As a company grows, so does its customer success organization. In order to maintain high levels of customer satisfaction, it’s important that you create a customer success plan for scale -- before your customer success needs scale.

Because the long-term solution to solving your customers' problems isn't by simply hiring more customer support reps -- it's building a sustainable customer success plan as a foundation for your team to scale up from.

There are five areas a customer success leader must think about when developing a customer success plan for a scaling company: process, hiring, management, metrics, and training. We'll dive into each in the blog post -- so read on.

How to Create a Customer Success Plan for Scale

1) Process

Why Process Is Critical

As a business scales, you cannot rely on people sitting in the same room and ‘winging it’.

Process is particularly important when it comes to customer success compared to other job functions. Why? Because customer success is a real-time job function. While one engineer might be able to schedule time on the calendar to ask another engineer a question about the code base, a customer success rep on the phone with a customer does not have that luxury.

Additionally, process ensures a consistent customer experience. In the scaling stages of a company, customer success teams help fill in gaps in the product. And if customers perceive that this gap isn’t able to be resolved, they will churn and never come back.

When to Put Process Into Place

The ideal time to start process into place is around the fifth-hire mark. At the absolute latest, most processes should be defined by the time the team is about 10 people, or you’ll have a disaster on your hands.

Most of process starts with documentation. To create your first processes, ask the first customer service reps to block off time in their day to begin documenting their processes, starting with the most common scenarios. (Flowcharts can be extremely helpful here.)

Don’t worry too much about getting every process documented, but you should have at least 80% of them documented in order to scale your team. The remainder of the outlier can be handled by the most senior reps, who by doing so, will be able to later put those processes into place.

2) Hiring

One of the most important processes you must create as you’re ready to scale is hiring. Most customer success organizations do not put nearly enough emphasis on hiring front-line reps. Plan on investing a lot of time in hiring -- because if you hire the right people, everything becomes easier.

When hiring for a customer success team, you need to define your criteria for a top-tier candidate. Fortunately, most skills required for customer success can be taught, but the following cannot:

  1. Drive: Customer success managers must be hungry, ready to learn, and eager to jump in. The best CSMs really want to prove themselves. They must be driven, but not entitled. They want to rise in the rankings, and know they have to earn it.
  2. Coachability: CSMs must be eager to learn, but cannot be defensive if you give criticism. The best pick things up very quickly.
  3. Positivity: This is the most overlooked thing. A negative person can kill a team, by talking poorly about customers or other employees. Every new hire must be a positive person.
  4. Empathy: If you're going to put someone on the phone with a customer, they need to understand where the customer is coming from. Empathy must be genuine. It's easy for a customer to sense when a CSM simply doesn’t care.

Here are some tips on how to screen for these must have character traits.

  1. Drive: A driven candidate will ask you lots of questions in the interview that show their hunger. Questions such as "What does success look like for the team?" and "What metrics is the team working on improving?" are signs of a driven candidate. Keep in mind, there’s a difference between being driven and entitled. Candidates who ask questions along the lines of "How do I get promoted?" fall in the latter category.
  2. Coachability: To get a sense of how coachable a candidate is, ask them about a time they failed and what they did to fix it. A coachable candidate will respond honestly, will not skate around the question, and will probably talk about how their manager helped them get back on track. Avoid candidates that blame other people for their failures.
  3. Positivity: Positivity can be hidden by a well-prepared interview candidate. A great question is "Tell me about your worst boss," or "What are your pet peeves in the workplace?" An optimistic candidate gives an honest answer in a positive way. They’ll never attack other people, and will position their dissatisfaction as a difference in personal preferences or opinion. Trash talking and venting is a red flag here.
  4. Empathy: Ask a candidate how to calm an angry customer. That tells you everything you need to know. Looking for someone who says they're listening, trying to find the pain point and fix the problem. That they understand where the customer comes from. Extra points when they really give the customer the benefit of the doubt. Someone who shows lack of respect for customers is a bad fit.

3) Management

As your customer success organization grows, you will need to have layers of management. One person must own the organization, and as the organization grows, you’ll also need layers of middle management.

The head of the organization is responsible for overall strategy, defining initiatives, metrics, and helping their direct reports be better managers. The middle layers of management are typically responsible for making sure the front-line reps are serving customers as best as possible. Ideally, a middle manager has between four and 10 direct reports.

Managers should have at least a year of experience in customer success, and ideally some experience managing if you’re hiring them externally. They should not only embody all the traits of a front-line CSM, but should be able to screen for them as well. They should know the processes in and out. Managers should be willing to hop on calls as needed from time to time to maintain empathy with their team and keep a pulse on the customers.

One common mistake is to promote an individual internally just because a spot is open. Never promote internally unless the individual contributor is ready. The best way to figure out if an individual contributor is ready is to have them acting in a stretch role, taking on some of the responsibilities of the manager, but not actually getting the promotion until they prove they can perform at that level.

4) Data and Metrics

As a customer success team scales, data becomes more important.

While most customer success platforms have built-in metrics, it’s common that you’ll need to link different data sources together. Therefore, a customer success team will need to enlist the help of engineering or business intelligence when it comes to getting the infrastructure setup.

Customer success teams need two types of metrics: customer satisfaction and productivity.

  1. Customer satisfaction metrics ensure that the team is doing its core job of helping customers succeed. Common customer satisfaction metrics include Service Level, First Contact Resolution (FCR), CSAT, Net Promoter Score® (NPS), and customer retention.
  2. Productivity metrics ensure that the team is doing its job in an efficient manner. Examples include tickets per hour or ticket time per rep per week.

The head of customer success should be tracking most metrics, but working on optimizing for one customer satisfaction metric and one productivity metric.

It’s important to look at the metrics on the company, manager, and front-line rep levels. Over time, you’ll get a sense of what benchmarks should be. Also, pay attention to anomalies. If one rep consistently outperforms on one of these metrics, identify what he or she is doing differently and work to coach other reps to do the same.

5) Training and Personal Development

Most customer success organizations underinvest in training and personal development. This is a big mistake.

Training starts with onboarding. The initial training process should cover all of the processes that the individual rep will be responsible for. Once a rep has a sense of them, the rep should do a ride along for a couple days to see how top-performers solve different cases.

An overlooked part of training is showing how customer success fits into the bigger picture. If a rep is simply following a flow chart without understanding how important their function is, they will inevitably lose motivation. One of the things we found effective at LawnStarter is demonstrating how increasing user retention even a little bit can have large implications for the overall business.

Another common mistake is treating training as a "one and done" type of thing. Training should be ongoing for two very important reasons. For starters, it will make your customers happier. Almost as importantly, ongoing training helps team members develop as individuals, keeping them happier and more engaged.

Do you have any other must-have suggestions for building and scaling a customer success plan? Share your thoughts with me on Twitter.

Net Promoter, Net Promoter System, Net Promoter Score, NPS and the NPS-related emoticons are registered trademarks of Bain & Company, Inc., Fred Reichheld and Satmetrix Systems, Inc.

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Originally published Nov 14, 2017 8:00:00 AM, updated April 13 2018


Customer Success