Annette Franz, CCXP, is founder and CEO of CX Journey Inc., a customer experience consultancy; she’s a coach, keynote speaker, and author.
The customer success profession was born in 1996, when Vantive, a CRM vendor, realized that their system had a failure rate so high that it drove customers away and sealed the fate of their desire for 100% of customers to be referenceable. Marie Alexander, a former Vantive customer, was hired to help stem the tide. She created a customer success department and introduced customer success managers (CSMs) to potential new customers, letting them know there was staff responsible for ensuring their success using the Vantive platform. (Interestingly, many have credited Salesforce with pioneering the concept of customer success, but in fact, they did not.)
Over time, other tech companies adopted the customer success model after realizing that company growth became a lot harder when the sales and subsequent onboarding processes were more about filling the leaky bucket and less about ensuring successful implementations and engagements for their customers. I worked for one of those tech companies.
As head of consulting services, I led a team of CSMs. With hundreds of accounts but only five people to manage them, I ended up tiering the accounts, mostly based on ARR (annual recurring revenue) and assigning the top two tiers to CSMs, while the third tier got assistance from our tech support team. I’m guessing you may have done similar tiering with your accounts or might have used the enterprise/mid-market/SMB approach, a proxy for revenue tiers.
But let’s think about that for a minute. Is that tiering really ideal for the customer and their success?
Customer success’s role is to ensure that customers receive the value they expect — and achieve their desired outcomes — as a result of using your products. In Wayne McCulloch’s book, The Seven Pillars of Customer Success, he notes that customer success has five main responsibilities:
1. Eliminate churn through value attainment.
2. Drive increased contract value through value expansion.
3. Improve the customer experience.
4. Gain customer acquisition through building advocacy.
5. Proactively lead the customer to success.
So where does that leave those accounts that get sent to tech support and don’t have someone to be proactive and ensure their successful adoption of your product? As the business grows, how do you ensure that you can deliver the same level of proactive service and outreach for all of your accounts?
Well, there’s the problem. You’ve got too many accounts and not enough CSMs or not enough hours in the day for the CSMs who you do have. (You can only hire so many CSMs, right?) How do you solve this? How do you evolve your approach? How do you scale customer success?
Create A Customer-Centric Culture
First and foremost, you need to have the right foundation in place in your business. That foundation is your culture, and it must be developed as a customer-centric one. With a customer-centric culture, the customer is at the heart of everything the business does — hiring, firing, making decisions, developing policies and processes and more. It’s a collaborative culture where data and information are shared across the organization and everyone is involved in creating a great experience and ensuring customer success. When that happens, your sales team is just as vested as your customer success team in making sure customers achieve their desired outcomes.
Build The Right Team
You’ve got to have a strong and capable leader for your customer success team. Ideally, that leader is your chief customer officer; if you don’t have one, you might have a vice president of customer experience or a vice president of customer success. This leader will be skilled in getting the right people on the bus, making sure they have the tools and resources needed to do their jobs well and establishing processes to adapt and scale.
The “right people” have a strong desire to help customers succeed. No matter where your company is in the customer success journey, CSMs must be proactive and curious. They must be knowledgeable about not only their customers but also the industries in which they operate. They must know how to ask the right questions to ensure their customers achieve their desired outcomes. And they will raise their hands when the customer struggles to see the value they were meant to see.
Inventory Your Processes
The biggest challenges when it comes to customer success — and scaling it — are the many tasks a CSM must complete and the numerous processes they must adhere to. Many of these are painful, repetitive and time-consuming. Inventory and document all of the tasks and processes that CSMs complete. You can’t scale without understanding the complex web these weave and how you’ll adapt to that web. As a matter of fact, new tools and technology may be what you need to scale and address these process challenges.
Tools To Scale Customer Success
Automation is a hot topic, and customer success isn’t immune to automation. CSMs appreciate the fact that automation takes the repetitive and menial tasks off their plates so they can focus on the value-add. Automation can introduce a new approach to tiering accounts, i.e., high touch, medium touch and digital touch, which involves little to no human interaction. For example, apps like Cast humanize digital customer success and drive health, product adoption, revenue expansion and impactful outcomes for all of your accounts. A digital touch ensures that even your smallest accounts have what they need to see value in your products.
CSMs regularly complain about burnout and time management issues — the result of too many accounts to manage and not enough time for all they need to do for each account. To address those issues and to ultimately evolve and scale customer success, you need the right culture, the right people and the right tools and technology to automate repetitive tasks and processes so that your CSMs work on adding value and building stronger relationships — not on building spreadsheets and wasting time on things that don’t create value for themselves or for customers.