Scaling Your Customer Success Department
Maybe you’re a new company that’s experiencing hyper-revenue and customer growth and are in the early stages of establishing a Customer Success (CS) function. Perhaps your CS practice is mature, but you need to scale to support a new product launch, the expansion into a newly available market, or a recent merger or acquisition.
Whether you’ve just recently caught the CS bug, or your CS function is already deeply embedded into your company’s ecosystem, a highly functioning, scalable CS practice can be rocket fuel for your revenue engine.
There are numerous ways to scale Customer Success, and a model that works for your company may not work for another. Regardless of where your company falls on the CS maturity continuum, taking a strategic approach to scaling assures that you’ll be able to drive efficiencies through common tasks and operational procedures, setting you up to accommodate future growth, no matter how big or fast. It also enables you to grow your CS function without compromising quality—of your team, your customers’ experience, or your results.
Don’t Be Afraid to Digitize
Solving a scaling issue with bodies is both cost-prohibitive and unsustainable. Rather than jumping to people resources as the solution to augmenting your team, lean more heavily into process and technology solutions first. Be open to moving away from the CS classic yet untenable one-to-one customer engagement model toward a more efficient one-to-many model.
And be open to automating some of your CS functions. Switching from a one-to-one to a one-to-many (or “pooled”) customer engagement approach and automating universal, repeatable tasks expands your team and drives efficiencies, all without compromising the human personalization at scale that your customers not only crave but are growing to expect. I talk more about the benefits of a pooled CS model in this video.
Automation can be a faster, more cost-effective way to serve your customers as you scale. There is a false belief that automating or digitizing CS customer interactions belies a lack of resources that manifests in an uncaring attitude toward customers and translates to telling them, “Go fend for yourself.”
You can find a happy medium between personal and automated customer touches. Identify repeatable processes your reps currently perform that you can digitize with a technology that manages your customers in a low- or digital-touch way without detracting from their experience. Some companies base their level and method of CS rep touches on the customer’s revenue potential.
No matter the number or frequency of customer touches you decide upon, CS reps cannot do it all themselves. A Customer Success operations (CS Ops) team is necessary to build an infrastructure that equips CS reps with processes and technology to manage customers sufficiently. Your pooled CS professionals, your ops team, and your strategic leaders work together to create a flywheel of profitability.
Leveraging Automation to Drive Scale
Tech-wise, the complexity and maturity of your CS model will tell you where you want to go. It’s not advisable to settle on any new tech until you have examined processes and identified those tasks that are ripe for automation. Plus, realize that once you bring in new technology, you’ll likely need to hire someone, or even a team, to support it. You’ll also need to designate someone to “own” it, whether it’s your IT department, your sales team, or your Customer Success operations lead.
When it comes to automation, start small. For instance, automate welcome emails or other cumbersome tasks that you do regularly. And don’t consider investing in an automation tool or a Customer Success Platform (CSP) until you reach at least a dozen or more CS headcount, at which time, you’ll have a stronger sense as to the highest and best use of technology to support your automation plans.
Tailoring to Customer Preferences
In the one-to-one customer engagement model, customers always know who they can go to for help and information. As you scale and move to a pooled CS team, customers don’t necessarily know who they will get when they call, but don’t let that detract from their experience.
You’ll have to target and refine your customer touchpoints as you go, but pooled CS teams offer significant benefits to both your customers and you. In fact, rightly enabled pooled teams can not only delight customers by allowing them to choose whom on your team they talk to and how, but they also foster deeper engagement across your product line.
Some people like text or chat, while others want face-to-face or video. Some may want to read a hard-copy manual or interact with a pop-up widget. No matter how they prefer to interact with you and your product, creating a custom-tailored experience supported by a pooled CS team can go a long way toward delighting your customers, even as you scale.
Mirroring Responsibilities Across Functions
If your CS practice is young, I recommend you build your initial team with scaling in mind at the outset. You should assemble a CS team of multiple individuals with mirrored responsibilities so that you don’t have seven people doing seven different jobs. In doing this, you are creating a structure that starts off horizontally and builds up vertically. Your aim? To give your team the space to expand to include a breadth of complementary skills that can serve your customers and empower them through a variety of interactions—face-to-face, group-led meetings, self-service—to meet the customer where they live—with the right information and modality at the right time.
This sounds like a big order, and it is. Building a Customer Success practice is most effective when it is based on the nuances of your particular product, your customers’ buying preferences, and your sales process. You should start with a close examination and coordination of these elements to determine the best CS scaling approach for your organization.
Growing Customer Success Systematically
Increasing your capacity to manage a growing base of customers efficiently should start with these four steps:
1: Interview your customers
2: Map their journey
3: Segment them
4: Decide how you’re going to manage them (We don’t cover this here, but for more on this topic, read our blog Setting Your Customer Success Leader up to Win.)
Step 1: Interview Your Customers
Asking your customers about what’s important to them in terms of both your product and their success is an essential first step, and a survey is a helpful tool to use. A myriad of possible questions is relevant to nailing down customer habits and behaviors. Push the envelope and break down your survey so you understand your customers’ urges, fears, sentiments, and thought processes.
Here’s a brief list of some of the questions you might ask.
• Why did you enter the buying process?
• What need motivated you to look at our products/solutions?
• What were the key reasons you selected us as your solution?
• What are your expectations for your relationship with our products and services?
• What have been the most enjoyable moments of your interactions with our company?
• What have been the biggest challenges in working with our company?
• How do you envision our relationship in the future… in the months or years ahead?
• What is holding you back from a promise of continuing our relationship in three to five years?
• Would you say yes to renewing your contract with us right now? Why or why not?
• Would you recommend us to a colleague with another company facing the same challenges?
• How do you learn best, and what is your favorite style of communication?
• How do you want us to get the job done?
Step 2: Map the Customer Journey
Now that you have a sense of what’s important to them and how they foresee your future relationship, it’s time to chart out your typical customer journey. Salesforce research shows that 80% of customers consider the experience they have with a company as important as the products and services it provides. Therefore, mapping that experience to show where and how customers engage with you is essential to discovering how best to scale Customer Success. You can’t scale if you don’t know where to build, where the volume is with customers at a high range of usage.
The mapping process starts with everyone, including marketing, L&D, sales, revenue, etc., in a room, whiteboarding what it’s like to be a customer—from soup to nuts, recognizing that their journey is not linear.
Some of the overarching components of your map should include:
• Stages of the buying process
• Target customer personas
• User actions and touchpoints
• Emotional milestones
• Obstacles and pain points
After mapping, you can see where customers are in the lifecycle and assess their level of engagement and product usage at each stage. You’ll know how they are responding to Quarterly Business Reviews (QBRs), when they call in to support, and whether they are attending support webinars.
Once you have enough data, then you can decide how to bring them up to the next level; you will know how to operationalize how you support them and how to help them travel smoothly through the sales ecosystem.
Step 3: Segment Your Customers
The concept of customer segmentation takes its cue from an analogy with handling your kids. You want to get to the bottom of what’s bothering them, but before you can do that, you must know how they are most comfortable communicating with you.
Most B2B companies base how they serve their customers upon which segments make up most of their revenue, as they need to determine how to best serve all their customers effectively with a limited headcount and dollars.
Obviously, a single bucket won’t hold all your customers, and it’s not affordable or sustainable to treat them all the same way or give them the same level of attention (you can’t take them all out to dinner, after all). But you can segment them by revenue, geography, account size, or market share. You could begin segmenting based on industry verticals – whether you’re in telecommunications, automotive, or building materials, for instance. That said, some companies prefer to segment by product or customer size. The most advanced CS organizations segment their customers by a) their use cases, and b) how customers derive value from the company’s products and services. Steps one and two above can help you decide which segmentation approach makes the most sense for you.
From there, you can further refine the segmentation by where customers are in their journey and the sales lifecycle. Criteria such as new vs. existing customers—whether they are onboarding or terminating—may be a valuable segmentation that would create alignment with the ways in which you’ll treat each segment. With a high-volume customer base, evaluating customer revenue size and headcounts may reveal other segmentation opportunities.
Once you’ve taken a wide view in your segment analysis, proceed to a cohort analysis. For example, you can segment customers with over 5,000 employees who have been with you for a certain length of time, and that ask similar questions, or take a certain action at specified points in time. By creating a meaningful segmentation that defines subsets of customers based on relevant characteristics, you’re creating cohorts of customers based upon their similar journeys with your products and services. By grouping customers together according to similar criteria, your CS team can determine how they interact most effectively and efficiently with different customer groups.
Once your segmentation is complete, you can look at behavioral characteristics that are common to each segment and that might reveal the need for proactive—or corrective—actions. For example, are customers bogged down by a single issue associated with a product that is strangling potential new revenue? The visibility Customer Success has into account behavior enables it to identify issues like this and find solutions long before they become a systemic problem.
Segmentation also gives CS unique insights into customer values, enabling it to quickly identify and address potential roadblocks and challenges. This allows you to become customers’ trusted advisor, able to identify potential land mines—the “gotchas”—before they come at you, and to continue to demonstrate the value of their purchase at every turn.
Scaling Tech to Match the Customer Journey
Now that you’ve mapped out the customer journey, you’re ready to think about identifying the right tech that positions you for current and future scaling. Be careful not to commit to a CS platform before you know what your endgame is, as you’ll likely find that your platform is somewhat prescriptive and can stifle your ability to scale. For example, it will guide as to how you build your processes and interact with your customers, and those processes may not be optimized for your customers’ actual situations and journeys. If you’re in the market for a CSP, my LinkedIn post on selecting one may be helpful.
Ideally, CS-qualified leads (CSQLs)—those leads or opportunities that come from the CS team—are generated by automated processes and passed along through a technology like a CRM, spreadsheet, or Customer Success Platform (CSP). CSQLs close at a much higher rate than Marketing Qualified Leads and Sales Qualified Leads, typically faster and offering higher average deal sizes. A good CS platform will be able to ‘tag it, flag it, or tick a box” so that the lead is automatically fed into another marketing cadence, taking off on its appropriate journey from there.
Now that your scaling elements are in place and your plan is in motion, it’s time to establish your performance indicators. If you’ve followed the prescription I’ve laid out here, your KPIs should show that you’re making progress toward successful CS scaling for maturation. They will reveal that customers are checking all the boxes on standard CS measures, such as using your product and attending support meetings.
Look at whether your company is achieving better revenues, obtaining more leads, increasing employee retention, and closing more deals. How are each of your customers helping to move the needle toward growth? To properly assess your progress in these areas, you’ll need to make historical comparisons, which will also help in making next year’s projections.
Then, you’ll need to build in a program of continuous improvement, not only to reinforce positive results but to constantly produce even better results. In fact, this is an essential component of the MarketSource approach to optimizing Customer Success. When we get more leads and start closing more of them at a higher rate in less time, and then start closing higher dollar deals, we create a flywheel that can exponentially grow our business. We call this approach Relentless Incrementalism, and we apply it to all our customer engagements.
And, although we are viewing productivity from a high level, scaling readiness really gets down to fundamentals, such as how many phone calls a sales team can make in a day, onboarding sessions they can finish, renewals they can register, Executive Business Reviews (EBRs) they can conduct, at-risk/remediation/success plans they can prepare, planning sessions they can hold, upselling opportunities they can pursue, and customer advocacy and referral activities they can complete.
The role of the Customer Success Operations (CS Ops) team is to formalize and operationalize these kinds of day-to-day tasks the customer-facing CS staff members perform. By transferring these common activities into processes and playbooks, your customers will experience a more standardized, predictable, and delightful engagement with your team.
Customer satisfaction automatically rises with a good Customer Success practice. Industry metrics show that Customer Success typically generates a 5% increase in customer retention, but newer metrics show a higher percentage. CS-fueled companies should definitely hit a higher Net Promoter Score (NPS), which measures customer satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy.
Creating a Customer Success Flywheel
Sales leaders are moving away from marketing and sales funnels. Today, the trend is toward a helical model of marketing, or flywheel, which is a revenue generation engine built entirely around providing a remarkable customer experience. The Customer Success flywheel picks up massive steam once you systematically build customer advocacy into your entire ecosystem. Core to that momentum is your customers’ delight with their experience and deep trust in you. You ultimately want them to regard you as a trusted advisor, a professional guide that can truly help them meet their goals, increase their KPIs, and drive success for their organization.
Customer Success is both the inward and outward reflection that your entire organization’s success is built around and aligned with your customers’ success. Done right, your CS flywheel will create its own efficient energy, become self-sustaining, and contribute directly to the bottom line.
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Author: Jeff Heckler
Jeff is Director of Customer Success Solutions at MarketSource. He is a leader with over 20 years of running customer-facing revenue teams for such organizations as SAP, Accenture, and Stanford. Jeff is an author, advisor, and speaker, and recipient of numerous industry awards. Most recently, Jeff was recognized as a Top 25 Global Customer Success Influencer, 2021, and named One to Watch in SaaS, 2022. Jeff serves on the Board of Advisors for The Customer Success Performance Index™, the Product Advisory Board for Cast.app, and is the Principal Thought Leader–Digital CS for Practical CSM.