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The Value of a "Good" Customer Success Team
Early one morning as I was working out in the gym, I stumbled upon a TED Talk (one of the benefits of going to the gym and therefore recommended to all) and felt compelled to share it with my team, and now you. The talk by policy advisor Simon Anholt, titled “Which country does the most good for the world?” looks at the unexpected side effects of globalization (once localized issues now have global impact) and touches on the idea of doing good.
The concept of doing good is intuitively appealing. After all, we are raised to do good by our parents and most teachers from a young age. But, often, too often, that goodness is melded and diluted over time, being subjected to a utilitarian approach—a means to an end. Do good because it will benefit you, which can easily become: only do good if it benefits you. And, to add even more complexity, the question of "good for whom?” is raised more and more in our adulthood.
Anholt dives into these questions by look at the notion of a good country, which is a country that positively contributes to the world in which we live. These countries make the world safer, richer, and fairer, etc. Of course, this idea of good translates into business as well. First of all, we all know many companies invest heavily in contributing to the environment and the community. They promote social responsibility, make donations to good causes, engage in community support activities, etc. These efforts support their brands and make people like buying from them. Google, in its early days had the mantra of “do not do evil”, which—regardless of whether or not they have succeeded—is a very compelling one.
Conversely, other companies have established a name for themselves for not doing good. I can tell you that there are half a dozen companies from which I personally do not buy products or services. It has nothing to do with the quality of their products or services, which can at times be better than competitors. When I hear about the character of a company’s founders and/or senior management, and certain actions they have taken (like supporting discrimination or child labor or flat out lying to their customers), I decide I do not want my money to go to them.
From a company level, it cascades down to our individual teams and jobs. For example, the Customer Success team constantly struggles amongst the different vectors that impact each of our decisions. My friend and colleague, John Oberon, often uses the methodology of Voice of the Customer, Voice of the Shareholder, and Voice of the Employee to check and guide his decisions. It is a solid framework to understand the impact on our customers, our financials, and our people. But in my mind, as very nicely articulated in this TED Talk, it should not be completely balanced. There is a clear long-term benefit to doing good for others, which in this case is our customers.
However, we wanted to go further than that. We established the Customer Success team about 2.5 years ago at Mashery. The vision for the team was very clear: at the end of the day, our value in the marketplace is directly correlated to the value we provide to our customers. Consequently, our goals were set very clearly as one primary and two secondary. The primary goal is to maximize the value our customers derive from our solutions. The two secondary ones, which come after the primary, are to maximize the monetary and non-monetary values we derive from our customers.
Oren Michels, Mashery Founder and CEO, was a strong supporter of this notion since the early days of the company. At the heart of this vision and charter was the belief that doing good for our customers will benefit us more than any other formula for success.
There are a number of very clear implications of that decision. Among them is the fact that our Professional Services team is not setup as a profit center. We orient this team to think about the customer first, and work tirelessly to help them maximize the value they can extract from our solutions. We figured this mindset would benefit us more than a few more dollars we may get from them. So, while we want to get paid for our work, and customers appreciate that, they have a greater appreciation for the fact that we don't nickel and dime them for every request.
Another implication is the setup of the CPSM team that is a pure service to help customers maximize the value from our solutions from a business perspective. In many other companies, you might find such a solution being charged for as consulting, or oriented to extract money form the customers as Account Management under Sales. But, we provide it as a free service, focused on helping the customer because we firmly believe this service and attitude will serve us better in the long run. We align it and group it organizationally with the project-oriented PS team and time-based Technical Support team to further this notion.
The centric focus on the customer is also, in my mind, one of the reasons we have been out-marketed by some of our competitors. We feel inherently compelled to make our solutions work first, and talk about them second. We established a mindset and strategy where we don’t oversell and under deliver, even if that costs us in the short run in certain places. Most customers are mature and experienced and greatly value this trait. One of the things I hear from customers over and again, especially those who moved to us from competitors, is the amount of instances where competitors promise them the world, but can’t deliver.
Now, we are clearly not perfect: we make mistakes, our solutions—like
any software solution—break sometimes, and our services have flaws occasionally. In the course of business, because we are imperfect human beings, we sometimes have expectation misalignment with customers and mismanage project timelines or deliverables. As a result, we need to change our roadmap from time to time based on challenges we face. But, we do all of these with a clear focus on the customer in the center and the customer first. And that is very visible and appreciated by customers.
So, when I watched this TED Talk so nicely articulating the notion of good countries, I felt proud that we too have this notion within our organization. And since I know the struggles I described above are very real for all of us on a daily basis, I thought that sharing this talk with you may help you as you come to assess those situations and make decisions about them.