Looking Back Helps Us Look Forward

We are tackling the idea of the future for Customer Success. As a history major my natural inclination towards planning is identifying the past. Part of being able to progress and move forward is embracing our past and acknowledging where we came from.

So where did Customer Success come from?

There’s a common misconception that it was Salesforce, in 2005, who was the innovative force that drove this new department. However, if we dig just a little deeper, we will find that Salesforce simply made it a success (all pun intended) but was not the first in creating this department.

Back in 1996, a company called Vantive took something from an idea to a concept:

John Luongo, Vantive’s CEO, had encountered a very innovative usage of his company’s application by a customer and wanted to bring that innovation back to Vantive.  He hired Marie Alexander, who had created the new approach, to come and run Vantive’s services group. In 1996-1997, Marie created a new department, called Customer Success, and began introducing the team to prospects prior to the signing of the contract.

Ref: The Customer Success Association

Going back to the original question on the future of Customer Success – knowing how our field started, we should have a better idea of how to prepare ourselves for the future. At my company, we deal with customers who are looking to drive Transparency in the food Industry. This is no easy feat, but our technology has allowed us to make great strides in just a few short years.

As we have worked with our customers there has been a common trend that I have noticed. There will always be technically savvy customers who will present you with a challenging use case. This may be because of the type of engineering architecture they support or because of the complexities in a data structure. Regardless, it often times is required for a CSM to dig a bit deeper into our own technology.

Prior to my adventure in this field, I could not tell you what NiFi, Postman, or what an API endpoint was let alone how they work. Yet, at this juncture in my career, I have a background in Web Development – since I had done a Full Stack Coding Bootcamp at Northwestern University. Even our CSMs who have not done a coding boot camp, though, are facing the reality that in order to create success for their customers, they too must be successful in educating themselves in modern technologies, function, and lingo.

The future of CSMs is what I consider to be a hybrid between understanding web development but also has the knack to be customer facing. I recall my time at boot camp and realizing that the skills I had just learned would be something useful if I became an engineer. Do not get me wrong, I love coding but I also loved talking to customers. For a while, I felt un-motivated to continue that path of learning to be a web developer.

Luckily enough though my current company had just posted a role that combined my recently acquired skills but also involved working with customers. It was the role I helped to develop into TCSM (Technical Customer Success Manager). My SQL skills were put to use just as much as my knowledge of python and the ability to understand the level of effort that a feature request involved.

Just like anything, we must always be able to – but more importantly, be willing to change and adapt. The reality is that our field is changing so we need to educate ourselves more, we have to be willing to be the voice of engineering AND customer success. We ARE the bridging gap between technology and success after all. I ask you, what wouldn’t you do to ensure your customer is successful?


Gary Marroquin is one of the co-founders of the Chicago Customer Success Podcast. He is currently a Technical Customer Success Manager with Label Insight.

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