As a customer success leader, you likely feel strong ownership of the “customer experience” and its outcomes. That’s why it’s so painful when you do everything in your power to help customers thrive only to see disappointing results in sentiment or retention. You can go back to the drawing board–improve analytics, update playbooks, adjust team member incentives–but there’s also an inconvenient truth to address.
The vast majority of the “X” in CX (Customer Experience) is beyond your direct control.
Success is a big piece of CX, but not the only piece. This article argues that our intentional and outbound success efforts are only a fraction of what the customer interprets as their experience with our product, company, brand, and team members. Success may be one team’s mission, but it’s the entire company’s responsibility. Success leaders have an opportunity–a responsibility–to help the entire organization create impactful customer experiences.
First, we look at categorizing company↔customer interactions independent of channels or functions. Then we explore three potential roles for Customer Success with each interaction. We wrap up with recommended actions to help Success leaders master each role and drive company-wide CX improvements.
Customer Experience Categories
The Customer Success function is uniquely situated to understand the diversity of customer experiences. High functioning success teams orchestrate outcome-based CX. They create customer experiences designed to achieve a stated outcome; typically the desired customer sentiment or behavior like a high NPS or target level of spend or retention. But this extensive customer access also makes it easy for Customer Success to mistake their tip of the iceberg for the entire customer experience.
Adopting a holistic definition of customer experience helps us peer beneath the surface. As a starting point, I suggest: Customer Experience is the sum total of all interactions a customer has with your product, company, brand, and team members. Modify this definition as needed to create what works best for your situation. The goal is to identify and categorize all possible intersections between your enterprise and your customers.
Define Your Role in Delivering Winning CX
Role definition doesn’t need to be overly complex. I suggest three simple tiers to define CX-related roles. The goal is clarity. Well-defined roles help individuals and teams take the right action at the right time to deliver winning CX.
Review each company↔customer intersection and identify if you Own that experience, Influence it, or Handle it after the fact.
Owning the experience – these intersections are easy to identify and comprise the core work of the customer-facing team members. For example, Success likely owns the onboarding, product usage, and retention interactions. Sales likely own the prospecting and initial sales processes. Marketing likely owns win-back campaigns and user events. Product likely owns UX testing and feedback, etc. If you initiate the contact with the customer or they inbound directly to your team–you probably own that experience.
If no clear owner exists for any of your company↔customer intersections then consider it a red flag. Most of the stories we hear from customers about lousy experience originate from a lack of ownership. Make sure every possible intersection has an owner.
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Influencing the experience – these areas highlight your role as a collaborator. Success may not own the actual customer experience but when you collaborate with or support the owner you influence the CX. When Success leaders master this part of the role, the entire organization benefits. For example, Success may collaborate with Sales to influence the language and implicit commitments made during the sales process. This creates consistency for the customer and cleaner handoffs through the customer journey. Success may collaborate with Marketing and influence the timing and/or triggers for campaigns–again with an eye toward creating a consistent experience.
It may help to consider both where you currently influence and collaborate and where you aspire to influence and collaborate. Success is strongly aligned to the overall CX and is the keeper of the journey and other customer intel. Success leaders are well-positioned to help other functions gain the insights they need to be effective and ensure consistency. On the flip side, these collaborations give Success access to the broader CX which improves retention strategies and playbooks.
Handling the experience – There are always company↔customer intersections that no one clearly owns and then arrive on the Customer Success doorstep. Handling these typically unique and challenging customer situations is an important role that warrants discussion. If Success leaders observe that “We always handle the fallout from X, Y, and Z.” then it IS your role to handle these situations–especially to ensure the overall experience is consistent with your standards.
Most of these cases arise because something went wrong–unintended bad PR, major system outage, the threat of legal proceedings, etc. These intersections are always unanticipated and involve leaders from multiple functions. The unique contribution of Success is to handle the interaction and communications with the customer whenever possible.
Take Actions That Improve the Customer Experience
Using CX categories and then defining the Success role in each intersection creates a simple starting point to inform your next best actions. Continuing from the example above…
You’re now set up to take action based on the role Success is playing. Specific actions are determined by each identified company↔customer intersection but next steps fall into a set of predictable actions.
If you Own the experience then create routines and metrics that help you maximize efficiency and effectiveness. Pay special attention to how your access to the customer experience yields insights for others across the organization.
If you Influence the experience then reframe your collaborators as internal customers. Learn their specific needs and how you can best help them achieve their goals. Pay special attention to what you can learn from these interactions and apply to your ownership areas.
If you Handle the experience then focus on creating a process to intake, understand, act, communicate, evaluate, and close each interaction. Pay special attention to including all internal stakeholders. These customer experiences tend to create uncertainty–your approach to dealing with them can limit disruptions and promote consistency.
It’s worth reviewing the interactions where the Success role is not yet established. Should Success have a role? If so, which one? Would other leaders across the organization agree? At a minimum, each company↔customer intersection needs a clear owner.
Final Thoughts on Success and CX
The Success function is essential to long-term corporate health. Mastering the interactions it owns is an important first step in value creation. And when Success leaders understand how and when to influence and handle the broader spectrum of company↔customer intersections, they become a powerful advocate and ally for exceptional enterprise-wide customer experience.24
Marty Kaufman is the founder of Infinipoint – the customer retention consultancy. The common thread through his diverse background is helping organizations grow profitably by approaching customer success and retention as enterprise-wide goals and not merely team-based tasks. Marty has led, and advised leaders, in start-up organizations, Fortune 100 companies, and complex government agencies.
Published January 04, 2021, Updated January 21, 2021