So, What Do You Do?

If you live in the Silicon Valley, you can probably relate to this: Meeting someone new and being asked “What do you do?” Usually when I’m asked, I go into a whole elevator pitch about Customer Success.

Some context about me: I was hired as the first Customer Success Product Manager at Cisco. Yeah, I know, you might be thinking – “Wait! What? Product Manager? Doesn’t Customer Success live in Operations / Sales / Services / Insert Your Favorite Org Here?”

Good question – and that’s certainly a topic for another time. For now, I’d like to share about some white spaces and misconceptions I’ve experienced related to Customer Success.

Leading Customers to a Happy Place

One of the things I love about Customer Success is that it’s a special and growing discipline in technology companies that can be somewhat misunderstood, but is often accepted. It’s evolving, and most people don’t know what it really means. If you tell someone that you’re “leading customers to better business outcomes,” you just sound too generic. Customer Success is all about leading the customer to that “happy place” with your product.

After taking on my role, I’ve heard plenty of statements about Customer Success made at parties, workplaces, and meetings. I started identifying repeats and thought to myself “Boy, some of these are pretty inaccurate.” Let me take this opportunity to share some of these with you, and illustrate how Customer Success be successful (no pun) for any product – so long as you keep your customer in mind.

Myth Busting

1. Customer Success is Only for SaaS Products: I’d like to accept some personal responsibility for debunking this myth. At Cisco, we are rolling out a Customer Success initiative for Next-Generation Firewalls. These are definitely not SaaS products. We do have subscription licenses for these firewalls, so there is a software component, but the thought process that Customer Success is only for SaaS products is incorrect. I’ve even heard that Oracle has successfully launched Customer Success across several of their businesses, which is yet another example of how Customer Success isn’t just for SaaS anymore.

2. Customer Success is Only for B2B Products: Errr…I beg to differ on this one. A great example here would be Fitbit. If you poll Fitbit users, you’d know that they have one of the most successful Customer Success motions. B2B products might require a much more regimented, process oriented, and “built-to-scale” model, but consumer products can benefit from Customer Success motions as well as any other industry.

3. Customer Success Cannot Exist Without Telemetry: Typical on-prem B2B offerings tend to not have in-built telemetry. But does that mean Customer Success cannot exist for these offerings? That would be ridiculous, don’t you think? Customer Success simply cannot be limited by the presence or absence of telemetry. At a minimum, you can track license usage and customer sentiment using a framework like NPS. These two parameters can help you quantify a short-term Customer Success measure. There are other KPIs too, that will give you an indication of whether you are leading the customer to a successful outcome or not. e.g. support cases, trainings or webinars attended etc. These are just a few ideas that would be stepping stones until you can implement telemetry in your offering.

Bridging the Gap

Customer Success exists to be a bridge from a purchased offering to the desired outcome that was originally intended when that purchasing decision was made. Since we are building a bridge from purchase to desired outcome, it makes sense that we build systems that will lead to those desired outcomes quickly. It also means that it makes sense to build interim low-cost systems, taking intermediate steps before developing a final, more utopian initiative. This is also why expanding our mental models to not be limited by the availability of systems and technology is so important. In the end, Customer Success is really about empathy backed by an understanding of what the customer is truly trying to achieve.

Pallavi Gadepalli

Customer Success Product Manager, Security Business Unit , Cisco Systems