Why Customer Success Isn't Just for Software Companies

You have to give a lot of credit to new technology companies. They've brought so many good things to life.

Like emojis, automated vehicles, and drones that can deliver online purchases in a matter of hours.

Let's not forget those selfies that superimpose animals ears and noses on faces.

One area technology companies deserve a ton of credit is the concept of Customer Success. Not customer success, but a formal Customer Success department, position, or even just an effort.

Whether they created this concept is probably up for debate. But it can't be argued that they've brought it to the forefront.

It's taken off so much that it's considered an essential part of any SaaS (software as a service) company.

It makes perfect sense in SaaS. Since everything is online, there's a ton of data that reveals exactly how a company is using a product. It's easy to push out notifications and updates to account owners, admins, or even regular users. It helps that these companies can create a standard, universal onboarding process as well.

As a result, Customer Success can track and identify any weak point, error, or warning sign that might cost the company an important account. The process can almost be automated!

But what about the rest of us? 

Can a formal Customer Success effort work for anybody?

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What if you own a restaurant or a gas station?

A plumbing business?

A retail store?

Can Customer Success work for these companies, who don't enjoy the oodles of data or instant communications their online counterparts have?

Or are the rest of us simply consigned to relying on customer service, account managers, sales staff, or loyalty programs to earn ongoing and repeat business?

We think the Customer Success model can be applied to just about any business.

Here's why.

Between Transactions Lies the Relationship

Imagine a straight line with a point on the left, and a point on the right.


The left dot represents a customer's first purchase. The dot on the right represents the second purchase.

The space between represents time. For some businesses, it's a day. For others, a year.

Each business has a responsibility to fill in that gap between purchases with customer engagement. The purpose of that engagement is deep adoption of your product or service along with consistent brand awareness.

In other words, between those transactions lies the relationship between a business and a customer.

You want to build their expertise. Help them meet their goals, and articulate how your company played a key role.

Celebrate their victories with them.

Keep them active, even if it means rewards and incentives (aka the loyalty program model).


Then, when you reach that second transaction, the process begins again.


The good news is it should get easier as you prove your value to the customer on a consistent basis. Do it long enough and you'll create raving fans.

Those raving fans recommend you to their friends and family. And the cycle begins again.

That's a model that can work for any business, whether you're selling donuts or operating an international airline.

Your Customer Success effort may not look like everyone else's. It doesn't have to. Every product and company is different, and consumers obviously have different expectations from an airline than they do a donut shop.

But there are some critical elements every Customer Success effort needs to succeed.

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What You Must Have

  • Corporate Backing

It goes without saying, but if your executives aren't on board with the concept of Customer Success, it's going to be a battle. Executive buy-in means managers are on board. Engaged managers lead to engaged employees. Like I said before, no one owns the customer relationships - everyone in an organization does.

  • Open Channels of Communication

Moving to the customer side, the first step is an open line of communication. An email address, a phone number, a mailing address, even a social media "like" are all valuable.

Without these channels, how will the customer hear from you?

Even scarier, how will you hear from them?

Side note: Offer an incentive if you need to. You can have a fully baked loyalty program, or just offer a discount to people who offer their information to you. It's worth it.

  • Data

An effective Customer Success effort isn't dependent upon collecting tons of data. It sure helps, however.

But you can get by without it, so long as you have the bare minimum - customer contact info, a record of their transactions, and a measure of their interactions. This can include email opens, social media likes, web visits, and so on. There are plenty of systems that will help you collect this data for cheap or free, such as HubSpot's free CRM or Mailchimp. Pay a bit more and you can have an effective loyalty and communications platform with services such as Belly or Dealyze.

  • Time

seismograph.jpgOnce you have some data, spend some time examining it and identifying signposts. Look for correlations between repeat purchases and email opens or website visits. Conversely, look for those who haven't engaged in a while.

Looking at both groups, are there common threads? Do they share traits, such as a zip code, gender, or even household earnings?

It takes time, but this is how you can identify your most valuable, or most likely customers.

Once you know this ideal customer, you can focus your efforts on acquiring and satisfying more of them, and not sweat it so much when a less-than-ideal customer drops off the radar.

  • Goal

About a year ago we published an article on the one key experience a customer must have to give your business a shot at earning their loyalty.

Engagement and loyalty require the customer to recognize the value of your service for themselves. They have to recognize how you exceed their expectations for themselves.

What experience gives your company its best shot at keeping a customer? What's the ideal experience? LinkedIn pushes you hard to fill out your profile. Facebook urges you to add people you might know. Trader Joe's wants you to find the best seasonal deal in the store as soon as you walk in.

What marks success for your business? And what are the checkpoints leading up to that experience, if you can't get them to it the first time out of the gate?

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Final Necessity: A Willingness to Act

From Zach Bulygo at KissMetrics:

There are lots of tactics to grow a business, but the one thing that is guaranteed to work is successful, happy customers. You’ll acquire more customers if you make your current customers happy. All the big players in the internet space will tell you that they get 80% of their new customers from their old customers. The challenge is that it takes time.

Most companies sit on the sidelines, or don't take the time to know what their customers are doing. They just cross their fingers and hope that Transaction #1 will be good enough to earn Transaction #2.

Good luck with that.

The companies that find the most customer success, SaaS or otherwise, don't stay on the sidelines. They're proactive, helpful, personal, and accountable.

They don't focus on Transaction #1 or Transaction #2, they focus on the in-between: the relationship.

They take the initiative and work with the customer to build a relationship that makes repeat transactions an afterthought.

Of course the customer is going to come back; why wouldn't they? That restaurant/plumber/B2B vendor/autoshop/whatever is responsive to their needs and is always working to serve the customer better.

So while we have technology companies, and their oodles of demographic and behavioral data, to thank for pushing Customer Success forward, any of us can do it just as effectively.

All it takes is a willingness to get off the sidelines and go for it.


Topics: Customer Success

Written by: Emily Hayes

Emily Hayes is Access Development's Vice President of Client Success. She's responsible for making sure Access clients meet their goals and find success in their own customer engagement efforts.

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