CEO panel: Is 'customer success' a new business idea or just rebranding?

Xactly's CEO argues that if you don't take customer success seriously, then that's "a going-out-of-business strategy."
Written by Rachel King, Contributor on

SAN FRANCISCO -- In the midst of social, cloud and mobile trends permeating both the consumer and enterprise technology worlds, there are plenty of catchphrases that are catching fire.

But many of them start to feel like overused buzzwords quickly, jeopardizing any value the concepts behind them might have. (Just look at "big data" as a prime example.)

Leading the concluding panel discussion at the 2013 Pulse summit on Thursday, Wired senior editor Michael Copeland asked whether or not "customer success" as a business concept and segment is something new -- or just rebranding something that has existed all along.

Chris Cabrera, CEO of sales management software provider Xactly thinks it is a new concept, explaining pointedly that when you're CEO of a Software-as-a-Service company, "if you don't take it seriously, that's a going-out-of-business strategy."

Box CEO Aaron Levie piggybacked on the answer by replying customer success could always be more infused throughout an organization, adding you can never have enough intimacy when building customer relationships.

"It's not the case that you have a scarcity of technology today," Levie remarked, arguing that the way to stand apart from the competition is to build the best customer experiences.

Zuora CEO Tien Tzuo suggested that we're going to look back at the 20th century as the "anomaly when the seller and buyer didn't have to know each other." He pointed toward "the success of Salesforce.com and CRM" as testaments to that stance.

Noting even before involving engineering and other tech requirements, Levie stressed the need to tie all business processes back to building better customer experiences.

While he acknowledged this is a bit counter-intuitive because not all experiences with customers will immediately produce profit figures, Levie said it will lead to more long-term value for the company.

Cabrera asserted that customer success needs to be taken seriously to the point where he asserted that it is "dangerous" whenever it is thought that only one department should care.

He continued, "It should be engrained into the fiber of a company culture."

One idea that Cabrera did label as "cliché" was "customer failure," affirming that he wants every customer possible.

Tzuo agreed, explaining that even customers "grandfathered" in with cheaper deals should still be wanted -- and valued.

Nick Mehta, chief executive officer of Gainsight, which produces a "customer success" management platform, posited that it's even more narrow-minded when you think as customers as just a bunch of people.

Mehta warned that if you "fire" a customer, you're likely cutting yourself off from 10 to 15 more potential customers in the future.

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