Counseling and Customer Success: Two Trusted Advisors

Since the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic, stories and memes about the shock and hilarity of working from home with your significant other have peppered the internet. Realizing your partner is a “let’s circle back to that” guy can be jarring. Hearing your better half reiterate their “hard stop” at 3:00 in their tough-guy-manager voice could be perceived as unflattering or surprisingly take-charge. Fighting over access to the home office (read: the spare bedroom with the desk-like flat surface) may have caused a who-brings-home-the-proverbial-bacon spat.

Perhaps showers were not taken as frequently as previously deemed necessary.

Photo by Mikayla Mallek on Unsplash

I’m lucky that work-from-home life has been fairly pleasant with Mr. DirectorOfCustomerSuccess creaking back and forth on the dining room chair we hauled upstairs last March. He has not shocked me by being a d-bag to his colleagues (though I leave that up to their impressions) and I’m even more proud of him now than I was pre-Cabin Fever.

Recently I realized that besides seeing my live-in best friend more daily, the other benefit of cohabitation work-from-home status is my unintentional enrollment in free SaaS and customer success classes that run all day long. Our relatively open-concept home echoes his team meetings and 1:1s down the hallways and, being that I’m the only other employee-in-residence, I get the lunch and dinner analysis of the day. Frankly, I’m a consultant (with inherent biases) who should get a paycheck, benefits, or at least some company swag. Some of the members of his team are already on performance improvement plans in my head; others are receiving fictional raises from my more fictional budget.

I find myself talking about his colleagues as though I know them personally, professionally, and from the office kitchen. I have my own (ill-imagined) ideas of who can’t hack it, who is absolutely killing it, and who needs to adjust their attitude to find more success. I can even guess who would be the one to reheat fish at lunch if WE returned to the office.

Photo by Frank Busch on Unsplash

At one point, as a quarter came to a close, I felt a new sense of anxiety. Would WE get 88% in? What had WE forecast? And why won’t that CFO at CORPORATION-I-SHOULDN’T-NAME just sign the damn contract before business closes on Friday so that it can count toward the final number? How quickly can WE recoup what slipped?

That feeling was not entirely dissimilar from the way I feel as school quarters creep toward their end dates with less than timely pleas for extensions, projects, papers, and exams bubbling up for my students. They also bring grading deadlines and progress report-posting lines in the sand. Let’s not even get started on the January 1st college deadlines that, like Q4 closing across the business world, make celebrating the holidays a bit more difficult.

As I began to inadvertently compare the two worlds of work, I also realized I had learned more about this business in the last eight months than I have in the six plus years we’ve been together. I had always been interested, but the transition from anecdotal retellings of meetings to actually hearing the nitty gritty has not only caused me to be in even greater awe of my partner’s career, but it has also directed me to rethink my own.

There are parallels between our seemingly dissimilar jobs, for sure. His customers are a version of my students and families. His colleagues are much like mine: team members, partners, and, at times, obstacles. The bottom line, though less financially-dependent, is the same: measurable achievement of predetermined outcomes. My first quarter may start in September, but we’re monitoring progress and roadblocks towards our goals; my measurable annual goals are the same formula as his objectives and key results (OKRs). We have progress reports on an education management system; he has progress tracked in SalesForce and Gainsight.

It may be obvious that my role, that of a special education counselor, is inherently more personal. I certainly used to subscribe to that belief as well. And while the caring we demonstrate in a school setting with adolescents is certainly different (and not financially motivated), what I’ve learned through quarantine is that relationships, trust, and TLC matter just as much in fostering successful (read: renewable, upsell-able) customer relationships. My kids don’t make progress with me if they don’t trust me; his customers don’t renew if they don’t trust the product, the support, and that someone has their back.

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I have often heard Mr.DirectofCustomerSuccess tout the idea of the trusted advisor. He feels strongly that customer success managers are not renewal-paperwork-pushers-in-disguise; they’re problem solvers, customer advocates, and liaisons between the customer, the product team, the support team, and the sales team’s hopes of an upsell.

In a similar vein, I’m not a paperwork princess editing college essays and double, triple checking Common Apps and evaluation reports. My goal is to be a problem-solver, a liaison, and I certainly hope I’m a student advocate. I liaise between the student, the family, the colleges, the training programs, the scholarship committees, the rest of the Team. With my support, I want my students to make progress toward their goals so that they can achieve more success. Customer success managers must assist customers in utilizing the software efficiently, effectively, and in a way that increases their own company’s value.

Sure, there are striking differences between the world of counseling and customer success. But the coaching I see my significant other do, the emotions he must manage on a multifaceted team located across the world, and the role he and his team members play with their customers tells me the worlds aren’t so disparate. The principles are the same. The attention to detail is still critical. The endgame is similar: through supportive guidance, increase success.

Those who know me have heard me say that I have never been certain that I would be a counselor for the entirety of my career. Now that I feel like a student auditing a masterclass in customer success, the skills appear to be translatable, if not complimentary.

After all, most of my “customers” would give me at least a 9 on the Net Promoter Scale. I’m not a detractor; I’m a trusted advisor.

Subject to review.