How to build a Customer Success ethos into the foundations of your company
by Michelle MacCarthy, Global VP of Customer Success, Unit4
The notion of placing customer needs and desires at the very heart of business strategy is far from new. We can go back to retailers such as Selfridges, hospitality chains like Ritz Hotels, or farther afield where founders stuck fast to the notion that the customer is always right and trained staff to recognise that essential fact. But today, the philosophy of Customer Success Management acts as a north star for technology and many other sectors because they have realised that, in an age of comparison sites, widely available product options, customer reviews and legislation protecting consumer rights that switching suppliers is easier than ever. The prize of customer loyalty still exists but it must be earned and the value must be known.
Creating a customer success mindset
This evolution is further exploited in the Subscription Economy where there can be no customer ‘lock-in’ and a reduced state of ‘stickiness’ exists. In the old enterprise software world, it was tough to move from a core provider. That, thankfully, is changing and we are all accustomed to switching providers, even if some fields remain easier than others. In the cloud age, we’re all working to keep customers happy and ensure they are with us for the long term. If they win, we win but how do you create a customer success mindset that is embraced and adopted across the organization?
The question is relevant because customer success isn’t a stand-alone that can be acquired by appointing a Customer success officer. If all the elements of the company are not aligned in their thinking and actions, that will come through in the experience received by the customer.
Customer Success needs to have its own KPI because you need to be able to measure your performance. Net Promoter Score (NPS) has become the standard gauge of customer sentiment as it relates to the experience a company provides – and if customers would refer them on to their business network. It ensures companies are setting proper expectations and delivering value to customers based on their feedback, but it’s about more than just keeping score. Underlying success, there needs to be a broader understanding of customers’ businesses, their industries and specific challenges, and the ability to support them every step of the way. ‘Voice of the customer’ council meetings that layer over the direct feedback and sentiment analysis, is a great way to parse both direct and indirect commentary on social media, contact centres and the web. You need to offer ways for customers to foster communities as well so they can swap experiences, share best practices and learn together.
That’s critical because tech companies not paying attention to unique needs is a common complaint at the CIO level. The highly respected UK CIO David Henderson once wrote: “CIOs need partners who are prepared to understand the business. My business relies on us keeping everything operational whilst finding new ways to innovate, drive down costs and improve performance. However, we can’t do everything ourselves and we rely on an extended network of IT suppliers who help us to support the business and achieve our objectives. Unfortunately, relatively few suppliers spend time in really getting to know how their customers operate as a business.”
What it takes to work in customer success
As an industry, that sort of feedback needs to be a bias for action and a call to arms around deeply understanding the customer business, their pain points, their opportunities and what success really looks like to them. So, when I get asked about what it takes to work in Customer Success, I list curiosity, a talent for empathy, the ability to listen, stay openminded, be adaptive and act as change agents who are able to learn and then act decisively on that hard-won knowledge.
But Customer Success is an ethos, not a department or a project with a beginning, middle and end: the story goes on and on and the narrative changes. More than ever, given what has gone on over the last year-plus, we need to rally around customers and put our people (employees and customers) first. They merit and need special attention at this time so we constantly need to be engaged and ask how we can help. And then we need to act on that information fast and communicate back results, changes and updates – aligned to their business priorities.
The new dynamic models and supporting tools are our friends here. Gainsight is a powerful way to help scale the Customer Success organisation, providing mechanisms for tracking team activities with customers and gaining real-time visibility into the health of the customers. And, with so many channels to customers available (web, portal, messaging, social, apps, newsletter, events and more) you need to map the customer journey and stay consistent in what you’re saying and how you’re saying it. The RACI matrix for roles and responsibilities can be a useful aid here while TSIA offers useful tools for measuring Customer Success.
Applying customer success to the employee experience
So, I’m confident in the ability for companies to use all the above and train people to drive customer centricity into everything they do. It’s all about having the right culture and tools but it’s also absolutely essential to apply Customer Success ways of thinking to the employee experience. In 2020, many of us learned the importance of redoubling our support for our people at a stressful time. Many also learned that while productivity might remain strong or even increase, we also needed to look at other indicators relating to wellbeing and to help ensure that staff were resting and able to focus on their own needs and those of loved ones.
The notion of the customer always being right is common across languages and cultures but, as Sir Richard Branson has noted, you can think of this through another lens. “Clients do not come first,” he said. “Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”
But whatever angle you approach the issue from, Customer Success as a mainstay organisational tenet is here to stay. Enterprise software can’t narrowly be focused on licence sales, and if our customers are happy, we will have a great chance to retain them, cross-sell and up-sell and build healthy relationships where they become advocates and social promoters of our brands.
Our industry needs to go on the journey alongside our customers, and constantly measure itself against the sentiment of customers, using the guideposts the customer tells us are key. This will continue to evolve over time as, for example, company sustainability and ethics perhaps come more under the microscope. Whatever the signals are, if we keep listening, we’ll hear them. And our responsibility is to continue to evolve to meet new and ever-changing expectations.
About Michelle MacCarthy, Global VP of Customer Success, Unit4
A passionate customer success leader with over 15 years in the tech and retail industries, Michelle leads Unit4’s customer experience strategy, driving change management and service delivery with a focus on making Unit4 customers successful. As a proven leader in customer success as well as traditional, digital and omnichannel marketing, Michelle has worked for some of the industry’s best known brands and understands the importance of a well-architected customer lifecycle journey.
Unit4’s next-generation enterprise solutions power many of the world’s most people-centric mid-market organizations. Our state-of-the-art cloud platform, ERPx, brings together the capabilities of Financials, Procurement, Project Management, HR and FP&A onto a unified cloud platform that shares real-time information and is designed with a powerful, people-centric approach, so employees can benefit from better insight and become more effective and increasingly engaged. It supports rapid and continuous change while delivering individualized fit for customers at scale, delivering the right tools to unify the processes across their organization, and connect their people. Unit4 serves more than 6,000 customers globally including, Bravida, Havas, Migros Aare, Americares, Save the Children International, Action against Hunger, Metro Vancouver, Forest Research, Southampton City Council, Habitat for Humanity, Selkirk College, FTI Consulting, and Surrey County Council.