Customer success has a scale problem.

A Google search on "customer success playbooks" yields countless articles revolving around high-touch SaaS customer engagement models and white-glove customer journey management.

QBRs, EBRs, success plans, and executive sponsor programs are standard fare.

I, myself, have willingly participated in this discourse, regularly contributing my $.02 to defining these tools over the years.

But the world is changing, and it's time for customer success teams to change, too.

Customer success roles are often described as the facilitators of the end-to-end customer journey.

This is problematic because a process that is dependent on humans to take the right actions at the right time – all the time – is prone to error and requires significant management overhead to ensure quality.

The days of throwing endless headcounts at a growing customer base are over.

Scaling the customer journey is now imperative.

Even at scale, delivering a high-quality experience that makes customers successful is possible.

There are three methods I see companies using to scale their customer success practices:

Scale method #1: Digital CSM

Digital CSMs are fictional characters through which a company communicates with its customers. The goal is to make interactions feel individualized, even though communications come from a marketing automation system.

Customer responses are routed to pooled support teams who help the customer individually with each unique request.

Digital CSMs scale very well but require effort to personalize. There are startups whose sole focus is creating digital avatars that automate the delivery of key customer insights in a personalized way.

Scale method #2: Pooled Customer Success

Rather than have a named CSM on every account, especially smaller accounts, a pod of CSMs is assigned to a segment of customers. Those customers can engage a CSM through a shared inbox or case management system like Zendesk or Freshdesk.

If it sounds a little like customer support, it's because it IS a lot like customer support. That said, this is an excellent intermediate-scale approach that allows a team to gather data on the most common needs of its customers (see method #3 below).  

These teams are an extension of customer support. I'm sure many will disagree with me on this, but it's a debate I'm prepared to have.

That said, many product support teams are not set up to provide more than break-fix types of support to customers, a missed opportunity for scale (IMHO).

Scale method #3: Scaled Customer Success

Scaled CS is the most advanced form of scaling.

Instead of a team that fields individual customer requests, scaled CS is 100% proactive.

The scale team begins by analyzing the needs of customers. They use those insights to prioritize and create enablement programs that can are delivered in a one-to-many, one-to-few, or many-to-many way.

The example I often use is New User Onboarding.

CSMs often spend several hours per week providing one-on-one training to new users of their products. This can translate into hundreds of hours per year per CSM. Not a scalable process.

The Scaled CS approach to handling new users is creating a new user program. The program might include a live weekly webinar, a series of blogs or KB articles, a learning module (in the LMS), and a topical group in the online community. All these assets are coordinated, curated, and aimed at enabling a new user.

The quality is better. Instead of teaching all the CSMs how to onboard new users, one or two specialists handle all new user onboarding and maintain the artifacts associated with the program.

There is less overhead. Managers don't have to quality-check every CSM's new user onboarding calls.

CSMs have more time to do what they've always been meant to do: engage customers proactively to drive value into customer relationships and retain and grow revenue.

CSMs are a Channel

CSMs are a channel for customer engagement. They are a costly channel compared to marketing automation, one-to-many workshops, webinars, and the product itself.

Don't get me wrong. We need CSMs.

But we need success programs that scale so that we can use CSMs in a targeted way that maximizes the role's return on investment.

The future of customer success is scaled.


💡 Weekly Favorites

Here are some of my favorite podcasts, blogs, and videos from the week:

  • My conversation with Jeff Kushmerek on the Infinite Renewals podcast was great fun. Jeff let me school him up on the role customer communities are playing in scaled success models. Give it a listen, and let me know what you think. You can also check out my company, Higher Logic, to learn more about customer communities.
  • Is execution different than strategy? In his article, The Execution Trap, Roger Martin doesn't see a difference since poor execution can render a good strategy useless.

Enjoy, and I'll see you next Sunday.

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