The silver lining of Customer Success: From business outcomes to focus on growth and scalability

4 min read
12 Jun

In this interview, Sean Whitsitt, Head of Customer Success -- Integration Services at SHI, talks about the importance of strategic planning to help customers achieve outcomes and hit their goals.

How did you get started in Customer Success?

I got started roughly 10ish years ago helping call centers create programs to retain and develop their employees. Over time as more and more companies began entering the SaaS space we pivoted to helping SaaS SMB organizations stand up their first CSM org. When my family relocated to Austin it was a game-changer for me career-wise. I found more mentors and mentees in the Customer Success space and my understanding and beliefs around CS began to look like a hockey stick. I found leadership at a few Martech startups before landing where I am now on the re-seller side building Success motions that can impact a large number of customers at scale.  

Why is it important for companies to invest in customer success? 

The market now demands it. You can see it with Cisco pivoting from a traditional hardware seller to focusing on their recurring revenue offerings and re-branding themselves as a software company. Customers now have more choice, and more power than ever before, and ensuring that they’re deriving value and utilizing as much of an offering as makes sense for them is crucial nowadays. 

What’s at stake for the companies that aren’t investing in customer success yet? 

Stagnating growth and risk of churn. Customer Success isn’t support, it isn’t sales, and isn’t project management. Sales should focus on relationship management and hunting new opportunities, support is a reactive motion, and project management has a beginning and an end. Without investing in CSM headcount and resources to focus on lifecycle and customer outcomes the other roles lose focus and the waters can become muddied. Customer success delivers outcomes, and ultimately renewals and more customer growth.

How would you describe CS at a high level?

Customer Success as a practice is the re-enforcement and realization of customer outcomes paired with the desired experience for individual stakeholders. CS should deliver value and that experience should cater to who’s receiving the information. I like to ask the question. “What’s in it for them?” when I’m talking to a customer stakeholder. The communication needs to emphasize how it impacts that person’s goals.

Do you believe Customer Success as a competitive differentiator for companies? If the answer is yes, how and what manner?

Customer Success is absolutely a competitive differentiator. Successful Customer Success organizations have a plan to help customers achieve outcomes and hit their goals. One of the biggest challenges that modern executives face is getting their people to utilize technology effectively. Our CS Teams provide the map to get them there. As a customer, there’s a lot of value in having a resource consult with me on what I’m trying to achieve with a purchase, provide a plan to get me there, proactively monitor the success of the initiative, and help me measure those results.

What do you think is the biggest impediment to achieving customer satisfaction? 

I view customer satisfaction as a positive experience coupled with the intent to renew or continue to consume the technology and services that we offer. The biggest thing that can impede that is the lack of a plan or strategy to help them achieve their goals with us. Effectively communicating around outcomes gets them there. Poorly communicating does not. 

When it comes to making your customers successful, what is the single biggest challenge, or frustration that you've been struggling with? 

I’d have to say a lack of data. Whether it’s because we’re on the partner side and can’t have access to customer systems, or because the data isn’t reported in real-time or accurately. Whenever that happens it can be frustrating because Customer Success uses data to drive decisions. The silver lining is that this is not a unique problem and forces us to get creative and have clear processes to acquire the data necessary to measure and drive outcomes. You have to have something to measure. 

What does a "healthy relationship"  look like to you? 

A healthy customer relationship is a relationship with clear lines of communication and appropriate expectations. It’s a partnership and an upfront contract. For this reason, I like my Success Managers and Adoption Managers to get involved as early as it makes sense in the sales cycle. When we clearly define what we do, what can be expected from us, and what we expect from the customer and all parties agree then, if those standards are ever pushed or even broken, we can point to that agreement to realign. 

If you were to sit down to evaluate your customer relationships, what would you like to learn or hear from your customers?   

I’m most interested in where we’re missing the mark. Do customers have a full understanding of our capabilities? Are we articulating expectations clearly on the front end?

If you are going to assess the current state of CS, what do you think are the changes we are going to see (expect or anticipate to happen)?

I tighter integration with Sales and deeper segmentation of the types of customer success roles.

How would you like to measure the success of your team?

When I was in the SaaS space it was renewals. Now on the Re-Seller Services side, it’s about customer Outcomes achieved over time as well as Success Qualified leads to sales.

If you will write a book about CS, what's the title of that book? 

The Customer Economy, but I think that title might already be taken. 😊

If there's one principle your organization wants to live by, what will that be?

Integrity – Words and deeds matching up. 

What would be on your list of things companies should NOT do when it comes to customer success?    

When assigning accounts to CSMs pay attention to segmentation and defining different types of CS roles. Too many times I’ve seen customers spread across CSMs like butter on bread. One of the biggest mistakes a CS org can make is assigning a CSM 20% of their accounts requiring a high touch motion and the rest, a low touch motion. 

There are several problems with this. First, it causes inefficiencies – It takes time to do the mental shift. The 2nd is that CSMs will inevitably end up undeserving one group over the other, or start inadvertently providing the same motion to both groups. This makes it challenging to manage their day. Not all customers need or even should have the same adoption motion applied to them. Segment your customers and assign appropriately and do this sooner rather than later.

What sets a customer-obsessed company apart from a customer-centric company?

“Customer-obsessed” has always felt a little buzzwordy to me. I prefer to put the customer and their outcomes at the center of the conversation. From my point of view if an organization focuses on its customers (both internal and external) and the outcomes that the stakeholders need to achieve success then processes, and actions can be taken to get there.

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