Main illustration: Susan Payne
Customer success – every business wants to invest in it but only a few know what it actually entails or how to do it well.
There are a lot of words that get thrown around with customer success: problems to be solved, implementation, product experts, expansion, strategic partners, technical advisors, proactive versus reactive. But what does all this really mean, and how will it help us help our customers be more successful?
The most effective way I’ve found to deepen my expertise as a customer success manager, to cut through the jargon to real, practical advice, is through reading. Reading can be a magical way – and no, I’m not just talking about “Lord of the Rings” magical – to upskill, to broaden your knowledge, and to find creative ways to kickstart or level up in your career.
As an avid reader, I’m often asked by our Customer Success team to recommend books that I’ve found valuable. Below I share the three books that have most meaningfully impacted the way I work with customers and that I’d encourage every customer success manager to check out.
3 must-read customer success books (and a bonus 🤓)
I’ve picked these books for their insight into what customer success can do for your organization and their best practices for understanding what your customers need (versus what they often “want”) and how to manage your customer relationships at every step.
“You’ll find wide-ranging advice that’ll help you connect more personally and effectively with your customers”
No matter where you work or how your customer success team is structured, you’ll find wide-ranging advice that’ll help you connect more personally and effectively with your customers.
As customer success managers, we are well positioned to serve as customer advocates. While we often influence new sales and expansion opportunities, we rarely do any of the hard selling ourselves. This puts us in the advantageous spot of being a trusted advisor who can build and deepen customer relationships without having them feel like we are “only in it for the contract.”
The Trusted Advisor examines the dynamics of building customers’ trust and organizes them into a simple yet powerful equation. Trustworthiness, they argue, is the result of your credibility, reliability, and intimacy, divided by your self-orientation, or T = (C + R + I) / S. Your objective is to prove your knowledge, deliver on your promises, and build an emotional connection with your customers, while minimizing your own interests.
Here’s an example of how I’ve applied this equation to my everyday work:
- Credibility (your words): “ I can trust what my CSM says.”
- Reliability (your actions): “I know my CSM will follow through on my ask.”
- Intimacy (your emotions): “I feel comfortable asking for more help or discussing this topic with my CSM.”
- Self-orientation (your motives): “My CSM cares about my success with the product.”
In this aptly titled book, Gainsight’s CEO Nick Mehta, Chief Customer Officer Dan Steinman, and Customer Success Evangelist Lincoln Murphy take the concept of “customer success” and define exactly what it is, why it matters, and where it’s going. Of the many topics covered, my favorite has to do with answering the question, how do you measure customer success?
Customer success teams, ours included, often find it difficult to measure their true effectiveness. How should we define “success” if we aren’t solely closing deals or expanding our accounts? But as the authors remind us, “Ultimately, the purpose of customer success, like any other part of a thriving company, is to achieve real business outcomes.”
How should we define “success” if we aren’t solely closing deals or expanding our accounts?
The authors go on to provide a helpful framework for setting hard metrics against customer success. One area, in particular, I’ve found useful is examining the relationship between activities, e.g. calls, emails, account reviews, and customer outcomes. For example, do onsites really drive faster go-live times than video or phone calls? And if so, by how much? Answering these kinds of questions allow you to double down on what’s valuable and efficient for you and your customers and reallocate time away from what’s not.
It sounds obvious: the more effort customers have to put in to resolve an issue, the less likely they are to be loyal to your company, regardless of how “happy” they seem. But for too long, common wisdom prioritized momentary customer delight over consistent satisfaction.
This book challenges that thinking. How many of us have sent holiday swag to our customers (or any swag, for that matter)? Gestures like these might spark joy for a moment, but none of them will guarantee repeat business. At the end of the day, customers buy and use your product to solve pressing problems, not for your swag, and the less effort needed to get to their desired outcomes, the better.
“Customers buy and use your product to solve pressing problems, not for your swag”
In the spirit of making things easy for customers, the authors make another point that has stuck with me – give customers the option to self-serve. Make your help documentation clear (and in your customers’ words), easy to find and navigate, and sticky so customers know exactly where to look. As a customer success manager, some of your customers will want to self-serve, some will want your one-on-one help, but, either way, let them decide.
Bonus read: Intercom on Onboarding
Do you know what happens when a customer first signs up for or purchases your product? Well, depending on how their first few minutes go, they’ll either have a great experience – or they might never log in again.
Our book Intercom on Onboarding explains how to craft an onboarding strategy that hooks your customers from their first interaction and attracts them back to your product time and time again. Effective onboarding – a crucial skill for customer success managers – requires proactively guiding your customers through your product so they can learn both how it works and how it will help them achieve their company and individual objectives.
“As a customer success manager, that’s your goal: to replicate your most successful customers – and it all starts with onboarding”
The key is to customize your onboarding based on your unique product and your customers’ specific needs. Start by breaking down what you and your team view as a successful customer and then work backward to build an onboarding strategy that achieves those key outcomes. Ultimately, as a customer success manager, that’s your goal: to replicate your most successful customers – and it all starts with onboarding.
Have a book on customer success that you loved and would recommend? Let me know on Twitter – I’m @NicoleRashied!