Customer Success

Don’t Be Friends with Your Customers

January 28, 2019

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared on DesiredPath’s blog here

If “good is the enemy of great” as Jim Collins wrote in his book, Good to Great, then friendship is the foe to customer success.

Customer Success organizations often mistake making customers happy with making them successful. Customer Success is not about pleasing customers so they like you, it’s about managing the customers to success and keeping them accountable to achieve the results they were seeking when they purchased your product in the first place.

All too often Customer Success gets wrapped up in the former, confusing yeses to every customer inquiry as the way to retain customers.

Fully laid out and holistic plans to reach the customer’s goal morph into autonomous requests veering the customer off course as the reality of deploying the software within their business distracts from the overall objective.

Customer Success risks deviating with the customer as well if they’re not managing them to plan.

Well intentioned CSM’s looking to satisfy every customer inquiry naturally become more reactive in the fulfillment of these requests as the tail starts to wag the dog.

The more reactive the CSM the less time they have to spend keeping the customer focused on the plan, opening up the opportunity for the customer to miss reaching their goal.

Keep your customers on course

Just as a great coach would keep an athlete accountable to their goal and ensure that they put in the hard work to achieve results, a great CSM needs to prescriptively manage their customers to a successful adoption of the product and not allow the customer to veer off course.

Imagine if the coach said yes to an athlete’s request to do less training every time they were tired. They wouldn’t ultimately attain their results. Similarly, Customer Success must ensure that the customer stays on plan to accomplish what they intended to achieve when they bought your product.

Pleasing the customer with an immediate yes to their request is not the answer. Rather the CSM needs to take stock of every request against the overall objective and determine what the best solution is for achieving the desired results.

If the request is not aligned to what the customer is trying to achieve, then it’s the responsibility of the CSM to understand what the underlying business intent of the request is and satisfy it with an alternative solution, or to clarify to the customer how the request is counterproductive to the customer reaching their objectives.

The point is that when Customer Success tries to please the customer and loses sight of the overall objective, they become much more reactive and allow the customer to drive the adoption process possibly to the peril of reaching the intended goal.

In the end there are no business results for being friends with your customers if they miss the mark. In prescriptively managing the customer and keeping them accountable, Customer Success is acting in the best interests of the customer to help them reach their goals and doing so proactively.

Friendships don’t make customers successful. Keeping customers accountable to their goals and driving them to achieve them do.

When customers get the results they came to you for, the friendship can be a happy by-product.

Founder & CEO

A frontierswoman in the Software-as-a-Service Customer Success industry, Kia Puhm has extensive experience building world-class practices that accelerate business growth. Prior to founding DesiredPath, Kia held chief positions at Oracle, Eloqua, Day Software (Adobe), Intelex Technologies, and Blueprint Software Systems.