Customer Success Is Not About Making Your Startup’s Customers Happy

Don’t let your customer success strategy mask the flaws in your product

Joe Procopio

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Last week, a startup leader who I sometimes advise came to me with a problem he was having with his customer success team. In a nutshell, the problem was low morale and even lower productivity — and as a result, fewer successful customers.

When I asked him what his customer success team did, he told me: “Whatever it takes to make the customers happy.”

I admire his altruism, but that’s not how customer success works.

It’s not 100 percent his fault. Product management language is, like most business jargon, full of terms that have a little inside-joke feel to them. I mean, it’s “customer” and “success” — how can it not be about making the customer happy?

Feels like a gotcha.

But the problem wasn’t with the term so much as it was that “customer success” was being used to cover up flaws in the product. Ironically, these were flaws that should have been resolved by a proper customer success approach. So we dug into what customer success should and shouldn’t be.

Customer Success Is Not White-Glove Treatment

For a little background, his company is building SaaS software to replace the transaction and execution for certain business services. However, their “make the customer happy” approach to customer success led them to create a team of several hand-holders for the users of their software for everything from onboarding to training to support and more. They labeled this team — you probably guessed it — customer success.

You can imagine what happened next. Whenever the customer needed to transact or execute a service, they called customer success, who would then, even after all the training and onboarding and support, put their own hands on the software to transact and execute the service for the customer. It didn’t take long before almost every customer was never using the software, just their new, on-demand concierge business services hotline.

This made the customer very happy, but the startup had essentially added an extra middleman to the…

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Joe Procopio

I'm a multi-exit, multi-failure entrepreneur. NLG pioneer. Building TeachingStartup.com & GROWERS. Write at Inc.com and BuiltIn.com. More at joeprocopio.com