There are many strategies to winning customers, but there is only one way to maintain their loyalty: Ensuring they are successful and having the same perspective on what success means to them.

Customers expect successful outcomes and want a partner willing to jump into their situation and help them achieve it quickly and responsibly.

In this interview, Helena Young, VP of Customer Success at League Inc., shares the difference between customer success (CS) versus account management (AM). Also, how CS helps businesses reframe their perspective on achieving customer growth and success.

How did you get started in CS and League?

I was contacted by League’s People team via Linkedin and asked if I would consider learning more about League and the CS organization. The immediate opportunity with League was to help build the infrastructure and processes for their CS operations. League has been in business for six years and they wanted to structure and establish a CS team from a growth perspective. My goals are to promote a customer-centric organization, position our customers for success, frame a common CS approach, and create customer advocacy.

How I got to know customer success (CS) is purely by observation. It is not like a formal methodology that has been around for many years, like Lean or Six Sigma. 

When I joined TRIAD Healthcare, it became my foundation for the digital healthcare SaaS space. But before TRIAD Healthcare, I was a healthcare consultant. I consulted for business process evaluations, reviews, and project management. I helped companies bring in different vendors to serve their population or customers. 

Since my previous roles were more focused on traditional account management, the transition to the formal CS methodology came from the concept of high impact or more implied value. 

With traditional account management, we reach out to customers when they need us or when renewal is coming up. Account management is also more tactical in nature. The true differentiation of CS is not only on the proactive approach but focuses on customer outcomes, creating partnerships/advocates, and maximizing the value of the relationship. In addition, CS focuses on the entire lifecycle of a customer, not just contracts and renewals.

What is the inherent value of having a well-defined CS framework in the organization?

The most reliable companies have established repeatable procedures or processes that support employees to demonstrate trust and business reliability. I refer to this as our  CS framework.  

This framework consists of establishing success measures, enhancing customer relationships, defining customer lifecycle, understanding their challenges/expectations, and identifying the processes, key deliverables, KPIs, and tools to support customer goals for each stage.

If we do not have a framework established early on, we are setting our customers up for failure. Also, we cannot guide our team or business to deliver the success we promise to achieve. 

It is also significantly important for the business to:

  • Place the customer at the center of the organization
  • Create customer advocates  
  • Align with everyone’s work. Otherwise, we’ll be having customer success managers (CSMs) doing work independently. It will result in customers not getting the best experience from your organizations
  • Identify issues and best practices with customers by using established behavioral signals in the form of a health score
  • Improve service failure and brand reliability
  • Follow and reiterate best practices and processes to simplify complex business operations
  • To scale. Without a framework, all you can do is throw people at the problem

The bottom line, the more customer-centric the organization, the more likely customers are to be advocates. Establishing infrastructure and processes that align with defined success outcomes leads to customer partnerships which lead to advocacy.

What are the best practices you have implemented that you recommend others to follow?

One of the best practices is developing a customer experience foundation.  Our foundation consists of voice of the customer, customer health score, customer journey map, and business capabilities. The CX foundation allows League to put the customer at the center of our organization. It creates transparency with real customer engagement/feedback, predicts the behavior of our customers, and provides visibility within the multiple touchpoints for our customers.  

For example without a journey map: When a customer has pain points or issues, there is no clear way to go back and aggregate those issues to a touchpoint.  Also, journey mapping can vary based on the tiering of your customers or who your customer is.

The second best practice is level setting expectations. We know that sometimes sales sells something that doesn’t work as planned. Or the customers will hear something very different. So very early on, it is necessary to set expectations around customer success outcomes, including how to measure and how we can achieve the desired outcomes. 

To drive a better customer experience and outcome, we should always look at every touchpoint, interaction, and engagement we have with our customers. The last best practice but a significant one, always strive and thrive on the side of transparency.

How would you characterize CS to your team aligned with their goals, metrics, or business objectives?

I describe CS as the intersection of experiences and business outcomes. The ideal quadrant is where amazing experience and amazing business outcomes intersect. Partnership and advocacy exist in this quadrant.

But if you move around the quadrant, providing less or a poor experience, but with a good outcome, you can still retain customers, but they cannot be a brand advocate, and it will only be short-lived. There is no reason for customers to continue spending money with you if you cannot deliver or provide the success they want. 

When you think about it, roles and functions are not the only way to measure or provide success. How much do we care that our customers are successful? As a customer success leader, a big part of our job is making sure everyone understands the significance of their role and how it contributes to the overall success. It encompasses everything we do. 

Why do you think some organizations view CS as a department and not a revenue-generating component?

When leaders assess an organization, they often consider if the department generates revenue. When CS organizations are only viewed as a cost center, often, they do not value or appreciate the importance of what the team delivers or provides.

If a CS organization is considered a department or cost center, the importance of customer retention or advocacy is of no value. It is our job as CS leaders to position the value of CS by applying metrics, KPIs, and dollar amounts to those things CS has achieved so we can have a seat at the C-suite table.

If an organization has no customer success or customer experience component, they are not doing it the right way. Why? Because they operate in silos. They no longer place the customer at the center of the organization. Decisions are made that have no benefit or a negative benefit, which is the same thing to the customer. And they cannot be consistent and reliable to empower themselves to work in the way that works best.

Many thought leaders are sharing best practices and insights around CS and are committed to growing this discipline, which provides an opportunity to bring this discipline closer to the organization. In doing so, the value of CS began to climb to a significant number of influences over time.

How do you strike a balance between team achievement and customer success?

We established a firm statement that we must be willing to jump in and do whatever it takes to own the success of our customers. Our team knows the customer isn’t always right but the customer must achieve the defined outcomes.  It helps us ensure that our commitment is well-aligned with our overarching goals.

From a customer perspective, it is a little bit different. Because with them, their perception is their reality. It is hard to change that. For us to meet and achieve their success, we meet the customer where they are. We listen, we work collaboratively and we truly partner with our customers. Their success is our success.

The other great thing we have in our organization is an amazing leadership team. Our leaders want the customer at the center of the organization. They want the unfiltered feedback and experiences shared by our customers.  Yes, our leaders care about our KPIs; however, they care more about our customer’s success.

Any final thoughts you would like to share on improving how we deliver success to customers?

We are all challenged in new ways. We shared the same challenges posed by the pandemic. But we must not forget that customers also deserve the success they seek to achieve as they move out of the chaos to a meaningful restart. 

So what businesses first need to understand is how they can bring real change to their customer’s business. Doing so creates a genuine desire focused on what is important to them and their business. 

Ultimately, we want partners and advocates. Not so much about asking customers to refer us to someone or anyone. That is a reactive form of a relationship. A positive and proactive relationship proves or reinforces when customers advocate for us without telling them to do so. Or recommending us without a second thought. That is the importance of having meaningful and trusted relationships.

We achieve this when we cultivate the value of customer success (CS) as a commitment to our competitiveness, service loyalty, and brand excellence. 

This article was originally published here.