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Many support organizations have a customer success or account management program with the goal of creating tighter relationships with customers, providing proactive recommendations, and generally ensuring customer loyalty in the long term. The programs can be fee-based or provided to customers of a certain size―but the question is: Do they work? Here’s my take on a maturity model for the customer success/account management functions.

Level 0 - Asleep

There is no formal customer success management program. The support organization is in reactive mode, focused solely on helping customers that contact it with questions and issues.

Level 1: Random

Some important or troubled customers have a customer success manager (CSM). The role of the CSMs varies by account, and some are essentially glorified escalation managers. The main task of CSMs is to do whatever is in their power to persuade individuals in the support organization to accomplish tasks for their customers. There are no formal goals and objectives for the CSMs.

Level 2: Tactical

Customer success managers are in place, at least for larger customers. The CSMs contact customers regularly on a proactive basis, share product marketing blueprints, train customers on using the product and new features, and serve as a single point of contact for any issues customers may have. The CSMs work closely with the account reps and forward leads to them. The CSMs' main metric is customer satisfaction or the Net Promoter Score (NPS).

Level 3: Support-Centric

The customer success managers delve into their customers' internal processes, above and beyond the use of the product. They are also expected to share their expertise and experience with others on the CSM team, thereby creating best-practice models that can be reused by other CSMs and other customers. Their main goal is to reduce churn and increase adoption.

Level 4: Strategic

The customer success team works in concert with the marketing and sales teams to maximize adoption, reduce churn, and create success models for new and existing customers. Beyond product usage, the CSMs understand and foster the achievement of their customers’ business goals.

The organization systematically analyzes the information collected throughout the CSMs' interactions with customers (along with other data from social media and standard support interactions) to define repeatable success paths for prospects and existing customers.

Moving Up through the Ranks

What level are you at? And how can you move up? Focus on diagnostic and implementation programs that focus squarely on customer satisfaction. It takes some time and effort, but moving up the levels is a definite way to focus on not just satisfying your customers, but delighting them, making them loyal to your organization.

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Francoise Tourniaire

About Francoise Tourniaire

Francoise Tourniaire started using collaborative swarming in 1995, before the word was coined. Since then, she founded FT Works, a consultancy firm that helps technology companies create and improve their customer success and support operations. She is the author of The Art of Support and three other books about managing support organizations and a frequent blogger and conference presenter. FT Works is a TSIA Consulting Alliance Partner.