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Managing Change as a key to Customer Success

As long as #digitaltransformation failure rates are still unexpectidly high (McKinsey reports a nearly 75% figure), #changemanagement becomes a more and more challenging topic. But what does change management really mean? According to ACMP, it is "the practice of applying a structured approach to transition an organization from a current state to a future state to achieve expected benefits." Based on this definition, the objective of any digital transformation project should be the delivery of a digital solution in order for the organization, the end users and customers to achieve their own objectives through its use and exploitation. This last defintion however, resembles customer success.

Some years ago, we have introduced "NEDSA" our Change Management methodology for Customer Success, based on extensive academic research on user adoption and success, change management, and about 20 years of application and refinements. NEDSA covers change management throughout the project execution as well as the operations phase of a digital solution:

NEDSA: WizzSense Change Management Methodology

Before continuing, let's set some basic definitions:

Needs: A need is something that is important to individuals or the whole company. Each role involved in a project may have different needs and priorities. Some common examples of needs are x% profitability increase, automation of repetitive tasks, x% productivity improvement in a warehouse’s activities, work-life balance, promotion, acknowledgement by colleagues, etc. Needs are usually the answer to “WHAT” type of questions, such as “What are the main challenges you are facing?”, “What are your or the company’s objectives?”, “What do you need to be happy?”. A common challenge is that during projects people tend to confuse needs with requirements, express “nice to have” but not important thoughts or share needs that are irrelevant.

Expectations: A set of ideas about a digital solution or service that a client holds in their mind. By “client” we may mean the consumers of the digital service, the end-users of the digital solution, the project team involved in the design, development, and delivery on behalf of the client, the sponsor of the project or any other stakeholder involved. Before the start of any project, every role has certain expectations: on the budget, the features, experience, value, execution methodology, the provider’s project team, the selected technology/platform. It is not a secret that, according to the role, expectations are seen from a different ankle. For instance, the sponsor may expect a low budget project and the end users may expect that they will invest no or little time on it (examples have not been randomly selected).

Requirements: User requirements describe in natural language what users expect from a digital solution to do. It is a standard practice in digital solution projects to include a phase where end users are requested to express their requirements and the solution providers carefully listen and document them. Requirements are the answer to the “HOW” type of questions, such as “how do you suggest we could overcome this challenge?”, or “how would you expect this process to be automated?”.

User Satisfaction: In a digital solutions context we would focus on end-user satisfaction, i.e., the pleasure one feels by using a digital solution (see Collins dict.). According to one of the most known measurement models, user satisfaction is the outcome of the subconscious comparison between initial expectations, perceived quality, and perceived value (DeLone & McLean, Chunya and Yan.). It is worth commenting that end user satisfaction is a perception, a subjective judgement, and can be influenced as such.

Usage and adoption: According to Apty usage of a digital solution is “when a user logs on to a software application and interacts with the system”. Adoption on the other hand “is a measurement of how well a software is being utilized as intended by its users”. I would borrow a couple of behavioral science terms to make the distinction between adoption and usage: Usage is a behavior; adoption is a habit. To turn a behavior into a habit, you would need to repeat it multiple times until you start reaping the benefits and engaging more with it.

Customer Success: According to the Customer Success Association “Customer Success is a long-term, scientifically engineered, and professionally directed business strategy for maximizing customer and company sustainable proven profitability.” Put in simple words, we succeed when our customers succeed. It has evolved from a sales activity to a company philosophy and is radically adopted by SaaS and professional services providers and it is considered by many of them (see Salesforce, Qlik, etc.) as the key to successful digital transformation. There are various customer success models out there. Some of them are sales-driven (Helpscout), other are more abstract, consulting or strategy oriented (Gainsight, McKinsey, etc.), or focus solely on SaaS business models (Custify). One, can hardly find a practical, comprehensive, tactical and operational customer success framework that works for digital transformation solution providers.

Can you connect the dots?

If Customer Success is the desired output, where should we start from? Well, it all starts with Expectations. Expectations for a digital solution during presales, and till delivery of the project. Different expectations set by anyone involved. It is not a secret that human beings tend to raise their expectations’ bar high. If each one’s expectations are not aligned with the provider's capabilities and reasonable deliverables, there is a high chance than the project will fail, no matter the quality of work or effort put. Expectations that are hard or impossible to be met should be spotted by the solution providers. At any stage. Via workshops, surveys, and by asking the right questions during direct communications. Then, alignment should take place. This is the right time to disappoint or bring a stakeholder down to earth, than saying nothing and letting the expectation bars higher than what your team could deliver.

Second focus area is Needs. Individual and company needs. Needs are merely spotted during presales and mainly during the analysis and design phases of a project. Needs of every single stakeholder must be clearly defined and well-documented. They also need to be flagged in terms of relevance, measurability, and importance. Then, they will also need to be mapped (i.e., aligned) with expectations. Again, if you spot missing information or any inconsistency between expectations and needs (i.e., there are expectations that are not “mapped” with any need), this is an alerting sign and needs to be tackled now.

Requirements is the next control point. Each need should be described by several functional technical requirements, in a language that can be understood by the relevant end user. Again, alignment will ensure that we are doing good or not. Alignment between needs and requirements (i.e., is every single need covered?) as well as alignment between requirements (conflicting or overlapping requirements should be tackled, including end users involved, etc.).

As mentioned earlier, satisfaction is an objective perception of every single stakeholder involved in a project (i.e sponsor, project manager, end users, etc.). If someone feels satisfied, this means that her expectations are met and that she gets significant value by using the digital solution. There is another thing: satisfaction includes the element of contribution and engagement. People tend to feel more satisfied when they actively contribute to an initiative. Satisfaction can be "sensed" by providers (they literally know when their clients are satisfied-and when not), by sking the right questions during direct communications and via client satisfaction surveys.

Most of the projects close right after delivery and launch of a digital solution. Most of the clients require closure assuming the work is done. My recommendation is, work with your Clients towards ensuring Usage and Adoption of your digital solutions delivered. This is where real transformation comes into play! Usage needs to be encouraged via repetitive and playful training, not only in functional terms but also in value added terms. Users need to be motivated to change their daily routine and use a new system and this can only be ensured if they know what they will gain by using it. Utilization metrics must be constantly monitored and corrective actions (e.g., retraining) have to be taken, where needed. Another effective practice is to link usage with employee performance (e.g., to assess compliance with the company’s policies and procedures) and reward the ones who comply so that they become role models for the rest.

If we have the motive and usage, then adoption is just the result of all the above, and can be measured in efficiency (e.g., productivity improvement) and effectiveness (e.g., profitability increase) terms. Improvement in efficiency and effectiveness means that the stakeholders of our client have succeeded in their objectives and have satisfied (to an extent at least) their objectives.

Taking a step back, let’s now revisit the definition of Customer Success: We succeed when our customers succeed. We are already there aren’t we?

Thanks for taking the time to read this, contact us for further info and succesful case studies!



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