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What is customer success?

In a perfect world, every project, product, service, deliverable is provided to the required quality, on time, on budget and to the defined scope. These four dimensions could represent customer success. The problem is, we do not live in a perfect world and failures occur.

When success and failure are perceived as polarised positions, like two sides of a coin, measuring success becomes a binary metric. The answer to the question “did we achieve customer success?” can only be yes or no.

If success is meeting all 4 dimensions (time/scope/cost/quality) it is naturally challenging in the ‘real’ world in which we operate as there are infinite variables that can impact a dimension.

For the pragmatists among us, the first dilemma with this position is the definition of success as perfection. The second dilemma is if the notion that anything less than success is failure, the measure remains binary.

One solution was the birth of Agile as a software development approach. In this model, time/cost/scope are ‘tradable’, whereas quality is not negotiable. Success becomes the acceptable navigation and compromise to meet the clients choices. If time is not moveable, maybe additional funding/resource is needed to meet the desired scope (and maintain quality of course). Alternatively, scope could be a flex point. The combinations go on.

I’ll be honest, I dislike Agile, in my view it starts with the premise that failure to adhere to a pre-agreed set of dimensions is inevitable so a mechanism is put in place to manage the compromise. While this may achieve customer acceptance, I worry that this is really mitigated customer disappointment?

My point is, are we really thinking about customer success or just acceptance?

My suggestion therefore is to adopt an entirely different mind-set. One in which the goal is not even success, but delight. This means we need to dive deeper to unpack customer values. It means that doing just enough to avoid escalation is failure. It means listening so we understand, it means checking that understanding, it means staying aligned to the customers priorities, keeping our commitments, and executing with excellence.

After all is said and done, problems can arise. But what differentiates the companies you want to stay with is how they handle it. That can be the single largest determinant in your organisations ability to achieve customer success.

Well that’s my view, what is your definition of customer success and how do you measure it?


Grant Watling is the Vice President of Customer Success and Service Delivery at HICX Solutions with global responsibility to drive customer success outcomes through leading a world-class customer success team, inspiring customer success across the company, optimising the customer experience, and ensuring efficiency and effectiveness in all they do.

HICX Solutions specialise in Supplier Information Management and help customers significantly reduce costs and risk associated with managing suppliers. HICX serve the needs of the world’s most demanding, large, and complex organizations. Save money, ensure compliance, and mitigate risk with HICX Solutions.

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