It’s me again my friends – I’m back. I never really left, but it’s been a little over a year since my last blog post, but the absence of writing does not mean an absence from growth in the customer success space. A lot has happened since my last entry. The world is proverbially flatter, more remote, and more virtually connected than ever. Humans will always find a way to make the most of what we have with the space that we have.
It does raise an eyebrow when you see someone who is working to build something and you see blog posts or some type of presence, and then there’s a drop-off. You wonder…is this person just lazy, did they give up, or are they no longer in this space? I can tell you that the answer is neither. It is truly a combination of life happening in unexpected ways, some outcomes are more welcome than others, but nonetheless, life continues to move forward. One day I’m parasailing without a care in the world, a few months later I’m training a team of 20 CSMs, and a few months after that I’m attending my mother’s funeral. In the latter half of the COVID pandemic, I found myself reckoning with my past, present, and future and so many ways externally and internally and it all came to a head at some point. As we get deeper into 2022, I can tell you that I survived with my sanity and my passion for customer success, both of which were challenged to their core.
No excuses. It is a never-ending journey to find the right balance of components to focus in a way that is personal and necessary to who you are and what you were put here to do. In 2021, I was fortunate to begin building clientele, brick by brick, which forced me to focus on building out curriculums, collaborating with clients, and making sure that all of the content, structure, and execution were completely on point. With that said, I have learned a few things during this time that I think are critical to the future of customer success.
I Recognize The Need to “Ship”
I’m an avid reader, and I’ve been listening to the audiobook, The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin. I admire his perspective and I think he holds us accountable as human beings to strive for the purpose that we were put here for individually and collectively. The Icarus Deception talks through the need to be the artist that we were put here to be. To recognize that our art is not for everyone and that we cannot create for the sake of the masses, because the masses are not our audience. Furthermore, he talks about how if you move with the intent of creating for the masses, then you potentially lose the integrity of your art. Even more important than that, is the need to create without fear of what anyone, even an audience of one, would have to say, because ultimately what a critic is saying is that your art is not for them specifically but not that it doesn’t have a place in this world. That’s an important distinction. Even in the face of criticism, the goal should be to go out and continuously “make better art”.
One of the things that I’ve learned over the past year-and-a-half is that writing is not just a strength of mine, but it is something that I can do a better job of sharing with the world. I write all the time, but I don’t share enough of it publicly. This is me being vulnerable and even in this space, this blog, as an extension of my mission with Tribe Strategy may not be for everyone, but I know that it’s for someone– I know that my perspective is meant to resonate with someone on this Earth during this time. I can take solace in that. The concept of ‘shipping’ is essentially to create something you perceive to be of value and share it with an audience. Godin’s thought is that it’s not art until it connects with someone in some way. So no matter how it may materialize, maybe through a blog post, or a LinkedIn post, or an email to a colleague or a customer, or a piece of poetry that also materializes as a live performance of a spoken-word piece or even a book. I’m owning the fact that I owe it to myself and to you the consumer of this content whatever it is that I have to offer, and it may not be great today but consistency is key, in some shape form, or fashion. If you’re in the space, you owe it to the rest of the community to do the same.
Customer Success Is No Longer A Baby
Customer success has evolved out of its infancy at this point. There are now defined methodologies for what separates great customer success teams from average customer success teams. We now have a full plethora of potential CS technology that you can incorporate into your text stack. There is thought leadership all over the place on LinkedIn and in various groups such as GainGrowRetain, there are new books being released on a regular basis in the space, and it’s clear that there are not just opportunities for folks to get into a career called customer success, but a mission in some cases.
When I was first introduced to customer success at the beginning of 2015, it felt very natural to me and the keys to success in the role came with ease. Since then, my career has continued to evolve and my personal life has evolved with it. At that time, my daughter Aspen was not even 2 years old, now she’s going on 9 years old and she’ll be in the fourth grade this next school year. It is a testament to how time truly does fly.
Social juggernauts like LinkedIn allow for lightning-fast exponential growth in terms of job opportunities and the ability for people to communicate within the space. According to LinkedIn’s ‘2020 Emerging Jobs Report
Customer Success Can Be Considered A Calling
There’s now an undeniable notion that you can have a natural inclination to be in this space. Some people are natural-born salespeople, some people are natural-born marketers, some people are natural-born comedians, some people are natural-born athletes, and now we can say that there are natural-born customer success people. It may seem a little cheeky or cliche to say that, but it’s the truth.
When you talk to people that are passionate about this industry, you’ll find that although they may not have known about the industry in college because it’s likely that it didn’t exist as a career option at that time, or maybe they didn’t know what they wanted to be in the first place. Yet, you still find this glimmer in their eyes, this light switch that turns on when there is a discussion around what it means to be in customer success, what it means to build out programs, develop leaders or train CSMs, or to simply network with other leaders in the space. It truly is a sight to see. For those people that have a knack for it, a lot of what we call customer success is just common sense, it’s like a fish in water and everything just comes naturally.
You can teach the mechanics of customer retention or how to handle the QBR, or how to deescalate a situation or, or how to prepare a customer for renewal, how to collect and properly measure the net promoter score (NPS), or how to map out a customer journey, among other things, but there are some intangibles that come along with this profession that can’t be taught–either you have it or you don’t.
Customer Success Has Diverse Voices Now
We see widely diverse groups in industry, technology and all sectors getting in on the customer success conversation. I am the co-founder, along with Monique LaRue Wilson (the original founder) of a group called the National Black Customer Success Professionals, and I know of at least one other group called Success in Black which has its own respective mission to serve Black Professionals in the space. There are now webinars and forums being led by black men and women in the space, as well as allies getting involved in driving the narrative for all things related to the progress of people that want to be in this space or are already in the space. Customer success has become almost a trojan horse for diversity in technology organizations because you don’t have to have too much of a technological background to be a customer success. However, there is a blueprint that has developed for core skills and experience required to be in the space.
I’m proud to see recruiters, consultants, executives, leaders, and trainers that look like me. I’m also proud to see organizations begin to step outside of their comfort zone of just speaking on diversity and taking action in ways that represent true diversity in their organizations. We still have much room for progress across the board. I’m confident that the presence of diverse voices that speak clearly in this space serves as enough evidence to validate why we need to continue to drive diversity in all industries, not just in technology and not just in customer success.
Customer Success Is Uber-Competitive
I mentor and talk to people all the time who are eager to get into customer success and are met by stiff competition in the market. There are great foundational opportunities when it comes to income potential, benefits, and stock options, especially in the SaaS space. Furthermore, the set of skills required is unique to the role. It’s not foreign at this point to hear someone say, “you should consider a career in customer success”.
There are people who have been long-time management consultants who have decided to depart from that world and take on roles and customer success. I see people who have been at Bain or McKinsey for years, taking on Customer Success Manager and customer success leader roles. Given that careers at any of the big consulting firms have been a long-standing dream for many, it speaks to the demand of the role.
I’ve also observed that the market for even junior level customer success roles, the ask in many job descriptions is for a couple of years of experience, as a Customer Success Manager. That becomes a Catch-22 if you’re someone who doesn’t have a background in customer success already. As organizations recognize the value of the role, a strong sense of selectiveness has come with that perceived value. Especially in highly strategic roles, the Customer Success Manager will be the person that can make or break the long-term relationship with that customer, and this leads organizations to be extremely mindful about who they put in the seat.
Customer Success Represents A Reminder To Return To Humanity
That’s a bold statement. Corporate America through its evolution has evolved to cater to the sensitivities of humans and our social development, thus we operate in sometimes overly politically correct environments. We don’t want to say the wrong thing, we don’t want to offend anyone, we don’t want to tell a customer “No”, we don’t want to have anyone think that we’re not being inclusive, we don’t want to make waves, we don’t want to do anything that’ll make us look like we’re not good people. And therein lies the problem.
One of the biggest keys to my success in this space is recognizing that no matter what Fortune 500 organization you may find yourself in the offices of, either as an employee or as a Customer Success Manager or leader, every person that we work with is also a person, a human, just like us. In some cases, they may have executive titles and all of the perks with large reporting structures, and they may have decades of experience or, they may know a specific software like the back of their hand, but at the end of the day, they’re just people….like all the rest of us. As long as we keep that in mind there is nothing that could stop us from being excellent in customer success.
This career path represents the return of being able to look another person in the eye and solve the problems at hand, the return of picking up the phone to deliver not so great news, the return of meeting someone where they are and walking down the road with them, the return of simple agendas and plain conversation, the return of knowing what makes that person tick, and how their family is doing. It’s the return…to humanity.
I come to you with a sharp mind and a focus on the future, while understanding clearly that what matters is right now, and taking this thing one day at a time. 100 years from now, a lot of the things that make us anxious today won’t matter as much, none of us will be here to care about it, but we have the opportunity to leave a legacy for our future generations in some elemental form and so here I am, not to make any promises, or to create a false sense of perfection, but to give you a piece of my imperfect self while it’s on my heart to do so and with no regrets. Maybe there’s an undertone of personal redemption and insight here, but that’s okay. We’re surrounded by artificial intelligence all the time. If you work in customer success the chances are, the software that you support is built on artificial intelligence and it only gets stronger every day so here’s my imperfect intelligence as a reminder that I’m still here, and eager to contribute as much as I can to this thing we call customer success. To my comrades in customer success – here’s to a prosperous 2022 and beyond.