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5 Characteristics of a GREAT Customer Image

5 Characteristics of a GREAT Customer

By Dan Steinman

I’m fortunate to have the great privilege to get to speak to lots of groups of Customer Success professionals. I’m brought in as the expert but, as often as not, I learn just as much as they do.

It’s truly one of the most enjoyable things I get to do in my job.

I have a number of different presentations that I give – The 12 Pillars of Customer Success, The 10 Immutable Laws of Customer Success, How Did We Get Here? to name a few. One I’ve been doing quite often lately is “What Makes A Great CSM?”

It’s a question I get asked often having managed lots of CSMs over my years so I created a compilation of all the great traits of CSMs I’ve known. I did this pitch recently for a customer and, during the Q&A session, one CSM asked me this question:

“It’s awesome to hear about how to be a great CSM, but what makes a great customer?

This question hit me upside the head. It was one of those “I wish I had thought of that” moments. It’s obviously valuable to know the skills required to be great at our jobs but how often do we think, and talk, about what makes for a great customer? The question is so relevant and thought-provoking. I made up a pretty good answer on the fly but promised to think more about it and write a blog so here we are.

So, what is that truly great customers have in common? Here are the five characteristics that are on the top of my list.

1. Great Customers Understand that It’s a Partnership

Great customers know that success with a piece of technology is a two-way street. They will most certainly need your help but you will need theirs just as much. This will manifest itself in a number of ways, which are also on the list, but highly successful customers simply start with this attitude.

2. Great Customers Want to be Self-sufficient

Again, this is an attitude more than anything else and is often dependent on the personality of the individual(s) with whom you are working. But the attitude is often driven by the company’s attitude, which drives the kind of people they hire. People who know that, in order to take full advantage of your technology, they must truly own it.

They need to be able to configure it and change it on the fly to meet their needs. These are the kinds of people who derive way more satisfaction from finding the answer to their question themselves and see it as a personal failure if they need to call someone for help. Your best customers will almost always be as self-sufficient as you allow them to be. Keep in mind, however, that this requires you to offer them self-sufficiency.

Do you have on-demand training, a good knowledge base, solid product documentation, and great release notes for new features? It won’t work to hope that your customers become self-sufficient if you don’t give them the right tools to get there.

3. Great Customers Pay You to Become Better Customers

It sounds too good to be true but it most certainly happens. We all want our customers to be better customers. That’s why Customer Success exists. But there are still lines that need to be drawn. There are times when the best path for a customer to get what they need is to pay for training or services from your company. The best customers know this and plan for it. A great Sales Rep can also prepare customers for this eventuality.

A bad customer will sit back and say “If someone doesn’t train me I’ll churn and we don’t want that, do we?” Unfortunately, this often puts us up against the wall and we will have to try to do the best we can to train that customer. It’s really hard to just say no and walk away. But the point here is simply that the best customers are those that know that their investment does not stop with their monthly or annual payments for your software.

4. Great Customers are Demanding

This seems a bit counterintuitive on first pass but it’s absolutely true. Remember, the job of a CSM is not to make customers happy, it’s to make them successful and those are not one and the same thing. I find that the most successful customers are the most demanding ones. They want to squeeze every ounce of value out of your product and won’t stop pushing you until they do.

But their demands aren’t for kicks or to make you miserable. Their demands are driven by exactly what you want – the desire to get the most out of your product. Now, to be fair, we’ve all had customers who have taken this idea too far and that can be a miserable situation.

But consider this – would you rather have a customer always pushing you to get better or one who barely uses your product and refuses to answer your calls? Which one is more likely to churn? Which one is more likely to make you a better CSM? Which one is more likely to provide great product feedback?

It’s a little bit like hiring a personal trainer – they will bring pain and suffering to you but the results will be worth it. Think about your most demanding customers in the same way.

5. Great Customers are Advocates

Great customers, when they truly are getting tremendous value from your product, become more than just happy. They do more than just references. They give you more than just high customer satisfaction marks. They become advocates. What does it mean to be an advocate? Advocates are those who talk about you behind your back – in a positive way. They don’t have to wait for you to ask them to be a reference or post something on your Community or speak at your conference.

They want to do all those things and they look for opportunities to do so, with or without your permission. The reality of life is that most customers, at one time or another, will provide unsolicited feedback about you to someone that matters to you. Advocates are the ones that you hope are doing that all the time. And their power is extraordinary. It’s one thing for us to answer another person’s question – “What do you think of Company X?” It’s a whole ‘nother thing to offer it without the question – “Let me tell you about one of the best products I’ve ever used.”

The unsolicited reference is far more powerful than the solicited one. Not every customer will be an advocate. That’s almost certainly and unrealistic goal. But you better have some because they have the power to help take your company to the next level.

So there you have it – what makes a great customer. I’d love to be able to tell how to find only those customers who will be great but I can’t. It involves every part of your company and some things out of your control. But, if your product is truly great, they are out there and they will make your life, and your company, much better.


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  1. Ryan Bullard
    Mar 25th, 2015Reply

    Great post w/ great insight. As a future follow up, I’d love to understand what you think a CSM can do to CREATE a “great” customer as per this definition. How do you create partnership and self sufficiency in accounts that don’t have the resources/desire to view the relationship from that viewpoint.

  2. Vinay Bhagat
    Mar 25th, 2015Reply

    Dan – a good list. I would also add that great customers are generous and thoughtful with their feedback. When I was running Convio (SAAS platform for nonprofits), one of our best customers, the World Wildlife Fund produced a detailed score card and feedback sheet for everyone of their key vendors. Not only did it ensure there were no surprises, it was a really great focusing mechanism. I wish all our customers had done that.

    I also think that great customers don’t just manifest, but the onus is on the vendor to help create them. That starts with being upfront and honest in the sales process. As founder & CEO of TrustRadius, I find that today still too many vendors are afraid of transparency. Smart buyers know that no product is perfect and they are going to do their diligence to find out pros and cons. I think that vendors (at least those confidence in their products and offerings) need to embrace transparency and invite honest, and representative public feedback. As some say, customer experience/ success is the new marketing.

    What do you think?

    Vinay Bhagat
    Founder & CEO, TrustRadius

  3. Lauren Costella
    Mar 25th, 2015Reply

    I think this is a fantastic list, and certainly hits the nail on the head with the customers that are easiest to work with. I would add that great clients are Open to Change and have Structure/Leadership to support the change internally. Being open to change can mean a lot of things, but let’s face it, when you buy a software, it usually means you bought it in order to DO something different. My best clients WANT to do things differently…maybe they want to be more efficient or maybe they are learning something new, but the best clients recognize that when they get a new software, they are doing something different in their normal routine and know that there is a learning curve. They may have to spend extra time learning, and they may be LESS productive until they have it right, but are willing to learn, get it right, and make themselves, team, division, and company better in the long run.

    With regard to strong structure/leadership to implement, I think that goes without saying. My best clients have top down and bottom up support. They realize they may need more than just a call with a CSM to create adoption across their division/company to implement and they work internally to build support and implement this new software. They know and understand how the software can be used within various teams and they work to make sure that those teams have the “documentation, knowledge, education, and support” to be successful. It’s almost as if they are “CSMs” for their internal company.

    Again, great post! And thanks for sharing!

  4. YUjin
    Jun 11th, 2016Reply

    6 Types of Challenging Customers and How To Deal with Them | Business Tips

    This was also an awesome article that gives a clear definition and psychological explanation of consumers and customers. Must read!