The Fundamentals of Customer Success

To be truly great, go beyond the basics

Customer Success focused departments and experts have emerged recently as a response to unmet needs in Silicon Valley and beyond. A disconnect between what the top of the company intends to deliver and what the customer receives at the bottom of the process flow are all too common, and the whole industry wants to close the gap.There are dozens of posts online about the basics of Customer Success: what kind of metrics to measure, how to demonstrate the qualitative and quantitative benefits of your product, etc. These factors are important, but they’re the tip of the iceberg. In order to create a transformative shift on a company-wide level, we need to delve deeper.Missing from that conversation are the internal fundamentals of Customer Success that individuals, teams, and entire organizations need to focus on in order to deliver a consistently positive customer experience.

There are four fundamental areas of work that need to be done internally in order for the result to be seen and felt externally:

  1. Creating a commitment to learning
  2. Discovering the unconscious commitments
  3. Empowering through truth
  4. Making fairness a part of your product

We'll look at each of these in more detail below.

1: Commit to learning

Consistency is more important and more valuable than talent, luck, intention and even quality. It’s not realistic to expect perfect consistency in our product, our customer experience, etc. - but we can absolutely expect perfect consistency when it comes to our commitment to learning. A requirement that must be recognized in order to ensure customer success and the company’s success is a commitment to learning. Carl Jung said that until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate. Every company and individual has unconscious commitments that are keeping them from maximizing their potential.The only way to find out what those unconscious commitments are and move past them is to be deeply interested in self-knowledge. That means inquiring into your own self-limitations and your own successes so that the limitations don't hold you back simply out of lack of self-knowledge. Customer Success teams and companies as a whole have to be open to feedback even when it's expressed as criticism. If you can build a corporate culture of openness to personal learning, you won’t get caught in a cycle of repeating the same mistakes.

Ask yourself “who are we currently, and what needs to be done right now to get us where we want to be?” When you make a conscious commitment to learning, every second of every day becomes charged with potential.The alternative, which we’re all guilty of until we are educated otherwise, is to be defensive when a lesson presents itself - especially if that lesson comes in the form of criticism. If a client sends a harsh email outlining all the ways in which they feel your organization errored, generally our internal reaction is to 1: find somewhere outside of oneself to place blame and 2: defend oneself from the attack.

However, defensiveness blocks the learning potential of that moment. We have to be able to let go of our attachment to our points of view. This enables change to take place in a much more friendly, easy-going way. Letting go of being right allows us to learn from every situation. The vast majority of business situations are actually about interactions on a relationship level and have little to do with what is typically considered “business.” Most of what goes wrong and right in business depends almost entirely on our ability to understand and make use of relationship principles. If you can make a commitment to learning from every relationship interaction - facing reality exactly as it is, accepting it, and choosing to take action - every piece of criticism we receive will make us better as individuals, and will propel the company forward.

2: Discover the Unconscious Commitments

Another psychological principle applicable to Customer Success is to look to results to determine what you are committed to. If we as a company are subconsciously committed to failure, failure will be our result. When we take ownership of the unconscious commitments that lead to a particular failure, we can find out exactly where that commitment came from.

Example: if a company keeps missing project deadlines, then we need to admit on a corporate level that this company is committed to missing project deadlines. This is about claiming responsibility for ourselves and realizing the ways in which we are giving away our personal power. It's not possible to be in your personal power and see the kind of results we want to see on an individual level or on a corporate level when we still exist in a space of defensiveness: looking for someone to blame, and are not claiming full responsibility for all of our outcomes.Our ability to access our creative energy and creative power dramatically increases when we embrace our unconscious commitments and really look at them. If everyone at the top of the company claims full responsibility for everything in their lives - if there were not an ounce of blame or disownership at the top - this can completely transform a company, from the internal teams to the customer experience.

3: Empower Through Truth

A common misconception is that truth hurts, but nothing could be more false. Truth heals while obscuring the truth or lies hurt. When you speak authentically with no blame, you restore the flow of connection. Hiding truth destroys the growth potential in relationships, and this applies to families, teams, and entire organizations. It’s important to note that there is also an art to speaking the truth in a way that empowers - speaking the truth in blunt ways can be destructive.Truth is a powerful force. A problem will persist until someone tells a fundamental truth about it and creates space for it to be resolved.

Fundamental truth is truth that cannot be argued. If you learn to speak fundamental truth you can stop conflict and inspire creative energy in the members of the conflict. For example, “you made me feel X when you did Y” is not a complete truth. It passes the blame, makes the speaker a victim, and is clearly arguable. It also takes a huge amount of creative energy to say. However, stating “I feel Y about X” cannot be argued. The statement is a complete truth about how the speaker feels, and is empowering in that it does not blame or create a victim. For most people, learning to speak this way is like learning a foreign language. We haven’t been taught to speak in complete truths by our parents or professors. It takes a lot of personal work on ourselves to be able to do this without defensive mechanisms kicking in, or falling into old patterns. While blame destroys relationships, truth and responsibility heal them.

When you receive negative feedback from a customer or a client, instead of looking for who is to blame, resolidify the flow in the relationship by asking yourself what you can do to contribute to a solution. Doing this shifts your energy from fear or defensiveness to focusing on the positive aspects of taking responsibility.Genuine responsibility, according to Gay Hendricks, Ph.D., of Conscious Loving fame, is claiming that you are the source of whatever is occurring in your space. When we are acting with responsibility, we are accountable for what we do and we identify ourselves as the cause, rather than the effect. In other words, when we are acting out of responsibility we are fully accountable for the results we produce and we identify ourselves as a source and cause rather than an effect. Something I like to frequently repeat to myself that I learned from Dr. Hendricks is “I take full responsibility for my safety here, for my well-being here, for my security here, now how can I expand that to include all of us?” In the same vein, William James, 19th century psychologist and philosopher stated that “the greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes of mind.” If everyone at your organization walks into the office every day with an attitude of prosperity and abundance - if we can create that consciousness within ourselves first - we can ensure success for the company and for our customers. Andrew Carnegie of U.S. Steel famously believed in what was dubbed the Master Mind concept: he outlined how "no two minds ever come together without, thereby, creating a third, invisible, intangible force which may be likened to a third mind." The idea is that if you can get more than two people to come together with the same mindset, you can create any result you aspire to. Carnegie was able to do that over and over again by putting together groups of people with an abundance and prosperity mindset, and he became the richest man in the U.S. after immigrating from Scotland with nothing. Something that you can do within your organization or within a Customer Success team is to agree to adhere to a mindset around abundance and prosperity for yourselves as individuals, for your customers/clients, and also for the organization as a whole while taking responsibility for those results. A key thing to point out here is that taking responsibility is not about creating work for ourselves - responsibility is a celebration of our own power as a source of creation.

4: Make Fairness a Part of Your Product

We all want our customers to feel respected, but how do you demonstrate respect? One demonstrates respect through the integrity of the message they communicate. Integrity is defined as being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness. “Moral uprightness” is objective - morals can vary greatly depending on cultural, religious, and educational backgrounds. Fairness, however, is less objective. As a company and as individuals we can execute on fairness by committing to consistently doing what we say we’re going to do. Everyone wants to be treated fairly, but a lot of us forget this under the pressure of fast-paced environments and decision-making.

You must be able to apply the question: “is it fair for all concerned?” Even when the pressure is high, the answer has got to be “yes” before execution. Fairness can be thought of as a product offering that is auto-attached to all of your company’s product offerings - one of the products your clients or customers expect when doing business with you is fairness. If fairness is not currently being prioritized as highly as it should, simply tap into your creative energy to solve for ways in which you can bring fairness to the forefront of every product launch or relationship.One of the greatest untapped resources that a company has is the creative energy of all of their employees. Huge breakthroughs can happen when a company taps that energy and allows it to flow, but most people were not taught about using creative energy as a part of their education. Even the term “creative” is often thought of being exclusive to artists or designers, but that simply isn’t accurate.

Anytime we come up with an idea we’re using our creative energy, and in order to be successful we have to be adaptable enough to come up with creative solutions to problems. We need to practice being as creative as we can allow ourselves to be if we’re going to successfully deliver the kind of customer experiences we aspire to.

In Closing - Implementing the fundamentals of Customer Success

While these concepts are simple in nature, the internal shift that needs to happen is not easy - it takes time and practice. Breaking old, harmful habits and replacing them with new ways of being is a big internal overhaul, and there will definitely be failure as you’re learning. However, the enormous payoff makes it worth the effort. By committing to these self-work initiatives we can create a team, and thereby an entire company, that is committed to learning, free from self-sabotaging unconscious commitments, empowered through truth, and fair. Most importantly: you’ll have successful customers because you’ll have evolved relationships, internally and externally - and that’s the whole objective. *Worth noting is that none of these concepts or steps were invented by me. These ideas come from highly celebrated authors such as Psychiatrists Kathlyn & Gay Hendricks of Conscious Loving fame, Don Miguel Ruiz who wrote The Four Agreements, and have surely been echoed by many others.

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