10 Biggest Mistakes of Customer Success

Burke Alder

Customer Success Strategist

As a customer success professional, it’s not uncommon to look at customer churn and ask yourself, “What are we doing wrong?” While everyone makes mistakes sometimes, there are clear trends in customer success that can be addressed with strategy and insight.

When we came across customer success thought leader Lincoln Murphy’s LinkedIn post on the biggest mistakes in customer success, it got us thinking.

Here, we’ll discuss how customer success leaders can not only anticipate these common mistakes, but also overcome any missteps made in the customer journey.

10 Biggest Customer Success Mistakes and What to Do Next

1. You’re not putting the customer first.

Often referred to as the ‘golden rule of customer success’, the entire idea of putting the customer first is at the root of customer success theory. Too often, Customer Success Managers (CSMs), leaders, or even company executives can become over-excited and try to push customers into doing something they’re not ready for, like agreeing to an upsell or activating a new department. While the thought comes from the right place, this is a common example of putting the contract and revenue before the customer’s wants, needs, and comfort level. Step back and make sure that any decisions are for the good of the customer before you bring them to the table.

2. You’re not focusing on individual required outcomes.

At their heart, CSMs are creatures of habit. It can be easy to try to fit customers into a mold of how you think a customer journey should look. We get it—everybody loves routine. But not all customers think, act, or respond alike. The key to keeping and growing customers is to focus on the needs and outcomes for individual customers, not on generic outcomes or responses. This keeps customers, and customer success team members, awake, engaged, and on their toes.

3. You don’t have defined KPIs or outcomes.

How can you deliver value if you don’t even know what that value looks like? CSMs are often lured into a sense of process—just slowly checking milestones off of a list. But your customers enter into a relationship with your organization to solve clear problems and reach clear goals. Customer success leaders must make sure they don’t lose site of these KPIs and desired outcomes, because losing sight of these goals could mean losing a customer altogether.

4. You’re not delivering on experience.

While, of course, it’s fundamental to deliver on the previously mentioned KPIs, it’s also important to not lose sight of the overall customer experience. Customers know that there are multiple vendors out there who can deliver similar solutions for relatively same costs. The key differentiator between SaaS vendors is the overall customer experience they provide. CSMs must be able to deliver on the experience while still addressing the issues important to individual customer accounts.

5. You’re confusing silence with success.

It’s a common misconception that silence on a customer’s end automatically means they’re experiencing success. Customers, much like people in everyday life, don’t always speak up right away when something is wrong. This is why CSMs should diligently monitor metrics and data that often bring to light underlying issues or red flags. A customer relationship could be saved if a CSM proactively addressed a problem that the customer hasn’t even yet uncovered.

6. You’re focusing on the logos, not the people.

As customer success professionals know, it’s sometimes easy to forget that customer accounts are indeed made up of people not much different from yourself. There are a myriad of distractions, including several SaaS vendor accounts (no, you’re not the only one!). It’s important to build relationships with as many faces as possible within your customer accounts, across all user profiles and roles. Recognizing customers as people and not just as logos helps build value and strengthen your customer relationships.

7. You’re not uncovering root issues.

Yes, it’s true that churn, attrition, and lost revenue are huge issues for customer success leaders. These are all just outcomes, however, of deeper root issues. As customer success leaders and executives, it’s critical to identify the underlying cause of recurring customer churn, not to just hastily patch up the holes. Where can processes and procedures be modified to ensure these issues don’t happen again?

8. You haven’t implemented a culture of customer success.

Customer success is not just the responsibility of a handful of people in one department in a larger organization. Every person working for a SaaS organization, from the CEO to the newest intern, should be focused on creating the best possible customer experience for new, current, and prospective customers. When everyone in a company is focused on this singular goal, other departmental KPIs become streamlined and easier to achieve. At ClientSuccess, we call this “Customer Success as a Culture”.

9. You’ve forgotten that expectations run both ways.

CSMs can sometimes fall into the rut of letting customers walk all over them when it comes to deadlines, goals, and other expectations. It’s important to remember, however, that a customer relationship is a 2-way street. CSMs will deliver on pre-determined promises and goals, but this often means that customers are responsible for delivering on their own promises, too. If a customer success team can’t hold their customers accountable, there isn’t much chance of customers thriving and succeeding in the long run.

10. You’ve entered into relationships with bad fit customers.

Although it may be strange to even consider saying ‘No’ to a prospective customer, this is a huge mistake many SaaS organizations make that comes back to bite them in the long run. Down the road, entering into relationships with customers without any success potential is just setting everyone up for failure. Customer success professionals should work closely with sales and executives to determine when an account should be cut loose and when it should be accepted.

Continuing the Conversation

What do you think of Lincoln Murphy’s 10 biggest customer success mistakes? Let us know what else you would add to the list!

Here are other customer success resources to help you build customer success strategies that drive results and behavior across your entire company.


Customer Success as a Culture: Customer Success Leaders Edition

Ultimate Guide to SaaS Customer Success Metrics

Blog Posts:

Customer Success in the C-Suite—Aligning the Board and Exec Team

The Four Fold Mission of Customer Success

Learn more about how ClientSuccess can help your company develop a strong customer success methodology and strategy with easy-to-use customer success software by requesting a 30-minute demo.

New posts each Tuesday and Thursday.

Customer success best practices delivered to your inbox.

Also worth reading

The True Cost of Customer Churn – Part 2

For innovative customer success leaders, preventing customer churn while increasing retention, revenue, and renewals is already top of mind. There are a myriad of ways to leverage your customer success team to decrease customer churn and help combat the negative costs associated with attrition. In our previous post “The Trust Cost of  Customer Churn: Part [...]

Burke Alder

Customer Success Strategist

The True Cost of Customer Churn - Part 1

Retaining customers is a bottom-line must for successful companies—especially SaaS companies where a predictable customer base is a must. An organization’s customers are the greatest asset it can have, and the longer those customers continue to invest in products and services, the more valuable they become. This is why the concept of churn is so [...]

Burke Alder

Customer Success Strategist

3 Easy Steps For Building a Repeatable and Highly Beneficial Customer Onboarding Process

Yesterday, David Skok, General Partner of Matrix Partners, published a great customer success article called Top Two Reasons for Churn. In this article, Skok discusses how failure to onboard a customer successfully and how loss of the champion who drove the purchase are two of the major reasons for churn. Inspired by his first reason, [...]

Burke Alder

Customer Success Strategist