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Customer Success

How to Build a Customer Success Team in an Established Company

Your business is growing – that’s great! But now your teams are bogged down with customer service, and your churn rate is increasing because you haven’t got a dedicated Customer Success team. Don’t despair; you can build a CS team in an already established company if you can get alignment and show value. These questions will help you figure out how.

Why do you need a Customer Success team?

It is easy to say, “we need customer success,” but it’s crucial to articulate your goals for starting a team devoted to it. Some common reasons for investing in CS include: shortening onboarding time, growing existing accounts, gaining stickiness or engagement, and minimizing churn. Knowing the organizational ethos will help you build and structure a team that can tackle your company’s key challenges.

For example, if you want to improve onboarding, your CS focus may be defining time to value during the first 90 days. If the focus is on minimizing churn, you may want to engage around milestones and plan for renewal discussions.

Questions to consider:

  • What are your goals for a Customer Success program?
  • What gaps are you looking to fill?
  • What outcomes are critical to success?

Where does your team come from?

Building a Customer Success team in an established company typically means recruiting from an existing team – often sales, support, or technical teams. The people who have been doing a ‘customer success lite’ must be able to transition their work to your team, which takes buy-in. Clearly define roles and responsibilities with tools like RACI or swimlanes. This is critical to outline what tasks the Customer Success team will take from other teams and make it clear which team owns which tasks moving forward.

This change may not always be welcomed because it could impact compensation plans, existing roles and responsibilities, and areas of expertise. That’s why it’s important to align with revenue and client services leadership to ensure consistent messaging, set expectations, and manage accountability. As the Customer Success leader, you must establish communication channels and feedback loops to ensure this friction is minimized to drive your company forward.

Questions to consider:

  • What work will be handled by the new CS team, and how is it handled now?
  • How can you explain the team’s purpose in a way that encourages buy-in from other departments?
  • What will other teams be able to do when this work is handled by your team instead?

How will you tier your customers?

Now you have budget and support; you must determine how you will interact with your customers. Your sales team may have a way to organize potential customers, but that doesn’t mean it makes sense for the post-sales structure of your Customer Service Managers (CSMs). You need to evaluate the best support and interaction model for your business. You may have heard of approaches like “high touch” or “tech touch,” but each model requires definition and structure. By pooling customers by attributes, you can outline each tier’s customer journey and identify milestones to drive customer interaction and activity.

For example, suppose customers who initially bill $5-10k per year don’t tend to grow but take a lot of support time. In that case, you may consider implementing a tech touch model that provides proactive feature tips, webinars, and an active community forum. These tactics would facilitate a customer-to-CSM ratio of 50:1, compared with 20:1 for high-touch models.

Questions to consider:

  • What attributes group customers within each tier? For example, do you structure by company size, outcome focus, products purchased, customer journey stage, actual spend, or potential spend? Tiering is important, but you probably don’t need more than three tiers to start.
  • What are your customer milestones for each tier? How will you track them?
  • Where are the opportunities to create templates or automation for activities are similar across a customer base?

How do your customers want to interact?

We must keep in mind that most customers are balancing multiple responsibilities, so it’s important to understand how critical your product is to your customer. While we all want to think we are critical, other projects and initiatives can take priority. By understanding how your customers want to engage, you can create impactful customer journeys and associated guidelines or templates to support them.

Questions to consider:

  • How responsive are your customers? Do they operate independently or engage via different forums?
  • What channels do your customers respond best to? i.e., Slack, email, a virtual meeting, an in-person meeting, etc.
  • Does achieving milestones require specific interactions?

How do you organize customer handoffs?

This is arguably one of the hardest parts of creating a Customer Success team in an existing company. Asking for documentation can feel like pulling teeth from sales and onboarding teams. To be successful, you will need buy-in from all relevant teams and have a way to hold them accountable. To increase adoption, use the systems that teams already know.

Questions to consider:

  • Can you establish a handoff template? (Bonus points if this is in your customer relationship management tool to maintain a customer record!)
  • Can you create a process for kickoff with the customer once the CSM gets involved? This allows you to set customer expectations, validate goals, and create a framework for working together moving forward.

How do you receive customer feedback?

To best support your customers, you need feedback. Typically, feedback is sought in the form of customer satisfaction (CSAT) or Net Promoter Scores. These allow customers to provide feedback on a specific interaction or the company overall. While your Customer Success team should be able to build strong enough relationships to gather this direct feedback, surveys may be the best source of feedback for tech touch customers, and when your CS program is new.

Questions to consider:

  • Are you getting representative feedback with your existing outreach?
  • Does your current outreach (via email, in-app, chat window) provide the opportunity to gather feedback?
  • What process do you have in place to close the loop on the feedback you received?
  • How do you encourage existing customers to become advocates?

How do you structure compensation?

Compensation drives activity and focus. By focusing on why your CS team exists, you can land on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) critical to measure and govern compensation.

For example, if your team is focused on growing customer revenue, you may consider an annual revenue growth number. If you are focused on onboarding, you may measure the average days to full product usage or value realization.

Questions to consider:

  • What KPIs can be measured and evaluated? Is this via metrics (for example, percentage to attainment) or goal-oriented by quarter?
  • What other teams’ compensation may need a review to enable the CS team?
  • What percentage of base and salary compensation drives the improvement you need?
  • How do you showcase progress while encouraging a collaborative environment?

What metrics do you need?

Metrics are critical in telling your story internally – to share your team’s impact and advocate for budget and staff. Don’t wait until you have fancy tools set up. Start with what you can measure and evolve the metrics that you track as you start to understand leading and lagging indicators for your business. Write playbooks as you create processes. Even getting initial metrics down in a Google Doc or wiki page will allow you to measure and iterate. Once things are more settled, investing in tooling makes more sense.

Questions to consider:

  • What metrics help prove the value of investment into the CS team?
  • How can you share your customer’s health with the executive team?
  • How do you share wins from the team?

Starting a Customer Success team is exciting, though it can also be confusing and frustrating. By thinking through the topics above, you can craft a team and process structure to enable your group to excel both internally and externally.

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