Inbound 2018 was a tremendous experience. I’ve been in Customer Success for a little over nine months. My brain is bubbling over with ideas from all the wonderful speakers; however, I kept having this feeling of déjà vu… I’d heard a lot of this before.

Eventually it dawned on me that the themes and stories were not resonating with my limited experience as a CSM, they resonated with the prior 17 years working in a local small business.

What big businesses call Customer Success is simply another day’s work for any local small business

See, before working in the SaaS industry I was a martial arts instructor for nearly two decades. I had a nickname with every student and knew what instrument they played at school. Our black belt classes were always the largest class of the day because we rarely lost students. Instructors preemptively took an extra 10 minutes after class with students before students fell behind. I’m realizing that what big businesses call Customer Success is simply another day’s work for any small local business.

Ask your customers what works and what doesn’t — let them influence you and you’re more likely to influence them

So why is this important? Because you don’t have to look any further than your favorite mom and pop shop—or in my case karate dojo — to get a pretty damn good playbook of what customer success looks like.

Tell your story. The beauty of being small is people can relate to you. Show them where you started from and how you got to where you are today. Sharing my origin story with prospective parents was tremendous. I started at the school when I was 10-years-old—in fact I was forced to by my parents. I fell in love instantly, so much so that by the age of 13 I was teaching five to six days each week, picking karate over other sports, going to the mall, and causing general mischief.

Hear their story. During my 17-year tenure I taught every type of student: the prodigy who had to live up to their parents’ expectations, the shy introvert who didn’t have many friends, the rambunctious rascal who couldn’t stay still, the kid who wanted to be a ninja turtle. The secret to navigating a mixture of these archetypes scattered from grades K-12 was learning who each student was and understanding their reasons for being there. Once that’s done then you know how to cater to their specific needs.

Learn from them. I am a certified expert in kicking and punching, but I have just as much experience in adapting to the needs of my students. Once you stop having the mindset of a student you lose what lets you grow as a teacher. Kids change, markets do too. Ask your customers what works and what doesn’t—let them influence you and you’re more likely to influence them.

Build a community. This is big, there’s a reason I saved it for last. Building a community is about breaking down barriers, working together towards common goals and values. A community is an ecosystem, one that should strive to be self-nourishing.

Does this mean Customer Success is just some fad? Absolutely not. The key differentiator is that it is metric-driven with deliberate goals. These goals provide a framework for sustained, repeatable, and predictable results.

But when I need to remember the essence of Customer Success I stop by my old dojo. I observe real people connecting with each other, and a business that doesn’t feel like a business because it’s focused on the customers and not themselves.

Customer Success is everywhere. Improving as a professional is just as much about being aware from 5–9 as it is from 9–5. This is the first post in a series dedicated to finding Customer Success in the real world. I’ll be using #cs365 to share examples and encourage you to do the same!