Customer success has a perception problem in many businesses.
Other teams such as sales, services, support, and account management often don't understand its role or see the value.
They see customer success managers as an additional support function for their roles and for the customer.
I can't really blame them.
Customer success teams are often formed with the generic charter of driving net revenue retention. But without a mandate of specific, differentiated activities from other roles and departments it can be a difficult sell.
While adding resources to aid customers is indeed a noble undertaking for a company, this newly-formed team takes on a life of its own.
It creates new processes and brings with it a new set of vocabulary, e.g., QBR, health score, customer journey, engagement, etc...
With strong executive support, this team brings with it technology platforms to help gauge and manage customer health.
Silos are bad enough. Without coordinated efforts from across the company, a Success team seldom improves customer or company outcomes.
What's worse is that creating a customer success org is often seen as a way to engender customer-centricity.
But the truth is that adding a customer success team alone cannot transform an organization's culture.
What it does is creates another team to coordinate, requires more management overhead, and more technology to integrate into the tech stack.
More communications and team members to coordinate.
More confusion as to "who's on first" with the customer.
I'm not saying that having a Customer Success team is wrong. In fact, I think it can be very right.
But it's clear that adding a new team just because it's become an industry "norm" is not the right answer.
So, what's an alternative approach to designing an effective customer success practice in your business?
Transform what you have today.
Here are four steps to consider:
1. Change the Organizational Mindset--Acknowledge that SaaS is inherently a customer-centric business model. As such, it's no longer good enough to have one team that focuses on generating long-term customer-driven value for the business. All teams must.
To that end, how can each department do its part to drive customer lifetime value?
Sales and marketing bringing in business that fits the target client profile, services driving time to value, support managing product issues and escalations. Even finance and HR can be customer-centric.
Commit to designing processes outside-in, through the eyes of the customer needs for simplicity, guidance, and results. This mindset only works when the executive team is aligned and drives it from the top down.
2. Develop a Customer Segment-level Strategy–Customer success teams sometimes stick out because they bring a set of generic activities to the table. QBRs, check-in calls, surveys, etc.
Most businesses are more nuanced and possess portfolios of customers with different product subscriptions, pricing structures, and contract terms.
Segment these customer cohorts.
Customers with bad use case fit? Aim to "resell" on stronger use cases, and drive retention at the lowest cost possible.
Customers who are over- or under-priced? Put them in a cohort designed to move them toward standard pricing models and terms over time.
Target customers with a strong use case fit and results to become storytellers for the industry and your product. Use them to help guide other customers and tell your story in the market.
Identify "whitespace" for product add-ons and pricing plan upgrades. Where can we add more value to customers by selling them additional products and services?
Determine what each strategy will require of each functional team and assign responsibilities accordingly. Specialize roles where you can to drive scale.
If (and only if) you identify gaps in the roles/activities needed to deliver on a particular strategy, consider the appropriate existing role to fulfill that need. or evaluate whether a new role is needed.
In either case, ensure it's integrated and aligned with other groups.
3. Develop Metrics for Success–Instead of measuring generic things like health scores or CSM activities, measure the progress of the priority customer initiatives and the specific activities that drive them.
This is where most customer success initiatives fall down. Their metrics aren't specific and relevant to the organization's key initiatives and business outcomes, and therefore their execution isn't either.
4. Execute the Plan–Do the difficult, tedious, day-to-day work of enabling individuals for success with training. Hold high expectations for excellent work. Actively coach and measure performance.
Listen to customers and incorporate their feedback. Iterate and enhance processes across each department every single month.
This work is never finished. We must design our organizations for continuous improvement.
Like an investment portfolio earns compounding interest over time, SaaS companies thrive as we make small, iterative improvements in how they operate.
Customer success teams can be a wonderful asset. But as leaders, we must make sure they’re differentiated and provide value 10x the cost of fielding them.
The thesis is simple. No company should deploy a customer success team for the sake of it.
Focusing on customers to drive growth and enterprise value is a company-wide strategy. If done well, you'll be ahead of 90% of the competition.
Everyone in a SaaS business is in the customer success business.