Customer Success | 14 MIN READ

Customer Success Disasters and How to Avoid Them

A recap of the recent webinar on the top Customer Success disasters that every CS practitioner and leader should know and how to avoid them.

SmartKarrot Editorial Team
Sep 15, 2021

Webinar: Customer Success Disasters and How to Avoid Them

Webinar: Customer Success Disasters and How to Avoid Them

As Julia Child once said, “Any disaster is a learning process.” Whether it’s a natural calamity or a corporate dysfunction, the disaster, and its aftermath, make us stronger and more prepared to face similar challenges that come our way.

The recently conducted customer success webinars, specifically “CS Disasters and How to Avoid Them,” have been trending and impacting the CS industry more than ever. It’s highlighted the golden elements of customer success and disasters that are commonly found with them.

In light of the value-packed discussions and interactive sessions that took place, we’re here to give you a refresher and the key takeaways. Stay tuned for some battle-tested tips and strategies that can turn any disastrous situation into an opportunity.

About the Panel:

  • Peter Armaly: Senior Director for Customer Success Strategy and Enablement, Oracle (Host)
  • Alan Fecamp: Director, PIE
  • Prithwi Dasgupta: Founder and CEO, SmartKarrot
  • Rick Adams: Founder and CEO, PracticalCSM.com

The panel chose to zero in on four disasters:

  1. Disasters in Planning
  2. Disasters in People
  3. Disasters in Process
  4. Disasters in Technology

Let’s dive into each disaster and see why they should be avoided in the first place plus some of the best ways to mitigate their impacts. Let’s get started.  

Disasters in Planning 

Planning is quintessential for any business. It impacts everything else that happens from that point forward. A poor decision in the planning stage can truly portray a disastrous effect later on. We dissect this disaster into two parts: 

1. Insufficient Buy-in from the C-Suite

“An earlier stage perspectives to the companies that are starting out on their CS journey. There are two things that need to be seen here – getting company-wide cultural buy-in and securing the investment to make that happen. It has to trickle down from the C-suite and might be amplified by the CS Leadership team to start top-down and ensure everyone to be on the same page. Now, if you are looking at that versus the sales or product-led organizations, I suppose the ROI attached to that is pretty long-term. And if there is a real buy-in, you will see the C-suite reacting too quickly to get the ROI from the customer, which might take 12-24 months to happen. So, if it isn’t there from the outset, it will get off-track and the outcome doesn’t happen” quotes Fecamp.

“I think the biggest disaster here is CS leadership assuming the buy-in on its own. It is a give-and-take relationship if you want buy-in. So, the disaster here is waiting for things to happen. One of the best strategies that the CS community can deploy is to align to the key metrics of the company. The more you align with the revenue, the greater is the buy-in that takes place. So, don’t shy away from it,” says Dasgupta.

“At times, there are mismatches in terms of priorities. The C-Suite looks at the financial, growth and long-term strategic priorities while the CS leaders look at how to do a better job. Although that is perfectly fine, it should be in the light and direction of travel of the overall business. So, when the CS leaders are not seen gelling up with the mission of the company, it might never be taken seriously”, adds Adams.

2. Implementing CS without Strategic Planning 

“CS is a complex ecosystem. It binds multiple functions. Without the strategic planning up-front and the alignment of co-functions from support, sales, management, etc., the CS as a function cannot operate in a silo. Having a seamless alignment within the teams is the key here,” says Dasgupta.  

Adams adds, “It is up to the C-Suite to give us our overall targets, but then it is up to us to define our vision and see how we are going to achieve this. The C-level should be able to define the norms that the CS organizations ought to do. It is for us in the CS to decide and to go to the CS leadership with ideas on how we can add value, the cost structure, and the process that goes behind. By aligning to each other’s vision and mission, we complement and not overlap each other.” 

Fecamp states, “I see it as a starting journey, and then the perfection moves along. Often, there is an idea of what they would like from an outcome’s perspective, but there is an obvious lack of defined strategy. The fundamentals of customer success are the same in every organization, but the details are different. So, we must learn what that detail needs to be for us in our circumstances, given that we have these products in this market, aiming at these customers with these sorts of challenges. A clear, strategic vision and mission in placements is all that is needed.” 

Disasters in People

People are what really makes a profound difference in customer success. So, bringing on board the right people in the right quantities and with the right expertise is going to be essential for every CS organization. This disaster is dissected into two parts:   

1. Hiring the Wrong Leader 

Adams suggests, “It is down to a lack of understanding at the CS level. Do you go for somebody who is very experienced in customer success, but does not know your business, or do you go for somebody who understands our business principally first and then can introduce the concepts of customers? We need someone who can start to shape this extra part of the business, but in a way that enables it to be handed off to somebody who does have a higher level of expertise at the right moment.” 

“Everything is in the context of where the organization is then. Depending on that, you may have a wide spectrum of skills you need. Alignment is crucial, and a CS leader must be the face of the function in participating in that alignment. Finally, the practitioners interacting with the customer is the team and the culture of the team is vital. Most people make mistakes in either of those,” adds Dasgupta. 

“Mistakes happen because customers don’t get under the skin of it and really understand how they’ve applied their skills, what kind of environment they’ve worked in, at what stage is the company at in their growth journey, and what metrics they are trying to achieve moving forward. There are a whole myriad of factors that come into finding the right person, and not a lot of attention is paid to that level of granular detail,” adds Fecamp.  

2. Not Developing the Right Expertise

“Though working around the metrics will ultimately deliver retention, often there isn’t enough. Companies are metrics-driven. Not a lot of focus is given around understanding what metrics have a CS candidate worked to make that transition into your organization. There comes a point where it becomes very detached for a certain CSM in a given environment to make a move into another environment. And that is where you start to see the churn. There has got to be some assimilation between environments for it to work. We need some transferable metrics that can be applied to the customer base,” quotes Fecamp.  

“Without the help of the people, you can’t expect your business metrics to improve consistently over time. You must personalize this learning. We talk about personalizing our customer experiences and enhancing the experience. Well, people come from diverse backgrounds, they need the complementary one and not the basic standard. Identifying that will take effort, technology, and budget too,” adds Dasgupta.   

Adams quotes, “When we’re trying to develop the right expertise, we’ve got to go about that scientifically or logically. Determine what the need is. Do a gap analysis, and figure out what do we need to be good at? How good are we at those things right now, and which are the ones that we need to work on. There’s your answer. Now, if you have a framework, measurement, comparative analysis and deployment become a lot easier.

Disasters in Process 

If the people are the ones who do the work, it’s processes that determine the work they do. Therefore, process plays an essential role in ensuring the right things get done with the right quality. We have dissected this topic into two parts:

1. Trying to Provide the Same Service to All Customers 

“No customer is the same, and neither are their expectations. You have multiple processes for different sets of customers. From SmartKarrot’s standpoint, we have built out the most complicated, comprehensive, and relevant playbooks that are really processed. How do we implement a process? We adhere to and adapt to different customer segments and groups. And I think that’s the disaster of not linking the process because you need processes,” says Dasgupta.  

Adams says, “It depends on the maturity level of the CS organization. Every customer has the same outcome expectation. It’s going to be less necessary to have a diverse level of different types of services for them. We have to decide, where are we? We have to know how complex is our product, how complex is our customer’s environment, and how mature are our customers. And how much help do they need, and then that helps us to then decide what kind of services to build out on,” 

“The key thing is to understand the size and types of customer segments, the organizations have. We saw the rise of the digital CSM in the last 12 to 18 months. There are so many roles out there now for tech touch experts. All long-tail customers that were transactional were left to self-serve and self-manage, and there wasn’t enough technology available for understanding how to serve the customer base. But as of now, we have different models for different customers. There is definitely something in place now for every customer,” adds Fecamp.  

2. Lack of Measurement and Reporting

“Lack of measurement and reporting goes hand in hand. We got to measure the right things. Measurement and reporting are not there for fun. A lot of it is very dull and tedious. What it’s there for is to help us make high-quality management decisions. If we’re not making the right measurements, this gets scooped in with providing the same service to all customers and segmentation. CSMs get penalized for doing the wrong things because they’re doing them based upon the measurements that the customer success platform is rewarding. And, that somehow culturally become more important than the actual customers to achieve their success,” adds Rick.  

“We have seen instances where there is too much tracking. The tracking needs to trickle down across the hierarchy at the lowest-most level of the hierarchy. You should have the least amount of tracking because it just doesn’t make sense; they don’t have context. And as you keep going out, see evolved metrics that interrelate with each other. The simpler is the tracking and the metrics, the higher are the chances of you being successful in leveraging and optimizing the process,” adds Dasgupta.    

“Some of these organizations just aren’t clear on what they need from technology and how to capture data from it. They’re still great companies with good ARR, but it’s quite eye-opening to see what they’re not capturing, and you think they should be, and I’m coming at it from a recruiter’s perspective. And I can see that. It makes you question why, the C-suites or a CS leader in the business, isn’t tracking certain metrics,” says Fecamp.  

Disasters in Technology 

CS professionals rely heavily on having the right technology in place to support the work they do. Selecting and maintaining the right technology systems is vital to the health of the CS function. We have dissected it into two parts:  

The CS professional relies heavily on having the right technology in place to support the work they do. Selecting and maintaining the right technology systems is vital to the health of the CS function. We have dissected it into two parts:

1. Misunderstanding Your Technology Requirements 

“There is a tendency to go to a certain set of known providers that may not necessarily be applicable. Lack of due diligence and research born out of lack of resources and time is what needs to be acquired and learn how to layer that technology into the business. It then leads into metrics until companies are clear on what they need to measure and buy the right technology for that. That is where the error occurs,” says Fecamp.  

“People do not understand that there are different personas and different users of the CS platform itself. When you look at it from the lens of the C-suite, all you will require is the dashboard. The right technology is really finding out the balance, whether it’s a single tool, multiple tools, or you get one, which does justice to all. We do not want another complexity added to it. Technology should make things simpler and not more complex,” states Dasgupta.  

Adams adds, “There is no professional job these days that doesn’t require technology. You have got to have the right tools for the job, whether you’re a plumber or a mechanic, or a customer success manager. You’ve got to go through a learning curve of working out what you need and acclimatize yourself to it. We start to be good consumers of that and master technology.”  

2. Poor Operationalization of Technology 

“Operationalization is something that you set up properly. It means different to different people. Not understanding and planning is going to cause you to under-leverage technology. Technology always makes things available, but having said that, you do need to understand the nuances of operationalization as well,” quotes Dasgupta.  

“CSMs has seen a kind of growth in the market. We’ve seen the same on CSR. So, it does seem to be coming to the floor. As a central point, the tech stack owns reporting owns all the operational support staff that enables the CS teams. So, I think it’s coming around, and it’s improving. It does seem to be a theme towards having a dedicated operational resource in the CS teams,” adds Fecamp.  

Adams concludes, “Just because your platform has got a certain capability, it doesn’t mean you have to switch it on. You can switch things on in the timeframe that you want to use. People shouldn’t be frightened to do that. They should get comfortable with the introduced features and functionality one by one. We want the technology to perform, to help the CS, to be more productive, and not to put them into a loop where they are being less productive.”  

Parting Thoughts

Managing CS disasters is all about having the right intent. The problems that occur tend to be anticipated if we are managing, measuring, and monitoring them. If we are in control, these disasters are avoidable with the right technology, people, and framework. Doing things in the right order, including management, maintenance, monitoring, controlling, and analyzing, will help you. This way, when disasters come, they won’t surprise you — in fact, you’ll be ready for them.    

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Originally Published September 15th, 2021, Updated September 15th, 2021

SmartKarrot Editorial Team

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