There are so many different customer experience roles these days that I wrote a post a few months ago called “Customer [Insert Term Here]: What Do They All Mean?” In the past, I’ve written a few times about the difference between customer experience and customer service. And back in 2018, I homed in on the difference between customer experience and customer success. Ultimately, I believe that customer experience is the umbrella discipline, and if we get the experience right all of the sub-disciplines will be less costly and their workloads will be simpler and more streamlined.

In today’s post, I’m going to delve into customer success a bit more, thanks to a conversation I recently had with Rav Dhaliwal – an investor and former Customer Success executive at Slack, Zendesk, and Yammer– who I met through Dickey Singh, a long-time friend and co-founder of, a platform purpose-built to humanize and scale digital customer success.

Customer success defined

Rav and I started our conversation just getting on the same page about what customer success is, and I appreciated his definition: a functional role that’s focused on building business value for customers faster than if they tried to do that on their own. But it’s also about building value for the business in order to keep and grow customers forever. It’s about ensuring conditions are right to achieve value, to achieve desired outcomes – all around. In order to accelerate that, customer success managers (CSMs) bring a combination of product knowledge and expertise, use cases, customer and domain expertise, and consultative skills specific to the CSM role.

Measuring customer success

Of course, you can’t define what success (value achieved) looks like without measuring it. How do you measure customer success and the role of the CSM? As an investor, Rav looks at different companies differently. If you’re an early stage startup, product-market fit is an important consideration. Did we speed up product-market fit and decrease time to value? Is the customer using the product in a certain way that helps them achieve business value, faster than if we left them to their own devices? In later stages, the key metric is net revenue retention.

The CSM’s role

Next up, we talked about the CSM’s role. This is a hotly-debated topic: does the CSM focus on retention or on selling, or both? And what’s her relationship with Sales? Rav wrote an article that delves deep into this topic, but I’ll share some highlights here.

  • From Rav’s perspective there are three types of sales: inbound, outbound, and continuous, the latter of which is a newer concept in which customers are continually sold on the value of their investment and see its value realized quickly and with minimum effort on their part.
  • Once that value is recognized, it becomes much easier to talk to customers about upsell and cross-sell opportunities.
  • Continuous selling requires the mirroring of the roles and skills that made the initial sale. So, you’ve got the Account Executive and the Sales Engineer focused on landing the first sale with the customer. Once made, the CSM becomes the mirror of the Sales Engineer’s role, and the Account Executive stays involved, as well, or sometimes is mirrored by an Account Manager. Essentially, what Rav is saying here is that there is no “post-sale;” it’s all selling, continuously.
  • You continuously need product skills and commercial skills, but based on legacy thinking, we usually lump all of these responsibilities on one person, the CSM. In that scenario, the CSM must have product knowledge, use cases, technical knowledge, domain knowledge, and consultative skills and be able to sell, negotiate the contract, redline, etc. That’s a unicorn to find someone with all of those skills – and can do them well.

To answer the original question about the CSM’s role, it’s best to pair her up with a commercial counterpart. The CSM creates the product usage condition for the upsell but doesn’t actually close that deal. There is a cultural precedent that “I can be trusted or I can be in sales, but I can’t be both.” Time to change that thinking and approach, as all the best sales people build trust in order to sell.

CSM pain points

I was curious about some of the pain points that customer success managers must work through. The first one Rav mentioned is quite interesting: the person that bought the product is not necessarily the person who is using or deploying it. So, CSMs must have relationships with the person who bought it, the person who deployed it, and, to some extent, all of the users – and being able to show value for each constituent type.

Another pain point is the inability to be proactive, i.e., not having access to the right data early enough to be able to see a pattern and to see challenges before the issues hit, without which the CSM typically ends up in a reactive mode.

CSM productivity killer

Those two pain points can create a whole set of challenges for CSMs on their own, but the productivity killer really is the data and having access to the right data at the right time. For the CSM to have to book a QBR just to make sure the customer is using the product right is not a good use of their or the customer’s time. Tangential to that is the time CSMs spend overcoming the lack of readily accessible data by trying to find the data that they need to serve customers themselves, laboriously creating spreadsheets and pivot tables and manually manipulating data so they can help customers. It’s a time suck that minimizes their ability to proactively accelerate business value.

Scaling customer success

The first thought that pops into my head is that that is definitely not scalable! This is certainly where a platform like Cast saves time and adds value for the CSM and for the customer. Rav advocates that scaling comes down to people, programs, processes, and tools. Sometimes it requires all four, sometimes it’s just about having two or three of the four.

Digital customer success

Scaling customer success was a good segue into talking about digital customer success, which Rav defines as purpose built tools that help CSMs show value for customers and for their own company. It could be anything, but it’s a purpose built tool that helps CSMs do their jobs in a more efficient, proactive, and more-productive way. He referred to digital customer success tools as force multipliers for driving business. These tools should not only help CSMs get organized and but also to manage, engage, and be predictive with customers.

Humanizing digital customer success

Cast is one of those tools that helps CSMs do just that. The platform scales customer success and enables human-like 1:1 service for an organization’s entire account base. So, I asked Rav, who angel invested in Cast, what the catalyst was for that investment. His response was not surprising: the technology is really impressive; why hasn’t anyone thought of this before? The co-founders’ track records, and the fact that they are humble, hard-working, intelligent, collaborative, and solving a problem that needs to be solved add to the confirmation that it’s a great investment. The size of the market that they’re currently attacking plus the larger chunk of that market that they could potentially take on – there is an infinite number of use cases for the platform. That’s all really appealing to him.

I know I’ve mentioned Cast in previous posts, but I should just call out again here that I’m an advisor for Cast. I’m a little partial to how impressive the platform is and whole-heartedly agree with Rav that the use cases are endless. Currently, you can generate personalized onboarding videos, weekly updates, and business reviews for all of your accounts in the time it would take you to create them for just one high-touch account. You can also automate renewals and upsells directly within Cast videos and slide decks, saving CSM time on repetitive tasks so that they can do more of the value-add work.

Rather than purchasing a product or service, customers buy the value and utility that a company puts into its goods or services. The value a company adds to its products is what convinces its customers to purchase them. -Anonymous

Annette Franz is an internationally recognized customer experience thought leader, coach, speaker, and author. She recently published her first book, Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the “Customer” in Customer Experience (and at the Heart of Your Business); it’s available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. Sign up for our newsletter for updates, insights, and other great content that you can use to up your CX game.

Image courtesy of Unsplash.