A Different View of De-risking – Comparing Customer Service to Customer Success

By: Barry S Farah 

Great customer service is hard to maintain. And, that is partly because it lives in a discrete world. In service delivery applications, it includes a de-risking approach to the various touchpoints with the customer. We experience this all the time when we make an on-line purchase – after step 4 of payment information comes step 5 of confirm order. 

To be clear, we are not talking about the concept of de-risking in the financial services sector. That is a post 9/11 concept that includes eliminating certain customers or even regions of the world based on an attempt to avoid bad actors. That is more of a cut-and-run application. The Bank is reducing risk, by choosing to not serve certain customers at all. 

The application here is how to work with an existing customer. De-risking a customer is when the business establishes rules to ensure predictability and endeavors to provide the customer with a consistent service or product. This is essential. We must ensure logistics, systems and quality control are humming along in order to provide a customer with a reliable service or product. 

But, if you stop there, it can end up killing your business. De-risking left to its own devices will separate the customer from human interaction with the company. And, over time, the company will not be equipped to hear what the customer is trying to say. Sometimes the customer doesn’t know what he or she wants due to technology gaps, but he or she usually has a pretty good idea of the type of experience he or she wants. 

Consider why Sears did not become Google or Amazon. They offered solid customer service. But they did not ask their customers empowering questions. If they had done so and really understood the values of their customers in the 70s, 80s and 90s (like they had in the 40s, 50s and 60s), we could be talking about a “Sears Search” or at least a “Sears Digital Catalog”. They had the smarts, the financial resources and the built-in customer data to pull it off. And, they already had a nationally respected catalog. But they lost sight of something bigger. 

What often happens along the way with de-risking is the customer is separated from genuine emotional connection. And, over time the customer is cordoned off – almost as if separate from the company itself. He is placed in a box. And, this opens the business up to the most serious vulnerability of all – being disrupted out of business.  

The small guy comes up with inventive new ways to serve the customer. Amazon generated $511k in revenue in 1995; Sears’ Revenue was a stunning 1% of US GDP in the 80s. Bezos, 30 at the time, says something like, “Hey, guys, let’s change the name from Cadabra to Amazon and sell books on-line.” Customers were served – lots of them. In 2018 Amazon generated revenues of 1% of US GDP. De-risking the customer without the right mindset cost Sears the dominant role it could have maintained. 

Customer Success incorporates de-risking, but it does not stop there. And, though it requires a certain mindset, it is not as hard to maintain as customer service. That is because the Customer Success Culture delegates and distributes creative energy. In fact, it generates energy, because the team is empowered to ask open-ended questions with a genuine desire to uncover shifts. And, when they unearth a customer inclination, they have the authority to respond. Since it is fueled by purpose, the employees in a Customer Success Culture are motivated to develop inventive new approaches. This helps them, help the company stay one step ahead of the customer. So, when a competitor begins to offer a better service, or a brand new one that is contiguous to the business service or product offering, the company with a Customer Success Culture is not caught flat-footed. And, it can respond in a proactive way before the damage is done.