Is Customer Success a Professional Service?
In this episode, we take a deep dive into the question, “Is Customer Success a Professional Service?”
There is still a wide variety of perspectives if customer success is a cost-center, a profit-center, a professional service, or something else entirely. In addition, many organizations struggle with deciding what level of service to give for free, and what, if anything, should include a fee.
Check out this episode to learn more about the considerations and implications for treating customer success as a professional service!
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[00:00:00] Jason Noble: good morning. Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to the next episode of the Jason’s take on podcast series with myself. Jason Noble based here in London, in the UK and my partner in crime. Mr. Whitehead, say hello.
[00:00:13] Jason Whitehead: Hi everyone. Jason White net here come to live from
[00:00:15] Jason Noble: Washington DC.
It’s been a couple of weeks, maybe even a month or so since we’ve done our own podcast here, we’ve got some great ones on with a couple of guests recently released a few that you can see coming up. And some other ones that we’ve got planned, which is really good. But today we want to talk about something that, that Jason, okay.
And a lot of conversations about, and not really got to a good answer on necessarily, but we think there’s a lot of good content around this. So today we’re talking about is customer success, a professional service, and Hey, it’s a really interesting conversation. It’s an interesting question because there’s a lot of different opinions in organizations, whether you’re charged for customer service.
What do we in professional services? So we’re gonna, we’re going to have a conversation where we just bounce some thoughts around each other. As always the bold challenge question we like to give you guys, so have a think about this afterwards is what would you do? What should you do to determine if customer success in your organization should be a professional service?
Have a think after you’ve listened to what we said, we’d love to get your feedback either directly or come through Twitter or LinkedIn, but let us know what you think about this. And if. How, what can you do to determine if customer success should be a professional service in your organization?
So we’ll do the normal format. We’ll bass, a couple of questions about, and then just see where the question the conversation goes. And I think we, we have to stop ourselves earlier just because there’s a lot of really good conversations here. You won’t really see where this one kind of goes and what kind of the answers are that we can come up with.
Jason, let me start this one off for you. I What, why are we talking about this and what really is this about? Do we actually think customer success should be a professional.
[00:01:48] Jason Whitehead: I think this is one of those. What I’ve seen in the CSRL does see us is still, I don’t want to say it’s having an identity crisis, but it’s still evolving of really what is it?
And it’s made a lot of progress very quickly over the years, but there’s still the question, is a term prevention. Is it a cost center? Is it a professional service? Do we charge for it? Does it sit on. Customer support. How does it sit with an implementation service or prefer an advisory service, where does it fit and what does it do?
And then really even getting people internally to say, this is what CS is and how we understand how we think about it in a way. That helps us go forward. So I think there’s still a lot of confusion out there and that if people can get some clarity on what is CS, most the role of it, it will help people really focus in and really deliver great service.
So that’s my initial thought, but what about you? What do
[00:02:35] Jason Noble: you think? I think, we talked about this earlier on, but the great question is what do we mean by a professional service? It’s a really interesting question because I think traditionally. Professional services are billable services, like big consultants organizations, where you’ve done, maybe project management and advisory service.
You can even look at kind of legal services are very typical professional services you pay by the day by the hour. And then it starts bringing in this debate about whether you bill for customer success or not. And we’ve talked about that here before, and we’ve always sent me because customer success is really about.
Driving value for your customers quicker than they could have done it on their own. Now you could say that there is a value in that service that actually some customers would pay for. And I think there’s an argument to say actually maybe it should be a billable service. And then by definition it becomes a professional service, but at the same time, I think there’s other ways that we.
Bill for customer success indirectly in the price of our products, the price of our kind of other services. I think I’m in two minds as to where it sits. I think the other thing you’ve got to look at is you, if you look at your implementation or training services or onboarding whatever you want to call them, but when you.
Cover them, you are effectively doing project management. And I think project management is one of those disciplines. That absolutely is a professional service. Now does onboarding sit under your customer success organization? And if so, does them professional services sit within your customer success organization?
And I think there’s a, there’s absolutely an argument to say yes, it does. Depending on your organization. I think the other thing about professional services that very typical. Your implementation team, your professional services team are responsible for developing a plan and executing that plan according to a timeline, and then delivering, it might not be them who ultimately deliver, but that’s still applies in customer success.
And I think the other key thing with professional services is that. Yup. You’re traditionally your professional services teams come in at the start of a customer relationship to define what the customer needs from a tactical technical standpoint to deliver some strategic objectives. So I think there is the more I think about it.
I think there is a big overlap between what customer success is and what professional services are and how they’re set up really dependent on you and your organization. Ultimately.
[00:05:00] Jason Whitehead: Yeah, I agree with a lot of what you’re saying. And I think, even taking that step back of putting this in context here, when we look at why customer success even came to be, it was proved the evidence subscription suffer.
They had the realization that a lot of organizations that buy technology are not really good at getting people to use it and use it in a way to create value. And if they’re not creating that value, they’re not renewing. So ultimately I think what a lot of what customer success should be and not where it is quite yet.
About how to fill that capability gap inside your buyers organization, to be able to actually use technology, to get value. And a lot of the consulting work that I’ve done over the years that my company does, half of it is working with customer success teams, but the other half is hands-on with buyers of software, helping them to create value internally and helping them drive user adoption and change.
And what I’ve come to realize is a lot of organizations really don’t know what they need to do to drive adoption and create value. And there’s a whole list of activities and steps that are really crucial to them. Not just that during the initial implementation, but on an ongoing basis to keep that value going.
And I think buyers of software are starting to realize, oh, there’s a lot of work that we need to be doing. That one we didn’t know we needed to do, but two, we should have been doing all along and. If the buyer’s organization doesn’t have this capability in house, they either need to hire people for it or bring in consultants or get the vendor’s customer success team to help them either way.
It is a professional activity, a professional service that needs to be done, so I think there’s a lot to be said for even buyers getting in the mindset that, we’re used to getting the systems libraries to having to pay for the technical aspects, because there’s a certain amount of expertise that we don’t have in house to do.
Now they’re realizing, oh, there’s also this other expertise we don’t have in house. It needs more of an organizational integration really. And that’s going to help us get the technology to be successful for us
[00:06:47] Jason Noble: in an organization. I think we’ve the other thing we’ve talked about a lot is still very relevant.
Is change management. How do you help an organization go through change? And that needs somebody both internally with the organization to be the key sponsor for that change, but also someone to help them through those services and help them manage that change. And that in itself is a professional.
[00:07:07] Jason Whitehead: It is. And I think a lot of people, one of them, one of my challenges to folks who focus just on change management, I think there’s a naive perception of. The change that people go through is just that go live, focus, change the one-off. What do we need to do as opposed to an ongoing change?
Because people get hired, people move out of your organization, things, change laws, change to your systems change. It’s an ongoing effort to create value and to sustain it. So you need an ongoing effort. And I think. A lot of the customer success role is to help their customers either perform some of those services or to make them aware that they need to be doing them and keeping them on track to do it themselves.
So let me ask you this, if it is a customer success, if customer success is a professional service, really, what are some of the implications about this? What does it mean? And it must the, so what factor,
[00:07:52] Jason Noble: the biggest implications, if you start positioning assets, Professional services is it a billable activity?
And I think we’ve talked about it a little bit there, and I think potentially there’s a role within your customer success team that is billable to the customer to help them get valuable, to really give them those advisory services, but then potentially there’s this part of what your organization delivers through customer success.
That is not billable. I think ultimately, I customer success, I think is a professional service or it can be an it company. And I think it’s both a kind of a tactical implementation level where you might say it’s professional service, but when you look at it more strategically, it may be that, that, that side of it you don’t do as a professional services, more where you’re focusing on a strategic relationship stakeholder management.
And I think you’ve also got to look at, what’s the goal of your customer success manager? And your customers could say why am I paying for a CSM if the product isn’t doing its job. And is that a challenge that you have with customers? So I think customers before they see it as something that they should be paying additional charges for, they’ve got to see what extra value I can get from it.
So if it becomes your CSS, Is someone to help them get value quicker rather than just show them how to do the product’s job. Then I think it’s a lot easier case. And I think you can start looking at how you can track that time to value and how you can prove with your customer success professional service.
That the customers can get that value quicker and build that into their own workflows. And I think one of the key things to look at is really what do you call your customer success team, your customer success manager. And this again is something that we’ve talked about a lot. I’ve had a lot of other conversations with other people out there, but it is it a customer success manager or is it something more like a business value consultant?
When it’s then more apparent what you are positioning, what your proposition is, and that could make it an easier sell for a customer to buy into someone. Yes. I want a business value consultant because they’re going to help me get that time to value quicker. What do you think about adjacent?
[00:09:58] Jason Whitehead: I think you’re up to some really interesting points and I liked the idea of let’s have it one to be perceived as a professional service, but. You don’t need to charge everyone extra for you. Don’t need to charge everyone a premium. Then maybe there is a certain, here’s the baseline of what you get as a business value consultant.
But if you have more complex organization or you need specialized things, You needed additional support and additional work. Of course you should pay more. I think of back in the days of when I was implementing Siebel, 20 years ago for their big projects and complex projects they offered a technical account management service and I was on multi-year several multi-year projects and the customer would pay to have a Siebel technical account manager, doing their job to really help keep things moving forward.
And they’d have insights into the product dispose, internal access to. Engineers and other things, and there was tremendous value there and the customer perceive the value. So they wrote the check for it. I think there’s an opportunity here for customer success to be that same piece. I’m also wondering though, is as you think about being more of a business value consultant and customer success doing over the life of the relationship.
The typical consulting model for a lot of projects I’ve been on, it was the you bring in the consultants to help in implementation and training and get things set up. But then it was the go live and go home model, many consulting firms, including where we are with success chain will start to offer more of.
Here’s an ongoing business value consultant that we provide to you on a subscription basis along just like you’re paying for subscription software to help you keep getting that value. It doesn’t have to be from the vendor. You could have the business value consultant week from anyone. And I think that could open up a whole new world of does our CS service have to be competitive.
Or even down the road software vendors. We don’t want to be in the professional services. We’re going to have partners do a lot of this workforce, but our customers will understand the value and need to get that service.
[00:11:44] Jason Noble: I think that it’s really interesting when you look at that kind of idea is other people that could do your customer success, bringing in external organizations, I think there is absolutely a model there.
We know there are organizations that do it. Those are your services. Maybe that is the way to do it. Maybe we need to look at customer success. Is it part of a function in the business. And then we’ve got advisory services that come in to help.
[00:12:08] Jason Whitehead: And, I think the implementation model that a lot of the large software companies have, Siebel, Salesforce, things like that.
There are people who have that deep expertise in the product. Yep. As well as the implementations that they can do their professional implementation services as good. If not better than the one offered by the vendor. I think where it gets interesting as the smaller software companies that don’t have that large number of.
Implementation partners that have that same skill set and expertise, then they pretty much have to offer some of those services in house. But with customer success, if it is a business value piece, you don’t have to have as much technical knowledge as an implementation
[00:12:42] Jason Noble: team. And the other things is when you talked about technical account managers, your terms early on.
And I think that again, a lot of organizations still have Tams, but there are some organizations. And I think we’re beginning to see a trend where. Your customer success managers take over the role of a technical account manager. And I think the other thing is that traditionally, a lot of professional service activities are typically more town time back.
It’s delivering over a set period. Two, three months gotta be a half year contract and are responsive to specific requests. So they are reactive rather than what we’re trying to do in customer success is being focused on being proactive and getting ahead of where we are. So I think that’s the key difference to.
[00:13:25] Jason Whitehead: And I think relates to that, to the, if you, aren’t going to be a business value consultant, you need to be more than a technical expert. You need to be an expert in how to help organizations embrace technology, what’s appropriate for their organization. So you need that change management user adoption expertise.
You need general business expertise to understand where they want to be and what’s getting in the way as well as technical acumen as well.
[00:13:47] Jason Noble: What do you think about, I was going to say to him, what do you think about things like implementation training on board? Which by definition are we talked are more typically what we’d call professional services.
I How do they fit into customer success?
[00:14:01] Jason Whitehead: I think this is going to be such an interesting area over the next two years. More and more, I’d like to see where the, we think of customer success, both as a mindset and a philosophy for the organization, as well as a department. And I think a lot of professional services should fall under an employee a customer umbrella organization.
So everything is focused on what are all the moving parts that need to line up to get our customer that value to get them keeping that value year after year. And I think having that right mix of. Specialization for onboarding specialist or training or implementation piece, but also having them all, very tightly linked up with a customer success team with a customer support team.
But under someone who’s umbrella, authority and responsibility is customer outcomes is going to be pretty key. And I don’t think we’re there yet. I think there’s still a lot of. Differences in how they approach it and where they prioritize and where they go. And I think if we can get those under one big umbrella organization, I think it does a couple things.
One organizations that are already charging for professional services, implementation training. They’re already viewed as a revenue generating center. Tacking on the other pieces that are critical success and support, but having them ultimately be responsible for the total outcome there that gives them a lot more credibility already.
Cause they’re, they are revenue generating, but two, it gives them a lot more options around what’s the right mix of staffing between these different teams and departments or teams that all fit under one department. And it gives us. Really the incentive and the authority to go through and get the right mix of where they need to really bring things together, but more so I think it would be a great boom and I’d like to see it get there.
Even to your point though, we don’t necessary have to charge for all the CS customer success services such as they are, but having them all integrated in together, I think is very important. I
[00:15:39] Jason Noble: think that’s really a key thing. I think. Going to be different models that serve different businesses.
But I think we are beginning to see this, the customer facing part of the organization should and does include professional services. And there’s going to be a times and circumstances where some of those professional services are billable, but the overall customer success structure we’ve got.
It’s perhaps something that, that more often than not isn’t billable. So you see, I’m still not certain there, but I think the strategic advisory element will remain a key part of what we do, but then under there, there could be a billable professional services function. And I think so you’ve still got your CS engagement at that strategic level from the beginning of a relationship, be there as an escalation point.
I think almost is like professional services is something you can bring in when you need to get a problem resolved. The customer needs to get quick answers. You’ve got your business value consultants, even project managers who could help do things like that. I think it also, it starts opening up a really interesting area for career development for people because one of the key skills of anyone in professional services is project.
And it may be that people in your business that haven’t thought of themselves as project managers look to do training development certification for project management. I think it adds some really good strength to the bow as to what they can do. Yeah.
[00:17:02] Jason Whitehead: As you’re talking about that too, and the way things are all connected in there, if you get to the point where customer success is the umbrella organization, you might even have like a.
CS business value coach or business value consultant who sits over from the very beginning, even before the professional services, before the implementation to make sure from day one, they’re getting the customer set up correctly. And that everything’s, that nothing falls through the cracks and the handovers are done well.
And their role and their hands-on work may come much later after things are live and to keep it going, but they may need to start engaging much earlier even as part of their initial internal.
[00:17:37] Jason Noble: I think the other thing you’ve got to look at when this comes down to you, you’ve got to be ensure that you’re not over-servicing customers and it’s too easy to do that.
So at some point, some of your services should be billable in charge, and you’ve got to make that differentiation. How much do you do for a customer? Because it’s part of, the core service offerings or how much is real value add that actually they should engage with you separately. And I think that again, it’s got to be a re it is a fine line.
But by knowing what services you as an organization determine our professional services versus which aren’t gives you a better steer on that. And I think you can have more honest and open conversations with customers around it.
[00:18:17] Jason Whitehead: Absolutely. I’m so glad you brought that up because that’s one of the things that I hear all the time from customers is, our CS teams are so passionate and committed to our customers that they spend a lot of time doing free work that they shouldn’t to the detriment of other customers.
And they don’t understand that, how to get that balance. I think being able to set accurate expectations with your customers and say, here’s, here we go. And especially, if you want to give them an option for a premium service here’s as far as we go and unless you upgrade to the premium, just because of our commitments to our other customers is pretty key.
But, I think that also ties into. Coming back to the question. And this is for you, is the RCS services actually designed for turn prevention? Both of, or are they really focusing on customer success and customer outcomes are refocusing on the right thing. So I think there are still some CS teams that don’t view themselves in this more expansive role.
[00:19:03] Jason Noble: I think it’s a transition that a lot of businesses and part of the industry is still going from, lot of organizations. And again, we’ve talked about this before on the, it’s quite interesting that we’ve talked about a lot of these things already but a lot of them are created and still created reactively because there’s a problem that they need someone to address the customer success makes sense.
It’s the most logical place to do that, but that’s not ideal what your CS organization should be about is driving value for your customers. And I think we need to continue that. Movement to continue that way of thinking. I think that’s really important because we want our customers to perceive value from what we are trying to do as customer success, not just there as people to solve problems, to stop customers leaving, but we want them to understand that actually, this is a team that has been a function.
That is providing real value for them and want it to be very obvious. We want the rest of our business to think that we want our sales team to understand that actually CS and what we try and do as a business for customer success is driving value. And it’s not just about a super support service or kind of a customer service, but it becomes a customer success service that people understand as a service there that they have to pay for.
And yes, part of what we still is still to make sure that we retain our costs. But that’s not just the focus. So I think we have to continue that really way of thinking that it is about value and its value for our customer’s benefit.
[00:20:30] Jason Whitehead: Yeah. And I think that sort of brings on another area, which I’m, I may be ahead of the curve on this one, but I’m still viewing.
Customer success will become a key differentiator in the sales and buying process and really having, I think the question becomes, what happens if your competitors treat customer success as a professional service and build their creds around it and build their demonstrated ability to create value for customers, as opposed to here are the features and benefits that you can expect from the software itself.
And I think eventually we’re not there yet much to my dismay. Buyers of software are going to start to say which company is not only has the best product, but which one’s going to, which one is the lower risk for getting to the outcome I need and forgetting that business value of solving my problem.
And I think if you have a customer success team now, That can prove they can do it. You’re going to win more business. But what’s your take, do you see treating CS as a professional service as helping as a competitive differentiator and what’s gonna, how does that play in or is that sort of a pipe dream on my part?
[00:21:31] Jason Noble: I don’t think there’s a right answer. I really don’t. I think this one really depends on your business. I think the more. The more, we talk about it as a professional service, there’s a better understanding what it is that there is some value in what we’re doing. And I think we, customer success should absolutely be a competitive, direct differentiator.
And for us to position what we’re doing and understand that the value is at the heart of what we’re doing and outcomes, rather than it be a more reactive service is really important. So I think if. If you’re doing customer success, it is absolutely a critical, competitive differentiator. I don’t necessarily think there’s a link to it being whether it’s a professional service or not, because I think if your position right, it’s about the value there.
What do you think about it? There’s a lot of talk about kind of digital customer success now. So how do you think does customer success in a digital environment kind of this lower touch model does. Does that become a professional service? Is that less pressure and service? What do you think about that?
[00:22:31] Jason Whitehead: I think that’s going to be one of those challenging gray areas because people are increasingly more comfortable with self service with digital touch, all of those areas. And many people want some of that, but I think you’re going to need are a lot of them. Customer success professionals, figuring out how they can put their expertise into a digital model and how they can put their expertise in a way that customers can engage with us at the right amount of time to do more.
Self success on their own by relying on these digital assets, whatever they may be. But I think it’s going to be a real challenge because ultimately I think as a professional, there’s only so much you can do to add value when you can actually talk with the customer and customize your needs for that.
But I think there’s probably a lot of. Baseline success, information or tools that you can put together that can be accessible by all and change the way you engage with folks that Delta. But I think this is going to be a real challenge for folks. So what’s your take on it?
[00:23:25] Jason Noble: You’re I don’t there’s nothing more I can add there.
I think the big thing is we’re seeing a big push for the idea of digital customer success. Absolutely. And I think it’s, I’m still a big believer in this kind of digital or technology enabled where you bring the person in the human, into the right. I think in those models where you’re bringing in your customer success manager for specific interactions, maybe there is an element that can be a professional service there.
[00:23:50] Jason Whitehead: And it could be as well too. That is part of that. It’s more of a, how did we not say do one-to-one human touch, but a one to many model group conversations, group discussions in person workshops and webinars and things like that to really get people working together, but independently, but you’re all.
Dealing with similar issues, almost like a
[00:24:08] Jason Noble: cohort type. Yep, absolutely. I think that’s the way to do it. Is that segmentation to know who you delivered to what?
[00:24:14] Jason Whitehead: So to close this out here, one last question for you, Jason. So what do we actually do with this? How do we make things like this actionable?
And if you want to turn your CS program into a true value out of professional services, what should you do?
[00:24:25] Jason Noble: I think if we’re doing customer success the right way, and then as a business we are providing value to our customers is something that I think is very. Very apparent. And I think we’ve got to make it far more visible that our customers know what value they’re getting from us when they’re expecting that value from us and what that looks like.
And I think once you’ve got that in place and your business, your customers really understand what customer success to you and to them is professional services. Then for me, really becomes a core part of what we’re providing. And I think professional services becomes more about additional value. And assistance and guidance rather than the core value from the products and services.
So I think really the key thing that you need to do is really look at the way that you’re talking about customer success. Internally, look at the way you’re talking about it from your customers. Does everybody understand what it is? Is the value that you’re providing through customer success? Apparent?
Is it well-defined are your processes mature? And I think really, for me, This kind of differentiation or where big awareness professional services set, I think will naturally come as you mature the way that you’re doing customer success. So I think it comes through maturity. Now that might sound like a bit of a cop-out, but I think it’s real.
I think it really is. I think once you, you have your strategy in place, you know what you’re delivering, you’ve gone through a few iterations as to what customer success is, what our customers want and could be in a position when you really define it. I think then it becomes a really simple process.
What do you.
[00:26:00] Jason Whitehead: I tend to agree. I think it’s going to take a few iterations to get there. I think if you, the easiest thing is to start a vision towards where you want to go, if you think, yes, we want to have this as a professional service. Yes. We think it will add value to our customers and to our organization.
What are the steps we need to get there and how do we, and I really like what you were suggesting before about falling under the umbrella of customer success. Let’s start to make those transitions, but also let’s start to advocate for. And finally being able to prove that this is going to be valuable, and I think that’s going to be a challenge for a lot of folks is how do we prove that this is going to be valuable?
[00:26:31] Jason Noble: I think that’s the key thing. We’re still going through, like you said, at the beginning, the still maturing to do, but I think as we become more mature and all of these questions are, I think we’ll get the right answers and some of them may be different for different organizations.
[00:26:46] Jason Whitehead: Great. Thank you everyone for joining us today. Hope you’ve enjoyed this conversation that you’ll come back to us again soon. Before we go, just to recap our bull challenge question. And don’t you go and have a think about this. What should you do to determine what should you do to determine a CS should be a professional service in your organization?
We’d love to hear your thoughts. So send us a note, comment on it. Reach out to us on LinkedIn. We’d love to hear what that is, and as always, thanks for joining the Jason’s take on podcast. I’m Jason Whitehead in DC. I appreciate.
[00:27:15] Jason Noble: And I’m Jess noble here in London. Big. Thank you everybody. A really interesting conversation.
I think a lot more to this as we talked about, it’s not an easy answer either way in our conversations a lot, and this really good, but thank you very much, everybody.