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This article was published on February 26, 2020

Customer Success: Metrics are worthless if you don’t deliver outcomes

Launching a Customer Success program doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive. Two key considerations to get started.

Customer Success: Metrics are worthless if you don’t deliver outcomes
Tania Tawil
Story by

Tania Tawil

Operating Partner, Morgan Hill Partners

Tawil has been in the industry for 23 years, with 11 at Chicago-based Vibes, a mobile marketing and engagement platform and 11 at Comcast. S Tawil has been in the industry for 23 years, with 11 at Chicago-based Vibes, a mobile marketing and engagement platform and 11 at Comcast. She has helped launch and lead mobile marketing strategies with companies such as Home Depot, Chicago Bulls, CBS Radio and the Chicago Blackhawks.

Why is it that things always move towards becoming more complex? If you’re not careful, complexity leads to overwhelm, which leads to procrastination, and then we just turn our attention to what to have for dinner.

Take Customer Success, for example. As the positive impact of the emerging discipline of Customer Success has become more widely understood, new metrics, systems, approaches, and models abound. If you’re considering launching a Customer Success program for the first time or optimizing how your team works with clients, how do you know when exactly to “flip the switch” to launch a CS program?

Here’s the answer: You’re always ready… it’s never too early. 

Here’s what you do: Have empathy. Deliver Outcomes.

Simple. Boom. We’re done. 

OK, maybe a little more context is needed. 

First things first, let’s get back to basics. At the heart of any innovation, enterprise, startup, or service lies the same ongoing and somewhat existential question: “Will someone buy this?” Afterwards (and even more nail-biting) we ask: “Will someone buy this again?”

[Read: Digital transformation projects don’t fail because of a shortage of ‘tech’]

To paraphrase an early client of mine, “the real challenge is not getting a customer to say yes the first time, but the second time” (and then again and again). 

Therein lies the question that’s being debated and measured across Customer Success circles everywhere: What really drives customer retention? How do we get clients to say “yes” again and again? What will help secure upsell and expansion across the customer lifecycle? The answer my friends is outcomes, and you get there (believe it or not) with empathy. Let’s dig in.

#1: Start simple: Have empathy for your customers

In the real-time data, metric-heavy world we live in, it may seem odd to have empathy — decidedly intangible and experiential — as my #1 recommendation to Customer Success. But at the heart of effective Customer Success lives the unending quest to ensure that your product contributes in a meaningful way to your customer’s overall success.

The key word here? Meaningful. And the only way to truly get it is to start by understanding what success really looks like for your customers and stakeholders: Be the ball, as it were.

So how does it work? Put yourself in your customer’s shoes — size, style, fit — all of it. You have to be committed to knowing what the customer really wants. What is the “it” that draws customers to your product — early on/after six months/a year?

What is it about your product (features? functionality?) that makes their lives easier and ultimately saves them and/or makes them more money? Why did they choose your product in the first place? Ultimately, what does success — specifically and quantifiably — look like for your customer and how does your product contribute to that success?

Keep in mind that value perception fluctuates between different customer stakeholders, across time horizons, and as a response to different business factors. An effective Customer Success program considers these nuances and then accurately, consistently, and efficiently delivers value against a customer’s different success benchmarks. It’s an ongoing exercise in constant vigilance as well… needs can shift and success can look like different things at different times. Communicate up, down, and across with your customers to ensure alignment on what’s important.

Which brings us to…

#2: Stay strong: Deliver outcomes 

Once you know what success looks like to your customer, it comes down to consistent execution of what needs to happen (and when) to deliver said outcomes to your customers. Your goal is to ensure they don’t churn to your competitors and instead stick with you and grow over time. 

Therefore… outcomes are the ‘true north’ of Customer Success. 

Yes, metrics like LTV, MRR/ARR, Churn, and Renewal Rate give great insights into overall client health and revenue trajectory, but outcomes are the strongest influencers of renewal and protectors against churn. Like they should be Customer Success superheroes. With catch phrases. 

Think of outcomes in tangible, “X by Y” terms… a quantifiable measurement that aligns to stakeholder expectations and is optimized to different stakeholder roles: User, buyer, or executive sponsor. Never guess at outcomes or assume your stakeholders will be as impressed as you are with the outcomes you’ve come up with on your own.

Early on in the world of mobile marketing, one of my clients, a super sophisticated marketer at a Fortune 50 company reacted to a glowing campaign report we had submitted for a recent mobile campaign: The participation was great, engagement was strong, the campaign was a success!

My client looked at me and said, “This campaign was better than what? What does this mean to my business?” It’s not enough for the product to work as intended, but between a competitive cloud-based SaaS world, real-time data, and immediate gratification, you need to help make the connection between your product and the quantifiable impact you deliver to your client.

Outcomes confirm a customer’s initial purchase decision and provide ongoing validation of the product/relationship over the lifetime of the relationship. They serve as litmus tests at key business inflection points and help indicate when course-correction is necessary. 

To help reach the benchmarks of all those cool metrics and acronyms CS people love to track (myself included!), you first need to ensure alignment for — and delivery of — the appropriate business outcomes. If your quest is successful, you will be rewarded by the Customer Success hallmarks of low customer churn, high renewal percentage, and Expansion MRR over time.

As the discipline of Customer Success grows and matures, models, frameworks, metrics, guidebooks, blog posts, and methodologies will follow and proliferate. There are myriad ways to approach implementation of Customer Success, the most successful of which will be tailored to your company’s business and value proposition to your customers.

I’m all for strong frameworks and transparent measurement, which can always start small and adjust and grow over time with different business models and budgets. 

That said, implementing a strong and effective Customer Success program doesn’t have to be overly complicated, time-consuming, or expensive — you can start simple and scale over time with two simple things: The mindset to have empathy for your customer stakeholders and the objective to deliver value in the way of quantifiable outcomes. 

Don’t be overwhelmed. Don’t procrastinate.

Like what you’ve read? On Growth Quarters, we strive to go beyond generic ‘fortune cookie advice’ and learn directly from the people who have walked the walk. And this summer, at TNW Conference 2020 in Amsterdam, we’ll take Growth Quarters offline again with a vibrant program dedicated exclusively to sustainable business growth. Listen to keynotes from leaders from the world’s most successful companies and get actionable guidance to help you grow professionally. Get early bird tickets now and learn more about the Growth Quarters track.

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