Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

To maintain its growth momentum, customer success needs challengers, not followers

By Morika Georgieva, Customer Success Team Lead EMEA  at Permutive

I’m a Customer Success Manager and I love my job. Plenty of people don’t know what I do – and for good reason, as the profession has only really been around for about  a decade

Customer Success teams are accountable for the success of their customers, and what they achieve – typically with a software product. At Permutive my job is to ensure that publishers harness the power of their first-party data to increase their revenue and future-proof their data strategy. Every day, I stand in their shoes and fight their corner so that we can grow together with our customers.


If you’ve never worked with a Customer Success Manager, you might have come across us if you’re a LinkedIn junkie – “Customer Success Specialist” has consistently made top 10 in LinkedIn’s Emerging Job Reports, reaching sixth place in their 2020 report with an annual growth of 34%. The vast majority of us are employed in the IT and Software industry. 


It’s exciting! Since I joined the field in 2017, our conversations and priorities have evolved year after year, with more companies seeing Customer Success not as a novelty, but as a necessity. This year, The Open Book of Customer Success included more than 110 different resources to learn from. Not bad for a 10-year-old profession. 


Unsurprisingly, as a young field, Customer Success needs bold challengers from all verticals, all levels of experience, and all seniority levels. We need to be able to facilitate diverse dialogues, across geographies and markets. Thought leaders and less experienced professionals alike should get used to having their views and habits challenged. 


But an honest question: when did you last scroll through your LinkedIn feed, read a blog, or consumed a piece of content that truly, deeply challenged you? When did you last see something that made you stop and think, disagree, perhaps made you a little uncomfortable, and you didn’t instinctively nod your head and hit “like”? 


Customer Success people, by definition, are challengers. We challenge Sales people to think twice before signing an unsuitable client and we push Product to see the world through our customers’ eyes. Back in the day, we were the ones who insisted companies should invest in their customers and we fought to prove that our teams added long-term value to businesses. Our sometimes uncomfortable environment has built CS teams into some of the most dedicated people in a business. We should maintain this same environment to the global CS community.


Our field is powerful, but nascent. In order to drive innovation, we need to question the formulas and frameworks: make diverse opinions the norm, not the exception; give non-conventional ideas a chance to challenge current habits; give way to creativity. 


Recently, at an industry event called The Customer Conference, Peter Lyon asked if it’s ok to fire a customer. Boaz Manor told us why our Health Scores might be useless. Michal Harel saw COVID as an opportunity for companies, and Mary Poppen showed us that when it comes to scaling your operations, it is about achieving balance with personalisation rather than blindly chasing efficiency. Their sessions sparked lively conversations because they were something we hadn’t heard before. They used their voice to inspire change, regardless of the discomfort it might’ve caused. Most of all, they normalised abandoning the playbooks and doing what makes sense for businesses.


But great ideas are not only born at conferences. We can all create our personal little daily habits to ask healthy questions and get used to continuous learning:

  • Why are we all so playbook obsessed? Leaders, encourage your teams to put their existing processes to the test and scrap the playbook when it feels right. Establish a regular forum, where teams can share learnings and discuss each other’s decisions openly. I’d strongly recommend this webinar with Pat Phelan for some expert tips on playbook abandonment.
  • Quite the status quo. Customer Success Managers, when you think a process does not work (or if you’re not sure why it’s there), question it. We can’t innovate if we willingly accept the status quo.
  • Challenge with solutions. If you think something is wrong, or illogical, or out-dated in Customer Success – tell others. If you disagree with a popular opinion, challenge it, but with substance.  It may be uncomfortable at first, but if you have an idea for a solution, people will hear you out. 
  • Frameworks aren’t forever. Resist the temptation to put a beautifully repeatable framework  around everything. Yes, we’ve always been told the opposite – we love scalable processes, easy yet productive customer interactions, and cookie-cutter formulas applicable to any business. But over-reliance on lines and boxes  can cut the wings of creativity and make it difficult to challenge; where would innovation come from then?


Customer Success has seen rapid growth. To keep the momentum, our community should foster innovation through healthy challenge and open dialogue at every level. We need to learn to be better at being disagreed with. Process is good – but progress is better.