There’s a consistent playbook for building foundational elements of Customer Success. Most companies start by segmenting their customers, defining engagement models for those segments, and identifying metrics to see how customers are getting value—those are all common practices. It’s scaling the Customer Success organization where the playbook begins to diverge.
And while there’s no one-size-fits-all playbook for scale, there are a few core areas that all Customer Success leaders need to focus on to create a scalable program. Here, I’ll outline four of those areas:
1. Customer Success needs to be a top priority at the executive level
In order for any Customer Success organization to be successful at scale, it needs to be 1. Strategic, 2. Funded, and 3. Aligned.
Customer Success needs to be a strategic initiative of the company, and it can’t be a group that’s buried in Sales, Services, or Support. When you do have Success embedded in another team, CS begins to take on the behaviors and metrics of those organizations and can end up missing out on the point of “customer success” entirely.
If it’s truly a strategic initiative—meaning one that’s reported to the board—then Customer Success will have the executive team’s support, it will have a defined and separate budget, and it will be equally aligned to other departments. If any one of those three things are missing, that’s a big red flag.
2. Narrow the focus of CSMs
Customer Success tends to start off as a team that owns everything post-sale, but it gets to a point where CSMs are expected to handle too many responsibilities for too many customers. It becomes time to start peeling off the responsibilities that aren’t about helping customers reach their desired outcomes. Remove them from the role of the CSM, and create new teams dedicated to owning those responsibilities.
For example, at Pendo we created a Subscription Success team to own renewals and expansions for the commercial (mid-market) and corporate (SMB) customer segments. The CSMs were still responsible for helping customers get value out of the product, and they therefore heavily influenced renewals and expansions, but the Subscription Success team lifted the burden of the operational aspects in getting renewals and expansions done.
CSMs can’t be expected to juggle the responsibilities of a typical CSM plus renewals, upsells, and expansions — at least not at scale. Something will suffer and it’s usually the customer experience.
3. Segment customers along experience, not spend
One of the first pieces of thought leadership in our space was that you can’t treat all customers the same. You’ve got to segment on something. But while for most companies that means segmenting customers by ARR, I’m a proponent of aligning customers to the experience they should be getting—taking into account not just their ARR and growth potential, but their preferences too.
For example, some customers don’t want or need a regular 1:1 with a CSM. They prefer self-service, so they should be enrolled in a tech-touch experience. And on the other hand, you might have a customer with a high growth potential but that needs that regular touchpoint with a CSM. They should be enrolled in the company’s high-touch experience.
In order to create a stronger and more scalable customer experience, Customer Success teams need to evolve their thinking around segmentation from giving the highest paying customers the high-touch experience and giving the lowest paying customers the “low-touch” experience. Every customer deserves an investment in their success, and a more comprehensive engagement model provides value to all of your customers regardless of their size or contribution to your business.
4. Scale your right-touch engagement model by creating a community for customers
Creating a right-touch program is table in stakes for Customer Success. One of the best ways to scale a right-touch program is to create a community: bring customers together in some type of forum and encourage them to connect and ask questions. If you have this one-stop-shop where customers can have discussions, find resources, and stay connected to the product (and have an open line with Support or a CSM when they need it), you’ll bring more value to customers while also alleviating some of the work from the Success and Support teams.
5. Education needs to be close to CS
Customer Success leaders should work to partner with their peers in Education. In order for both teams to be successful at scale—to deliver the right training to the right customers at the right time—these two teams need to be in sync on content, timing, and delivery method.
The top resources this week:
The First Step That Can Make or Break Your Customer Success Buildout
Lauren Mecca, Customer Centricity Advisor and former CS leader at Hatch, Talla, and Placester, on how to secure buy-in for Customer Success across the company: by booking 1:1 time with each functional lead. Here are her tips on running those meetings.
Pat Phelan, CCO at GoCardless, shares a simple framework for defining what excellence looks like for a CSM team.
Time Confetti and the Broken Promise of Leisure
This post by Ashley Whillans highlights how easily “a few seemingly harmless interruptions” can usurp our time. She says, “the happiest and most time affluent among us are deliberate with their free time. Working toward time affluence is about recognizing and overcoming the time traps in our lives and intentionally carving out happier and more meaningful moments each day.”
Team Customer Journey Mapping
Here’s a template from Atlassian for journey mapping, and guidelines for doing this exercise with your peers in other departments.
Success Happy Hour is a weekly newsletter for Customer Success leaders. Each week we feature one digestible piece of advice or a framework from top Success leaders, plus four of the best resources from that week. Subscribe here.