Retention, revenue expansion, churn. Mention them in any business environment, and the crowd’s reaction would always be unanimous. A thriving company, they’d say, depends on happy customers. It’s a classic case of cause and effect, really – if there’s no satisfaction for them, there’s no success for you.
But, shouldn’t success be mutual?
Don’t we all look to achieve the same desired outcome?
First, we were introduced to the experience economy. Then, the experience economy urged us to become customer-centric. Now, engaging experiences and customer satisfaction no longer suffice. The tables have turned, the terminology has evolved, and we’re looking at a brand new concept.
The Product, the Solution, and the Outcome
“Customers are not paying for your product, they are paying for their outcomes”. This thought by Jonas Stanford
(director of Customer Success at Unbounce) makes a memorable quote, but what does it exactly mean? More importantly, how can we know the outcome the customer expects?
The outcome essentially describes a solution to a problem, though not only that.
Let’s say you need a cell phone that actually works. Would you wait for an entire week before you finally acquire the model you want? Or, would you rush to the nearest vendor and buy the first one you see? What if the salesman was obnoxious? What if you couldn’t set up the phone by yourself?
The product itself is not a solution. Instead, the solution is both the goal you need to achieve (acquire a fully functional phone as soon as you need it) and the way you need to achieve it (quickly and without much hassle).
Only together, the required outcome and the appropriate experience ensure a successful customer journey. While the product suggests a solution, it’s the process of finding, learning about, adopting, and engaging with the product that makes the solution valuable. And, it has to be frictionless.
Defining Customer Success
Whether you call it a frictionless process or a delightful experience, the course from a problem to a solution is nothing but a typical buyer’s journey. In order to move away from the awareness stage and reach the final decision, a potential customer needs to make a myriad of touch points with your brand. Marketing, sales, onboarding
and customer support are only the main intersections.
If you fail at only one of them, the prospect will take the first turning.
For that reason, the most simplified definition of customer success would be the achievement of the desired outcome through multiple touch points with a company, whereas the “desired outcome” describes both the required outcome and the appropriate experience, while “multiple touch points” specify the importance of delivering both at each consecutive stage of the customer journey.
The Difference between Support and Success
It’s obvious from this definition that customer success goes well beyond customer support. While the second increases satisfaction by answering to specific demands, the first is more of a mind-set. That’s how successful companies see it, and why they insist on their differentiation.
If success was the support’s responsibility, the customers would hardly receive either.
Here’s a practical example. You may live-chat with your cell phone vendor’s support team and ask how to install a video conference app; within a minute, the agent will forward you a link with detailed, step-by-step instructions. It’s an effective solution, but is it a desired outcome?
Contact a customer success team with the same question, and they will give you something else. Instead of what you think you need, the agent will impart an expert advice about the app you’re trying to install, and the alternative solution that may work better in the long run.
It’s like up-selling without immediate profit.
Rather than fixing a problem with a one-off solution, customer success strives toward long-term relationships. For quite some time, companies have tried to train customer support reps to provide both tangible resolutions for technical issues, expert guidance, and consulting.
As these two continue to evolve as separate practices, it becomes clear that killing two birds with one stone is not in the customer’s best interest. It’s segregation of immediate support and continual care that sufficiently tends to their needs, thus enabling success for both you and the customer.
Employing Success for the New Age: Why Is It Critical?
Why the need for such theoretical precision, you might ask, when every savvy entrepreneur knows that the road to success is paved with satisfying customer interactions? Customer success is not a new idea, that’s true. The only difference is – now that we’ve defined it, we can actually start developing a reliable framework.
Also, the times have changed.
Today’s customers are not who they used to be a decade, or even a year back. The ever-changing climate of the digital world spurs new challenges as we speak. Everything is in the customers’ hands now, and only the ones that adapt will survive. For this, customer success is critical.
The Subscription Economy
Here’s a brief lesson in history to explain what we’re trying to convey. Customer success started off as a technique in SaaS businesses, since they were the first to sense that winter is coming. The model they employ heavily depends on the company’s ability to renew contracts with active customers – if dissatisfied, the user can simply skip the monthly fee and click the cancel button.
The fact that a single touch point means the difference between a fruitful customer relationship and churn is terrifying, but hey, that’s reality. In order to retain what they’ve earned, modern-day companies need to improve all the time, and constantly re-earn the loyalty of their customers. In a world where barriers to choose competitive products and services no longer exist, customer success is the best chance we have.
The Churn Is the Key
Besides, it’s exactly the churn rate that has a decisive impact on the company’s overall revenue. The time and money most business invest in customer acquisition mean little or less if active customers continue to leave. Best case scenario, they eventually turn even. By focusing on the reduction of revenue headwinds caused by churn instead, companies with strong levels of customer success don’t only reach their full revenue potential, but grow exceedingly faster.
The Modern Customer
It’s been proven over and over again that today’s customers are not to be underestimated. With everything being in the reach of their hands, it’s no wonder that control resides in them as well. Be they digitally native Millennials or not, the customers we’re dealing with are nothing if not highly informed.
As always when different times call for different measures, the need for constant improvement is a pressing one. Technologically-savvy customers are presented with a plethora of choices – the only thing they have to do is compare and point a finger. If you’re anything less than well-prepared, proactive and convincing, they’ll replace you with one click.
The Guarantee for Recommendation
Finally, customer success is the only guarantee for a recommendation. If your service is only fine, the customer will not rush to applaud you. If the experience you provide is satisfactory but not memorable, the customer will hardly remember to mention your name.
But, if their desired outcome is achieved not only with a product, but every step of the way as well, if they feel that you’re doing what you’re doing for them, if their experience is both pleasurable and successful, then they’ll be more than glad to recommend you to someone else.
It’s a good reason to start treating your customers the way they want to be treated, right? Instead of conceptual happiness, offer them palpable success. They’re only people in search of a favourable outcome, after all, and you’re in a position to light their way at each intersection, throughout the journey.
Next time, we’ll talk more about how to assemble a successful customer success team, so stay tuned.