As we move towards 2019, Jason Noble looks at the challenges and requirements for Customer Success leaders.
2018 sees us well and truly in the age of the customer and we’re seeing more and more organisations rethinking about where their growth comes from and about the right level of investment needed in their customer facing teams (not just Customer Success). Customer Success continues to grow as a way of working, as a discipline and as a new exciting career option - the role of a Customer Success Manager has been the number one advertised job on LinkedIn in a number of different countries around the world.
With this growth, the need for very good Customer Success leadership is becoming more and more critical, to ensure we’re delivering the necessary outcomes for and growing value to our customers.
I’ve worked with and within a number of different technology organisations - both startups and global enterprises - and each has its own unique challenges and circumstances but with a number of common key themes.
Why is being customer centric important at the leadership level you might ask?
It’s not only the obvious, i.e. that your customers stay loyal when they have good experiences and when product and sales are delivering on our promises, but also as our customers keep evolving and changing, so too are the ways that we operationalise this and how we support our customers. You become customer centric when you deliver on-going growing value to and for your customers.
But it’s not just about having a Customer Success team and having Customer Success managers in our companies. Having a Customer Success leader gives you:
I had the privilege of co-hosting a webinar recently with Jason Whitehead (the CEO and Founder of Tri Tuns) where we talked through some of the key questions around Customer Success leadership. Some of these are covered below - you can also find the webinar recording and details of other ones in this series here.
There are some amazing Customer Success leaders internationally and I’m lucky enough to know a good number of them (and I’ve learnt so much from them) but there are some big challenges that we’re facing. I’m going to look at a number of these now.
There are three traits that I believe are critical in great Customer Success leaders and strangely enough these are the same three traits I look for in new Customer Success managers joining my teams:
Yes these are quite broad but they are at the essence of what Customer Success is. The last one I really like, as I think the breadth of experience in multiple customer facing roles and with different companies and technologies is a differentiator. You need to understand the bigger picture with your customers and where you and your company’s service and/or technology fit in.
A couple of other important things to add are:
Does the title matter?
Yes and no. It really depends on the organisation and titles can and do vary. You may be head of Customer Success, director of Customer Success, VP of Customer Success or even the new chief customer officer (which as the newest member of the C-suite I’m happy to report that we’re continuing to see more appointments of this level).
Customer leadership is often the missing piece when companies look to be more customer centric - irrespective of the title, the role is all about increasing customer value and bringing the customer conversation to the board level. You need to be ultimately responsible for your company’s customer relationships.
Are there any differences in Customer Success leadership globally?
On the whole no - you need the same core skills, core traits and type of customer focused experience, and you will be working to and driving a similar vision and approach. There are of course the more subtle (or not) cultural differences and as you grow and expand the teams and regions you work in, you need to be very conscious of these - both for your teams and your customers.
Local language is so important as well - look at Europe as a great of example of this. I’m always a fan of having local language people in the local region to help drive value and better outcomes for my customers.
I always talk about differences with the likes of NPS and this is a good example I think of where you, as a Customer Success leader, need to be aware of potential cultural differences. We all know that only a 9 or 10 rating on an NPS results in it being classed as a promoter. Our US based friends and colleagues might often give 9’s or 10’s as ratings but in the UK - and I hope I’m not generalising - 9 or 10 is better than excellent and very, very rarely happens. That’s like 100% in an exam. A 7 could be a very good score but that only means your passive in the world of NPS. This changes how you might view the scores that you get, and where your true baseline is.
We all know that our customers are already talking to other customers and future prospects, - I want them to say the right thing!
It’s critical to build and to lead a voice of the customer programme. You, as the Customer Success leader, need to be constantly and consistently listening to and hearing what your customers are saying and then empowering your teams and companies to take actions.
There is a huge ROI in finding out what went wrong (and yes things always do go wrong) and fixing it and letting our customers know we’ve listened and what we’ve done.
I’m going to close off this blog post with this final point. We all know that Customer Success as its own separate formal discipline is relatively new and so, by definition, they aren’t many people with many years experience in the actual role itself. But that’s not to say that there aren’t some amazing Customer Success leaders in the industry around the world. Many come from other customer facing roles and even from multiple customer facing roles (and leadership roles). Some great examples include customer support, professional services and consulting, project management, service delivery, account management and sales roles. All of these roles bring some fantastic experience with them - from building and growing customer relationships, delivering value and outcomes, and handling difficult and challenging customer conversations.
Jason is an established leader in Customer Success and SaaS, with over 20 years of global experience working across customer success, service delivery, account management, customer support and professional services.
He has held leadership roles with major global brands (including Sony and Reed Elsevier) and also worked with more niche technology startups and organisations, successfully building and leading global customer success programmes and operations.
He is a commercial customer success leader working at Director and board level - to innovate and align technology functions and services - as the voice of the customer at the leadership table.
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