“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” — Inigo Montoya, “The Princess Bride”

Customer success (CS) practitioners and vendors keep talking to me about scaled and digital-led customer success. Despite the heavy use of the terms, it is not inconceivable for people to misuse these very popular CS buzzwords. A quick look online on any given day shows that many are doing it, often because they’re parroting others without knowing that they, too, are incorrect or perhaps just slightly off base.

The confusion is understandable. Language such as “high touch/low touch/tech touch” has evolved into scaled and digital-led. The technology has evolved, too, laying the supportive foundation for a transformation. And while in the past there were clear lines of differentiation between various touch models, scaled and digital overlap, creating more of a Venn diagram instead of two separate and distinct circles. To complicate things further, digital-led can be considered a subset of scaled CS but also extends beyond what is typically considered scaled.

To help decode the mystery, here’s how to use these terms:

  • Scaled customer success. It isn’t simply “do more with less”; it’s about finding alternative ways to provide value to a segment of customers at scale to ensure that they’re successful with the products and services. It’s about optimizing processes to achieve more with the same, or fewer, resources. Scaled CS incorporates both human and digital touches through one-to-few or one-to-many strategies. For example, instead of holding five or more individual meetings per week to onboard new users, customer success managers can create efficiencies through regularly scheduled biweekly webinars for all new users across all segments, giving them the tools they need to get started.
  • Digital-led customer success. This is a data-driven approach that prioritizes automated interactions and leverages digital processes to support customer outcome achievement at scale through digital tools such as in-app, email, knowledge bases, and event-triggered notifications. It is typically implemented across segments and places a high premium on customer self-sufficiency — for instance, kicking off customer onboarding with an automated welcome email from the CEO/CCO that includes a link to an in-app walkthrough introducing resources such as support, customer community, and a learning academy. Digital-led enables the customer journey and allows it to be managed more cost-efficiently while also delivering a hyper-personalized experience driven by data. As a result, delivering value and customer outcomes becomes more consistent, measurable, and repeatable.

Scaled and digital-led strategies are innovative approaches to managing customer relationships by balancing high-touch engagements with low-touch efficiency. Both strategies are beneficial to customer success, providing the insights to engage customers proactively, automate processes, and achieve greater outcomes. They shift the customer success narrative away from solely high-touch human interactions — though they don’t necessarily exclude them. They simply move human engagement from a primary role to a secondary role — one that prioritizes digital engagement.

If companies want to compete, thrive, and scale in the current environment, a digital-led customer success strategy and the right tools to support it must not be inconceivable.