Building an Industry-agreed Definition of Customer Success

David Ellin
David Ellin Member Posts: 170 Expert
Name Dropper Photogenic First Anniversary First Comment
During yesterday's Customer Success panel discussion hosted by Customer Success Leaders Institute, @Rav Dhaliwal was asked about his biggest gripe about Customer Success. As part of his answer, he commented that "there is no one standard industry-agreed definition of Customer Success." Half-heartedly, I put in the chat, "then let's develop one." Ever since that moment, I've been thinking about all the ways I've heard CS and non-CS folks define Customer Success.

In the book Customer Success by @Nick Mehta, Murphy, and Steinman, they say "customer success is the umbrella phrase used to describe the entire post-sales world." Some sales professionals have disagreed, indicating that we're never completely in a post-sales world given renewals, up-sells, and cross-sells are sales processes. CS people often complain that they're the "dumping ground" for any tasks a company has to do that don't fit into other departments. Those may be post-sales tasks but not relevant for CS folks to handle.

While there's a great debate over whether commercial activities (renewals, up-sells, cross-sells) should be led by CS, there is little debate that Customer Success IS NOT Customer Support. Customer Success is strategic/pro-active while support is tactical/reactive.

What better place to develop an industry-agreed definition than with this community?

Below, I've taken a stab at a definition and look to the community to develop/revise/hone/perfect it. Maybe we can build enough agreement to have that industry-agreed definition. WHO'S WITH ME?

Customer Success is a strategic business discipline with its main focus on ensuring a company's customers receive appropriate value from the company's products, achieve their desired outcomes, renew agreements, and expand revenue with the company during the lifetime of their customer journey.

The methodologies used in Customer Success include, but are not limited to Playbooks, Ideal Customer profiles, Customer Segmentation, Customer Journey Maps, Onboarding, Adoption, Strategic Account Plans, Success Plans, Customer Engagement Strategies (1:1s, QBR/EBR, Executive Sponsor programs, Customer Advisory Boards, tech-touch), Voice of the Customer (VoC) programs (NPS, Pulse and Transactional surveys, Customer Interviews, Focus Groups, etc.), and closed- feedback loops, most of which drive cross-functional collaboration (with Sales, Marketing, Finance, Product Development, Operations, etc.) that contributes to the value and outcomes mentioned above.


David
------------------------------
David Ellin
2020 Top 100 Customer Success Strategist
Founder & Senior Customer Success Consultant
Centric Leadership Strategies
------------------------------
«1

Comments

  • James Conant
    James Conant Member Posts: 37 Expert
    First Anniversary
    edited December 2020
    I am a big fan of keeping it simple: Def  "Customer Success is helping customers achieve their desired outcomes with the best experience." (What)

    All of the benefits of achieving CS nirvana follow, such as reduced churn, add-on revenue streams thru cross/up-sells, rev expansion via promoters, etc (Why)

    The tools, methods, strategies, policies,  processes, programs, metrics, people, systems, culture, values, etc enable the company to meet the CS objective. It's much broader than the CS team. (How)
  • David Ellin
    David Ellin Member Posts: 170 Expert
    Name Dropper Photogenic First Anniversary First Comment
    edited December 2020
    Thanks, James. I'm a fan of keeping it simple too so the "methodologies" portion of my definition can be removed. I like that you added the concept of "with the best experience" with a simple list of benefits.
  • Rav Dhaliwal
    Rav Dhaliwal Member Posts: 2 Navigator
    edited December 2020
    I'd like to suggest this -

    "Customer success builds more value for customers (and our own business) faster than would've have happened otherwise so we can keep and grow revenue from customers forever"

    It covers the fact CS is a business accelerator and states the end goal of retaining and more importantly growing revenue.
  • David Ellin
    David Ellin Member Posts: 170 Expert
    Name Dropper Photogenic First Anniversary First Comment
    edited December 2020
    Thanks, @Rav Dhaliwal. That certainly adds the concept of ROI ('faster than would have happened otherwise')
  • Anita Toth
    Anita Toth Member Posts: 246 Expert
    Photogenic 5 Insightfuls First Anniversary
    edited December 2020
    I like this idea @David Ellin. I agree that CX, revenue, value and outcomes should be part of the definition. Perhaps with that 'pro-active' piece in there too. (I really suck at coming up with the definitions myself but happy to chime in however I can. ?)
  • Anna Alley
    Anna Alley Member Posts: 67 Expert
    Photogenic First Anniversary First Comment Name Dropper
    edited December 2020
    I like the concise statement provided by James, but would build it out just a little bit more:

    Customer Success proactively engages with our customer base to provide them with the insights, information, and support to identify and achieve their desired outcomes with the best possible experience, thereby driving customer retention and growth.
  • David Ellin
    David Ellin Member Posts: 170 Expert
    Name Dropper Photogenic First Anniversary First Comment
    edited December 2020
    Thanks, @Anita Toth. I'm not particularly good at it either but felt there was strength in numbers with the great minds in this community. Together, we'll get there as additional thoughts are presented.
  • Anita Toth
    Anita Toth Member Posts: 246 Expert
    Photogenic 5 Insightfuls First Anniversary
    edited December 2020
    @Anna Alley  Oooooohhhhh -- that's good. ?? 
  • Steve Bernstein
    Steve Bernstein Member Posts: 133 Expert
    Name Dropper Photogenic First Anniversary First Comment
    edited December 2020
    @Anna Alley @Anita Toth @David Ellin and all -- I like Anna's definition as part of the "Customer Success Department" but I can't help but feel like the most important aspect of the CS Org is to be an "Orchestra Conductor" for customer retention.  David's definition of CS feels solid to me in the global sense of the term, and since it takes a whole company to grow via retention/expansion/ADVOCACY (reduced CAC and accelerated pipeline) then CS needs is in the ideal position to help the whole company refine the tools and tactics David has laid out.  What do you think?
    /Steve
  • James Conant
    James Conant Member Posts: 37 Expert
    First Anniversary
    edited December 2020
    Let's step back for a moment. There are differing views as to whether a customer's experience is an aspect of customer success. I am of the opinion (strong) that customer outcomes and customer experience are both parts of the customer success equation: CS=CO+CX. What are your views? If you agree with me then CX should be part of the definition?
  • David Ellin
    David Ellin Member Posts: 170 Expert
    Name Dropper Photogenic First Anniversary First Comment
    edited December 2020
    I agree with @Steve Bernstein that the CS org is the orchestra conductor. In fact, I've been referred to my prior CS roles as Chief Collaborator. I also agree with @James Conant that customer experience is part of Customer Success; however, many people see it as a different discipline that typically resides in the marketing org. Curious to get other perspectives on the CX piece.           
  • David Ellin
    David Ellin Member Posts: 170 Expert
    Name Dropper Photogenic First Anniversary First Comment
    edited December 2020
    During today's GGR call, I was made aware that the Customer Success Association published its Definition of Customer Success as:

    "Customer Success is a long-term, scientifically engineered, and professionally directed business strategy for maximizing customer and company sustainable proven profitability."

    I wanted to make sure I threw this into the mix for comments.
  • James Conant
    James Conant Member Posts: 37 Expert
    First Anniversary
    edited December 2020
    Thanks for sharing this David. Very interesting. At its core, it's correct. I suspect, though, that those outside our industry may find it begging for more detail.
  • Rav Dhaliwal
    Rav Dhaliwal Member Posts: 2 Navigator
    edited December 2020
    I think its very important to focus the length and wording of any definition for the intended audience.

    I'd suggest that the audience you most want to influence / gain understanding of CS are CFO's, CRO's, Founder/CEOs, VP Sales and Investors.

    These are people who want to know for every dollar they spend what do they get back (they are also people who are incredibly time poor).
  • Ja'Rod Morris
    Ja'Rod Morris Member Posts: 16 Thought Leader
    First Anniversary
    edited December 2020
    This is a highly interesting discussion. The concept of coming up with an agreed upon industry standard definition sounds good until you turn around and think about when you try to explain Customer Success to a colleague or family member unfamiliar with the discipline. I know exactly what it is in my mind, and I agree with the variations described here. Still, I constantly look for the right words, analogies, and descriptions to represent Customer Success succinctly without misrepresenting it as something else. After several years of being in the space, I'm still trying to perfect the "Customer Success Elevator Pitch." I'm curious as to how some of you try to explain it to others? That's a great litmus test for if your definition can hold its own independent of those already familiar with the practice. 

    Customer Success is robust and constantly evolving, it has its own distinct place in the ecosystem of business, particularly in SaaS organizations. It has taken on a beautiful life of its own, where now it is starting to become a desired career path for matriculating college students and mature professionals alike. Engaging communities, such as Gain, Grow, Retain, have been built around Customer Success. The act of coming up with a unanimously agreed-upon single line, or even a single paragraph may be fleeting, when there are entire books, such as Customer Success (which is a powerful introduction to Customer Success and highly recommended if you haven't read it), as mentioned by @David Ellin, have been written on the subject.

    I could throw my version in the mix, but at the risk of repeating what has already been said articulately enough by the rest of you, so I just want to acknowledge the fact that such discussions taking place say a lot about power and influence this movement has on the future of organizations on the solution side and the client-side, and I'm proud to be a part of the Customer Success community.
  • Anna Alley
    Anna Alley Member Posts: 67 Expert
    Photogenic First Anniversary First Comment Name Dropper
    edited December 2020
    I definitely think that Customer Experience is a component of Customer Success. On my team the teammates who "own" responsibility more related to VOC, Customer Experience, etc. actually have separate responsibilities from Customer Success Managers (they're essentially a sub-group within my team). It's a great call out, though, related to the definition of Customer Success as a whole - I think there's a lot of risk if Marketing is the sole owner of Customer Experience as they're not typically your subject matter experts (at least from my experience).
  • David Ellin
    David Ellin Member Posts: 170 Expert
    Name Dropper Photogenic First Anniversary First Comment
    edited December 2020
    I completely agree. My purpose for starting this discussion is to get the community to weigh in, glean the most important aspects people feel should be included in the definition, and then hone it so it does just what you indicate. I do think there needs to be a balance of length and substance to truly inform people. We can't have them walking away thinking that it's Customer Support.
  • David Ellin
    David Ellin Member Posts: 170 Expert
    Name Dropper Photogenic First Anniversary First Comment
    edited December 2020
    Thanks, @Ja'Rod Morris. I thought long and hard about starting this conversation for fear it might be a challenging effort. We're getting some great input and will then need a great wordsmither!
  • David Ellin
    David Ellin Member Posts: 170 Expert
    Name Dropper Photogenic First Anniversary First Comment
    edited December 2020
    Great points, @Anna Alley. Once in a while, I hear that CX folks report up through CS but my experience is that they're typically in the marketing department. It's certainly a collaborative effort between departments.
  • Anita Toth
    Anita Toth Member Posts: 246 Expert
    Photogenic 5 Insightfuls First Anniversary
    edited December 2020
    @Ja'Rod Morris  The best definitions are those ones that a family member or child could easily understand. Just like the elevator pitch you mentioned -- they take a long to time discover. But when you do -- woohoo! -- they bring all elements together perfectly.

    "CS -- Helping customers achieve their goals while helping the business achieve its goals" 

    Does that work? ?
  • Steve Bernstein
    Steve Bernstein Member Posts: 133 Expert
    Name Dropper Photogenic First Anniversary First Comment
    edited December 2020
    Ooh, @Anita Toth, I really like that. It may be a bit ambiguous but that MAY be ok, because the natural response from an elevator pitch is to get a question back, "What do you mean by "goals?" (or similar). 

    The thing I've been so unhappy about in the CS world is the lack of emphasis on the second part -- helping the company meet its goals -- and to this end I'd think that those goals are FAR more than retention and expansion. Reduced Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) and Accelerated Profitable Growth MUST both be key to company goals in order to demonstrate hockey-stick ROI to investors (straight-line growth is NOT enough! Nor is merely adding sales and marketing spend to acquire more revenue -- it needs to scale!).

    So back to what @David Ellin and I have been stating, which is that CS must be the company-wide silo-buster in order to provide great experiences that drive ADVOCACY.... do you think the definition that  Anita pas provided ("CS -- Helping customers achieve their goals while helping the business achieve its goals") is sufficient to make that critical point?

    /Steve
  • Ja'Rod Morris
    Ja'Rod Morris Member Posts: 16 Thought Leader
    First Anniversary
    edited December 2020
    @David Ellin, it is a conversation worth having, especially once you see the differing perspectives across the board. It also allows us all to reflectively challenge what we believe Customer Success to be,.
  • Ja'Rod Morris
    Ja'Rod Morris Member Posts: 16 Thought Leader
    First Anniversary
    edited December 2020
    Hey @Anita Toth, yeah it's a catch 22 lol  - too complex and they won't understand, too simple and you still may walk away from the conversation with blank stares.
  • David Ellin
    David Ellin Member Posts: 170 Expert
    Name Dropper Photogenic First Anniversary First Comment
    edited December 2020
    Yes, @Steve Bernstein. I think @Anita Toth has gotten us much closer. I think it needs at least one more sentence to tie in some critical aspects to CS though. By itself, it may be a bit ambiguous as you've pointed out. Perhaps we can build on it.
  • Anita Toth
    Anita Toth Member Posts: 246 Expert
    Photogenic 5 Insightfuls First Anniversary
    edited December 2020

    I think there's a need for 2 definitions:

    1) an all encompassing definition that spans several sentences

    2) a quick almost-encompasses-all sentence

    Both are needed depending on the context in which they're used.

    I spoke with a marketer today who that that 'customer success' was a concept!

    She had NO IDEA that CS is a department that serves critical business functions.

    Apparently this discussion thread here is timely given the frightening nature of that conversation. ?

    @Steve Bernstein @David Ellin @Ja'Rod Morris @James Conant @Rav Dhaliwal @Anna Alley

  • David Ellin
    David Ellin Member Posts: 170 Expert
    Name Dropper Photogenic First Anniversary First Comment
    edited December 2020
    So true, @Anita Toth. Unfortunately, I have that conversation several times a month....not necessarily with marketers but with business leaders as well. And, if they know that it's a department, they have no idea what the primary functions are.

    Interesting concept of the two definitions. Kind of like a 30-second elevator pitch and the more expanded version. The first is the hook, the second is the answer to, "Tell me more"
  • David Ellin
    David Ellin Member Posts: 170 Expert
    Name Dropper Photogenic First Anniversary First Comment
    edited December 2020
    Here's a stab at a revised short-form definition based on all of the above comments. Once we nail this, we can work on the expanded definition based on @Anita Toth's concept of two definitions. Where are we missing the mark?

    Short-form:
    "Customer Success is a collaborative, strategic, post-sales business discipline that helps customers achieve their desired outcomes with the best possible experience while helping the business achieve its retention, profitable revenue growth, and advocacy goals."

    @Steve Bernstein @Anita Toth @James Conant @Rav Dhaliwal @Ja'Rod Morris @Anna Alley @Jay Nathan @Jeff Breunsbach
  • Anita Toth
    Anita Toth Member Posts: 246 Expert
    Photogenic 5 Insightfuls First Anniversary
    edited December 2020
    @David Ellin  I like it! Sounds like we're getting close. 

    Here are some suggestions:

    "Customer Success is a collaborative, strategic, post-sales business discipline that helps empowers/supports/encourages customers to achieve their desired outcomes with through/via the best possible experience while  simultaneously helping contributing/assisting the business to achieve its retention, profitable revenue growth, and advocacy goals."

    I like the word 'profitable'. But I feel that 'retention' and 'advocacy' will also need pronouns too to balance it out. Suggestion -- remove 'profitable' or add pronouns to 'retention' and 'advocacy'.

    I find the flow is interrupted with 'the best possible experience'. While I think this is important, I'm wondering if it's necessary right now in this shorter definition.

    I think there's a need for 2 definitions:

    1) an all encompassing definition that spans several sentences

    2) a quick almost-encompasses-all sentence

    Both are needed depending on the context in which they're used.

    I spoke with a marketer today who that that 'customer success' was a concept!

    She had NO IDEA that CS is a department that serves critical business functions.

    Apparently this discussion thread here is timely given the frightening nature of that conversation. ?

    @Steve Bernstein @David Ellin @Ja'Rod Morris @James Conant @Rav Dhaliwal @Anna Alley

  • Ja'Rod Morris
    Ja'Rod Morris Member Posts: 16 Thought Leader
    First Anniversary
    edited December 2020

    I'll jump on this train :-). Adding to @Anita Toth's definition, with some modifications. 

    "Customer Success is a business discipline that focuses on helping customers achieve their desired business outcomes through the execution of a strategically collaborative and long-term journey with a specific product. Customer Success begins from the initial point of contact through the entire life of the business relationship. Customer Success involves effective relationship management, as well as ongoing interpersonal and systematic feedback loops that drive continuous product improvements, which in turn help the supporting organization achieves its retention, profitable revenue growth, and advocacy goals."

    @Steve Bernstein @James Conant @Rav Dhaliwal @Anna Alley @Jay Nathan @Jeff Breunsbach @David Ellin

  • Nicholas Ciambrello
    Nicholas Ciambrello Member Posts: 27 Expert
    First Anniversary
    edited December 2020

    Yeah honestly I think what Anita has hits on everything that a CS org should strive to do

    - Post sales team

    - Helps customers achieve desired outcomes and have a great experience with you while doing so

    - that should then turn into the company reaching its business objective (retention, expansion and advocacy)

    Really not sure theres anything to add to it. You can rephrase it any way you want but as long as those core things are happening you have a CS org. Now where I think the real difference between sales, account management and CSMs is the core values that a CSM does those things with.

    Often times with a SaaS by upgrading or expanding your subscription/account it is because the product is delivering more value, where we differ from sales is in the way we present that value added. From a CS persepective we would do so by giving recommendations to users on how to achieve their desired outcomes and part of those recommendations you might have to pursuade the user to upgrade, however if that is not possible you still continue with your consultative relationship with the customer regardless of if they expand or not. Whereas Sales would most likely stop working with them shortly there after/ not care about their continued success.


    Just my 2 cents on how we get to the industry definition. (focus on the how not the what)