Why Happy Customers Leave


Share on LinkedIn

We have to be clear on the distinction between “happy” and “successful” when it comes to our customers.

Happy is a feeling, successful is quantifiable. their customers have a goal, an ROI they’d like to reach, a Desired Outcome they need to achieve, etc. They’re either on their way to hitting that goal or they’re not.

Whether they’re “happy” along the way isn’t the point. If they don’t reach their goal, if they aren’t successful, they may be “happy” … happily looking for a vendor that will make them successful!

Obviously I want the people I work with – my customers, clients, and partners – to be happy on a human level.

But I know that if they don’t seem happy, are always pushing back on us, are asking for new features, for things to work differently, for more of this or that, and they never seem “happy” that this doesn’t mean they aren’t successful or on their way to being successful.

In fact, customers who are engaged in multiple ways with their vendor are the most likely to stick around; the more touch points the better. There’s a direct connection here, even if it seems counter to what you’d think.

For instance, someone that contacts support frequently – assuming they get their questions answered and issues resolve quickly (even if not with a positive result! That’s the really interesting part.) – everything else being equal, is more likely to renew their contract or otherwise not churn out.

This makes sense when they consider that frequent support requests means they’re becoming invested in the product and they’re likely heavy, active users, or they use their product in ways it wasn’t designed. All good signs.

Very often, the most successful customers – those least likely to churn and likely to buy more over time – are their most demanding customers; they never seem to be happy… they’re never satisfied. They always want more from their product.

It’s actually customers they label as “happy” – the ones they never hear from or interact with, the ones that never complain or contact support – that are the ones to be worried about, if for no other reason than they don’t know if they’re successful or not. They assume “happy” … and they assume “happy” means they’re going to continue to be a customer.

None of those assumptions are based in reality.

In fact, those customers that you never hear from are the ones that they probably didn’t set goals with or that they don’t speak with frequently to know whether or not they’re on pace to reach whatever the successful outcome is for a given timeframe.

And the kicker is that very often these are the customers that – according to product usage (they’re “active” you know!) – might seem just fine… who then churn out “unexpectedly.”

But if they understood that happiness isn’t the goal of the customer – success leading to loyalty is – then they won’t fall victim to wrongheaded thinking when it comes to success vs. happy and they’ll work diligently to create a health score for their customers so they can avoid these surprises.

Solve for “Success” not Happy.

I go into more depth on this idea in my article title Customer Success is not about Happy Customers.

Lincoln Murphy
Lincoln Murphy is a Customer Success Evangelist and is responsible for driving thought-leadership in the areas of Customer Success, retention, churn mitigation, and expansion revenue. Lincoln's passion is creating efficient engines of growth for SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) and Subscription Economy companies. Lincoln has worked with 300+ SaaS and enterprise software vendors migrating to SaaS - from SAP to Hubspot, and from Microsoft to Zendesk - to accelerate growth through Customer Success.


  1. ‘Happy’ (or, worse still, ‘satisfied’) isn’t the best descriptor for the perceived value necessary to generate customer advocacy and brand bonding among customers (or employees, for that matter). Not so sure about “successful’ either, since it can have so much variance in definition.

    A possible surrogate term for the desired state of behavior is “involved”, because it speaks to experiences and interactions between vendor and customer, and the perceived value received. Emotionally involved customers stay with their vendor and help contribute to benefit recieived. Involved customers have a strong and bonded emotional connection with a brand or business, and they are strong supporters, i.e. bonded advocates, of a brand in their online and offline communications. Marketing is instrumental in creating and sustaining involvement.

  2. Thanks for the thoughtful response, Michael. I’m pretty sure we’re almost saying exactly the same thing.

    But it’s funny how you say “successful” can be variable, but “involved” not. I look at it exactly the opposite.

    If you know what success looks like for your customer in the context of your product and as it evolves over their lifecycle as a customer – and you work to help them achieve that success – you’ll keep them, grow their use, and create advocates.

    In my mind, happy, emotionally invested, involved), etc. are all variable and ultimately are all trumped by success.

    If your customers are not successful – if they are not achieving their Desired Outcome – they may stick around longer if they’re “involved” but they’ll eventually move on. It’ll be harder for them, they’ll feel bad for you and they won’t want to have that conversation, but if you aren’t making your customers successful, you will lose them. It will happen.

    Good stuff though… thanks for being involved. 🙂


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here