You can be efficient but not effective, and you can be effective but not efficient. Scaling customer success requires both—but how can customer success leaders make this magical match?
At our January 2021 Humans of Customer Success Community Hour, we gathered a handful of CS leaders to share their insights on this very topic. Our discussion leaders included:
Erica Ayotte, VP of Customer Success at Privy
Celine Kimberly, Director of Customer Success at HubSpot
Jonathan “JB” Bolton, Chief Customer Officer at BombBomb
Sonciary Pérez, Co-Founder and Head of CustomerSuccess at Quala
Watch the full session here or read on to learn all about running CS teams at scale – whether you are just starting out, fully-fledged, or somewhere in between – there are insights for everyone.
Here’s how CS leaders think about using systems and processes to handle volume—while bringing more value to the customer relationship.
Erica: Because we have tens of thousands of customers, we have to be really judicious about how we spend our internal resources. For us, customer success at scale is about using intelligence and automation to identify and engage with customers who we consider best fits for a one-to-one engagement. Sometimes that takes into consideration the size of the account—how much money they’re spending with us—and sometimes we’re looking at things like whether the customer is making an effort within the product before we engage them.
Celine: Scale is about efficiency and effectiveness. We’ve started floating the idea that there has to be a 360-degree view of a customer. A customer might not want to talk to a CSM—they might actually get more value from a webinar setting or the community or a knowledge base article—and this isn’t the right time to have that one-on-one. So how do you create those mechanisms to gain productivity for your own team, but also to make the customer’s experience more valuable and more personalized to them?
JB: Anything at scale is about handling volume, so you’re looking at the systems and processes required to manage that volume. That’s where segmentation and your approach for those segments makes a really, really big deal.
Early on in the process, sometimes the skill sets that equal great customer success are different from the skill sets that are going to build highly efficient systems and processes. Some of the things you may do at scale are going to require a different operational skill set than some of the things you do to manage accounts.
Before you can create an incredible customer experience at scale, you need to take care of the basics—from reducing repetitive tasks to creating useful self-serve resources.
Celine: When I first joined HubSpot, they were really focused on the one-to-one relationships. When they created the one-to-many team, it was created as a reactive way to figure out scale. And it was a good effort, but there were some missing pieces.
The team felt really burned out, but there was no data that really explained where that burnout was coming from. So we spent quite a lot of time analyzing the data and understanding what customers were emailing about, and then we also did a lot of time studies.
That was how we started understanding where we were the least efficient and doing the most repetitive tasks. We actually found that 40% of our incoming email volume was related to billing and contracts…really simple questions that should be solved in-app or in knowledge base articles.
So that was the first piece of building a data framework so we could influence our bigger stakeholders to reduce their repetitive tasks—before we moved on to the more proactive question of “How do we build an amazing customer experience?”
Erica: We started with the customer experience—making sure that we were providing the most value to our customers first. Once we had that motion down and understood what made engagement valuable for our customers, then we could scale.
The thing that made that all possible for us was having an unbelievable support team that was able to take all of the folks who were self-serve or needed technical support. The fact that we could rely on that team to handle that enabled us to do all the great work that we did in customer success at scale. And the other part of that was having great self-serve resources.
Customer success needs to partner with other teams to achieve wins. Here’s how customer success leaders share the responsibility of customer communications with the marketing team to make scaling possible.
Celine: In our case, customer success owns the one-on-one engagement with customers. But then it’s a question of partnering with enterprise systems teams, product teams, and marketing teams to put in place the right automation, the right processes, the right technology, and even the right messaging.
One of our role models for tech touch is Starbucks, because they send 400 personalized versions of the same email every day, and they’ve segmented their customer base to develop that messaging effectively. So if you’re going to be doing customer experience at scale, you’ve got to have messaging that goes with it.
JB: One of the things that’s always encouraging to hear, as a customer success leader, is that you should just be age appropriate. How many customers you have, and what your revenue is, and how many employees you have…that’s a gauge of where you should be from a process maturity standpoint for customer success.
Ultimately, you’ll reach a point where your marketing team is running the tools that you need to be able to send communications at scale to your customer base. And so they will own the metrics and the performance. But customer success should still be very involved in the messaging. We actually have a customer success writer who owns the voice of BombBomb to the customer.
Erica: At Privy, the communication responsibilities are shared between the customer success team and the marketing team. There are some things, like general product marketing communications, that our marketing team will share. If it is customer-specific, we will often own that communication, regardless of what channel or software it comes out of…that could be our marketing automation tools, it could be the inbox automation tools that we use, or just one-to-one emails.
I love the idea of having specific writers, because we have noticed there’s often a big difference between a marketing voice that’s trying to convert a prospect and a voice that’s trying to speak to a customer in their experience. There might not seem to be a lot of difference there to the untrained eye…but there’s a huge difference between the customer voice and the prospect voice.
Your knowledge base doesn’t just help customers succeed—it can also help the customer success team, the product team, and even the marketing team be better at what they do.
Erica: Having a strong knowledge base really undergirds all of our operations—and not just customer facing. It’s a resource that all of us internally use heavily as well.
But one thing I would say is to hire someone who really knows what they’re doing. We hired someone last year, and I wish we’d done it sooner, because having someone who has the knowledge and the skill set specifically for KB is really important. They know how to structure information on a page in a way that is teachable, and how to pull out certain notes or callout boxes and say, “Hey, this is a sticking point here.” They understand both the technical piece and the customer perspective on it.
Also make sure your knowledge base is not just words on a page, but that you have GIFs or video examples. Some folks just learn differently.
Celine: If you’re thinking about scale, have all the right articles—develop that experience—but don’t block the human. Make sure that at the end, you still have a way for your customer to get to an actual support rep if they haven’t got their answer.
Also, crowdsource from your customer success managers and support specialists every quarter. We do an analysis of our support tickets to understand what are the most common questions that we could solve in the knowledge base articles. Our support reps and CSMs can also submit questions, plus a little blurb or video to explain them. So they’re helping us fill out extra parts of the knowledge base that we might not have had time for writers to write up.
JB: There are also some basic things you can look at in your knowledge base, like your volumes and who’s clicking on what articles. If you start to get repeat articles, that could be a good indication that your product team or product engineer needs to be aware of it so they can see if they can solve those problems from their end.
One of the interesting knowledge base metrics we’re looking at this year is a simple one: what is the knowledge base visit-to-ticket ratio? We measure that we are quickly providing the answers our customers want without the customers needing to pick up the phone and talk to a support rep.
Erica: I love how JB mentioned knowledge base metrics as a source of intelligence for the business…that is huge. If we’ve just had a product launch, and there’s a collection of articles related to a new product feature, we’ll actually use that as a marker of success: it means our customers are searching for information about that new feature or about that new launch.
We also look at the search terms customers or prospects are using within our knowledge base. That’s intelligence for our marketing team to be able to use in their SEO and search engine marketing.
Go beyond NPS and CSAT to get a true view of your customer success team’s efficiency—and to humanize your data for non-customer-facing teams.
JB: Whoever you’re using to host your knowledge base could probably give you some intelligence on your knowledge base metrics.
Here’s an example. We were really proud of our ticket-to-close ratio, which is how many touches to close. The bulk of our tickets were closing the first time, and our CSM at Zendesk said, “If you’re able to solve that in one touch, then it’s possible that you’re either not getting them to the answer quick enough, or you have something from a product standpoint that you can fix.” I was so proud of that metric, and they said that, believe it or not, it’s actually not a great metric.
These are all kinds of standard support metrics that you might look at, like CSAT and NPS. You may have other metrics that you prefer, but it’s more about the comments that come out of the verbatims. I literally go and copy/paste verbatims out of NPS and put them in front of the executive leadership team every week.
Erica: One of the things we have found really effective, when it comes to verbatims, is using call recording software to pull out snippets. This really humanizes some of the data we’re putting in front of, say, our product team.
Sometimes we can forget the power of hearing it directly from the customer’s mouth, and of illustrating the data that they’re seeing with an actual customer in their own voice. It lands like nothing else.
So whenever we’re having trouble getting something across, that one-two punch of data—whether it’s knowledge base or CSAT or health scoring—combined with the snippets works out really, really well.
Celine: We’re launching a big initiative this year called the tech touch team. It’s about taking a segment of our customers and applying only one-to-many methods like automation and personalization via email.
One of the metrics we’re using there is incident rate: how many of those customers are still finding their way to the customer success side of the house via a different mechanism, like support escalation or the community? It’s about reducing the need to escalate and to have them find their answer with us. It’s an efficiency metric. We also ask if it is impacting our retention of those customers, because the key is that we need to increase efficiency without decreasing effectiveness.
There was so much more to this conversation, including the biggest mistakes our panelists have made while scaling and their vision for 2021 and beyond; you can watch the whole thing on YouTube.
Interested in being a part of these in-depth discussions yourself? Join our Humans of Customer Success Community for free.