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PHOTO: Annie Spratt

Is your organization intentionally designed for customer success? While many organizations talk big about customer success, they're often more focused on preventing customer failure or on performing customer rescue.

We all know the high cost of customer failures, yet few organizations invest the time and effort to design their business for customer success. Let’s look at how you can adopt a designer’s mindset and bake customer success into the core of your organization.

A Designer’s Mindset: What if Customer Success Is the Problem?

Design-thinking, human-centered design (HCD) and design sprints are all hot topics for executive management and all three are often used to address the need to innovate.

human centered design 

A key challenge is defining the problem frame or the scope of your efforts holistically. Too often firms define the problem based on the product or service and the customer experience through the completion of a sale or implementation of the service.  

What could you do with a simple technique like reframing? When working with clients, I often start with a simple question: are there any opportunity areas for improvement in customer success? Another technique is to use a "How Might We" challenge approach as in, “How might we reframe customer success with the view that 'customer success' is the problem?"

The benefit of the designer mindset exercise is gaining insights and perspective into a problem that’s different than what was previously identified. Understanding customer success as the problem your customers face frequently leads to interesting perspectives.  

With new-found perspectives and insights on the customer success problems, we move to framing potential solutions. When discussing solutions, it's critical to consider business capabilities — a capability requires a blend of disciplines — before deployment.

Four pillars capture the essential factors to implement a new business capability: strategy, people, processes, technology-enablers.

Related Article: How to Bake Customer Success Into Your Operations

Reframing Your Core Capabilities Around Customer Success

Every business has a customer success capability. Some call it customer service, some call it account management, whatever you call it, the key objective remains the same: make sure your customers are happy.  

Reframing is a design thinking technique to evaluate a problem from another perspective. If we frame customer success as ensuring our customers are happy enough to remain loyal, it may change the problems we need to address.

The strategy your company creates to achieve customer success will impact the people, processes and technologies you use to deliver it. Compare, for example, a business that defines customer success from an approach of being cost effective vs. being a revenue generator — how would these two different approaches change how you operate? In other words, the strategy your organization chooses directly impacts your ability to deliver.

1. Strategy

The easiest way to understand an organization's strategy for customer success without going into a multi-day or week strategy design session is to look at the metrics and measures you will use to evaluate the customer success capability. Metrics like customer effort score are interesting, yet not at the level to evaluate executive management’s interest. 

We’re looking for metrics like:

  • Customer success headcount per customer.
  • Percentage of budget allocated to customer success.
  • Percentage of sales attributable to customer success (customer success revenue).

Specific metrics vary widely and the above are just examples. The goal is to understand if your bias is to measure cost effectiveness of customer success (how low can you go), or revenue generation opportunity from delighted customers (how much did you sell today).

Related Article: Are Your Customer Experience Metrics Setting You Up for Success?

2. People

People clearly make the biggest impact on organizational performance — and it’s no different for customer success. Leading organizations look to hire the best and brightest available people in customer success. 

An often overlooked and discounted area is where customer success aligns in the overall organization structure. Ideally, customer success should align with a revenue generating function rather than a cost center. Where customer success reports to provides more insight into the strategic choices of leadership.

Additionally, when intentionally designing customer success capabilities, it’s important to define the career growth opportunities within customer success and other functions. Key performers respond best to challenges and opportunities, and by designing roles that provide these attributes, you’ll be creating a winning team.

3. Processes

No man is an island, and no business capability does well in isolation. How often have you seen the diagrams which show the customer at the core of everything in the business?  

customer excellence

Unfortunately, the reality is many organizations are “front-end loaded,” meaning the business focusses most of its efforts on obtaining a customer while post-sale service gets less attention. When you use an intentional design process with a focus on customer success from the beginning, your business process designs better match customer expectations, and the better you align with customer expectations the more effective your outcomes will be. 

Using a design-based approach to look holistically through the customer lens, business processes that more comprehensively meet customer’s needs become realized.  Customer journey maps are well known and certainly help designing customer experience. How might we improve customer success processes? Have you mapped the customer service journey both as is and in its ideal state?

For example, by intentionally designing customer success processes we may highlight cross-sell and up-sell opportunities to appropriate sales reps, thereby improving overall revenues with a very low cost of sales.

Related Article: Customer Experience Isn't About Fixing Discomfort, It's About Preventing It

4. Technology-Enablement

Technology enables people to perform business processes more efficiently, resulting in lower overall cost and improving productivity. Historically, the business processes and the people performing the role defined the technology requirements with the objective of being the most efficient.

3 key factors

With microservices, cloud-based technologies and an abundance of technology providers, technology enablement can be a daunting task. Add to that customer’s expectations for omnichannel access, and the complications can grow exponentially. Designs that look good on paper may not perform as planned. 

Bringing together a cross-functional team to determine the best technology solutions reduces the risk of failure during deployment. Design sprints are tremendously useful because they gain direct feedback from target users (customers and internal staff) in a very short time frame — typically five days. Design sprints deliver a prototype so people can experience (see and use) technology and confirm it meets their needs before anything is bought or built. 

Related Article: How Human-Centered Design Helps Build Digital Workplaces That Work

Baking Customer Success Into Your Core

Customer success is one of the most essential capabilities for businesses in every industry. As a former manager used to say, “If you don't take care of your customer, they will take care of you … and go elsewhere.” Every firm works hard to obtain customers. Customer success has gained significant attention in recent years because it’s easier than ever for customers to switch to competitors.

By baking customer success into your core business, you’re reducing your overall business risk. A report from Oracle on customer experience reiterates the critical role of customer success: it found that 89% of customers will begin doing business with a competitor following a bad experience. Making matters worse, after a poor customer experience more than 25% of consumers posted a negative comment on a social networking site, thus amplifying the impact.

Utilizing an intentional, design-based approach and looking at the four pillars for creating business capability, your organization will benefit and likely have an industry-leading customer success capability.

Go make it happen and let me know in the comments how it goes.