Customer Success: A Nod to It’s Birth

It used to be, during the server-client model, a business would be sold a software; and, in more cases than not it would be the IT department involved in the decision-making versus the business end-users.  And, at the point of purchase, the software would be delivered on a CD-rom with a 100-pound user guide.  Of course, I’m exaggerating a bit here, but the general gist is that the experience was overwhelming for majority of the end-users … and even then, they held gross dependence upon their IT team to install the software correctly, teach them the software, and then would be at their mercy to keep them abreast of changes, fixes, etc.  This experience was frustrating –  an understatement.  I actually was on both sides of the coin in that scenario when serving as an IT Manager early on in my career!

Then came along SaaS (Software-as-a-Service), a model created specifically to deliver “business software that reduced the risks and costs associated with the client-server model” (Dell, M. xii).  Marc Benioff, founder of Salesforce.com in 1999, is heralded as pioneering the disruption in the software stratosphere by creating the first SaaS model.  This isn’t a surprise to techies and business leaders.  But, what I find interesting is a recent nod I stumbled upon that also heralds Benioff as the father of Customer Success.

In the individual’s view, much of their perspective was founded in suggesting Benioff was aiming for Customer Success first, and he was going to achieve this thru building a SaaS solution.  By all means, I can be realistic in recognizing Benioff had great vision and innovation, and his passion came from wanting to improve customer experience.  In fact, I feel Benioff’s primary endeavor was not to create a Customer Success paradigm but was to solve a larger problem in the software consumer market in their acquisition and usage experience of business software.  And, the bi-product of giving consumers an easier experience propelled a massive change of behavior towards software deliverance expectations.

In my observations over the years, consumer behavior has proven tolerances for user interface aesthetics, software bugs, the fix cycle, consistent deliverance of evolving features, personalization, the time to realize the value in the software, etc. have all gradually shortened.  Let us also not forget an important dynamic that hasn’t changed during the shift from server-client to SaaS model is the business’ expectation of realizing value from using the software.

At an individual level, we don’t sit anymore and accept a long page load time.  Now, take that and multiply it when you deliver software to a business, with multiple users.  That one scenario now could influence a decision to stop using a software altogether, especially if a like-featured and priced software is available on the market.  So, patience for a perceived ill-experience or value has more weight in what I call consumer fleet.  And, if a software business has a pattern of consumer fleet, this could be the death of their existence … not to sound so morbid!

So what is a software business to do when the experience, plus value realization, of all of their customers is an influential force to whether said customers stay or go?  And, have I mentioned not all customers have identical experience and value expectations.  Will Customer Success please stand up!

Pegged as a nascent and fast emerging role, Customer Success was born from the eventual need to have a discipline in SaaS companies that could positively partner and influence customer behavior and expectations.  They are a customer’s champion – forever interested in how the software is fulfilling their customer’s desires whilst evaluating and improving upon the value the customer expected to receive upon purchase, and beyond the purchase point.  A lot goes into this role, which expands upon the intent of this piece, however, I do feel it is worth mentioning the Customer Success field has only been since around 2010-2012 (Gulati, R.).  Given the best interest of the customer, Customer Success holds, it has naturally transformed to being a role that protects customer and revenue retention.  Furthermore, enough data shows the subsequent impact this role has is on revenue growth rates, gross margin, customer satisfaction, and up-sell / cross-sell activity.  Therefore, it is no wonder Customer Success has grown in dire importance to companies.

I tip my hat off to Marc Benioff for playing an impactful role in trying to improve on the harmony between people and technology.  This is also very near and dear to my own interests and heart.  What has come out of his vision was a new SaaS model that has proven a better experience for the software consumer.  But, I am not ready yet to give him full credit for creating Customer Success – I think this was a natural evolution to the software industry 🙂

References

Benioff, M. R., & Adler, C. (2010). Behind the cloud: the untold story of how Salesforce.com went from idea to billion-dollar company–and revolutionized an industry. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Gulati, R. (2015, July 15). Silo Busting: How to Execute on the Promise of Customer Focus. Retrieved February 1, 2017, from https://hbr.org/2007/05/silo-busting-how-to-execute-on-the-promise-of-customer-focus 

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