4 Steps To Develop a Proactive, Confident CS Team

Confident Customer Success Managers

When we ask clients what they most want to have as an outcome from Customer Success (CS) training, they often indicate that they wish their Customer Success Managers (CSMs) will become more confident when working with customers.

They want customer success staff to be more proactive, deliver a great experience, and make sure the client achieves their goals.

What is interesting is that when we ask them about what their staff is like now, they are often far from this mark.

They tend to be reactive.

They tend to be “pleasers” – that is, they want to deliver everything a client asks and not push back.

They tend to be experts in the product, but not in how to help the customer get their internal staff to use the product in a way that delivers success.

And they often tend to be intimidated or uncomfortable when working with senior leaders on the customer side. Oh, and many of them to tend to be early in their careers without tons of professional experience (or life experience).

So, if this is your situation, where do you need to focus? How do you start to develop your team? Here are some essential items that will help you develop your team.

Confident Team Member

1. Develop their ability to build trusting relationships

There is a broad spectrum of proficiency when it comes to knowing how to quickly establish solid, trusting relationships that enable people to collaborate effectively. This is especially true when it comes to external staff (e.g., CSMs, consultants, etc.) trying to work with new clients.

Spending time teaching CSMs the skills, processes, and techniques on how to develop these relationships will significantly enhance their ability and confidence when working with clients.

2. Develop the ability to focus on mutual business success

CSMs need to learn how to help clients identify the business outcomes they hope to achieve through the widespread, consistent, effective use of your technology.

CSMs need to help the client shift from the features and functions of your product, to instead focus on the business outcomes they receive from the use of it.

We have found that when we teach CSMs how to discuss client and vendor outcomes in the context of mutual success, they gain the skills and confidence to “push back” effectively and professionally when the clients may ask for things that are outside the scope of what your CS team can provide.

3. Build their subject matter expertise in software adoption techniques

For CSMs to guide customers with confidence and authority, they need to have advanced knowledge about the actions that customers need to take to drive effective software adoption that will deliver the business outcomes that customers need.

If CSMs don’t know the activities that will make customers successful (and which ones to avoid that prevent success), then they will never be truly confident in leading customers.

By giving CSMs advances skills in this area, you increase both their ability to drive customer success, and their confidence to lead customer discussions on this topic.

4. Provide ongoing coaching and support to CSMs

While providing training is a great way to jumpstart CSMs knowledge and confidence, training alone is not enough.

We have found that what CSMs need is ongoing coaching and support after the initial training to help them apply what they have learned and continue to advance their skills and confidence. Based on the results we have seen from working with clients on a post-training basis, we have added this ongoing coaching and support to our training programs.


We have trained numerous customer success staff members in techniques around developing relationships, discussing success, managing client expectations, and methods for accelerating and sustaining effective, long-term user adoption of software.

We are constantly impressed with how quickly CSMs can grow and develop with focused training and support in these areas. If you are looking to advance your CS capabilities, we suggest you focus on these areas.


The Top 2 Questions Customer Success Managers Should Ask in Every Meeting

Many Customer Success Managers (CSMs) struggle with lacking the confidence, or the experience, to have the most productive conversations with their clients. They tend to get nervous or uncomfortable with asking clients about business issues and discussing what it will take for the client to renew. For some reason, many CSMs just don’t come out and have a direct conversation and ask the client what’s important. Here are two simple questions that CSMs should ask in every meeting to delight clients and be able to deliver the kind of value and service that will get clients to renew year after year.


The first question happens at the very start of each meeting. When kicking off the meeting, share your meeting goal and your proposed agenda. Then, before getting into any content, ask your client, “What will make this meeting a success for you?” Or, put another way, ask, “What will make you walk away at the end of this meeting and say this was a great use of your time?”


By starting the meeting this way, you show that you have prepared for the meeting in a way that is intended to respect the client’s time and add value to them. Stopping to ask the client what success looks likes to them reinforces that you are focused on providing value to them in every interaction, which is your ultimate goal.

Also, by explicitly asking your client what success is for this interaction, you have the opportunity to adjust on the fly to make sure the meeting is valuable to them ? no more missing the mark with clients!


If you’re surprised by what they say, you should ask clarifying questions to find out why this is the correct success definition for this meeting, for them.

By understanding what’s important to your client and what success is for them, you can adjust your approach and your agenda in a way that brings more value to them during their interaction with you. What could be better than that?


Assuming that you have set the expectation with clients that you want them to get so much value that they renew and expand their relationship for 20 years or more (you are doing that, right?). The second question will affirm your commitment to this lofty, yet achievable goal.

The second question you should ask at the end of every meeting is, “If you had to renew today, would you? “You can clarify this with some variation such as: “Have you received enough value from our relationship thus far that you would want to keep working with us and renew today?”

While you might feel uncomfortable asking this at first, if you do it as a matter of regular practice, it will quickly feel normal to you AND your client. Also, it is a very explicit reminder to your client that you ? and they ? need to focus on the business value they are getting, not just the features and functions of your software or service.


If the client answers “Yes, they would renew today”, that’s wonderful and keep it up. You can even ask them, “What was most valuable for you in this meeting? What would you like to see more of in the future?” After the meeting, reflect on what is working and how you can build on what you have done to keep delighting the client in the future. What worked well with this client that you should do with other clients?

If the client answers “No” (which will happen in some meetings ? especially at critical points in a project), you now have the opportunity to ask clarifying questions, to drill-down for more details and learn more about where the value leaks are for your customer. You can come back next time to share what you did with their negative feedback and work with your client to improve going forward. Feedback, while it may hurt in the short-term, is a gift that allows you to delight customers over the long-term.


The next thing you should do is to go through and track the answer (“Yes” or “No”) given in every single meeting. You can even combine this information with other customer usage and health data, to come up with a more comprehensive customer health score that includes accurate data about your customers’ intent to renew.

Start to look at trends in client responses. If you get more than 3 “No’s” in a row, this is an early indication that you have a problem and need to take action to address it. If you have five or more “No’s” in a row, it’s time to escalate things internally so that your executives can take action to save the account before it is too late!

Additional Resources

Want to learn more about how you can deliver amazing customer success services that delight clients and accelerate value creation? Check out Success Chain and get started today!


3 Steps to Build Better Customer Success Relationships: “The Go-Slow to Go-Fast Approach”

Many well-intentioned CS professionals are so focused on the details of their product or service and are in a rush to get the customer to cover lots of information that they skip the critical relationship-building tasks that form the foundation for a strategic, trusting relationship. As a result, clients are cautious and hesitant to engage with them and introduce them to other parts of the organization. The net result is that things take much longer and are less effective than they should be.

To address this critical issue, we teach our clients the “Go Slow to Go Fast Approach” for building effective relationships.

The essence of this approach is that you need to take the time to build a trusting relationship with a client before you are ready to start working on content. When you do this, you prevent many of the delays and missteps that always slow down the process later.

The trust you build upfront – the relationship capital – will allow you and your client to move faster and further later in the process.

One of the most common problems we hear from Customer Success (CS) leaders is that their team members don’t have the right kind of relationships with their customers. They tell us:

  • We want our CS teams to work with customers on more strategic / business issues
  • Our customers view our CS team as junior, support resources
  • We can’t get the right person at our customers’ organizations to speak with us. Our only contacts are in procurement or IT.
  • Our customers won’t even get on the phone with us or engage with us
  • When we then work with their teams, and we ask them precisely what they do when engaging with customers (especially new customers), it is no wonder.

While some CS staff members instinctively know how to grow a new relationship, most customer success professionals have never learned how to build trusted, strategic relationships with their customers.

Step 1: Build a Trusting Relationship

During your initial few client interactions, you need to spend time learning about the client members with whom you will work. You need to understand who they are, their strengths and weaknesses, their view of their organization, and what constitutes success for them and their organization. It is especially important to focus on the executive sponsor(s) and your primary contact.

You also need to share with them about your background, expertise, and weaknesses. You need to demonstrate how you can help them achieve a level of success they can’t achieve on their own. Be honest and upfront with what you do well, and where you will rely on others to get the expertise they need.

Your goal is to start to learn about each other and figure out how you can work well together. Building these relationships take time and will continue over several interactions and meetings. This is not a single discussion topic on the agenda.

3 Steps to Better Customer Success Go Slow To Go Fast
3 Steps to Better Customer Success: Go Slow To Go Fast

Step 2: Agree on the Process

A crucial step in building trust is to define the process by which you will collaborate with the client team and executives. Spend time right up front asking when the executive wants to be involved in decisions, where they want to be kept updated, or where they want you or your team to handle issues for them. Directly review expectations and get agreements about roles and responsibilities for you, the client executive, and the client team. Also, discuss how these will change over time and in different project phases.

Ask how to communicate with them (phone, email, meeting, etc.) and how frequently they want to be informed. Some clients are busy and don’t want you clogging their inbox with unnecessary details. Others want to be involved in every step of the way. Find out your clients’ preferences.

Another key issue here is to discuss and agree on how to handle any conflicts, issues, or risks that will inevitably come up over the project. Make sure you have a clear escalation path and plan with your clients.

Step 3: Content Discussions

Only after you have done the upfront work of building relationships, trust, and agreeing on how to collaborate, are you ready to get into the detailed, content discussion. This is when you can start talking about your project plan, deliverables, activities, etc.

Also, make sure you have the right people in the room for these discussions. Many CS staff members make the mistake of asking the detailed content discussions to the first person they encounter, often the client executive. A better approach is to explain the nature of the exact questions that need to be covered and ask them who is the best person in their organization to address them.


Try the Go Slow to Go Fast Approach with your next new client and reflect on how it changes the relationship. Note where you avoid delays, conflict, and problems because you have built relationships and are transparent on roles and responsibilities. Do you have issues with current clients where you might have skipped some of the steps here? That is OK; you can go back to them now and work on building trust and agreeing on collaboration processes now. It can only help.

Additional Resources

Want to learn more about how you can improve customer relationships and success? Check out success program and learn how to deliver proactive, confident, and effective customer success services!


The Very First Question a Customer Success Team Needs to Ask

If you are like many customer success managers, you are probably extremely focused on the question:

“Will our customers be successful with OUR software?”

You and your team probably ask yourselves what you, as a customer success professional, need to do to ensure the customer is successful using your product.

But there is a more critical, more fundamental question you need to ask first.

You need to ask, “Can our customer be successful with ANY software?”

Shifting focus is critical

By asking if the customer can be successful with any software, you are identifying if the customer has within its internal organization the knowledge, skills, experience, and capacity required to get maximum business value from its software investments.

You are identifying if the primary problem you need to solve first is related to your customers’ organizational capacity to adopt and benefit from any technology or if the major challenge is specific to your system.

Once you understand this crucial distinction between the customers’ ability to achieve success with any software versus their ability to achieve success with your specific software, you can focus and prioritize your CS efforts on the right things.

Here is the problem

Here’s the problem

What may come as a big surprise to you, is that most buyers of software don’t know how to get their organizations to drive change, get their staff to adopt software effectively, and ensure they get the full business outcomes they expect.

The issue is not the software.

The issue is a lack of knowledge, experience, and expertise in driving new behaviors and ways of working across the organization to get the full value from the software.

When we train the buyers of software on user adoption techniques and practices, they are amazed at how many things they are doing wrong that prevent their success in getting value from software. The vast majority of these issues are people, organizational, and process issues. They are NOT specific to a given piece of software.

It doesn’t matter if it is a cloud system, on-premise, or a custom-built application. The crisis of effective user adoption is ubiquitous.

Here is the solution

Here are some questions you need to ask your customers to identify if the biggest blockers of customer success are tied to your specific product or are related to the customer’s internal ability to absorb any technology within their organizations:

  • What do you do internally to drive adoption and realize business benefits when implementing any new system? Do you have a defined user adoption program and methodology?
  • How do you ensure systems are quickly adopted and that you sustain effective adoption 3, 5, and 10 years down the road?
  • Across your software portfolio, what percent of applications are delivering the full business benefits and outcomes you expected? How many of the systems would you consider a mind-blowing business “success”? What makes them so incredible?
  • What prevents you from getting more value from your existing IT investments?
  • What will you do to ensure that your investment in our system is a success and delivers all of the business benefits you expect to achieve?
  • Where do you need our help to ensure that your investment in our system is a success and delivers all of the business benefits you expect to achieve?
Women Solving Problems

What to expect…

What you will most likely hear from your customers is that they have a plethora of systems that are NOT successful.

The vast majority of their systems are likely underused or underperforming. There is probably a lot of value leakage in their existing IT investment portfolio.

Many of your prospects and customers likely provide a limited version of “change management” (typically focused around the go-live date). These are probably the customers that report very few systems delivering full business value.

It will be the rare gem of a customer that has a structured, ongoing program to sustain effective system use (and business outcomes realization) over a 5 – 10 year period. These forward-thinking companies are likely the ones that report high success rates across their software portfolio.

The red flag for your customer success approach

When asking these questions, you will quickly see that many of your customers are unlikely to achieve great success getting value from any system, not just your system.

When you encounter this, you need to ask yourself if there is something magically different about your software. What is the magic that will lead customers to achieve success with your software when they have proven time and time again, they struggle to adopt and get value from any system?

If your software is sans magic then, you need to offer a different approach to helping your customer achieve success.

Otherwise, your system will quickly become just another underwhelming investment in your customer’s software portfolio.

Solve the first problem first

Before you waste a ton of time, resources, and effort narrowly focusing on the success of your product, you will likely need to help your customers recognize that they need to address this fundamental capability gap within their organization first.

They will need to spend time learning the principles and practices of software adoption. Then they must adjust their internal efforts to get more value from any of their software investments. Only then will they even have the potential to get full value from their investment in your system.

Your customer will be amazed at how you helped them

Realizing this, you need to focus your customer success approach on building your customer’s capacity to adopt any system effectively. They will then apply this skill to adopt your system.

And then everyone wins.

There is also an added benefit for you from this approach. By enriching your customer’s capacity to adopt any system, you will tremendously differentiate your company and your customer success program from all of your competitors.

Your customer will view you as the coveted “trusted advisor.”

Your customer will give you rare references and reviews.

Your customers will renew and expand their accounts.

And you will amaze and delight your coworkers, managers, executives, and investors.

Everybody wins.

Learn more

Success Chain provides a variety of Customer Success and Software Adoption training and consulting services to help buyers of software get full value from their IT investments.

Contact us to learn how we can help you or your customers increase their potential for software success and develop their internal software adoption programs and capacity that delivers success.


The World Cup, Software Adoption and Customer Success

The most amazing thing happened after the recent World Cup game. The Japanese spectators all cleaned up after themselves in the stadium. Many of them had even brought their own trash bags to make sure that they could leave the place spotless. When have you ever heard of such a thing happening at the sports events you have attended?

So, what do Japanese sport spectators have to do with software adoption customer success? The answer is they both depend on the behavior and showing respect for others. Let me explain. The BBC article about the Japanese spectators discusses how this is a cultural phenomenon. Japanese children are taught from an early age to be respectful and to pick up after themselves. This behavior is reinforced as they grow and continues even in adulthood.

The key to software adoption and customer success is creating a culture in your organization that rewards desired user behavior. It requires you to build a culture where everyone is focused on how they do their jobs and how they use the software to ensure that everyone across the organization can use the system as designed and intended.

Most organizations get into trouble with software adoption and customer success when they narrowly focus just on system functionality. They tend to ignore modeling, driving, and reinforcing the desired work behaviors. They ignore focusing on driving user behavior where everyone is conscious and intentional about using the software as it is intended.

The BBC article goes on to say:

“With constant reminders throughout childhood, these behaviors become habits for much of the population.”

The lesson here for software adoption customer success is that you need to constantly reinforce the behavior that you want with reminders. This critical effort is oftentimes overlooked in many organizations. Who’s job is it to model this behavior? Who’s job is it to give the reminders? Who’s job is it to actually identify the desired user adoption customer success behaviors?

Another interesting point is that this behavior is a source of pride for the Japanese spectators.

“In addition to their heightened consciousness of the need to be clean and to recycle, cleaning up at events like the World Cup is a way Japanese fans demonstrate pride in their way of life and share it with the rest of us” – explains Prof North.

How can you create a culture in your organization where it is a source of pride that everyone is using the technology well? How do you create a corporate culture that rewards desired behaviors? How do you create a corporate culture where people are encouraged to make sure that they not only do their job well but that they are doing their job, and using technology systems in a way that enables others to use the data and system to excel at their jobs as well?

We can all take a lesson from these Japanese spectators about how to improve software adoption and customer success. To be more successful, focus your efforts on creating a culture and environment that rewards desired user behavior. What steps do you take to create a culture that reinforces desired norms for effectively adopting systems and technology?

Create the culture of system users taking pride in creating high-quality data the is shared throughout the organization. Think of these Japanese spectators and engage your users around these behaviors and principles. Model the behavior that you want. Be aware and take note when you see people using systems and doing their job as intended. Publicize it across your organization when you see examples of excellence in using the software effectively. If you do, you will have much greater success from your software investments!


Learning To Drive Digital Transformation: Lessons From Roommates & House Guests

The rise of the digital workplace is changing how people collaborate and conduct work, forcing us to reexamine a lot of assumptions and rote behaviors. We need to rethink both how we work and how we impact others’ work.

This got me thinking that we can learn a lot about how to drive effective digital workplace behaviors by looking at how we deal with roommates and houseguests. Kind of an odd connection, isn’t it. Well, not really when you look at the underlying issues.

Over my life, I have had a lot of roommates and houseguests. I had roommates in college. When I was studying in England, I shared a flat with a bunch of international graduate students. In my twenties, I shared apartments with friends to save money. And I have had tons of people come and stay as houseguests over the years.

What is interesting in reflecting about roommates is that there are a lot of different types of people and how they approach living with others.

There are those who are extremely considerate and always clean their room and clean the common areas. And there are those who always leave dishes in the sink.

And what about houseguests? Oh, my goodness – what a range! There are those that you know they’re always going to bring a gift. There are those that are always going to clean up after themselves and be very considerate.

There are the ones who take the sheets off the bed and make sure that the place is in better shape than when they found it. And then there are the ones who always leave wet towels on the floor, the bed unmade, drop food everywhere, and then leave you with a big mess to clean up after they are gone.

What has been clear from these experiences is that roommates and houseguests each have extremely different ideas of what are appropriate behaviors, and they display far different levels of consideration for others. We see similar patterns when looking at the digital workplace.

Effective digital work requires that people adopt similar ways of working. They need to collaborate effectively using digital tools. They need to be aware of the interdependencies between how they perform their individual job and how they use software tools and the impact it has on the ability of others to also perform their job effectively.

Take, for example, something like Office 365 or a CRM system.

These technologies change how and when people need to work together.? To be effective, they require people to utilize centralized tools and adopt similar work behaviors.

People need to:

  • Share files in the correct location, with proper names, in order for others to access, collaborate, and utilize the materials.
  • Enter all required information in a CRM system in order to allow everyone across the organization to enter it.
  • Enter information with accuracy, clarity, and enough detail that anyone can quickly understand the full picture just from what is entered in the field.
  • Enter data and share files in a timely manner (ideally the moment it is generated) so that others can access the data they need, when they need it, to do their jobs.

How many times have you looked in a system and can’t find the file you need? Or looked in the CRM and found that most of the data is missing or wrong? How confident are you in using what is available? How much time do you waste trying to track down what you need? How is your customer experience impacted when you don’t have the information they already shared with your company because someone else didn’t enter it into the system?

Whether it is in the digital workplace, living with roommates, or being a houseguest, the key lesson here is that you need to focus on behavior and consideration.

  1. Pay attention to your behavior and how it impacts others. It is no longer enough to be a great individual performer if the way you work prevents others from their best performance as well.
  2. Be considerate of others. The way you do your job directly impacts how others do their job. If you are not collaborating effectively or using digital tools as defined and designed, then you are making more work for others.
  3. If you are a manager or a supervisor, it is your job to help drive the desired behaviors among your team. You need to clearly articulate the behaviors that are required from your staff.? You also need to reward people when they are considerate of others and work in a way that allows everyone to succeed. And you need to take action to correct inconsiderate or inappropriate collaboration behaviors.

Focusing on digital collaboration behaviors and ensuring all people are considerate of their impact on others’ work is essential to achieving success in the digital workplace.

Most software projects fail to deliver the expected business outcomes because of the approach the buyer takes to getting the system live and driving adoption. Most buyer’s organizations don’t have the expertise, tools, and capacity to deliver their own success.? This short video explains many of the methodological and structural problems organizations face when dealing with software.

If you are looking to help software buyers create their own internal software success programs, Success Chain can help. Contact us to find out what we can do for you.


How to Increase Customer Success and Reduce Customer Churn

Customer Success provides a solid foundation for a company to grow and scale with customers for life. In today’s competitive market, SaaS providers fully depend on upsells, referrals and renewals year after year. Most SaaS companies put all of their focus and effort into developing their product(s) and acquiring new customers and logos. The problem with this strategy, and why so many SaaS companies are becoming increasingly stressed about customer churn, is customer acquisition is just the beginning of a long-term service engagement with your customers. The services your Customer Success Managers (CSMs) provide as well as the quality and focus of their interactions with customers, can deliver unbeatable value and have a greater impact on your customers’ success than your product(s). You could have the best product in the world with all the bells and whistles, but it won’t give you a competitive advantage or loyal customers if the quality of your customer engagement is lacking or focused on the wrong things.

To start, there are three key focus areas for improving the quality and results of your customer success efforts and interactions as a CSM. First and foremost, you must understand, educate and reinforce with your customers (and most likely with your internal C-suite and colleagues) that Customer Success is not a short-term focus on your product’s features, functionality, and benefits. Customer Success is a proactively managed, long-term relationship strategy with your customers.

If your CS team is focused on your product rather than helping your customers overcome real and potential obstacles to using your product, then you’re not helping your customers be successful in a significant and valuable way. And they won’t be your customers for long, which brings us to the second key focus area.

The second key focus area is you need to remember that getting to “Go Live” is just a milestone. It’s not the end goal. Getting to Go Live is a small piece of a very large puzzle, so don’t get stuck there with your customers as a CSM. Let your IT team have conversations with your customers about the requirements and getting to Go Live. Your focus must be larger, broader, and more strategic than that. You need to be focused on what success looks like for your customers after Go Live and how you can and will facilitate their success in the short-term, medium-term, and long-term. Your customers’ success is your number one priority and focus, which brings us to the third key focus area.

Third, as a CSM, you are not there to troubleshoot and answer technical questions for your customers. You are not there to write “one-way, one-size-fits-all” communications about the benefits of your products. And you are not there to provide system training. Let your Customer Support, Communications, and Training teams provide that value for your customers.

Your purpose, as a CSM, is not to provide technical value. Your purpose is to provide business value by being your customers’ trusted advisor throughout their relationship with your company. For example, as their trusted advisor, you need to ask your customers about what their long-term goals are, where they are struggling, what’s changing in their environment, what’s their organizational structure/hierarchy, what do they value, recognize and reward, what are their processes and performance expectations just to name a few important questions. Have you ever asked your customers these questions? If not, why not?

This is all key information that you need to know as a CSM to understand how ready, willing, and able your customers are to successfully incorporate your product into their unique and most likely complex environment and daily routines. Would you know what actions to take or recommend based on your customers’ answers to these questions? If not, you’re not alone. Most CSMs are not focused on these key questions and focus areas, and as a result, they are missing key opportunities to accelerate their customers’ adoption, value, and success.


Profile in Customer Success Leadership: Shannon Hyson

What is your title and role and how long have you been working in the CS space or similar role?

Shannon Hyson

My name is Shannon Hyson, and I’m the Global Head of Customer Success at a large B2B company in London, England, and I’ve been in the CS space for ten years – even before it was called Customer Success!!

My Customer Success career started when I took a role as Client Services Manager for a media company, and I became immediately aware of the gap between selling the initial solution and waiting for the customer to get in touch if something went wrong. We were missing the critical proactive piece of helping our customers succeed from the start! So I pitched the idea of Customer Success to the company, and they went for it. The journey hasn’t always been smooth, but it’s certainly been exciting!?

“Exploring what an alternative way of doing something might look like and being part of the next step is very exciting.”

What do you like most about being a CS leader?

I love influencing and pushing the Customer Success conversation. There are so many really exciting ways of approaching customer opportunities, and I love being able to challenge thought processes and ways of doing things across our organization and those of our customers to drive better business results. Looking for different ways of delivering customer and company success is very fulfilling.

What does CS success look like for you, your team, your clients, and your organization?

Success is about understanding why a customer would make an investment in your product and then working out what needs to happen to get them to a space where they can say, “Yes, that was a good investment.” To do that, you need to really understand what they are trying to achieve and form a partnership with the different business divisions that will be involved in the success of the product or the evaluation of it. The next crucial part is making sure that by delivering the agreed customer outcomes, you are in turn, making your own organization successful. Hopefully, they go hand in hand, but it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on!

“The right question is more powerful than the right answer.”

What key factors, skills, attributes, and/or characteristics have been particularly helpful to you in enabling your success as a leader in CS?

I really feel that the key attribute for anyone to be successful in Customer Success is curiosity. The right question is so much more powerful than the right answer! It’s a real skill to just listen to a customer and follow up, not with information to soothe, but a question to probe even further.

You can’t apply a solution, whether it be a product or service, if you don’t have a really clear picture of who your customer is and how their business is structured. And that leads to communication! All that listening and questioning needs to lead to a compelling reason to act so the ability to translate your understanding of your customer into a clear plan and outcomes.

“Who is responsible for the renewal?”

Reflecting on this past year, what were some of the business challenges you have experienced in the CS space or are still experiencing, and why do you think that is?

There is still a disconnect between Customer Success and Sales and who “owns” the customer. Who owns the renewal? It’s particularly tricky when creating a CS team in an existing sales environment where traditional views on sales roles are enforced because you can end up with a process that involves the customer being handed across people and roles. It’s not based on the customers’ needs but rather how we are structured internally, and that can be incredibly hard to overcome. Reward also comes into play, and there is always a conversation about who deserves the commission when a customer buys or renews – customer success feels like it’s done all the work, but Sales has negotiated the contract.

What are key areas you focus on to help your clients experience value from software and renew year after year?

It can be tricky – because we are not selling a software solution, the value doesn’t come from what they do online with the product but rather what they do after they use our product and apply the content they have read. We can’t just run a report to demonstrate positive outcome metrics, so we need to ensure that we are constantly in conversation with readers and stakeholders to learn about the value they are gaining from the FT. We then match the usage metrics to the outcomes to show a relationship between behaviors and the business outcomes the customer is trying to achieve.

“Globalization is a big challenge.”

What do you believe is the biggest challenge most organizations face when driving organizational change and getting people to adopt technology? How have you been able to help them??

Globalization is a big challenge. With customers and teams all over the world, we need to be really sensitive to the cultural and technological differences across different teams and adjust our approach. Too often, we use exactly the same communication style and approach regardless of the comfort levels of our internal or external audience, which can lead to several versions of the same message being embedded into processes and systems. We need to apply some customer success discovery to our own way of working!

Were there any surprises this past year (good or not so good) or any lessons learned from your CS efforts this past year?

We have known for a long-time that we had some accounts that were harder to manage than others, so we have stripped out a few accounts that weren’t commercially viable. The surprise in doing this was that it was far easier to get consensus on the change than I had at first expected!

By structuring the team and the accounts that they manage differently, we’ll have the capacity to move the needle on accounts that we haven’t been able to do so before. We did loads of research before making the decision to change our approach, which meant we could include that insight and the expected benefits in a way that made the teams more comfortable with what we were doing and why.

Where do you think the CS industry is headed in the next year or three years? How will it change? What do you see as new challenges in the future??

CS will only grow. I think that getting people to know their customer bases and how they are using the software will become even more important. Customers don’t want me to tell them the value they are getting or not getting. And they don’t want to be told they’re getting value when they’re not. What they want is for me to help them get value out of it. I also think there will be a bit of a mashup with sales and CS going forward in that they won’t be separate functions. We may have sales staff who start in CS rather than start in sales since it is essentially the same thing.

What advice would you give someone who is interested in pursuing a CS career and/or becoming a CS leader?

My advice for someone interested in pursuing a career in CS is to go for it. It is so rewarding and exciting because there is so much you can do with it. You get to speak with such interesting people and have conversations that really matter.

Also, have courage. Don’t be afraid of picking up the phone and calling someone to say, “I just really want to understand what you are doing with it.” Don’t undersell yourself and think that customers won’t see the value from the conversation. And don’t be afraid to ask the question or step on someone else’s toes. The meek will NOT inherit the customer success word.


Successful women leaders are paving the way for customer success

Customer Success (CS) is an exciting field and while still a very young and rapidly evolving discipline, some initial trends are starting to emerge. One of the most exciting and compelling trends is that many strong and talented women business leaders are boldly breaking new ground in the CS space.

These Customer Success women leaders are doing an amazing job of quickly inventing new ways of working along with creating entire CS teams and departments within their organizations. At Success Chain we have been honored to work with great women CS leaders who possess the skill, vision, adaptability and business acumen that is shaping the field and future leaders. We want to celebrate their incredible accomplishments and share their terrific advice for overcoming a variety of tough challenges in the Customer Success space.

We hope you will join us each month as we interview and showcase a successful CS leader with our top 10 questions aimed at exploring her unique insights and experiences. I

This month we are excited to showcase Jessica Donnelly, who is a Director of Customer Success at a global corporation based in the Washington DC area.

Jessica Donnelly1. What is your title and role and how long have you been working in the Customer Success (CS) space or similar role?

My name is Jessica Donnelly and I’m the Director of CS at a global corporation based in the Washington DC area. I’ve been in this role since June 2016. Prior to this role, I was in the consulting world for 16 years primarily focused on business process improvement, project management, customer relationship management, business development and risk management.

2. What do you like most about being a CS leader?

What I like best about being a Customer Success leader is that there is so much potential to drive lasting, significant change throughout an organization. The CS role has quite an impact on presenting and sustaining value for our customers.

3. What does CS success look like for you, your team, your clients and your organization?

For me, in my role as Director of Customer Success, success looks like the ability to obtain 100% buy-in and advocacy from the executive leadership team. For my CS team, success is the feeling of being valued by their peers and seeing our customers achieve their goals. For our clients, success is realizing the full value of their investment in our products. For our organization, success is functioning in a customer-centric approach that drives the overall strategy, product, and tool investments as well as collaborating cross-functionally to execute our end-to-end processes starting with sales through sustainability.?

My consulting skills have also been incredibly helpful”

4. What key factors, skills, attributes and/or characteristics have been particularly helpful to you in enabling your success as a leader in CS?

The ability to apply organizational change management principles while communicating internally within the organization and externally with customers has been extremely important. Also, thinking strategically, being proactive and adaptable, and having the softer skills such as being empathetic to our customers. Having business acumen such as familiarity with return on investment, what value really means and how to provide support to achieve business outcomes. My consulting skills have also been incredibly helpful such as listening and observing, being confident to think on my feet with customers, and providing recommendations with tangible results that can be tracked and monitored.

5. Reflecting back on 2017, what were some of the business challenges you experienced in the CS space or are still experiencing and why do you think that is?

One of the toughest business challenges has been the inability to change beliefs about the Customer Success role. For example, we have engrained processes and ways of doing things that are hard to change such as too many customer touch points, which creates an inconsistent customer experience. It’s hard to reeducate and change beliefs when CS is not a tangible output. The right tools and data are needed to help people gain insights and see the value in CS. But the reality is, change is hard. It’s a journey, not a sprint. Changing beliefs about the CS role really needs to start at the top of the organization with CS champions who can help internal stakeholders understand what CS is and isn’t.

6. What are the key areas you focus on to help your clients experience value from software and renew year after year?

Our CS role is business and people focused, not technology focused. To help our clients experience value from our software we have five key focus areas.

1. Our Customer Success team tries hard to get introduced to the client early on and work with them long before Go Live to drive adoption.?

2. We focus on identifying what success looks like for our customers and set realistic goals based on the best practices we share with them.

3. We focus on how they are preparing their users for what’s coming. We help our customers with awareness campaigns and ask pointed questions to help identify potential barriers to adoption such as, do you have authority to make the changes needed?” What is the level of attention and priority of the project?, and What level of preparation and communication with users has been done to facilitate overall readiness for what you’ve purchased?

4. After Go live, we focus on overall adoption, metrics and achievement of goals. We also make a point to capture customer feedback and share it with our internal teams so we can make changes as needed based on feedback from the user community.

5. We work with our clients to develop a roadmap for sustainability. Our adoption check-ins wind down once our clients feel empowered to own adoption and reach out to us for support as needed.

We try to highlight how important it is that the sponsors are active and empowered to drive change.”

7. What do you believe is the biggest challenge most organizations face when driving organizational change and getting people to adopt technology? How have you been able to help them?

One of the biggest challenges we face is the lack of strong sponsorship and business stakeholder commitment. We try to highlight how important it is that the sponsors are active and empowered to drive change. We ask questions to help them assess and realize that they may not have the right person in the role such as someone who is more focused on technology and Go Live than business outcomes and people. Unfortunately, sometimes we just have to work with the person they identify and be the champion our customers need.

“we need enterprise alignment on the role of Customer Success and it needs to be clear”

8. Were there any surprises this past year (good or not so good) or any lessons learned from your CS efforts this past year?

One of the lessons learned this past year is we need enterprise alignment on the role of CS and it needs to be clear how it impacts each department and individual job responsibilities to avoid confusion and stepping on each other’s toes. It’s a journey and we need to bring everyone along for the ride. We can’t make good decisions in siloes. Full transparency is a must. We’ve also learned that it’s extremely important to assess our CS maturity level and have an action plan in place with parameters to strive for rather than try to tackle it all at once.

Since we can’t do everything all at once, we focused on the overall customer experience and implemented process improvements that directly impact our customers and their perspectives. As a result, we were able provide value for our customers while we socialized within our organization the value CS brings for our customers and our organization.

9. Where do you think the CS industry is headed in the next year or 3 years? How will it change? What do you see as new challenges in the future?

I believe Customer Success is going to take ownership of all customer revenue renewal expansions and upsells. It won’t be sales. There will be more chief customer officer roles running the overall customer journey more holistically. CS should not be buried in operations or sales because CS needs to ensure that the organization is consistently delivering a holistic approach. CS leaders need to have a seat at the table and have their voices heard. As organizations start embracing this role, the demand for qualified CS Managers will significantly increase. The role will be indispensable. It will no longer be an option. Organizations will need to rethink their whole customer experience strategy and evaluate what changes need to be made such as how to leverage data depending on the maturity level of the organization and how to use that data in the best way for customers.

10. What advice would you give someone who is interested in pursuing a CS career and/or becoming a CS leader?

My advice for someone interested in pursuing a career in CS is go for it. I believe the next generation of great leaders could ultimately emerge from CS because there are so many leadership skills that you use while performing this role. For example, you have to inspire audacious goals and keep people inspired. Great leaders inspire, they don’t make you do it. We can’t control what our customers do, but we can guide them.

And if we do it right, the results can be outstanding.