Customer Success Management Comes of Age

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One has only to look at our daily routines to realize that customers' relationships with companies have evolved significantly in recent years. If you're running low on hand soap, you can log on to Amazon.com and order a fresh supply through your Prime account. When you're visiting an expansive and unfamiliar city, you can tap into your monthly Zipcar subscription and summon a GPS-equipped car for the amount of time you need it.

What do these two companies have in common, and why is this a big deal? The answer to the first part of this question is subscription services. And that's important because both companies are succeeding with subscription services in industries that traditionally haven't had them.

The subscription model has long been—and still is—the preferred method of payment for utility companies, newspaper and magazine publishers, and cable providers. It piqued the interest of many business leaders when the model proved successful in the CRM industry, which once thrived on large, one-time sales. Today, as the Amazon.com and Zipcar examples suggest, other industries are following suit. But before your organization falls in love with leasing, it should be ready to implement a customer success management (CSM) strategy.


The subscription model is appealing to businesses and customers alike. Businesses value the predictable revenue stream. Plus, it enables them to maximize the lifetime value of their customers. Customers, on the other hand, appreciate the better pricing, access to premium products and services, and fixed costs that a subscription model offers.

Some organizations are already evolving the model to appeal to a larger audience, one that includes budget-conscious and commitment-phobic consumers. These companies have combined the subscription model with the standard purchasing model, enabling people to enjoy the benefits of membership while paying only for what they need. This allows customers to buy items in smaller quantities before deciding whether a product is right for them. Companies like Birchbox and Dollar Shave Club give people the opportunity to order and sample beauty and grooming products rather than commit to large quantities at once. Blue Apron applies a similar logic with cooking supplies, as it seeks to allow culinary wizards to minimize the amount of ingredients they must commit to before making a meal.

These developments suggest that the nature of customer relationships is changing. Businesses might once have had the power to dictate the terms of purchase without worrying about competition luring customers away, but that's no longer the case. "We're in the age of the customer," says Kate Leggett, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research. "[They are] in the driver's seat, and they hold the power."

And, Leggett adds, "our world is moving towards a subscription economy"—an economy, she explains, in which customers can opt in or out of deals with relative ease and not lose significant amounts in the process.

Under this model, companies that fail to provide products and services when they're most needed are at risk of losing those recurring customers, who will jump ship in favor of a business that can deliver the goods.

In the case of a Web site like Netflix, for instance, customers "subscribe, and if [they're] not getting the movies they want to watch, and on time, [they're] going to end up leaving them," Leggett points out. Competing entertainment platforms might do better at recommending the kind of content people are most interested in viewing.

In light of all this, customer success management, or client advocacy, has in recent years emerged and gained popularity as an area with strong ties to customer relationship management. And, fortunately, the means for tracking customers effectively is maturing, thanks to CSM.

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