Why the concept of customer success is essential to any business

Even in the midst of glorious modern civilization, our brains work the same way they always did, dragging us around on ad-hoc quests to achieve our countless goals — some big, some small, some very trivial, but all affecting how we feel. Achieve a goal, and you feel good for a while. That’s how we get through tough days, right?

And when we socialize, this desire for achievement pushes us towards certain people — those special individuals who always have your back and know just how to help out when you need some support. Because they make us feel accomplished, and correspond so strongly to meaningful progress, they have our lasting loyalty.

Are businesses so different, particularly in this digital era of corporations being represented online not by faceless bureaucrats but by whimsical social media profiles? We’re spoiled for choice as consumers (sometimes overwhelmingly so), which lets us be very picky in the decisions we make — and if a business doesn’t help us achieve our everyday goals, we’ll drop them like a hot potato.

Enter customer success, the secret behind every beguilingly-supportive brand you’ve ever come to view as something akin to a friend. Not familiar? No problem! In this piece, we’re going to cover everything you need to know, starting with what exactly customer success means and going all the way to why it’s not only important but actually essential for business. Let’s begin.

What constitutes customer success

Put very simply, customer success is about… well, the success of a customer, but in the context of a customer or client experience. It may apply solely to the level of success they reach in pursuing their primary business goal, or it may usefully be extended to any general goals that are somehow related. It all depends on the situation. But this may seem very abstract, so let’s cut directly to some illustrative examples.

Imagine that you wanted to learn how to fly a kite, so you Googled “learn how to fly a kite” and found a site selling numerous guides and accessories related to kites. Picking out a guide called “Learn how to fly a kite!”, you paid the asking price, downloaded the document, and opened it up, only to discover that it gave a lot of information about kites but never actually provided any information about how to fly them.

Image credit: PublicDomainPictures

That would consist of complete customer failure. You went into the transaction with one goal — learn how to fly a kite — and made zero progress towards that goal. In such a situation, you could complain, demand a refund, or simply consider it a cautionary tale and forget about it, but something you would certainly not do is buy from that company again if you could avoid it.

Now imagine that the kite guide did give you the information you needed, but very poorly, with plenty of spelling errors and confusing diagrams. You would technically have achieved your primary goal, but you’d definitely have missed out on any associated goals such as “have a good experience” or “feel enlightened”.

Would you want to work with that company again in that scenario? Unless you were something of a masochist, no. You’d look elsewhere for any subsequent kite-related trade, and they’d lose your custom forever. Investing heavily in customer success is all about turning customers into loyal advocates, something valuable enough to warrant its position as the core of an entire methodology.

The customer success methodology

The customer success methodology involves taking a holistic view of the customer journey with customer success as the highest priority. Not only is it vital for the customer to achieve their goals, but it’s also important that they achieve as many of the related goals as possible. The more goals they achieve, the happier and more accomplished they’ll feel, and the stronger their position association with the company in question will be.

Image credit: USAFCENT

While this has always made sense, it’s only relatively recently that companies everywhere have truly embraced customer success as a key factor in how they approach their business. There are two main reasons for this:

  • Customer service has become less myopic. Motivated as it has always been by profit, the business world has always suffered from the influence of precedent ensuring a progressive lag. Companies are reluctant to embrace new operational models for fear of being derided by their allies and competitors alike, and it was only when enough businesses were willing to do things differently that it became visible on the public radar.
  • Technology has made it viable as a core concern. With the weight of Google Analytics data available to us now, it’s easy to forget that weren’t always so clued-in about the minor details. Businesses used to have piecemeal information, enough to draw some conclusions about demographics and income brackets but not enough to build comprehensive CX journeys — only now, with our cross-channel tracking capabilities, can we flesh out the models we need to truly understand customer experiences.

With businesses now willing to be significantly more flexible in their strategies, and no market shortage of software support packages capable of displaying intuitive marketing and sales funnels, even the smallest startup can adopt this methodology.

But why is it worth investigating in that kind of detail? There must be something more than vaguely-defined associate goals to make it deserving of such heady status, you might think — and you’re right. There is a lot more. Let’s go through some of it!

The secondary benefits of customer success

How successful a customer feels following a transaction (or even an interaction) with a business affects not only how they rate the quality of the service but also how they feel regarding the brand. In turn, those two things have various advantageous results, including (but not limited to) the following:

  • Enduring customer loyalty. Having a great experience with a company will make a customer want to stick around and buy from (or work with) them again. This is particularly significant because a customer’s value tends to go up the longer they’re associated with a company — long-time customers are more likely to buy, and tend to spend more than newer customers.
  • Fewer complaints. Fielding customer complaints is a drain on time, money, and staff morale. The better equipped a customer journey is to seamlessly deliver what the customer needs when they need it the most, the fewer complaints the business will receive, freeing people up to spend time on other things.
  • Cheaper and easier brand advocacy. When people have satisfactory customer experiences, they forget them and move on. However, when they have exceptional customer experiences, they’re driven to react — to reward those responsible, and to demonstrate their own value by making strong recommendations to others. Brand advocacy is the gift that keeps on giving.

Through the hectic activity of social media, brand commentary (good or bad) can disseminate in the blink of an eye, strongly boosting or forever tarring the brand in question. Keep everyone happy, and you’ll never have to fear being on the receiving end of a UA-style shellacking.

Image credit: Caroline Moss

How you can embrace this methodology

By now, you should have a pretty strong idea of what makes customer success such an important notion in this time of almost-unlimited consumer opportunity, massive social media influence, and increasingly-humanized corporations. But how do you add it to your methodology? How can you use the magic ingredient of customer success to achieve greater business success?

I’m glad you asked! Here’s how:

Design a full customer journey in steps

This may seem obvious, but it isn’t always done. It’s perfectly possible to set up a business and make it a reasonable success without ever putting thought into the underlying sales mechanics — it’s simply sub-optimal. By laying out a sequence of events taking a customer from their first relevant interest to their establishment as a loyal brand advocate, you can optimize the paths to the discrete successes that eventually culminate in revenue.

Let’s look at a hypothetical short customer journey, imagining that you run a painting business:

  • Someone searches in Google and clicks on your site.
  • They browse your site until they find the service they’re looking for.
  • They call you to arrange the painting.
  • You complete the painting and take payment.
  • You cordially part ways.

Something important to consider here is the difference between “good enough” and “ideal”. This journey was successful in the sense that you completed the transaction, but could it have been better? One of the biggest reasons that established stores carry more value in the online marketplace is that they’ve been through this kind of optimization. We can go through each of these events to think about what might have constituted optimal customer success.

For instance, when you use Google, you want to find what you’re looking for as expediently as possible. We know that the customer settled on your website link in this scenario, but we don’t know what other sites they looked at first — it’s possible that they would have used another service but they were fully booked. Rankings do matter the most, but if your link presentation had been better (consider using a SERP preview tool), they might have clicked on your link first, making you their first choice and leading them to view your work in a more positive light.

How do your links look in search results? Image credit: Wordstream

Then think about the point of making the booking. They called you on the phone, but was that ideal for them? Perhaps they would have preferred to book the painting online, but they couldn’t find such a service on your website and ended up choosing to call you even though they don’t particularly like making calls. If you’d been able to reach them through an online form, they might have been left with a better impression of the convenience of your business, and opted to contact you again in the future for painting bookings.

Collate as much feedback as you can

The issues that we just considered aren’t things that a business would typically discover, because most of the time companies are only equipped to see success or failure — conversion or rejection. By missing the nuances in between, they lose out on so many opportunities to significantly boost customer loyalty through making small improvements.

The customer success mindset is detail-oriented and requires matching information. You should already be collecting analytics data in the background in the form of digital metrics (near-exclusively Google Analytics, but sometimes other platforms), but you’ll need to not only become adept at analyzing it but also implement a solid process for collecting in-depth feedback from your customers. By combining what the metrics show with what your customers tell you, you can reach some useful conclusions about points of irritation, disappointment, or even outright failure.

For instance, imagine that your customers tell you that they think your website has very solid customer support options, yet the reason most cited for a customer leaving is that they were unsure how to achieve something using your software, and your analytics clearly show that you very rarely receive any queries. If not the design, what might make someone reluctant to contact you for assistance? Might your brand image be somewhat unwelcoming? The more you know about what’s happening, the better you can adapt.

Start exceeding expectations

This is essentially the ultimate destination of the customer success methodology — proving so effective in helping customers achieve their goals that they don’t need to think twice about staying with you (a key tenet of UX). We touched upon how “good enough” isn’t really good enough, and yes, it takes work and investment to go the extra mile, but it isn’t wasted effort.

What you’ll soon find if you make appropriate changes to your operation is that even small improvements can have huge effects that continue to compound over time. Prove that you’re dedicated to providing value to your customers, and they’ll more than reciprocate that value through loyalty, patience, investment, and advocacy.

Patrick Foster weighs in on the vast complexities of the ecommerce industry though Ecommerce Tips, an in-depth blog dedicated to business insight and actionable tips. Follow along for business growth hacks, and head to Twitter @myecommercetips for the latest activity.