Customer Success: Aligned Goals, Not Altruism

(I’ve written and re-written this one for the past three months. It’s taken me long enough.)

I’m attracted to a good story. I’m a sucker for them, really.

One oft-repeated story is that Customer Success is altruistic, and has little-to-no self-centeredness. Like anything else in life, there’s a kernel of truth in that which budded and fruited into many philosophies in articles, presentations, and books.

Don’t get me wrong, I love helping people — even if I get nothing in return. I’ve enjoyed the non-profits I’ve volunteered at, helping neighbors who can’t do something on their own, etc. But if I look at my heart, I realize even that isn’t purely altruistic.

Honing in on Customer Success, this philosophy was created to maintain, enhance, and report on customer loyalty—which is ultimately for the company’s bottom line. From that stemmed ensuring the customer is delighted and achieves their goals—ultimately meaning the customer is successful. Along the way, we (Customer Success) find ways to go the extra mile, share stories, and humanize the experience. But let’s not confuse what we do with the goal; the goal of Customer Success is for the company’s bottom line, and the way to get there is customer loyalty through your customer achieving their objectives.

We’ve sometimes flipped that around and say something like, “as long as the customer achieves their goals, then we’ll be successful.” This is akin to “the problem is not ______, it’s that we haven’t educated them. If we provide rock-solid education, then everything else will follow.” I come from a family of educators so this is a popular (and common) argument in my house, but education—by itself—cannot solve all problems in the world. There are at least a couple reasons, but we only have time to touch on it.

I’ve been reading the book What Got Us Here Won’t Get Us There by Marshall Goldsmith and in one of his latter chapters he speaks of a CEO he consulted with where his team was not adopting the new standards the CEO set out. Why? Wasn’t he educating them? Well, yes, but there was more. The CEO assumed he could check the box ✅ once he did his part. He neglected to follow-up with questions like, “did you get the memo and did it make sense?”, “have you implemented it?”, “since you implemented it two days ago, what feedback do you have?”, or “Write a report on how the team has adapted to the new protocols.” Just like in baseball, a pitcher needs to have a good follow-through—so do great leaders.

That’s also the beauty of Customer Success: education matters, but so does a CSM’s follow-through. In fact, there are many other factors that contribute to a CSM’s success—creative communication, active listening, living within constraints, leaning into discomfort, and curiosity.

But no matter what, we must remember that Customer Success must thread the needle on ensuring customers are successful so that the company is successful. If the customers achieved their success, but the company somehow failed as a result, you can bet there’d be no more Customer Success team. Instead, we don’t shoot for altruistic living, but aligned goals so we both win.

Now, let’s go and get that win-win.

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