The Success Syndrome: Prevention Is Better Than Cure

 In Culture

Only four out of 100 companies make it past the ten-year mark. That is a startling statistic and a legitimate cause for concern. Could it be that most businesses are also subject to the old maxim that everything that goes up must come down? With many success stories abounding, however, the fact is that businesses do not necessarily have to fail, regardless of the statistics. So, what could be the reason that so many businesses fail? To be honest, there are many possible answers to that question – cash flow, the broader socio-economic circumstances that is prevailing, political issues; non-marketability of products, etc. And then of course, there is the Success Syndrome. This article focuses on Success Syndrome, what it means, how it stifles innovation, and how to deal with it.

What is Success Syndrome?

Success Syndrome for a business refers to a tendency to stop pursuing excellence and customer satisfaction with the same rigor as was the case when the business first started. This is usually because the company has achieved a bit of success. Almost all businesses will at some point pass through this phase, where they become apathetic, letting things slide that they ordinarily wouldn’t have allowed during the early stages of the business. Such behavior is not necessarily terminal, of course, except when it is allowed to eat into the very fabrics of the business. Success Syndrome has three predictable phases:

Stage 1

You’ve laid out the business plan, you’ve gotten some capital to start off the business, and you’re pumped and scared at the same time. It’s make or bust for you, so you put your effort into the business. You pass down the values to your first employees, and they, in turn, do their best. Your startup does its best to take care of all your customers’ needs because you’re not sure where and when you’ll get another customer. This provides exemplary customer experience for your customers and they keep coming back and telling their friends about your business. Your business starts to gain traction!

Stage 2

You’ve gained some traction, business is growing. More customers are patronizing your goods and/or services. However, that places more demand on you and your staff. So, one faithful day, you or one of your staff is knowingly or unknowingly rude to a customer and he/she leaves your shop angry. You don’t mind because you have other customers that’ll fill the void – at least so you think.

Micheal LeBoeuf in his book ‘How to Win Customers & Keep them for Life’ says that 96% of disgruntled customers quietly go away and a whopping 91% never come back. So imagine pissing off 10 customers in a month … that means only one of them is likely to return. That’s a major financial loss.

Stage two is effectively when the Success Syndrome has kicked in. You’ve allowed success to become a hindrance to further success.

Stage 3

In stage three, like cancer, the Success Syndrome has eaten deep into your services and the effects are starting to show. Sales have diminished and it’s obvious your customers are moving on in search of better quality of service. In most cases, when this happens, businesses start to “put the cart before the wheel” in a bid to save face. They forego the underlying cause and start chasing shadows such as laying off staff and looking for shiny adverts when the problem is first internal and an issue with service delivery and quality. If not, seriously dealt with, the business will soon become another sad statistic.

Does the picture painted above ring a bell? Every single moment a customer leaves with a bad experience and without a proper response from your business, you are setting your business up for failure down the line. The real lesson however, from past experiences, is to learn how to live above the Success Syndrome and how to prevent further decay.

Success syndrome and innovation

John Brandt – a marketing specialist – in his articleEnlarge your Marketing Plan Now” explains that customers only care about solutions, products, and services that seem custom-made to their needs and problems. What this suggests is that shifting focus away from customers robs companies of what is known as customer-focused innovation. If you are going to create the best products and services – one that makes a customer’s job easier and more effective – then you have to see things from their perspective and not how you perceive things to be. Understanding this, therefore clarifies the need to avoid the success syndrome at all cost.

Dealing with Success Syndrome

As explained above, success syndrome is a sickness that can rob you of your best leads for innovation. As with most sicknesses, it doesn’t become full-fledged in one day; it is a gradual process littered with symptoms. Herein lays a window to treat the sickness and you can expect a higher chance of success than if you were to wait until later when the disease has become full-blown.

Identifying Success Syndrome

The first problem is how to know and identify the symptoms. There are two ways: qualitatively and quantitatively. Quantitatively refers to tracking your data and asking the right questions. Why do sales fall when a particular staff is around? What kind of customers are you getting; are they returning or new customers? Every piece of data tells a story, you have to find the true story in yours and not your version of the truth. You can get qualitative metrics from your customers through customer feedback forms. Or in this era of social media, using your social media presence as a customer contact point to get feedback. Make it a priority to get feedback from your customers on a regular basis, asking about their total experience, as well as their experience with specific touch points within your business. Doing these will help you get the clear picture of what’s going on in your business as well as where you can improve from a customer perspective. This is the way to finding better ways of doing things within your organization.

Going back to the basics

Remember the customer focus at the beginning of the business that won you the hearts of so many customers? You have to find that mojo back and ensure you and your staff are on the same page. Make sure each staff member knows that he or she is there to solve customers’ problems, regardless of their job designation. Note that most dissatisfied customer “will tell eight to ten people about her problem, and one in five will tell twenty,” according to Michael LeBoeuf. With social media, the reach can be even more far-reaching than these statistics indicate.

As stated above, Success Syndrome is not necessarily fatal if quickly identified and tackled appropriately. Part of the coaching and support services that Corporate Alchemists provides to companies is to empower them to first of all avoid getting into the rut that is the Success Syndrome. Where companies already find themselves suffering the effects, such as a falling customer base, we help identify the problem and provide coaching to help reverse the trend.


In summary, you’ll deal with the Success Syndrome by not resting on your laurels. You will avoid it and, if necessary, overcome it by being a company that constantly innovates in every regard while still prioritizing customer satisfaction above all else. This is a trait of customer‑focused, innovative companies. They always find better ways of improving their customers’ experiences across all touch points.

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