There is Customer Success. And there is Customer Service/Support. So how are the two different?

Well, for one thing, Customer Service/Support is a reactive process where the provider will only react once a problem is reported. And then take it up and go about resolving it. Or not, in some cases, leaving a very disgruntled and frustrated customer in the process.

Customer Success, on the other hand, is a strategy that is implemented to ensure that the customer is successful. Here is an overview of a customer success program.

If you look at the as-a-service models in the IT world, you have Infrastructure as a service (IaaS). This is where the service provider would provide you with fundamental compute, network, and storage resources on-demand and on a pay-as-you-go basis. This allows you to scale and shrink resources on an as-needed basis. You can then reduce the need for high, up-front capital expenditure.

In the Platform as a service (PaaS) model, PaaS, the service provider provides you with a complete platform—hardware, software, and infrastructure—for developing, running, and managing applications without the cost, complexity, and inflexibility of building and maintaining that platform on-premise. The PaaS provider will host everything—servers, networks, storage, operating system software, databases—at their data center. All you need to do is use it for a monthly fee based on usage. In this way, PaaS lets your development teams to build, test, and deploy applications much more quickly and less expensively than they could if you had to build out and manage your own on-premises platform. You will have to manage and maintain the applications that you deploy.

In Software as a service (SaaS), the provider allows you to subscribe to an application software which is then delivered over the internet as a service. In this model you do have to install and maintain the software. You will simply access it via the Internet and avoid all the complex software and hardware management. The provider manages the application, including security, availability, performance and upgrades.

The introduction of Software as a service gave rise to two important concepts. One was the subscription model where subscribers would subscribe to use the service for a period of time and then renew it at predetermined intervals. For the providers this meant that they had to not only acquire new customers to subscribe to their service, but they had to ensure that they retained those subscribers for the period of time and then got them to renew their subscriptions. The subscribed customers, if they were not happy with the service, would simply not renew the subscription and go subscribe somewhere else. This ‘churn’ is something that every provider had to try to minimize as it is a lot more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to retain an existing one. So the goal became to retain existing customers and get them to renew their subscriptions. To be able to do this they would have to constantly ensure that the customer was happy with the service and that the service was contributing to the success of his or her business. This is what gave rise to the concept of ‘Customer Success’.

The customer success programs evolved in the companies that provided a subscription based service to their customers. Customer Success became a business strategy that had to be carefully designed and executed. Customer service and customer support programs that product companies were following would not work in this model. Customer service is reactive. If the customer has a problem with a product they are using, they will report the problem to the provider using the various channels provided for customer support and then hope to receive a resolution to the problem reported. How successful this is then depends completely on what processes the provider has setup to handle reported cases, what ticket management system they are using, what model of customer support they have set up for internal escalations and the expertise of the supporting teams that are providing support internally to the front line customer support representatives who interface with the customers. The result could be fast turnarounds if everything worked smoothly or it could be a mess if things didn’t. And the customer would be left frustrated and looking for alternatives.

A service provider who is providing something as a service, needs  customer success program needs to have a customer success program that will have the following components:

·       A customer success strategy

·       A customer success manager

·       A services platform

A customer success strategy is very important as that is what lays down the framework that maps out the various stages of the customer journey to various activities that need to be done by the provider to successfully ensure that the customer is on-boarded, the solution implemented and the service provided as per the agreed upon contract.

A customer success manager is one who will be the dedicated primary interface between the customer and the service provider. The customer success manager will work very closely with the customer in ensuring that the service is being provided as per the agreed upon SLAs and that any issues that can come up are handled pro-actively or issues that are reported by the customer are addressed with the minimum of delay. The performance of the solution needs to be kept at its peak and this can be ensured by close monitoring, if monitoring of the service is in the contract, or by attending to issues reported by the customer in a timely manner. The customer success manager will also work closely with the customer in ensuring that any new requirements and changes required in terms of upgrades are implemented as smoothly as possible. New requirements at the time of renewal need to be identified well in advance and this can be done by closely monitoring the customer’s capacity requirements over the contract period.

A successful service provider will require an AI driven services platform that will help move the service model from a reactive one to a proactive and incident avoidance mode of operation. Consider for example the way a traditional Network Operations Center would work. The traditional way would be to be to monitor the applications and network, create a ticket, do a remote login, triage, search for symptoms, fix/escalate the case to the technical teams and then close the case. This is a reactive model in which problems are reported when they occur and this reporting then leads to Trouble Ticket Management and Troubleshooting & Incident Management.
As opposed to this consider an example where there is intelligent alerting and auto-case creation that opens tickets for the support teams to address. Consider where it is possible for application and network device configurations to be audited automatically and reports produced for gaps found in the best practices. The changes required arising out of the reports can then be taken up and tracked to completion and SLAs can be tracked. AI driven service platforms will go a long way in ensuring that service levels are maintained at a high level and that the customer enjoys peak performance of the implemented solution.

A customer success program requires all the three components that have been described above. Successful implementation and working of all the three components will ensure that the customer is successful in his or her business. And remember, the customer’s success is your success. It is most important that you keep this in mind and give your customer success program the top priority in your overall business strategy.