About a month ago, Gainsight released a study that showed 95 per cent of businesses have set up a dedicated customer success function. Nick Mehta’s mission is to make sure those teams make as valuable a contribution to the overall customer experience as possible.
As Gainsight’s CEO, Mehta has spent the last 10 years carving out a space in customer success following a career journey that has included stints at Symantec and the e-mail archiving start-up LiveOffice, which he co-founded.
The work Mehta has been doing in customer success has evolved amid the ongoing rise of customer experience (CX) design as a discipline and a profession. That prompted the following discussion about how the two functions can work together and support each other.
Answers to the following questions have been edited and condensed for clarity.
How do you help people understand the distinction between customer experience and customer success?
Nick Mehta: We’ve always talked about customer experience and customer success being kind of cousins of each other — not exactly the same thing, but very relative to each other. To the average person outside of our domain it probably seems like the same thing. But I think there’s some nuance underneath the covers.
When I go fly on an airline or stay at a hotel, it’s my decision whether I use that airline or hotel. In B2B businesses, the whole concept of experience is more complicated, because you have many people having individual experiences and who are collectively deciding whether to renew a vendor agreement or expand it. B2B is like a coalition sale, And there’s a difference because largely what you’re buying in a B2B context is no longer just an experience. You’re actually looking for some kind of business outcome. You’re looking to make more money or make your employees happier, close more leads or whatever. Customer success is all about getting your customer to the outcome they’re looking for with a great experience.
Not every B2B company has invested in customer success yet, and some are figuring out whether it’s just an extension of the CX team. Why is this becoming a more important conversation among business leaders?
Nick Mehta: For b2b companies, customer experience wasn’t always prioritized as a top level initiative, because the customer really didn’t have much power. Once you bought software from Oracle and they installed it your servers and you paid all that money, it doesn’t matter whether you had a good experience or not. You’re kind of not going to leave. Once you bought like a big aircraft engine for Boeing or power equipment from GE, it’s not like you’re going to switch to another vendor because you had a bad support call.
But the SaaS or cloud business model basically pushed all the power back in the customer’s hands, where they now pay as they go, and the switching costs are so much lower. It’s so much easier to try things out before you buy them.
It often seems like customer success teams are very involved in the early part of the post-purchase phase of the journey, like onboarding onto a new platform. But should they be involved even more, or piggy-backing on what others are doing on the CX team somehow?
Nick Mehta: You should start with the customer journey and say, okay, in the sales process, I’m defining for the customer what outcomes they should expect from our technology or product. I’m setting an expectation. Then there’s an implementation process that you were referring to, where you’re getting the client to start using it and you know, see value and get trained on it and things like that. Maybe there’s some configuration too. Then there’s some kind of ongoing usage. But things aren’t static.
First of all, inside that company during that ongoing usage phase, things happen. The person from whom you bought the product could leave the company. The company could get acquired by a private equity firm. Their goals change because they’re doing downsizing. And then things change on the vendor side because you have a new release. Or maybe there was an outage, or there’s a competitor that’s offering something similar. What we tell people is you need to plan the whole journey. It doesn’t have to be one person driving it.
That raises the question of who really owns the relationship, though, which is something I know CX leaders occasionally struggle with. Sales might think they own the relationship, for example, or marketing.
Nick Mehta: We once had a co-op student who had this great analogy of when kids see toys. They y always say “Mine,” or “This is my toy.” And I think there’s some element of that with customer relationships.
Over time you will realize that it’s kind of dated to say one person owns the customer. That might have made sense back when you would have a salesperson working with the same customer for 20 years and they would be out playing golf together. That just doesn’t happen as much anymore. And because of that the world much more dynamic. And also, because the so much of the experience now is digital. The salesperson is no longer the gateway to everything anymore. A lot of it’s in the product itself. It’s not about who owns the customer. It’s what is enabling the customer, and how do you get the right people involved at the right time?
In B2C there’s a big push to automate many parts of the experience, but where does automation really fit into customer success?
Nick Mehta: What we find is there’s two things that are happening kind of at once. One is that, for smaller customers, you may not be able to afford having a human being driving that whole customer success journey. And they want more of a self-service experience. But it’s about being proactive, not reactive as we know it in the contact center context.
One example is where a client logs into an app and they see a little message come up and says, “Hey, we noticed you never turned on our advanced reporting feature. Here’s an overview of how to do it,” or “Here’s the benefits.” Another example is customer communities, where they can help each other rather than simply going after call deflection in a contact center.
For larger clients, maybe there’s a report that a CSM has to send out every week. And that report gives some key metrics that the client needs but putting it together is very manual, using Excel and then exporting into PowerPoint. If you could automate that report, then the CSM would have more time to spend reading about the client’s latest earnings and thinking about what outcomes they’re looking for, or new offerings they can provide.
What are the most important metrics you’re seeing people use to assess how well their customer success efforts are performing?
Nick Mehta: What we find is people building a kind of leading indicator, a health score, like a measure of the likelihood of that customer to renew or expand. It can be based on a combination of factors. It’s no longer going to be just one thing. So you’ll probably have NPS as one. But it could also be things like, what percentage of the features included within their purchase have they actually deployed? If they haven’t really rolled out most of it, we’ve got a problem. Are they meeting with us on a regular basis? Most importantly, have they achieved the outcomes that we promised? And so basically, people end up coming up with a composite score. And then you might have a red, yellow, and green indicator. That seems to be where we’re headed.
Shane Schick tells stories that help people innovate, and to manage the change innovation brings. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine and has also been Vice-President, Content & Community (Editor-in-Chief), at IT World Canada, a technology columnist with the Globe and Mail and Yahoo Canada and is the founding editor of ITBusiness.ca. Shane has been recognized for journalistic excellence by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.