How to overhaul your approach to Customer Success in 2022
Customer success has come a long way to become a value driver for growth within an organization. That momentum has accelerated in the last five years, and now even large enterprises are adopting the function to increase their growth rate. All customer success professionals should be celebrating the function going mainstream and the opportunity to play such a central role in corporate strategy.
But if we look ahead to future needs and challenges, it’s clear we need to consider an overhaul. Customer success has become vulnerable. It is in danger of stagnating and not continuing to move ahead. It’s important to be alert to pitfalls, even in growth. We have recently seen how Peloton was caught off-guard, not prepared for a world without pandemic-related demand. It’s important to applaud what we have achieved, but we should also pay attention to warning signs.
Here are five key areas to consider to overhaul customer success in your own company.
1. ALIGNMENT OF CS OPERATIONS
Last year was significant in terms of customer success operations getting mainstream approval. CEOs are recognizing the need to allocate budget so that CS leaders can staff their operations. At the same time, there’s a clamor for a unified revenue operations function cutting across marketing, sales, and customer success operations. Ideally, it should have a dotted relationship with the sales ops leader, but this will take time. Down the road, such a relationship may be a possibility, but for that, the revenue function needs to mature. Today, CS leaders have to institute a productive working relationship with both CS ops and sales ops.
CS ops and sales ops must reconcile through the CRM. CS clearly benefits from its own system of record, as does sales ops, but both need to help further establish the CRM as a more precise executive dashboard. Since the CRM is treated as the ultimate source of truth by the CEO and CFO, the two operations groups should ensure a clean dataset which is a bane of every organization. CRM hygiene and clean-up top the list of priorities for many companies. For many, this is an unending and underachieved task.
In addition, there are important factors from both operational teams that should be reflected in the CRM to reveal a broader, more accurate truth. That said, the focus of the two groups is different. For sales, the central objective is opportunities, while for CS, it’s the customer. The end-to-end customer journey needs to be conveyed in the CRM. CS operation should continue to focus on CSM enablement (tools, process, templates) and CS reporting (productivity metrics, board KPIs, customer book of business). Additionally, they should work with sales in enabling sales-CS handoff, tooling integration, and growth metrics.
2. EXPANDING TEAM STRUCTURE WITH SPECIALIZATION
It’s time for the CS leaders to think of specialization versus generalizations, which means instead of hiring CSMs, think of hiring onboarding specialists, renewal specialists, adoption coaches, etc. In his book Blitzscaling, Reid Hoffman talked about how as a company evolves, it needs to hire specialists to bring process focus and maturity. The SaaS industry is facing a massive activation problem. Onboarding done well is a major step toward activation and then retention. Similarly, renewal specialists bring assurance to the process and know-how to structure the deal conversation with customers.
3. TRAINING AND ADOPTION FOR CHANGING HABITS
CS needs to take training more seriously. Of course, in most companies, there’s a big push for self-serve training and lots of evidence for the value of video tutorials and knowledgebases, but we need more than just information—we need to change our habits. CS needs to embrace specialist trainers who not only encourage building habits around the product but also provide best practices. Expecting CSMs to bring in a daily cadence around this is a massive expectation.
4. EXTENDING VALUE MANAGEMENT AND ADVOCACY
Value management needs to be at the core of CS going forward. That starts with onboarding, where expectations around the outcome value are understood and documented. It continues into showing value at the activity and milestone level, having a conversation on the value of QBRs, and finally delivering a value-based renewal. Customers who see value become advocates. Advocacy has been a stepchild in the customer success world, and at times there is confusion around who owns it—marketing or CS. Remember, a fully functional customer will churn if the customer is not excited about the company or the product. Having advisory board meetings, city tours, annual conferences, and product roadmap roadshows needs to be part of the strategy for every CS team.
5. RETHINKING CUSTOMER ENGAGEMENT
Customer engagement usually has been built around the customer journey, which is a good practice that has been established over the last five years. It needs to evolve with content-based programs and leverage real-time channels. It’s important to think about having a content writer on CS staff who brings some rigor to the process. CS teams often shy away from real-time engagements, thinking of them as a time sink or voicing fear that the channel will be abused by customers.
It’s not enough to have proactive check-ins; there must be meaningful interactions. This will happen when enough content is produced for every scenario, use case, and inspiration.
Shreesha Ramdas, co-founder of Strikedeck
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