Before anyone accuses me of click-baiting this title, let me explain. The customer support model of the past – the one which primarily served as a 911 line when the house was burning down – is really evolving rather than it is dying out entirely. This is a very good thing, for companies as well as customers. Don’t get me wrong, you absolutely, 100% need the “first responders” who are there to support when the sky seems to be falling and things are going seriously awry, but there are ways that you can mitigate the damage, and potentially avoid the “911 call” altogether. This is one of the benefits of the Customer Success Model.
Technology is constantly changing, updating and improving. The same is true of building codes. Anyone who has ever owned or lived in a slightly older house has had some insight into this type of problem, so I’ll continue with the home metaphor for now. You move in to a house that is new to you, but was built in the 1980s. If you have a toddler, one of the first things you realize is that in the 80s, building codes allowed for a lot more space between bars in railings than they do today. You need to update the railing to the current code to prevent an incident from happening. The same is true of things like lead paint, or asbestos insulation. All these things were in common use at one time, but new evidence and new best practices have largely relegated them to the history books. And that’s just to bring the house up to speed so it is no longer dangerous. In an old house, even in a new house, you may find that the way things are organized are no longer useful to you. You actually need more cabinet space in the kitchen, and you would prefer to knock down some of the walls in the house to open it up and make it more functional. When this happens, you either buy a new house ($$$$) or hire a contractor ($$$) to make the necessary changes.
A similar dynamic happens today with technology. Customers invest big money in solutions which at the time seem to be a great fit for the problem they were hoping to solve. Then after living in the software for a while, they find that they have new problems, and the software is not as tight a fit as it used to be. Your business needs may have changed, and ultimately you reach a point where you have to look at a rip and replace of the old, or hire a very expensive consulting firm to come in and make it work. Just like our house example, both of these options cost a lot of money. You also frequently see organizations neglecting their solutions and ceasing to pay support and maintenance. And you can’t really blame them – they are betting that if they haven’t had to call support for an emergency, that trend will continue forward, and outside of emergency mitigation they aren’t seeing real value in the relationship. Companies need to do more to make their support offering compelling, so the customer sees true value in maintaining the relationship. If companies did this, they would see better customer retention, higher levels of satisfaction, and more customers up to date on the latest and greatest technology. Unlike with a house, no one is sticking with SharePoint 2003 because they want to preserve the historic architecture of the period.
The customer success model, where the customer is truly at the center of the organization, creates a winning environment for all parties. Companies who are not already focused on this will need to adapt, or die.
The reason the traditional support model breaks down, is that it is primarily a reactive relationship. After a customer becomes a customer, the only interaction they have with the provider is when their annual maintenance is due, or if they have a problem. Most customers (hopefully) never run into problems, so you can see why they start to feel like they are getting the short end of the stick. The way of the future, which is the Customer Success Model, changes the nature of the customer/provider relationship. And the shift is not just post sale, it involves transforming the entire process from reactive, to proactive.
In an enterprise solution, customer success starts with the first meeting. It involves truly listening to what the customer is trying to do, and not simply waiting for the right cues to insert product/marketing talking points. That might sound simple, but it is one of the hardest things you have to learn to do. The customer should be doing the talking, and any questions the provider asks should be geared at creating a deeper understanding of the customers problem, not to line the conversation up so they can deliver a sales punchline. Customers can smell this coming a mile away. Moving from the initial gathering of requirements and understanding to the rollout of a solution, we also will see a change from “is the implementation complete” to “was the customer’s problem solved.” You have to make the customer’s mission your mission, and truly come alongside them to achieve the end result in mind. And success doesn’t stop at “was the customer’s problem solved.” It is an ongoing mantra of “are we still really solving the customer’s problem?” That is going to have to involve more touchpoints, well beyond once a year when the maintenance check is due. That should involve ongoing periodic check-ins, where the customer has access to training on new features, troubleshooting for areas they are stuck, but most importantly they should be mission realignment sessions. The macro environment, and their internal environment, changes constantly and the mission may have a new variation, or may have changed entirely. When you are just another ‘provider’, you only find out that the mission changed when the renewal check doesn’t arrive that year. When you are a customer success oriented provider, who is actually an extension of the customer’s team, you can help the customer adapt to change and better align the tools in their belt to tackle any new mission. The customer success model, where the customer is truly at the center of the organization, creates a winning environment for all parties. Companies who are not already focused on this will need to adapt, or die.