Can you outsource success?

3 minute read.

I’m in the success business. I work at Percolate, a marketing technology startup. I help drive the successful use of our technology by customers. I’ve done the same in roles before this at Yammer and then Microsoft.

Customer Success Management (CSM) is a pretty new role and function. It started with enterprise technology startups. It’s now applied at many companies that focus on subscription offerings. I’ve written about it here: Customer Success Management – Experience Hacking for the Subscription Age. That links to a slide deck on SlideShare and is a useful primer if you need it.

The belief is that customers cannot achieve successful use of enterprise technology alone. This makes sense since it is often less than simple. You wouldn’t expect a simple iPhone app to need customer success intervention.

Its most important goal is retaining the customer. It’s most applicable where the service is subscription based where it is easy for a customer to churn. If customers use technology with success and derive value from it, use will continue. This is a key assumption behind customer success efforts.

Success management is not just about enterprise technology. The self help business which is worth huge amounts is in many ways about success management. The focus of all the books and programs is to achieve success through some endeavour or another.

success-design-chanceThere are similarities between the two approaches. A common factor is that to achieve success you have to start with the individual or organisation. If the individual or organisation is not committed, success will not ensue.

If you read my primer you will see that it emphasises a robust program, another common factor . The elements of the program vary. From having a good strategy and planning process to support technologies and community. Rooted in this is the belief that success can not be left to chance. The view is that good design gets the organisation there with a greater chance at success. 

This would also hold true to the individual. It’s no less what many countless self-help programs promise. That if you follow a good program well, you will be successful.

Of course the suitability and robustness of the program is important. But that consideration is for another post.

You could argue with what has greater influence on chances of success. It could be that the commitment and attitude taken is more important. In an organisational context as well as for the individual, there are many other factors too. For instance, in the organisation, culture plays a key role.

The point of this post is not to argue one over the other. Let’s assume you need a balance. I also want to come back to my main focus which is customer success management in an enterprise context.

Let’s accept that a function like customer success management is necessary. We’ll believe that it should incorporate a well designed approach. We’ll agree that on balance, the customer needs to commit. Organisational factors like culture also need to be supportive.

Now to the crux of the matter. Why is it that so many fail to take responsibility?

I often see customers accept the validity of the program. They accept that the technology will not deliver results on its own. They accept that they have to take responsibility and commit. Yet all too often I find they don’t.

I see many reasons why this is the case and wanted to list a few:

  1. Accountability: No one knows who is responsible and so its easy to pass the buck
  2. Purpose: No one knows what they are trying to achieve or why and there is no wiifm (what’s in it for me) for key users.
  3. Resources: Not enough time or the right people are not involved to do what it takes to achieve success.
  4. Attention: So many competing tools and areas of work compete for attention. This leads to a lack of focus.

One to to highlight because it’s so pernicious is: it’s the vendors responsibility.

It may be the raison d’être of a customer success manager. Yet there is no way ultimate responsibility for customers success can fall in his or her hands. There are many reasons for this but most of all it’s because the CSM is not part of the organisation. It’s why I think you cannot outsource success, to answer my main question.

It doesn’t matter how integrated a CSM becomes in the customer’s business nor how good the program is. The customer has to commit and take full responsibility for the best chances of success.

2 thoughts on “Can you outsource success?

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