Dean Leung, Chief Customer Success Officer at iManage, reflects on his own path shifting from CIO to Chief Customer Success Officer (CCSO) and discusses both the similarities and differences of the two roles, and why it can be a natural progression when approached with the proper mindset.
When I was CIO of a Global 100 firm, I was continuously looking for ways to drive the desired outcomes of the business, which – in a time-based, attorney-based practice like a law firm – revolved around efficiency, productivity, and revenue generation.
My question to myself was always: How do I deploy tools that can support those business outcomes, in ways that are unique to the workflows of a specific department or specific geography?
CIO “lightbulb moments”
Very quickly, there came a realization that one size doesn’t fit all. From a workflow perspective, the various personas within the law firm – the partner, the associate, the paralegal, the legal assistant, and the administrative professional – all do things slightly differently to support the organization’s overall goals. Moreover, how a partner in the Americas approached work might be different from a partner in UK, EMEA, or LATAM.
Soon after came another realization: In order for me successfully introduce tools to this diverse user base in ways that would maximize efficiency and drive productivity, I knew that I would have to engage the vendor as a resource to understand best practices in terms of deploying the system, getting adoption, and then maximizing the consumption of the tool over time.
As part of those conversations, I would spend a lot of time with vendors asking them what they saw out there in our industry in terms of what our peers were doing, as well as what they might be seeing in sister industries like accountancies or consultancies as far as how they’re utilizing these tools and technologies. It was also worthwhile to ask the vendors how completely different industries might be using the tool – perhaps in novel and interesting ways – that we might be able to apply to aspects within our own industry.
The connection between customer experience and customer success
Through those conversations with the vendors, I really started to understand that the success of deploying technology is really about the customer experience around the product.
This doesn’t just mean the customer service side of things – although important – but more the entire end-user experience around utilizing a specific piece of software. Is someone using a tool because they’re forced to – e.g., they have to enter their time in a specific system; otherwise they’re not going to get paid – or are they using it because it is the best tool for them to be able to get their work done in an efficient and productive manner?
True customer success stems from the ability to get users to be interested in the technology, because they understand the benefits to them and the organization. They understand “what’s in it for them,” and they want to use the product, which drives acceptance, adoption, and advocacy over time, helping avoid the scourge of shelfware.
Talking to myself
This drive to really understand the different personas and then find the best way to drive positive outcomes for them is rooted in empathy: the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and really understand what makes them tick, what keeps them up at night, and what makes their lives easier.
This quality is a requisite for becoming a Chief Customer Success Officer. My current self (CCSO) spends a lot of time talking to my old self (CIO), trying to figure out what my old self needs to drive success.
I understand what the CIO needs, I understand what I need to do in order to give them the confidence to move forward with an initiative, and I know how to bring resources to bear to ensure that they have the support they need to put success within reach.
More than one path
CIO is certainly a natural path towards CCSO, but it’s not the only one. Chief Innovation Officer is another very natural role for people to then evolve into CCSO.
What’s more important in that the role, perhaps, is the mindset. Being a CCSO might not be for everyone, and here’s what I mean by that: If you’re the CEO, or CIO, or COO of an organization, you have a very clear focus and mandate to work with one organization, address their specific needs, and drive the desired outcomes.
Suppose you wind up moving to the vendor side to be a CCSO. In that case, it’s akin to going into consulting, where suddenly, you have a multitude of different customers who are at completely different stages of the adoption lifecycle and different levels of maturity. Still, all of whom are looking for the same thing: success.
That’s a level of work completely different from what you would be doing if you were working within a single organization. But the impact is huge, precisely because you’re able to affect successful change in more than one organization, within more than one industry, across multiple parts of the globe. The satisfaction is far higher in terms of the reach that you are afforded.
Up for the challenge?
At the end of the day, interested parties who are considering the shift to CCSO should ask themselves if they have an appreciation of the motivations and drivers of the other key stakeholders within an organization and an ability to align those needs and behaviours with that of the organization as a whole as the foundation to effective change management. If that is something that is interesting to them, and something they view as an intriguing challenge, then they may be a good fit to drive customer successes at the strategic level. In other words, they are a prime candidate to become a CCSO.