Has the profession of Customer Success reached a/the tipping point?
I recently did a quick scan of LinkedIn to get a view of the size of the customer success executive community. The search turned up about 576 Vice Presidents, 2,500 Directors and almost 18K Managers — the latter including mostly customer-facing roles rather than team leadership. The numbers for open positions were 64 for executives, and just over 3K for managers, again mostly for customer-facing roles. That’s a lot — or is it?
Definition: Customer Success Tipping Point
What’s a “tipping point?” There are two flavors of the definition, and while I can make a case that the first has been accomplished for the customer success profession, I have some doubts when it comes to the second. The first definition is: “A critical moment in a complex scenario in which a small influence of development produces a sudden large change.” I think that this catalyst event in fact happened for Customer Success as it is generally defined in late 2010 and early 2011 when VC partners such as Bruce Cleveland began asking applicants for funding as to how they planned to ensure customer retention. World domination / market share was no longer the sole criteria for an investment decision; it wasn’t enough to have a glittering plan for acquiring customers. What counts is keeping and growing those relationships. The message from VC community leaders in blog posts and interviews was clear: if you don’t have a customer success / retention plan and a responsible exec on the team, don’t bother applying for funding. And the race to hire customer success professionals was on and continues to expand.
The second definition or aspect of “tipping point” poses a more serious challenge. “The critical point in a situation, process or system beyond which a change or an effect **cannot be stopped.**” (The emphasis is mine.) Is it likely or even possible that the worldwide expansion of customer success jobs will slow or even reverse? It depends. Customer Success execs are already struggling with the challenge to make their operations scalable, and technology is the obvious answer. There are two possible avenues for technology, though. One is to craft tools to enable customer success professionals to do more. The other is to design and build applications that assume more of the burden of enabling customers to do more themselves without requiring the investment of learning time.
Does Customer Success = Customer Retention?
If the profession of customer success continues to allow itself to be defined only in terms of increasing application engagement as a means to customer retention, then I definitely don’t think that its momentum is unstoppable. Those who argue that better designed technology can/will reduce or eliminate the need for the role have a good case to offer.
The tipping point that I’m looking for is when the profession of Customer Success Management is generally defined as being about increasing **profitability** for both customer and company. And we’ll know that moment has arrived when all customer success teams are equipped with technology that tracks and proves increased value delivery to both parties from the relationship.
We’re currently discussing this question in The Customer Success Forum on LinkedIn, and you’re welcome to participate.