There are two primary modes of Customer Success. One is oriented towards fireproofing and the other firefighting.

Firefighting vs Fireproofing

Firefighting, as implied, is reactionary:when customers experience problems , Customer Success has to solve issues – and fast. This is an important role, as unforeseen events occur, particularly when there is a major change on the part of the customer or the supplier. A key contact may have left the customer company, and the replacement is questioning the value of what you are providing. Business conditions or usage requirements may have changed. Other market conditions, such as factors of your customer’s customers, may have changed. In any case, there is extraordinary pressure to quickly address the situation and correct it.

Fireproofing is a more proactive activity that involves developing a deep understanding of the customers and their needs and goals. It works on an ongoing basis to uncover areas for improvement and even opportunities for growth and driving new revenue. It also works as a preventative measure to minimize CSMs perpetually functioning in a reactionary mode.

Switching from Firefighting to Fireproofing

While it is natural for customer success organizations to fluctuate at times between modes, quite often one type is particularly dominant. The primary focus of Customer Success—whether fireproofing or firefighting—is often determined by several factors. The first is the goal or charter of Customer Success within a company. Is Customer Success seen as a role to foster success from the customer’s point of view? Is it oriented to understanding customers and working on an ongoing basis to ensure healthy relationships and engagements? Or, is Customer Success the problem or crisis solving team that often is deployed at the last minute?

A second factor, closely related to the first, is where Customer Success exists in the company organization. Is it part of a group like support, consulting/services or sales and primarily geared to the goals of that organization. For instance, as a part of support, is the primary role of Customer Success to minimize help tickets and requests for service or support?

Finally, is Customer Success equipped to be a fireproofing or firefighting function? If Customer Success is understaffed and overworked, working proactively is much more difficult. Does Customer Success have the tools it needs to function optimally? Is Customer Success well-connected with cooperative working relationships with other groups that can help address customer issues?

All of these factors need to be addressed in order to ensure that Customer Success primarily is fireproofing rather than firefighting. Firefighting will always be a need and a completely valid and important aspect of the way Customer Success runs, but, ideally it will generally work in a fireproofing mode.

Where are you on this continuum?

New Customer success organizations may find themselves hired to solve urgent problems – in this case they will start functioning primarily in firefighting mode. Evolving to fireproofing takes time, and developing the necessary strategic framework is a long-term process. If nothing else, this may simply be taking the time to assess and understand  what is going on—history, problems, successes, needs, capabilities, etc. Quite naturally, any existing fires need to be extinguished before one can move significantly into fireproofing.

Success begets success. As Customer Success demonstrates how proactive planning cannot only minimize crisis situations, but also provide proactive growth opportunities, it can also get greater support and buy-in from the organization for future initiatives, and increased access to resources.

Customer Success was meant to be a fireproofing function. The reality today is that, most fire departments spend much more time and resources on preventative measures than actually fighting fires. On occasion, a fire will pop up, and having the fire department is invaluable, but so much of the department’s value is in preventing fires in the first place and curtailing dangers of keeping people safe.

Where is your customer success organization? How much of your work is firefighting rather than fireproofing? Where do you want to be? Let us know how we can help you get there.

To learn more about the various ways to fireproof and strategize for the future, sign up for our upcoming webinar!