjacent products, training, etc.

Which means this is all part of Customer Success Management; even if your organization decides to have dedicated Account Managers to handle Upsells, Cross-sells, and Renewals, those should roll-up under Customer Success Management.

Account Management is part of Customer Success Management, but Customer Success Management is not just Account Management.

4. Customer Success is Not Customer Support

Customer Success Management is not simply another way of talking about Customer Support.

Customer Support – reactive, break/fix type of support where customers go when they have an issue, encounter a bug, etc. – that is an absolutely required, super-valuable part of the business.

But it’s not Customer Success Management (no matter how much the Support vendors want to ride the Customer Success wave to get web traffic).

The best companies – those growing rapidly and taking over or redefining their product category – recognize that helping their customers achieve their Desired Outcome is critical and they’ve operationalized around this simple notion in the form of Customer Success.

These companies understand that offering reactive, break/fix support – while required – is not enough and have evolved to providing proactive Customer Success by orchestrating the journey of the customer on their way to achieving the outcomes they desire and ensuring the customers stay on that path.

Customer Support – specifically the number of interactions with the customer and how quickly those interactions are resolved – is a critical input into an overall Success Vector (a key Customer Success metric). It’s pretty obvious that if customers can’t use the product, they can’t achieve their Desired Outcome.

But Customer Support is not Customer Success.

5. Customer Success is Not Churn Mitigation or Saving Customers

If you focus on churn mitigation, you’ll always have churn to focus on mitigating. Remember, churn is a symptom of an underlying disease; if you only focus on the symptom, and not the disease, you’ll always have the symptoms to worry about. And the symptoms will likely get worse.

Customer Success isn’t about saving customers who are about to churn; it’s about not letting customers get to that point in the first place.

Keeping a customer from canceling often involves begging, promises, and discounts, which is fine if you have to do that (though, again, you shouldn’t have to do that), but just remember this is not Customer Success.

If you can save a customer from churning, great, but once saved you must work diligently to get the customer back on track to achieving their Desired Outcome. At that point, they are likely still at-risk.

In fact, if you all you do is “save” the customer and you don’t get them back on a path toward success, you’re just prolonging the inevitable; they will churn. Only this time when they churn, they’re going to be really upset since you wasted their time and now on their way out they might leave negative reviews.

Focus on making customers successful and you won’t have to worry about saving customers.

6. Customer Success is Not “Checking in” with Customers

This is one of those things that people who think they understand Customer Success say, but when they do, it’s clear they don’t know anything about Customer Success.

Don’t ever “check-in” with the customer. In fact, remove “check in” from your vocabulary.

Only call or otherwise make contact a customer when you have value to add.

Sure, there may be times when you legitimately don’t know where the customer is on the path toward success (though there are often context clues that we have access to but, perhaps, choose to ignore), so you need to find out where they are.

Just make sure that when you find out where they are, that you know where they need to go (the next Success Milestone) and come equipped with a plan, resources, and whatever else they need (based on their Appropriate Experience) to get there.

Isn’t this just semantics? No, it’s not… and here’s why. Interactions with customers where you provide no value (from emails to in-person meetings) will teach customers that interacting with you is pointless and they’ll start to ignore you.

And then you’ll wonder why your customer goes dark.

7. Customer Success is Not Customer Hand-holding or Babysitting

In order to create systems and put processes in place to ensure our customers achieve their Desired Outcome, we need to understand our customers.

We need to have empathy for them, or at least for the humans that make up our customer organizations.

We need to understand what happens in their world, where our product fits in their daily life (you might not be the center of their universe yet… or ever; be realistic), and what your customer is trying to accomplish in their relationship with you.

So if you talk about how stupid your customers are, how you need to hold their hand, or that you spend all your time babysitting them, that tells me you’ve lost focus on why you exist in their world.

Sure, you just told the customer something that you’ve told 1,000 other customers… but you forget that, for your customer, that was the first time they’ve heard that.

You forget that while your customer is struggling with the functionality of your product, or hasn’t mastered something they need to in order to get value from your product, that they didn’t buy your product to do those things.

They started a relationship with you – and keep that relationship going – because they believe, through their interactions with you, that they’ll achieve their Desired Outcome.

If you’re doing everything on your end correctly, and you’re maintaining empathy for the customer, you should never feel like your customers are stupid or that you have to coddle them.

The good news is if you aren’t doing the things you should be doing to ensure your customers are successful… you can fix that by doing those things.

And if you do all of that and you still feel like your customers just don’t get it; maybe they won’t ever. They could be a bad fit customer, which is also good news because you can just stop acquiring customers without Success Potential.

8. Customer Success is Not just Product Usage

Active customers never churn. True or False? False. It’s false.

So, since active customers churn, that means product usage isn’t directly correlated to Customer Success. True or False? True. That one’s true.

Having worked with well over 400 Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) companies – as well as Enterprise Software vendors migrating to SaaS – I can say without a doubt that Customer Success must be a fully-integrated, tightly-coupled component of a complete SaaS Business Architecture.

I can also say, without a doubt, that if you’re a SaaS company, you either think – or thought before you realized you were wrong – that having visibility into a customer’s functional use of your product was everything you need to know.

As I’ve said before, Active Users are a Vanity Metric.

Remember, Customer Success is when your customers achieve their Desired Outcome through their Interactions with your company… “interactions” being the keyword.

Product usage is one interaction; perhaps a big one. But it’s likely not the only interaction.

And beyond interactions with your company, there are things your customers need to do on their end – outside of your product – that product usage won’t help you with.

In Customer Success, context is everything. Yes, product usage can be a valuable input into Success Vector, but it’s just one, properly weighted input.

9. Customer Success is Not Happiness or Delight

Happy customers never churn, right? Customers we have “great relationships” with stick around forever, always buying more and advocating publicly on our behalf. Right? Unless the “great” part of that relationship is predicated on the customer’s success, no. No, they won’t stick around forever.

Look, the only thing having a great relationship with a customer guarantees is that – if they aren’t successful – it’ll be a little more difficult for them to tell you that they’re canceling their contract and moving to your competitor.

If they aren’t successful, they will churn; whether they’re happy or you have a great relationship, it is going to happen.

Yes, I saved the best – and most controversial thing that Customer Success is not – for last. This is definitely the one I get the most pushback on, but hopefully, you’ll see where I’m coming from.

Customer Success is when your customers achieve their Desired Outcome through their interactions with your company.

Desired Outcome includes the customer’s Required Outcome (what the customer needs to achieve) and their Appropriate Experience (how they need to achieve it).

Unless one or both parts of Desired Outcome is that the customer is emotionally happy (perhaps the Required Outcome for a Cirque du Soleil customer is to leave emotionally happy), then trying to solve for the customer’s happiness is trying to deliver something that’s unnecessary and may even be impossible.

Look, I want the people I work with – customers, coworkers, etc. – to be emotionally happy. I love it when I speak at events and can get the crowd to laugh. I love facilitating workshops where the attendees have great breakthroughs that trigger positive emotional responses.

But while I love that, I also realize that the things I talk about can be heavy, they require work to implement, minds often have to change, comfort zones have to be broken out of, and that stuff doesn’t always come with emotional happiness, at least (or especially) in the short-term.

I also realize that I work with humans and sometimes humans have a bad commute to the office, aren’t feeling well, or have something going on in their lives that might keep them from being emotionally happy.

I also know that some customers are very demanding, always pushing back when we say no, always asking for more, opening support tickets, never giving you a high NPS score, etc. This doesn’t mean they aren’t successful. It doesn’t mean they’re not getting all the value they expected to get from their relationship with us; it just means they aren’t happy.

But if you confuse Happy and Successful, you might look at the customers that don’t seem happy and try to optimize your processes around them, not realizing they’re actually your best customers! Remember, context is everything.

On the flip side, you might not worry about customers that “seem” happy enough – because they don’t ever open support tickets, ask for things, push back, etc. – when, if you’re going to optimize around any customers, it should probably be them.

So operationally, not understanding the difference between Happiness and Success can lead you down the wrong optimization path.

But also, Customer Success can seem fluffy and something that can’t really be quantified (which is absolutely not true), yet many people still talk about Customer Success in terms of customer happiness or delight.

While you can call your Customer Success Management team the Customer Happiness Group (or whatever), if you want to be taken seriously by your executives, focus on making your customers successful and instead of reporting on satisfaction and delight, report on how the customer’s success is impacting the business.

Report on what matters to them… how Customer Success is helping drive the value of your company!

Okay, so now that you know what Customer Success is not, check out an Executive Overview of Customer Success Management so you’re clear on what it is.

There’s a 10th one: Customer Success is Not NPS… I’ve already addressed the psychological power of surveys and my thoughts on NPS therein, but I could spend another 3000 words on why NPS is just one input into Success Vector and why it’s generally weighted way too heavy. I’ll leave that discussion for another day.

About Lincoln Murphy

I invented Customer Success. I focus primarily on Customer Engagement. Learn more about me here.