Harry Gordon Selfridge was an admirable entrepreneur and innovator. In 1909, he had a then-crazy idea: Allow people to buy fashion off-the-shelf. Before that, most people had not more than a few items of clothes in their closet, and real fashion was only available to the rich individuals who could afford paying private tailors.
Selfridge acted upon the idea that most people on earth wear similar sizes, and created the world’s-first department store in London’s vibrant Oxford Street, offering off-the-shelf fashion in pre-fixed sizes to people of different classes. He democratized fashion and provided people access to the most basic of commodities: clothes.
Off-the-shelf fashion is, to this very day, how people purchase their outfits. Most people buy most clothes in a shop and wear it as is. But clothes that matter, even if they start as factory-produced products, go through modifications before being used. Imagine a wedding tux that did not go through measuring and fitting with a tailor, or an Armani suit that has not been modified to fit the classy businesswoman who wears it to work.
Even the products that were designed to be sold off-the-shelf often need modification, and your product, be it an App, an Enterprise SaaS platform, a Cyber Security software or even hardware equipment – is no different. The reality is that big clients, the ones who close big deals, are expecting special treatment – you could say that they are in fact the ‘special events’ for which you tailor your suits. They may be impressed with your product – but they’ll still want adjustments. Can it cater their specific needs? Can it be installed on their infrastructure? Will it integrate with their legacy systems?
These questions, along with many other product-related queries that are bound to pop up before and during the onboarding/installation process, are the reason why Solution Architecture is such a necessary skill in a product-based business. Traditionally part of the domain of Product and R&D, Solution Architecture can sometimes be most valuable wielded by none other than your Customer Success Engineer.
Architecting a solution for a customer can be reduced to this very basic formula: Provide the customer with maximum custom value, whilst maintaining minimum interference with the product’s core and utilizing as little of R&D time and resources as possible. It can also be summarized into these three words every Customer Success Engineer should know: Solve It Yourself, or SIY.
Make sure your Customer Success Engineer reads this
SIY starts with asking the following 5 questions whenever a client requests a modification in the product:
- How highly is this customization prioritized on the client’s side?
- Was there any specific customization that was promised during the sales process?
- Is this a recurring need/issue or a one-off pain point?
- Is the solution something that could benefit other (existing and future) clients as well?
- Is any part of the solution in the product’s roadmap?
Once these questions are answered fully, your Engineers would have a better grasp of the required capacity and can get down to architecting a solution – be it mild modifications or extracting abilities you haven’t dreamed of from your product.
What sets SIY from other standard Customer Success strategies, is that it puts the emphasis on the Customer Success Engineer (CSE). Empowered CSEs can go a long way in changing and customizing your product for a specific client, without using valuable R&D time. Here’s a real-life example: A major client requests to add the creation and distribution of a report that is not supported by your product. While the client is well assured they need this feature, and is definitely paying enough to be taken seriously, solving the problem is potentially quite costly.
Adding such a feature might sound uncomplicated, but even a simple solution could take long, expensive hours to create if going through the standard procedures. A Product Manager might take time out of their busy schedule to examine the request and assemble a solution. In order to implement it, they’ll need to consult VP R&D so as to calculate the effort needed, possibly involving VP Product in the process. After the task is completed, this may be sent up the stream to the CEO, who in turn spends priceless company time considering if this was worth priceless company time.
A capable CSE, However, properly utilizing the SIY principle, is able to create a local add-on to the product – a simple script, which generates the report automatically – leaving them with just scheduling its distribution to the client, which they also easily automate. They would of course, later on, discuss long-run effects and the profitability of adding this feature to the roadmap in their regular sync meeting with the PMs. However, the CEO, Product dept., VP R&D, and of course the developers themselves, would all be blissfully unaware any of this has even occurred in real time, all due to the obvious, dead-simple concept vital for any Customer Success Engineer: Solve It Yourself.