Six Guiding Principles of Great Customer Success

September 29, 2015

Customer Success means a lot of different things in different companies and we see many organizations trying to figure out how they should tackle Customer Success.

So how do best-in-class teams operate?  What’s different about businesses that are at the cutting-edge in driving customer success? At Totango, we’ve worked with hundreds of companies and leaders of the customer success community to answer some of these questions.

One thing is clear. Best-in-class companies don’t simply repackage things they’ve been doing — account management, customer support, client services — and expect a different outcome.  They operate based on a new set of rules. They have a new way of thinking about their customers’ success.  

We’ve distilled this down into Six Guiding Principles of Great Customer Success and present it as the Customer Success Manifesto. Continue reading below the infographic to learn about each principle.

1. Value over customer management​​​

Best-in-class companies are maniacally focused on creating value for their customers.  They get the difference between customer value and customer management.  They recognize that customer success is not about building better processes and systems to manage customers — it’s first-and-foremost about understanding, measuring, and delivering customer value.

We love the way Mike Grafham, head of worldwide customer success at Yammer, articulated this at our 2014 Customer Success Summit. “Support’s all about fixing stuff when it’s wrong, account management is all about selling the promise to people, customer success is all about making that promise happen.”

2. Customer actions over words

If value is the most important thing, best-in-class companies recognize that the best way to understand and measure customer value is to know what customers are doing — and not doing — inside their products and services. They don’t rely on guesswork based on one-off conversations, surveys, and opinions. Today, we have unprecedented visibility into our customers — and smart companies use this “customer truth” to engage customers and drive customer value.

At Crittercism, customer actions dictate a lot of how the company operates.  As Alex Brower, VP Operations, mentions, “Our sales and marketing team would fly blind if they didn’t have real-time data into how specifically customers are using us during a free trial or once they’re in the paying period.  Our product team needs it to prioritize their time and see how features that they’re developing are actually being used…and we wouldn’t be able to package a product properly without this data.”

3. Real-time sensors over historical snapshots

Think of it… with free trials, freemium products and monthly subscriptions, our businesses today operate at a feverish pace.  Best-in-class companies have figured out that waiting for data to come in, get processed, and then looking at historical snapshots of customers just doesn’t cut it any longer.  They need to act at the right moment for their actions to actually matter.  And to do this, best-in-class companies are building a new kind of sensor-based capability that allows them to listen to the live stream of digital signals from their customers.

At thismoment, as soon as a new customer is brought on board, the company depends on real-time feedback from their service.  According to John Broady, General Manager at thismoment, instead of “hoping it works out” and “waiting 30-60 days to get feedback from the customer,” they are able to get the feedback they need in real-time.  This allows them to step in at the right time to assist the customer and make sure the customer is making good progress through their defined customer journey. 

4. Contextual engagement over periodic check-ins

With the rich context that live data streams provide, best-in-class companies also engage with customers in a whole new way.  They operate on the customer’s cadence, not theirs. They no longer depend on periodic check-ins and call customers according to their own internal review cycles to inquire if they’re doing fine. Best-in-class companies know when a customer needs attention and why, and they are able to engage with customers intelligently – and in the moment – based on their specific situation.

Unbounce is a company that truly gets the importance of engaging users at the right time with the right message. They apply the principle of contextual engagement to educate their users when they are inside the app, so their outreach has context and is meaningful to customers.  In the words of Ryan Engley, Director of Customer Success, this has helped them “build more authentic relationships and better engagement” with their users.

5. All customers over high-value customers

As technology disrupts and democratizes industries, today's winning companies serve a wide range of customers, from small and mid-size businesses to large enterprises.  And with business models such as land-and-expand and freemium, best-in-class companies do not view customer success through a traditional low-touch / high-touch account management lens.  They have innovated their customer success processes and invested in technology to make sure that every customer (no matter how big or small) is successful, engaged, and getting the attention they need — in a scalable yet contextual and personalized way.

6. All users over buyers and decision-makers

Today, power has clearly shifted from executive relationships to users.  Customer success and loyalty is driven not from the top but by end-users. Leading customer-centric companies clearly recognize this new reality and have deep connections with their customers that go way beyond buyers and decision makers.  They focus on creating value for every user.  They work hard on building passionate users – the best “lock-in” for a recurring revenue business.

Zendesk is a poster child of these last two principles.  According to Sam Boonin, VP of Products, the company was “founded to deliver software to small businesses… to deliver what was normally only available to customers who spend a lot of money and give that to anyone who can find our website and sign up for a trial.”  From the beginning, Zendesk has been committed to empowering and driving value for all of their users and they’ve successfully “turned this into a scale business.”  In fact, some of Zendesk’s largest customers like Groupon and Airbnb started out with few users that have grown with them over time.

Watch this 2 minute video to learn more about the New Era of Customer Success:

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