Customer Success is a Failure

Customer Success is a Failure

6 minute read
Noreen Seebacher avatar

Customer success is a stupid concept … a catchphrase that shifts the focus from people to profit.

Unlike customer experience — a phrase that suggests giving something of meaning and value to the people who matter most — customer success implies taking.

It shifts the focus from customers to companies. Or, as the Customer Success Association so bluntly states on its website, turns "customer relationships into strategic portfolio assets" with an emphasis on "sustainable corporate profitability and growth." It asks:

  • How can we gather and use personal data and market intelligence to get the most from our customers?
  • How can we lure potential new customers and entice the ones we already have to spend even more?

Customer success isn't about helping customers or resolving their complaints. It's not even about creating win-win scenarios for customers and companies. Rather, it embraces and celebrates the exploitation of customers for a company's own benefit.

At least that's how it seems. And in this so-called age of customer centricity, it's tiresome.

So Much Talk, So Little Action

It's The Age of the Customer. Ask anyone, including CMSWire or any other of the 8.76 million other sources you'll uncover with a quick Google search.

The customer is in charge. Your company must become customer-obsessed to remain truly competitive. Companies need to understand and respond to the needs of their customers faster and more effectively than ever before.

Yea, right.

If everything revolves around the customer, then why are so many customer interactions unpleasant, unproductive and likely to provoke a rise in blood pressure? Why is every purchase, potential purchase, use of a purchase, return of a purchase, attempt to resolve a problem with a purchase so infinitely complicated?

In the past week alone — one single week — I've endured a string of customer-related frustrations. What have I learned? It's not The Age of the Customer. It's the Age of Cursing … late deliveries, unresponsive websites, delayed flights.

My made-in-China iPad got delayed at the FedEx hub in Memphis because Apple failed to include the required import documentation.

A business refused to update my address because the form it provides on its website erroneously believes the street/city/zip code combination I entered is wrong — and there's no other option for address corrections.

My outbound flight on the world's largest airline was delayed because "someone forgot to file a flight plan." The inbound flight was delayed because "someone forgot to fuel the aircraft."

The store was closed even though the website promised it would be open … the contact center rep claimed she had no record of my five previous calls … and on and on and on I could go.

It's Not Just Me

Every customer seems to have a problem, even comedian Louis C.K. "I travel and I need help all the time," he explains during a monologue on an episode of his FX series Louie. "So I rent a car — and I always want another one. I'm crazy, all right? So I rent one car and then decide I don’t like it and want another one. So I'll go to the counter and ask 'Can I get another car?' And sometimes the other person like, sighs and asks 'Why?'"

"Why? Cause I'm an [idiot]. Give it to me. Stop asking what's wrong with the car. I'm what's wrong with it. You're wearing a vest that matches the building. Just do the thing that's the point of the place."

Stop asking why and just satisfy the customer.

Here are the Right Questions

Rather than boast about ways to empower or — shudder — "delight" the customer, maybe vendors should ask some simple questions.

  • How can we provide customers with the products and services they want and need without turning every transaction into a test of wills?
  • How can we fulfill an order or deliver a service without forcing the customer to send multiple emails or spend literally hours on hold in unsuccessful attempts to resolve problems?
  • How can we cut through the technology, the hype and the buzzwords to simply show we give a damn about our customers?

We don't need more customer relationship management platforms or customer experience management platforms — or certainly not customer success platforms. We need a common sense management platform.

Learning Opportunities

We need technology that recognizes and encourages compassion, empathy and the novel idea of treating customers as human beings rather than strategic assets.

Push the Reset Button

Let's assume, for arguments sake, that this really is The Age of the Customer. Can someone please explain how customer success — with its stated mission of "building more value, faster, for the customer's company and our own" really fits in?

The real secrets to customer portfolio development, retention and expansion are not hidden in data and analysis. They're rooted in something every successful mom-and-pop business from a Savannah café to a Boston tailor clearly knows. They flow from the old-fashioned notion that the customer is always right — and that a commitment to caring is the foundation of any relationship.

Getting it Right

CMSWire contributor Bruce Temkin is the co-founder and chair of theCustomer Experience Professionals Association and managing partner of the Temkin Group, a customer experience research and consulting firm.

Earlier this month he bucked the customer success bandwagon in a blog that affirmed his definition of customer experience (CX) remains the same as when he introduced it in 2008: The perception that customers have of their interactions with an organization.

Temkin's model of CX has always been built on three components. Until recently, those components were labeled functional, accessible and emotional. Now, perhaps in recognition of the customer success hype, he has renamed the core components to:

  • Success (formerly functional): Degree to which customers can accomplish their goals
  • Effort (formerly accessible): The difficulty or ease in accomplishing their goals
  • Emotion (formerly emotional): How the interaction makes customers feel


I like it. In this model, success reflects the goals of the customers — not the company.

Six years ago, Temkin wrote an e-book, "Six Laws of Customer Experience: The Fundamental Truths That Define How Organizations Treat Customers." It's still one of the most downloaded pieces of content on the customer experience research and consulting firm's website.

The commandments address the importance of helping customers, addressing their needs and rewarding employees who make an effort to keep customers happy.

They simply encourage putting the customer first. And that, to me, is the real definition of success — for customers, employees, companies and brands.

Title image by Nick Kenrick  (Flickr) via a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.

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