Jonathan Hsu
The Coexistence of Customer Success and Professional Services 2018-07-14

The Coexistence of Customer Success and Professional Services

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The last 12 months have been an interesting time. Filled with change, I’ve moved from Training to Professional Services, which has been redefined as Customer Success. I have one directive: make the customer successful. Hold my drink…

Pursuing this simple yet difficult goal, I find myself asking the same question over and over. Do I fish for the man or do I teach the man to fish? Well duh, dummy you teach them to fish. Except it’s not that easy because customers don’t want the small fish, they’re looking for whales.

Listening to Pulse 2018’s Great Debate: How Technical Should CSMs Be? I realized the answer, as any debate should illuminate, is somewhere in the middle. I’m fortunate to have complimentary skillsets — I’m not one-dimensional.

So, the self-reflection shifts from “which is better” to “when is each appropriate” and getting next-level: how do I leverage both to be better? I don’t have all the answers, but I do have lessons learned.

Live by the Prototype

Early on I realized that a significant portion of my training material was able to be repurposed as a prototype for a potential project or integration. Prototypes are an excellent balance of teasing the possibilities without being overwhelming. Once a customer sees what can be done and decides that it brings value, then they’ll make the “build or teach” decision for you.

Give Them Options

There’s something empowering about being given choices, it’s fundamental to free will. Having the skills to both guide the customer or build for them means a more holistic assessment of customer needs. Having the freedom to choose symbolizes a reclamation of power, which is beneficial to maintaining a healthy customer relationship.

Don’t Default to the Project Mindset

I’m a tinkerer by nature. I like to build, I like to be creative. The temptation to “do it myself” is magnified when you could potentially bring in revenue in the process, but will the short-term win lead to long-term success? It’s easy to start feeling indispensable to your customers, but remember that you’re the surfboard and not the wave. Your role is to empower the customer and remove obstacles, but when the customer is helpless without you then all you did was create an obstacle.

Be the Voice of Reason

It’s just as easy to get caught up in the wave when the customer’s aiming for the stars. An imaginative customer who leans on your expertise is a Solution Engineer’s wet dream, but resist the temptation to overindulge them. You’re here to make them successful, not stoke the flames of your ambition. Communicate the importance of building momentum and garnering insights through iteration.

Transparency is the Best Policy

Minimizing churn is a key result of effective Customer Success. In my experience, nothing speaks to stickiness more than trust. Being able to advocate across multiple dimensions for a customer cannot be understated. The decision to teach or build should be made with the customer, not for the customer. Keep them informed of your thought process. You aren’t being scattered, you’re demonstrating that you care enough to deliberate.

Ultimately there is no formula for Customer Success. Perhaps a framework, but distilling customer needs to an equation is denying the human element of real-world problems. The secret to Customer Success and Professional Services coexisting as one entity is to understand how they enable each other. Show your customers what can be done in small digestible packages, present options to achieve their desired business outcomes, involve them in your deliberation process, and supportively advocate for them. A successful customer is grown, not found and it’s your responsibility to cultivate their success. The more tools at your disposal the better.