As the customer success function has matured, it's become better understood and documented. Nowadays, if you want to build a high-performing customer success team, there are well-proven tools, playbooks, and processes you can use to dramatically increase your odds of success. And today, any organization can hire a few CSMs and at least have a decent idea of how to get them started with combating churn or growing customer accounts.
But while it's easier than ever to launch a customer success team, the logical next step is growing that team. That's where things get a little more difficult.
How can you build and run an effective customer success team at scale? What happens when you have 10, 20, or even 100 CSMs all working together to increase revenue from existing customer accounts? You probably have high-caliber sales and marketing teams doing well at scale -- can you get your customer success function to the same place?
What is customer success operations (and why is it important)?
The chief responsibility of customer success operations (or CS Ops) is to make the other members of your customer success function -- your customer success managers and any related roles -- more effective.
Consider your sales team for a moment.
Most established sales organizations have a sales operations person (or team). That team works to enable and equip the sales team so they function more effectively. They free up your frontline salespeople to focus on selling, and they help you figure out what's working (and not working) so that you can replicate and build upon your successes. Similarly, a customer success operations manager or team will equip and empower your CSMs to do their jobs more effectively.
Here's another way to think about it: Your whole customer success function is like a Formula One racing team. Your CSMs are the wicked fast Ferrari you're racing. They're the face of your brand and the key point person for existing customers. They're what everyone sees first. Your CS Ops team is like the team of mechanics and techs that build, maintain, and improve your car. Your customers may not even know CS Ops exists, but without them, your CSMs would have a significantly harder time achieving their goals.
What does customer success operations actually do?
We've just described customer success operations at a really high level, but let's examine what a CS Ops team actually does day-to-day. Within the overarching goal of making your customer success function more effective, CS Ops typically handles a few primary areas of responsibility:
- Tool and process management
- Capturing, analyzing, and actioning data
- Planning and forecasting
Tool and process management
Every thriving customer success team uses a combination of different tools to serve customers. As you scale up, your current tool stack will need to evolve and grow to support your team's changing needs.
Your CS operations team should assume responsibility for managing your current tool stack and evolving your tool stack as you grow. This requires an in-depth understanding of how your frontline team uses each tool, as well as a broader business understanding of what you're trying to achieve and what other resources could help you achieve your goals.
An effective CS Ops manager will listen closely to the needs of your customers, your CSMs, and your organization. They'll use their understanding to find and create efficiencies through developing your tool stack and processes with care.
Capturing, analyzing, and actioning data
Data is the engine that powers great customer success, and you've probably got a wealth of it. Usage data, renewal data, revenue data, survey responses...the list goes on and on. Every customer touchpoint creates data that might help you unlock how to help that customer be successful.
If you're like many customer success teams, you'd probably love to get more value out of that data, but you've found it difficult to figure out how.
A dedicated customer success operations team can be your answer. Customer success operations managers should assume responsibility for analyzing and making recommendations based on your existing data. They can also help you capture additional data to paint a fuller picture of your customers' needs and goals.
Here are a few examples of what this might look like:
- Analyzing NPS survey data to understand customer wins and pain points
- Building, sending and iterating on customer marketing emails based on open and click-through rates
- Creating reports with product usage data to enable your CSMs to easily understand opportunities for current customers
There's really no hard limit on how a CS Ops team can use data to improve your customer success team and customer experience. All it takes is some analytics experience and a little creativity.
Planning and forecasting
Customer success operations live in the tension between what your success team needs now and what your success team will need in the future. As such, in addition to the above responsibilities, they'll typically work closely with your leadership team to forecast and plan for future growth.
When it comes to CS Ops, planning and forecasting can cover a number of different areas. Chief among these are forecasting renewals, churn, and revenue growth. Your customer success team is responsible for retaining and expanding existing accounts, so of course, you'll want to know how they're doing and where you need to focus your attention to drive improvements.
Customer success operations can also help you to forecast staffing and team growth. For example, if you're planning to close 500 new accounts this quarter, then CS Ops can use existing data to estimate how many new team members you'll need to support these accounts, along with corresponding budget increases (for tools, licenses, etc.).
It's important to note that in a CS Ops manager's typical week or month, these three buckets -- managing tools and processes, leveraging data, and forecasting -- frequently overlap. Let's look at an example scenario to illustrate this.
Imagine you want to better understand your renewal and expansion forecast for the next six months:
- Your CS Ops manager could start by pulling data from your CRM or customer success platform to show who is up for renewal during that period.
- After analyzing the baseline renewal forecast data, they're able to identify the top 20% of customers who are unlikely to renew and the revenue at stake.
- Combining this data with product usage and recent survey data, they uncover the top three opportunities for each at-risk customer.
- They share this data with your CSM and management team, and together everyone comes up with plans to target those opportunities over the next six months.
- As time progresses, your CS Ops team pays close attention to understand which efforts are successful and which are not. As this becomes clear, they update your CSM playbooks to standardize the successful approaches and include them in your standard renewal process.
This example illustrates the incredible potential and the difficulty of running an effective CS operations team. Executing this scenario will require a combination of skills, including data analysis, communication, project management, and collaboration. It's also not a ‘one-and-done' project -- it requires an ongoing and sustained investment over time. However, done well, efforts like this will drive continuous improvements in efficiency and in core business goals like retention and revenue growth.
Do you need a CS Ops manager?
Let's say you've seen the light. You understand how powerful a great customer success operations team can be. It's time to get a bit more personal now: How can you know if you need a customer success operations manager for your organization?
Fortunately, there are a few easy-to-assess indicators that can help you answer this question:
- Are your CSMs and/or management team struggling to keep up with the day-to-day needs of serving your customers? Customer success operations responsibilities are often initially handled by frontline CSMs or their managers. And while that works well in early-stage customer success teams, it's difficult to sustain as your customer base grows. If your CSMs and managers are having a hard time balancing the needs of customers with more operational tasks, it's probably a good time to start building a CS Ops team.
- Are you wondering if your customer success team could be operating more efficiently? If you're unable to get clarity on where the opportunities lie, how many CSMs you need to support your customers, or how to scale up effectively, then CS Ops can probably help you.
- Are your CSMs doing a lot of manual tasks or using tools that aren't working well for them? It's easy to let your CSMs get stuck doing time-consuming manual work or using tools that aren't tailored to their workflows. If you're looking to free them up to do more impactful work at scale, then CS Ops is probably something you should invest in.
Using Customer Success Operations for Your Service Organization
Customer success operations is a relatively new function, but it's building off the success of dedicated operational teams for functions like sales and marketing. The CS Ops team is a critical piece of scaling and managing your customer success team and activities.
Investing in customer success operations will catalyze your entire customer success team, making them more efficient and effective. You'll reap the benefits in scalability, better-informed decisions, improved retention and expansion rates, and more.