The Three Primary Objectives of Customer Success and How to Make Them More Effective

Mature, well-structured customer success teams serve three primary objectives: increasing customer satisfaction, decreasing churn, and increasing product adoption or opportunities for revenue expansion. To be sure, many other tasks and goals often get added to the list for customer success, but these tend to be tactical in nature rather than strategic and oftentimes interfere with organizations' ability to reach primary objectives.

Tactical needs always contend with strategic goals. Most, if not all, departments have strategic to-do lists of things that help steer companies toward success.

At the same time, there are issues and needs that constantly pop up and have to be addressed. These issues and needs are generally here-and-now items that, if not addressed, could lead to long-term harm. However, they do little or nothing to advance companies in any way strategically. Addressing these issues often feels hamster wheel-like since it doesn't drive forward momentum. It's a classic conundrum, and the conflict is no stranger to customer success.

There are well-established techniques and practices that can help each group and/or employee manage this struggle to address the urgent short-term issues and keep them in check to ensure the company adheres to its strategic vision. These sorts of productivity methods are useful to everyone. At the same time, there are specific ways to structure what customer success teams do and avoid doing to best accomplish the three primary objectives leading to strategic advancement.

Realign For Success

To start, it's worth starting with establishing a primary charter for customer success. More than anything, the customer success team should focus on listening to customers and truly understanding their needs, expectations, perceptions, problems, deficiencies, and current status. More often than not, the primary charter for customer success is seen in terms of company success rather than customer success. Renewals, customer retention, and revenue expansion result from happy customers who have their needs and goals fulfilled. Their own success comes first. Successful customers then lead to successful companies, not the other way around.

Understanding customers and working to ensure their success requires a dedicated, proactive focus. It generally takes a conscious effort and a significant strategic realignment to embark on the proactive path to success, away from the everyday tactical tasks. To ensure that this happens properly, the customer success team must be in regular contact with customers, and they should not be subsumed with other tasks that can easily turn their role from relational to transactional.

It is important to recognize that customer success teams cannot possibly do all things related to customers. While teams can and should handle some transactional needs on behalf of various groups and functions within the company, they cannot afford to be bogged down by them. What are some of these needs that might come up? Perhaps an overdue invoice needs to get paid or the product team wants to know why a certain feature is not being used. Maybe support wants a customer to complete a survey of a recent request or to track the progress of an open ticket.

While all of these things are important, it doesn't take much to divert the strategic focus of customer success, which is to decrease churn and increase adoption and revenue. Of course, these smaller items might help contribute to customer success but only on a micro level, not by giant leaps. Ideally, many of these needs are handled by other teams. Customer success doesn't own the customer. The buck stops customer success only in terms of understanding customers and building lasting relationships with them, conveying insight, and helping address issues or apply resources to better achieve goals.

Customer Success Automation Is the Way Forward

With such a perspective, companies should organize and resource their teams in a way that allows customer success to focus on overarching strategic goals. Dedicated modern customer success systems with carefully developed playbooks and procedures and ground rules will help companies strike the best balance. This level of automation not only promotes a proactive culture, but also simplifies the day in the life of customer success managers, allowing them to focus on tasks that matter most.

Shreesha Ramdas is senior vice president at Medallia and general manager of Strikedeck, a company he co-founded prior to its acquisition by Medallia. Prior to Strikedeck, Ramdas was general manager of the Marketing Cloud at CallidusCloud, co-founder of LeadFormix (acquired by CallidusCloud) and OuterJoin, and general manager of Yodlee. Ramdas has led teams in sales and marketing at Catalytic Software, MW2 Consulting, and Tata and also advises startups on marketing and growth hacking.