CS can sometimes feel undervalued, but I believe it’s one of the most strategic functions in a company. It’s not just about “keeping the customer happy”, it’s actually about driving growth.
There are many articles out there on how to build a customer success department, this isn’t one of them. These are the strategies to apply to take your Customer Success Department from good to world-class.
Hire a diverse team
Yes, this goes first. Hiring a diverse team is essential to any company that wants to thrive. According to a study by McKinsey, companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.
- Understanding your customers better: This is obvious, but when you hire people who don’t look like you or think like you, they will bring new perspectives into conversations with customers and give them valuable insights into what they need from your company.
- Building a stronger team: A diverse group of employees brings different skill sets and backgrounds together—and this means that everyone on the team can contribute their unique assets more effectively.
- Building a stronger company: Diversity leads to innovation because it encourages creativity, challenges assumptions about the way things should be done (which fosters innovation), and provides opportunities for new ideas from all parts of an organization’s culture
Try it and see what happens to your results.
Segment customers by use case, not just ARR
SaaS companies typically segment customers by their annual recurring revenue (ARR). While this is a good place to start, it’s not enough. To truly win and build loyalty with your customer base you need to segment them by use case and then learn how they use your product or service.
A use case is an end-to-end scenario that represents a user’s normal workflow; they’re often described in terms of “who” (the actor), “what” (the goal), and “why” (the motivation). For example, the following use cases represent different paths through the same software:
- I want to track my inventory so that I can check in on my sales at any time without having to think about it!
- I need help managing my employees’ schedules so that my workflows go smoothly all year long!
You’re going to need to onboard those two clients differently. You can’t assume everyone will use every feature. Start with what they came for.
Be crystal clear on the customer’s desired outcome
This is one of the most important things you can do as a CS leader.
Your team needs to understand the customer’s desired outcome. You can’t draw someone a map if you don’t know where they’re going.
Sometimes the customer can’t articulate it very well. That’s okay! A great way to get this information out of them is by using probing questions: “What would be an indication that things were moving in the right direction?” The answers to these questions will help you determine what actions are required from your team.
Start with onboarding
Onboarding is one of the most critical parts of the customer success process. It’s where churn starts, so it’s important to get onboarding right. You want to make sure your customers stay excited about your product and feel like it will work for them in order to make the necessary changes to incorporate it into their lives.
Customers don’t usually decide to churn in the 90 days before their renewal date (though you may be able to “save” the account then, that’s not exactly customer success… It generally starts during onboarding with thoughts like:
Adoption is change management
The time between on-boarding and the quarter before renewal is not “coasting time”. Just because you showed the customer how to use your product does not mean they will actually use it.
Adoption is where you have a chance to see if things are going the right way or if they are going off the rails. It’s a time to be proactive. If you see signs that they are not using the product as expected, it’s time to gently guide them back on course.
If you want to be an effective change agent (or just be the most effective at managing change), then pay attention to the following:
Change management is a set of strategies and tactics for managing change in a way that minimizes the negative impact and maximizes the positive impact.
Change management can be applied in three areas: strategy, structure and style (also called “people”), process improvement/re-engineering; employee attitudes and behavior toward organizational goals, cultural transformation, job redesign, team building, enterprise flexibility – enabling organizations to adapt quickly enough so they can compete successfully over time with their competitors.
Use data to drive risk and expansion plays
If you’re not using data, you’re just guessing.
Data can feel intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. Think of it as a series of snapshots and look for what certain segments have in common.
What do successful customers have in common? Use that to drive the customer journey.
What does the product usage look like before a company expands? What features are they using? Use that to know when to upsell.
What does usage and customer health look like for those who churn? Take a snapshot every 90 days to compare customer health, depth, and breadth of adoption.
Know when to use Async
Just because you CAN hop on a zoom call with the whole team doesn’t mean you SHOULD. You have to be ruthless at protecting your calendar by leveraging asynchronous communication, because otherwise you will never get anything done. So how do you decide which meetings to attend?
Meetings are for when you and the people you’re meeting with need to do one of the following:
- Have a discussion
- Make a decision
- Bonding time
For weekly team meetings, try adding a section at the bottom for everyone to fill in with “read only updates” and have them input 24 hours before the meeting so that everyone can review them. Then if there are questions that need to be addressed, that can come in the meeting.
Demos can be done via async video so that people can reference them as needed.
And remember, your customers may prefer async too! If you can’t nail them down for a QBR, try a video with just a few slides on key metrics. Both your customers and your CSM’s will thank you for this simpler format.
One further tip with async – put time in your calendar to digest the information coming through various channels, rather than trying to react immediately to every notification.
These hacks are not meant to replace the fundamentals of customer success. Instead, they can add an additional layer of value on top of the basics.
Anyone can learn to build rapport and be a great listener, but it takes time and dedication to grow these skills into something that is truly impactful for your organization.
Hopefully, with this guide, you’ll be able to accelerate some CS leadership best practices while still keeping your sanity!