How do you build and scale a Customer Success team?
At our September 2021 Humans of Customer Success Community Hour, we gathered Customer Success leaders to share their experiences doing just that. Our discussion leaders included:
- Kim Rose, SVP Customer Success at Notarize
- Simon Cundall, Director of Customer Success at CampMinder
- Jim Coleman, VP of Customer Success at Parsec
- Sonciary Honnoll, Co-Founder of Quala and serial Customer Success Leader
Watch the full session below or read on for key takeaways on building and scaling customer success – whether you are just starting out, have a fully-fledged team, or are somewhere in between – there are insights for everyone.
1. How to build a Customer Success function
For Customer Success leaders who are carving out this capability, here are the most important things to focus on.
Establish your Customer Success North Star
On day one, establish a Customer Success North Star and share it across the company – let that be your declared purpose as a team. Then, champion that declared purpose with not only the Customer Success team and with your actual customers, but also with the greater company as well.
As Kim says, “The number one priority is to understand a customer’s day-in-the-life. What are we solving for them? What is the value we can bring, and what do we understand about the customer’s pain and the customer’s journey?”
Define your working relationship among internal teams
Another important part is finding your peers in the organization. Who else is in which departments, and how do their teams work? Once you’ve established these basic tenets, you’ll have a solid foundation to build upon.
“One of the things I love about the job is the fact that it touches every single part of the organization,” Jim says. “But there are some places where you’re going to coordinate a lot more frequently than others, and it’s important to know what those are and define that working relationship as early as possible.”
2. Challenges to building a Customer Success team
What are some pitfalls you’ve encountered, and how do we avoid them? For these leaders, collaboration is key. Here’s what they learned from their experiences.
Measuring your impact
One mistake folks can make is jumping in with a concrete idea of how to treat customers without a way to measure the impact of those activities. For Simon, the best way to manage challenges is to bring in a system of measurement.
“Make sure you are collecting the right data,” he says, “so you can look back and show what you did, the impact that had on the business, and what you learned.”
Using qualitative customer data intelligently
Starting to shift from customer stories to customer data is a big step – you need both, says Jim. “The story helps put context around the data, and the data helps prioritize which stories are the more important ones.”
For Sonciary, being good at customer success is both art and science.
“As we’ve seen a trend over the last several years towards a radical focus on data, and exactly how customers are using our technology, it becomes even more important for us to understand the ‘why’ behind the ‘what,’” she says. “That’s a powerful way to really understand what motivates our customers and how we can work alongside them.”
3. How to scale your Customer Success function
Learning from past challenges can inform future success. What are the top challenges you encountered while scaling your Customer Success function?
Look at your customers with fresh eyes
When it comes to scaling, be as flexible as possible so that you can understand who your strategic customers are and whether you’re aligned as a business around who you are prioritizing, Kim says. Be disciplined about who you are listening to and whether you all agree that you’re listening to the right people.
For Simon, re-setting expectations is a clear challenge.
“Treating people one way at the start and then realizing over time that it is not scalable is a particular challenge for CSMs,” he says. “Delivering those conversations with tact and grace and getting the message across is always going to be an ongoing challenge.”
Use the right tool for the job
Sonciary approaches these challenges categorically. She asks, “Is it a people, process, or platform issue or opportunity? Be very careful not to try to solve a people problem with the platform, or process problems with people.”
Don’t forget the power of positivity
Simon makes a point to share positive feedback with the company as a whole.
“We have a lot of happy, grateful users out there,” he said. “Giving joy to the engineers, the product team, and the accounting team where they can actually hear what the impact is – sharing that message has helped us with our employee engagement and having people buy into our mission.”
4. What is the future of Customer Success?
What will Customer Success look like in a year? Three years? Our experts weigh in.
Figuring out how to weigh small features and big features against each other will continue to be key. Make sure you’re still delivering on those everyday upgrades that improve usability as well as delivering new growth features.
Kim calls these issues “paper cuts” because it’s hard to find room for them in the product roadmap and advocate against feature requests and other things.
The group also noted the growing importance of the Customer Success function, and in particular, seeing Customer Success on the executive teams of more and more scaling SaaS businesses.
Sonciary predicts a growing number of SaaS CEOs with Customer Success backgrounds. With Customer Success leaders at the center of customer needs, technology, and critical SaaS metrics, these individuals are well suited to leadership of SaaS businesses.
“What I’m noticing more and more is that CS teams are going towards the money in a good way, meaning we want to understand our ROI and business impact from a growth perspective.”
5. What’s on your Customer Success wishlist?
What would you like to see happen with customer success in the next couple of years? If our Customer Success experts were given a magic wand, this is how they’d use it.
Sonciary’s wish list includes all the resources she could ever need to build a “world-class, kickass education team” that could focus on letting everyone know about all the things they’re building and why it matters to the business.
First on Jim’s wish list is a solution to the challenge of how to engage or re-engage, how to get the message out, and how to hear from customers. “Really, complete and totally seamless communication,” he says.
And of course everyone would like more resources.
One of the best parts of our Community Hours is answering questions from our attendees. Here, we headed into a live Q&A session, digging into some thought-provoking questions.
How can we create a tighter alignment between sales and customer success?
Kim: I think it starts foundationally at shared goals. It starts at sales leadership to be aligned with CS to say, are we in agreement that a successful customer is what we both want? When we find areas where a feature has been glossed over, do you have the relationship to say, “This is something that’s been coming up, we need to work on it together”?
Simon: We used to sit down with them for 10 minutes after every sale and chat with them. And then the big step we took, which seems simple, was actually writing down a list of questions and a sales note that they actually have to complete before it goes to the CSM to figure out what success looks like, what potential roadblocks are there, are there any personality issues with the customer we should know about, and where they want to be in a year.
Sonciary: The culture of our organization is that we talk a lot about information, not ammunition. We create assessments on our own platform where we rate the lead that came in, or we rate the customer from a specific set of criteria. Then we pass that information over to the sales team and we take it as a CS team to know where we’re starting. But again, it only works because it’s information, not ammunition. We’re not pointing any fingers. We’re not shutting anyone down. We’re just knowing here’s where we’re starting and here’s where we want to go.
Does data collection inform what your Customer Success team structure is, or does it speak to how it’s already set up?
Simon: I think you take an educated guess first and go with your gut and then measure it. If it’s right and it’s great, that’s awesome. If it’s completely wrong, but you learn really valuable lessons, that’s equally as powerful.
How does your Customer Success staffing ratio change in different growth modes?
Jim: You have to identify what your first problem is, and then you have to be willing to adjust that assumption. Like Sonci said, you’ve got your people, you’ve got your process, you’ve got your platform. What can you support? What do you need to do in order to deliver?
When it comes to Customer Success, our leaders agree: having a solid roadmap, understanding the why, and focusing on growing intelligently are the keys to building and scaling with success.
There was so much more to this compelling discussion; to learn more, watch the whole session on YouTube.