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Customer Success: A Holistic Approach

In Classical mythology, the titan Atlas was forced to bear the weight of the sky on his shoulders: the stars, the planets, the entire cosmology of the universe as the Greeks understood it. It was a thankless, painful, miserable job. It was, in fact, a punishment, as putting that kind of weight and responsibility on any one person would have to be.

So why are we so willing to do it to our Customer Success Managers, whom we are trying to employ, not punish?

A typical Customer Success Manager (CSM)

Customer Success is a complex and vital business: it is without question the most important new role in the corporate world in the last few decades. As a paradigm shift is transforming how we approach vendor/buyer and company/customer relations in a SaaS world - it is the hinge on which subscription-based business pivots. So why do many companies approach to Customer Success (CS) begin and end with their Customer Success Manager (CSM)? Why do we put all the weight and responsibility of CS on their shoulders - why do we not spread that weight across the organization? A top-down, all-encompassing holistic approach to CS - one that draws on all departments and aspects of your business - is the only way CS can thrive, allowing your business to thrive. It’s the key to keeping clients satisfied.

So, what does a holistic approach to CS look like? We’ll split the explanation into two halves: first, the change we need to see in CS itself, second, how that change should spread throughout a company.

A Holistic Approach


To start with, the first change in CS needs to be in CS culture, in creating a state of CS readiness. CS simply cannot be a reactive process: it can’t follow the formula of Problem -> Complaint -> Solution. If your CS teams are only solving problems after they arise, what your client is going to notice isn’t the solutions, but all the problems those solutions solve - there shouldn’t be problems to begin with. Only a proactive, informed approach will lead to real success. That means that in order to be proactive, you have to be informed.

Being informed is where so many CS teams fall down - they don’t become aware of problems until the client tells them there’s a problem: but a good CS team should be predicting and resolving a majority of solutions long before a client might ever see them arise. This requires them to not simply wait for a client to tell them how things are going - they have to be proactive in understanding their client and their needs. There are three important questions CS teams always need to be asking: Do We Know Our Buyer, Do We Know Their Needs, and Do We Know The Future? The last question is crucial - by the ‘future’ we mean ‘future success’ - both yours and the buyer’s alike. What is it that your buyer is doing to achieve future success? What is the path they’re taking to achieve it - and how do you and your product(s) fit with those future plans? Remember: CS is critical in the SaaS world. You need to think about renewal with every action you take. Is the future of your companies a shared one? If not, why not - and what can your teams do to fix that? Even if you and a buyer have no shared future, you have to be aware of that in advance. You must know where you’re all going.

Relieving the CSM’s Burden

In this new, holistic world wherein your company does its level best to know all that can be known about your buyer, all hands need to be on deck. You cannot simply leave it to the CSM alone to learn everything they can - all your teams need to communicate to one another. In this new world, your CSM needs to become the ultimate coordinator. Marketing, Sales, Product Management - under the CSM’s guidance all your departments should be connecting to one another, and developing their inner workings under the principle that they need to serve the CS team.

What does that look like? It looks like a pipeline that constantly funnels insights from all teams back to CSM and their team. It starts with Sales - even before the sale is complete they should be working with the CSM to craft a profile of this future buyer. This is what that customer is buying, this is what they are trying to achieve with that purpose, this is what a world might look like with a buyer who owns your product. Marketing also chimes in - both with what they know about your buyer, but also about the market: here’s why that potential buyer is leaning towards and away from your competitors. Let’s say the buyer makes software for the education market - instructional tools for school teachers. Let’s say your product helps facilitate communication between buyers and their users. Before the sale has even gone through the CSM should have good understanding of the unique challenges that will arise for this buyer, and how the CS team should be prepared to face it.  In this instance, challenges might include privacy issues, usage rates that drop off on weekends and plummet during the summer months, but peak during exam season - and so on. Just as your buyer knows how their users will be using their product, so does your company need to be ready for how they will.

Above all, the CSM needs to be ready for the changes ahead.

The Future Is Now

Is Customer Success something you you’ve threaded through every aspect of your business, or is it its own separate thing, under the supervision of a CSM? Is that CSM uninformed, knowing only the things that client chooses to tell them, always on the back foot when a problem arises? CS cannot be an aspect of your business, it must be the framework on which your business is built. If you don’t have a pipeline from every part of your company keeping the CSM informed - if you don’t make it everyone’s responsibility to make sure the CSM knows all they should know, so that the customer is always on the path to success - then your CS work is as good as useless. It’s time to change how CS is viewed in your company - it’s time to make it the fulcrum of all buyer-related decisions and solutions.

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