“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.” This quote comes from Max De Pree, the former CEO of Herman Miller, an office furniture company. I believe Mr. De Pree was speaking about leadership generically, but his quote couldn’t ring more true in reference to customer success.
Achieving customer success means becoming the ultimate partner to your customers--developing personal relationships, understanding each customer’s unique needs, and implementing customer programs that help ensure customers gain meaningful value from your solutions. As De Pree said, to accomplish that, one must be both a leader and a servant.
Customers are complex. They are individuals with unique needs and definitions of success. This means there isn’t a perfect, fits-all solution. Defining success is reliant on getting to know the customer organization and how it works--and getting to know the customer as a person. While it is important to know the company’s overarching goals, it’s also crucial to know what matters most to the people who are leading and influencing the direction of the business.
We’re in an era where customer success is mandatory. Customers have come to expect—rightfully so—that their providers will always have their best interests in mind. If a prospective customer puts a project out to bid, they anticipate that everyone who submits a proposal will include a section on how they will be a partner and help the customer achieve success.
During my time in the industry, I have been fortunate enough to be surrounded by not only talented and insightful coworkers, but driven, creative, successful customers. And while I think becoming a customer success leader is an ongoing evolution, here are a few of the lessons customers and colleagues have taught me and other practices I’ve picked up along the way.
- Know what makes your customer's business tick. What sets the rhythm; what the budget and planning cycles are; and what the politics are among the leaders. This is basic relationship and opportunity management, but also an essential component of an impactful customer success strategy.
- Understand your customer's key performance indicators that measure the effectiveness and efficiency of their core operational processes. Don't get carried away—there are just a handful that are really meaningful.
- Because cloud computing has quickly become such an important enabler of organizational transformation, you need to have a solid understanding of where the customer is in planning and execution of their cloud strategy.
- Frame every conversation you have with your customer in terms of their business objectives and what tangible business benefits would look like. How your products or services map to those benefits should naturally flow into the conversation.
- For a customer success strategy to flourish, you must do three things, fully coordinated: Target business objectives or desired outcomes; track the incremental progress being made toward those outcomes; and measure attainment of outcomes against the original objectives.
These are some of the practices I use to inform how I approach customer success. To be a customer success leader, I’ll borrow again from De Pree’s words of wisdom. First, define reality. Know your customers and know their needs. Second, be a servant, or, more accurately, be a business partner to them. Understand your customer’s goals and help deliver on them. Finally, say thank you. Thank your customers in your actions, your attention to detail and your follow through. A customer success leader may end a project, but never ends a relationship.
Jeb Dasteel is Senior Vice President and Chief Customer Officer, Oracle.
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