Why Customer Success Needs a Seat at the Leadership Table

I first wrote this article back in September of 2016 after attending a networking dinner with Lincoln Murphy. I had been seated at his table and was able to engage with him and my tablemates in some great conversation about the current and future state of customer success. 

The most prevalent topic at our table back in 2016 was the need for customer success teams to have a seat and a voice at the leadership table. With their extensive experience coaching and interacting with customers, CS teams have a unique perspective because they are on the frontlines of the customer-company relationship. They work on behalf of your customers every day and it’s their job to ensure customers are successful with your product and your company. That makes them the most significant voice of the customer, and if customer success is truly important to your company, it’s critical that this voice is represented at the highest levels. Unfortunately, at the time, customer success being a part of executive discussions was all too rare. 

Murphy noted that customer success issues are almost always leadership issues: “If customer success isn’t the operating philosophy of the company and its leadership, you’re going to have problems orchestrating, operationalizing, and instrumenting successful customers.”

Murphy noted that he often sees customer success operating under a tangential department, like sales or marketing. In his view, this is a misalignment that causes the voice of the customer to become overshadowed by the voice of the buyer. In some instances, success teams operate under the Chief Revenue Officer (CRO), which can be a good option because it holds customer success accountable for revenue-driven growth just like sales and marketing. However, too much focus on the numbers can remove the humanness from customer success, which is never ideal. There’s so much more to CS than revenue and it’s important that customers are represented beyond just what they are contributing to our bottom line. 

More than three years later, I’m reflecting on this idea and feeling so positive about the improvements we’ve seen over these years. We’ve come a long way! 

By now, we learned it’s paramount to have a C-Suite leader who specifically represents customer success. Chief Customer Officer, Chief Experience Officer, Chief Ninja for Successful Customer VOC Collection—call it what you will—someone in charge of ensuring customer success is held responsible for key parts of company growth, that customer success is a key operating philosophy throughout the company, that formal processes are implemented to operationalize success, and the voice of the customer is heard and considered in decision-making all the way up the chain.

Customer success is a must-have for recurring revenue businesses. And this team’s primary directive is capturing, sharing, and carrying out the needs of the customer. 

As we move forward into a brand new decade, customer success has firmly planted itself at executive tables across the world, and now there are expectations for the evolution of customer success and the role these executives will play. 

We’ve talked to a ton of customer success leaders, executives, and even investors about the topic of the executive’s role in customer success. You can read or listen to our interview-style C-Suite leadership blogs or check out our webinar on customer success for the C-Suite for more on this).

We’ve asked leaders, experts, consultants, investors, managers, directors, CEOs … where does the future of customer success take us? 

There are a few themes that stand out in their answers:

  • Customer success has made its way outside of just software companies and it’s only continuing to grow. 
  • A deep and unified focus on user-centric customer success strategies is a competitive differentiator.
  • Customer success is quickly becoming a centralizing department—the hub in the flywheel, if you will—that connects to every other department in the organization.
  • Customer success technologies are evolving to become tools of empowerment for both CS teams and for customers. 

These, on top of the ever-changing needs and expectations of customers, are guiding business principles that will require customer success and customer experience to become a key part of every department. 

We’ve also started to learn about what the most effective customer success leaders do differently and how they are preparing for this evolution, like using predictive analytics to identify accounts at risk, getting a 360-degree view of customer data, offering digital self-service tools to customers, and ultimately driving a customer-first mindset

What are some ways your company is preparing for the future of customer success? Continue the conversation with us in our LinkedIn group.