Recently on Linked-In I did a tongue in cheek poll “Do IT suppliers who have a “Customer Success” department offer Worse or Better support & engagement to their client base”.

 The poll came off the back of a conversation with a client, where we had discussed how our hearts sink when suppliers mention introducing their “customer success” team – it’s normally a sign that things are not going well, and remedies are needed.

In the end, 60% of people who took part in the survey said they thought companies with a Customer Success team were better than those without.

However, this is where it gets interesting. Looking at the individuals who voted “Better”, only two (8.5%) of respondents worked within Law Firms with the other 22 voters working for suppliers.

On the “worse” side we saw a much stronger representation from Law Firms or suppliers such as ourselves, who manage supplier relationships for Law Firm clients.

Whilst this is just a little poll it is interesting to see such a difference of opinion between suppliers and their law firm clients. This underlines one of our common comments from our clients – suppliers do not understand enough what their client base want or expect from them.

Some reasons for failure we have seen include:-

1. One for All

A “cookie cutter” implementation of Customer Success doesn’t go down well with firms, nor does being told what Customer Success should feel like. For Customer Success to stand a chance there needs to be a mutual understanding and agreement of what the engagement will deliver and the benefits to the law firm for the investment of their time.

2. Lack of engagement

A supplier once indicated that every client had been assigned a Customer Success Consultant in a new programme of ‘richer contact’ with clients, but most clients we spoke to didn’t even know who their Customer Success Consultant was.  We were later told that this team only engaged with clients when there was a problem – a very different level of engagement.

3. Customer Success Manager “Power”

The CSM leading the relationship has the “power/authority” to enact desired changes within the service company.

There is nothing more frustrating than when a CSM has to “take back” a challenge and enters into prolonged back and forth negotiations playing piggy in the middle, often with the outcome that the supplier is not prepared to make changes for just one voice in their client base.  With some suppliers clients are asked to submit their requests to a ‘forum’ to gain a consensus across the client base, so where is the Customer Success ‘power’ in this scenario?

Think about when you last bought a car and the sales person goes into the back office to “haggle” with the Sales Director on your behalf. We all know that it’s a charade and we all know the Sales Person isn’t trying that hard either.

Putting a CSM in this position gives the same impression and quickly leads to law firms getting frustrated.

4. Longevity

Whilst we are used to increased “staff churn” within suppliers, it does seem like Customer Success Managers come and go with rapidity.

The client with whom I had the conversation that led to the poll, had gone through three Customer Success Managers for a key product in less than 12 months.

Firms invest time explaining their needs and wants and documenting plans of attack, then the CSM is changed and the cycle seems to start again, with the new CSM having to go back to basics to understand the client’s needs and represent them to the supplier.

Suppliers need to find a way of managing this “staff churn”, so if CMSs do move on, their clients do not feel like they are back to the starting line each time.

5. Priority & Standing

The other thing to keep in mind is law firms should be practicing supplier management – they should look to have good close engagements with their key suppliers, but prioritise the time spent on supplier management based on the service provided.

For example, if you are a supplier of commodity services such as printers, photocopy paper, etc., then firms may not see the need for a CSM programme, or want to invest a lot of time in the relationship. A quick coffee once a year may be adequate for both parties.

The first step therefore of any successful relationship has to be for a supplier to ask a customer how important they are – are they transactional, important or is it a full strategic alliance.  I can never recall a supplier asking this question, all assume they have the same level of importance.

6. Sales dressed up as Customer Success

The final but often fatal common faux pas is that a lot of Customer Success Managers appear to still carry targets for selling products.

Of course, part of their role is to ensure that clients have the correct solutions and make the most out of them via customisation / configuration or training. However, we have seen too many CSMs who just seem to turn up at a review meeting wanting to undertake a sales pitch for the latest and greatest new widget, often without understanding how and why that widget should be of interest to their client.

If it is appropriate to introduce a new solution or undertake solution customisation / training, we would encourage the CSM to work on building the business case with their client and only once that need and understanding of required solution is developed, should they introduce the sales team into the process.

Overall, I do feel that a Customer Success programme is the right approach, but it needs to have clear purpose, remit and objectives.  If the supplier is aiming for a one-size-fits-all product, then Customer Success will naturally have a narrower remit, where it is a strategic partnership, it will be all important to keeping that relationship on track.  Clarity at the outset will smooth the way to a better relationship.

David Baskerville

David Baskerville

07769 946883

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