Customer success is still a relatively new area of work. Think of it this way:
- Product development is the foundation of business, and while the concept may be more recent, the job has been around forever.
- Customer support has existed as a job since the Industrial Revolution at least.
- Sales as a profession has been around since the invention of the cash register in the 19th century.
- Customer success began as an idea in 1996, while the true moment CS became a widespread concept was in 2005 when Salesforce built its CS department.
So, being as customer success is so new, it stands to reason there still are a few mix-ups. In this article, I’ll go over some classic misconceptions I hear from product people about customer success. We’ll see why they exist, why they’re false, and explore the truth behind the myth.
7 Misconceptions about Customer Success
The list below is tailored to be from the point of view of the product teams. That way, any CSM can simply review the items and go directly to the product team with a fully-formed argument, explanation, and with the appropriate context.
Here’s the shortlist of misconceptions about CS for ease of reading and navigation:
- “Customer Success is there to save every customer from churning”
- “Customer Success always says yes to customers”
- “Customer Success is more or less the same as customer support”
- “Their job is just to follow customer success best practices”
- “Customer success is the responsibility of the CS team only”
- “CSMs hate automation and spend all their time chatting with customers”
- “Everything is fine if customers are using our product”
1. “Customer Success is there to save every customer from churning”
Many times, when people think “customer success”, they think “customer churn”. The two concepts are tied together in a complex interwoven relationship – true. But the job of customer success isn’t simply to reduce churn and win back every customer that wants to leave.
This misconception potentially draws from the Salesforce example above – their main issue was churn, so they built the most popular CS department ever to deal with it directly.
But customer success is more than a department. It’s a mentality, a thought-out approach to customer relations. It’s made real by the CS team, but it informs every aspect of a business.
Ideally, all customer-facing departments use CS-led initiatives like voice-of-the-customer programs or offboarding interviews to make data-led decisions. Ask yourself: did Salesforce’s CS department fix the product? No. But they likely told the product team exactly where customers were getting frustrated or stuck, so they could go ahead and implement fixes.
Furthermore, if customers churn, they can’t always be saved. Often, the decision to leave is based on factors outside the CSM’s control, like:
- The customer can’t afford the subscription anymore
- They’re losing business
- They’re rebranding and shifting their focus
These are just some examples – any experienced CSM will tell you the reasons why customers churn are infinitely diverse. While an offboarding process can save a few, nobody can expect every customer to be a perfect fit and stay loyal forever.
2. “Customer Success always says yes to customers”
Possibly because they’ve dealt with demanding customers, or possibly because they’ve heard it happening to others, product teams often believe Customer Success says yes to any request from their customers.
It can certainly happen. If your company isn’t correctly aligned to deliver customer success and there’s a disconnect between CS and Product, these issues will come up very often.
A good customer success approach to customer requests involves the product team in all product-related requests and processes.
An even better approach has the product team always in the loop about leading customer issues. This enables the product team to prioritize updates, fixes, and features while keeping customer goals in mind.
If you align departments correctly in this fashion, your customer success reps will have a much smaller chance of saying yes to outrageous customer requests. You can even create a workflow by which product people are always consulted for such requests.
3. “Customer Success is more or less the same as customer support”
The idea that customer success is the same as customer support is possibly the most widespread misconception I’ll talk about today.
Of course, nobody outright says they’re the same – the two teams certainly have different names. However, many get stuck once you ask for a breakdown of what both departments do, how they’re similar, or how they differ.
In these situations, it’s best to put the two jobs side by side and point out the differences and similarities:
4. “Their job is just to follow customer success best practices”
A very unfair misconception about customer success is that it’s an easy job. After all, anyone can Google best practices for customer success and simply follow the first set of instructions that comes up on the results page.
In reality, the job of a CSM often involves a lot of nuance, people skills, emotional intelligence, and an ability to navigate tens, hundreds, or often even thousands of accounts.
When they’re not swamped with account overview tasks and reports, CSMs are taking meetings after calls after presentations, or they’re helping new accounts through onboarding, or conducting customer offboarding interviews.
Simply reading a few stories from CSMs will help anyone understand just how complex CS workflows can get. It’s a busy life in an often thankless job, and the pressure of being there for customers when they need you is very, very real.
5. “Customer success is the responsibility of the CS team *only*”
A common issue among product teams is seeing customer success as just a team or a department. As I already mentioned, it’s more of a mindset, an approach to business, and an integrated strategy that includes all departments. And it’s also a team – of course.
It takes a village to build and implement a strong customer success mentality throughout your teams. And this is one area where best practices tend to work well:
- The CSM must be introduced in the conversation with customers as early as possible
- All customer-facing teams, including product, should know what customers are saying, where they’re having difficulties, and why they’re leaving
- It’s the CSM’s responsibility to communicate with and align the company with the customer success approach, whether it’s through emails, meetings, or simple Slack conversations
- The CSM must collaborate with support, marketing, and product to create a knowledge base, video library, or documentation section that allows customers to help themselves instead of reaching out
- The CSM must ensure other departments only receive relevant data with the appropriate context from customer success. Think of it like this: you’re a product person and the CSM says customers always stop at a specific point in your solution. You might think there’s something wrong. CSMs should only tell you the relevant information you can act upon or at least offer context, so you don’t end up changing things that work perfectly fine.
6. “CSMs hate automation and spend all their time chatting with customers”
It would be wonderful if all CSMs ever did was sit in calls, sip some coffee, and have nice, friendly chats with their best friends – the customers. That’s hardly the case, of course.
In reality, a CSM’s life is full of diverse tasks ranging from monitoring churn precursors to assisting customer support, training customers on the product, and many others.
While an honest, proactive conversation with a customer is always preferred, CSMs are by no means strangers to automation.
Many of the recurring tasks a CSM does can be automated. For example, CS platforms like Custify can set triggers that automatically tell them when customers are having difficulties. If a CSM is particularly swamped with tasks, they can even create support messages to go out when customers encounter frequently-seen issues. In essence, that helps them solve their issues before they even think of creating a support request.
7. “Everything is fine if customers are using our product”
Logins are possibly the most misleading metric that customer-facing teams can track. You’re essentially measuring the number of customers that accessed your product with no real data about what they’re doing within the product.
Furthermore, if your customers don’t need to log in every time they use your product, the metric is even less relevant or actionable.
Contrary to popular belief, customers might actually hate your product despite logging in every day. They may be using it because they’re forced to, because they have no other alternative, or because migrating to a competitor is too time-consuming and not a priority at the moment.
So instead of measuring how many customers use the product, good CSMs measure health scores based on:
- Number of support tickets
- Account growth
- Percentage of the product used
- Number of licenses
- File uploads
…or any other metrics that showcase the depth or breadth of product usage per account. The important thing at the end of the day isn’t just to know what customers are doing, but to understand why they’re doing it.
It’s easy to assume any of these misconceptions about customer success, but hopefully, I’ve managed to shed some light on them today.
Both product and customer success are very difficult jobs, but they can be equally rewarding if done right and aligned with all the other departments in a true customer success fashion.
Be sure to check out the Custify customer success blog for more actionable advice to drive your customer success approach throughout your business.