Why we prefer to talk about User Engagement over Customer Success

Without question, I’m a big subscriber to the #CustomerSuccess movement. I have built Customer Success teams, I write about Customer Success - hell, at Knowtify, we’ve built a product that, in many ways, supports the Customer Success practice. 

But I have this nagging concern that the recent Customer Success movement and, more specifically, the rapid growth in the functional practice of Customer Success may actually be doing a disservice to the very concept it was meant to empower & amplify.


Let me explain. 

The Function vs the Concept

I recently wrote a blog post that was published on the BlueNose blog. In it I talk about why we’re hiring Customer Success before we hire Sales at Knowtify. One of the comments to the post (from Andy Douillard) was good and actually planted the seed for this post. Andy started his comment with: 

I’m a firm believer that customer success is more than a role or a team.  In order to achieve true success in both the short and long term, companies should invest in team members who care about and focus on providing their customers with value regardless of the functional departments these team members may report to (product, marketing, sales, success, etc.).

Of course, Andy’s right. What he’s pointing out is an important distinction between the CONCEPT of Customer Success (the belief that the fundamental goal of a business is to do what ever it takes to make your customers successful with your product) and the functional ROLE of a Customer Success manager in an organization.

The problem I have is how the CONCEPT has become so closely tied with the ROLE or the TITLE. 

Why is this a problem?

In some organizations, it’s not. But in others there is a risk. 

Because whenever you give someone a title in an organization, you are assigning responsibility. With a title comes ownership. With title comes responsibility. With title comes accountability.

So….we’ve come to a place where a specific department (or a specific person) is “accountable” for the success of your customers. 

So, when someone comes running out of the board room screaming,

"Our customers aren’t successful enough!"

The product team answers, "Don’t look at me. Sandy’s in charge of that."

And the marketing team says, "Don’t look at me. Isn’t that what Sandy’s supposed to be doing?"

And the sales team says, "Not my problem. Talk to Sandy."

Of course, I’m exaggerating a bit. This certainly isn’t the way all companies with a Customer Success department function - but it’s probably happening a lot more than it should. 

The point is this - when someone carries the title of “Customer Success”, it is too easy to assign blame that person when your customers aren’t succeeding as you hoped they would.

And in turn, it’s far too easy for all other functions to be let off the hook.

  • It’s too easy for the product team to be satisfied releasing functional (vs usable or delightful features). 

  • It’s too easy for marketing to create vague messaging that drives a lot of mis-aligned users into the top of the funnel.

  • It’s too easy for sales to mis-represent the product during a sales pitch in order to close a deal

  • Etc

Why? Because none of them are responsible for the success of the customer. There’s a whole department for that…

Customer Success vs User Engagement

And this is why we prefer to talk about User Engagement instead of Customer Success at Knowtify. Because this term - User Engagement - doesn’t carry with it the same baggage - the same sense of individual ownership - as Customer Success does today.

User Engagement is still a concept and/or a metric that can be more easily shared across everyone in the organization. No one person owns User Engagement, so it is something everyone can come together on. Product, design, UX, marketing, sales, customer success, even the C-Suite - all contribute to building a complete experience that drives engagement with your product. 

And the best part is that there is no one that carries the title, “VP of User Engagement”, so no single person or department carries it’s weight. 

If you can bring that same sense of shared ownership to the concept of Customer Success (even with a functional Customer Success department), then more power to you. Otherwise, you may want to think about using a term like “User Engagement” that everyone can contribute to in an unbiased way.

Would love to hear your thoughts on this…