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But if “doing more with less” means cutting your tech stack off at the knees and overloading your CSMs – your customers will suffer and they will likely leave too. In a market where acquiring new customers is going to be more difficult and take longer, ensuring you keep your current customers (and team!) is paramount to weathering the storm. You have to do more with less in efficient and effective ways, not reactive and fear-based ways.
This is where your process for scaling customer success comes in. Even without this rocky market, we know we can’t continue to hire a new CSM for every 10-20 customers we bring on. We have to find ways to usher in, support, and grow our customer base, without sacrificing customer experience and without a never ending hiring strategy.
Scaling your customer success program effectively and efficiently, allowing your team to support a higher number of customers without burning out, is a difficult task to undertake. But one that returns dividends that are very worthy of the effort.
Before we get into the how of scaling customer success, let’s review the challenges. Because knowledge is power and if you understand the pitfalls, you will build a better and smarter process to scale.
Having the right people, with the right skills, in the right place, at the right time can make or break a company’s success. And this is especially true for your CS team.
Oftentimes, I’ve seen companies treat their CSMs as a ‘catch-all’ role. Responsible for a rotating and ever changing list of demands that seems to grow every week. This leads to your CSMs being stretched way too thin to do anything of quality, burning them out and leaving your customers with a poor experience.
Another mistake I’ve seen teams make is not moving from generalists to specialists as the team grows. When you are just starting out, it makes sense to hire 1-3 people in CS that can do it all. But as you scale your company and customer success program, it is vital to create teams within your CS team that can manage the various functions required to support your customer journey. Teams like – Support, Onboarding, Enablement, Renewals/Upsells, etc. This allows your team to provide focused and top notch customer experience at every step of their lifecycle.
There’s a big difference between what CSMs are supposed to do versus what many of them do in reality.
In an ideal world, your CSM is focused primarily on two things: building strong (and strategic) relationships with your customers and creating revenue opportunities within their book of business (renewals, cross/upsells, expansion, etc.). They should be living in a proactive and impact/outcome driven role.
In reality, CSMs instead are often forced into reactive and fire fighting modes to prevent customer churn and manage instances of negative customer sentiment. When you couple that with the above problem of the CSM being a do-everything role, that leaves essentially zero time for them to create space in the ideal state mentioned above.
In many, many cases, fire drills are caused by poor product fit and/or lack of customer outcomes via your product/service. Your CSMs should be helping your customers’ achieve value above and beyond what they expect, not working around the clock for customers to see a basic level of value.
If you are putting forward a mediocre product and expecting your CSMs to work magic, you aren’t creating a sustainable business.
In order to successfully scale your customer success program, you have to start with a strong and solid foundation. A foundation that includes knowing and understanding your customers as if you are one of them.
Before you can start to scale, you need to make sure you:
I went over these topics in my Churn Prevention Strategies blog but the short version is:
And don’t forget! This is not a one time effort. Best practice calls for us to revisit and reevaluate our ICP, customer cohorts, and life cycle phases quarterly. Things are constantly changing and evolving – learnings from the field, changes in customer goals/pain points, economic changes, etc. It’s important to ensure your strategy is keeping up with these constant changes.
Remember, Customer Success is never a one-size-fits-all program. While I’ll share some tips from my experience, you know your business and customers best so adapt these to fit your unique requirements. There are many different ideas and approaches to scaling your customer success program. This is my take based on over a decade in the enterprise high-touch B2B SaaS business space.
There are 3 primary areas of focus when scaling customer success:
Let’s take a look at some best practices and strategies for each.
Optimizing both internal and external processes is essential to scaling your customer success program. Here are some areas you can work to optimize:
We went over this above but it’s important enough to repeat. Make sure you optimize your customer journey by:
And always revisit the above 3 points and iterate as you learn, grow, and change. Not much in CS is set-it-and-forget-it.
In the early stages of a company, it’s ok to fly by the seat of your pants here. But once you are looking to scale, you have to stop and take the time to document all processes, workflows, and playbooks that are related to your customer journey and engagement.
But don’t just create a bunch of tedious and manual processes that create busy work for your team and little impact to your customers. I cannot stress this point enough. We’ll talk about it more in the technology section but please make sure you are creating simple and repeatable processes for your team that will allow them to scale.
To that end, I suggest trying to keep most process documents to one pagers and customer playbooks to 3-5 tasks max. Remember, the key is allowing your team time and space to be proactive and strategic. Not letting them be bogged down by manual data entry and useless or cumbersome processes. I like to focus my playbooks on outcomes and give my team the autonomy on how to achieve those outcomes. I trust them to know their customer the best.
Another element of the ability to successfully scale your customer success program and team is enablement. Both for your team and for your customer.
As mentioned above, it isn’t sustainable to continue to hire a new CSM for every 10-20 customers you onboard. So we have to get creative as we scale and transition away from 1:1 interactions to activities that support a many:1 model. Things like:
Create collateral, programs, webinars, help libraries, etc. that serve a GROUP of customers and move away from 1:1 as much as possible – save these for strategic sessions and key relationship building – be surgical here. That is where your CSM should be spending most of their time.
Make it super easy for your team to be successful. Afterall, in the last section, we covered the importance of documenting processes and creating workflows and playbooks for your team to guide their customer engagements.
The key is keeping this all simple and repeatable, with minimal manual input required from your team. The minute they are overloaded with tasks and to-dos is the minute they are doing too much without providing significant impact.
That is definitely a silent killer of CS teams – so make sure you aren’t falling into the trap!
One of the biggest paths to successfully scaling customer success is creating efficiencies through the use of technology.
We’re lucky enough to live in a time when advances in NLP, AI, and machine learning are making WAVES in business. And Customer Success teams are just starting to understand how massively AI will change the game. And, no, I don’t mean change the game by replacing you with a robot. Come on! You’re too special for that!
I mean changing the game by giving us the freedom of time and visibility unlike we’ve ever had before.
AI can help us:
Automate mundane and repeatable tasks everywhere possible. Get feedback from your team on what activities they are doing regularly that take up time and effort but provide little impact to customer outcomes. This is your new short list of actions to sort out how to automate.
Automation doesn’t mean removing the human interaction, it means freeing up the humans on your team to have more time to interact directly with customers. Again, more time building relationships and finding revenue opportunities, less time on everything else.
If you’ve stuck with me this long, you’ll recall in the beginning of this article, I mentioned that CSMs are oftentimes filling product gaps versus playing strategic/relationships building roles. If you find your team in that situation, it’s time to have a conversation with your product and leadership teams around current product gaps/challenges and creating a roadmap to reduce customer friction and increase their ability to achieve the outcomes they want.
A big piece of this goes back to ensuring you know your customer. As my fave, Adam Lambert, would say “better than I know myself”. If you are in tune with your customer’s pain points, challenges, goals/outcomes, KPIs and metrics, you can position your company and your product to become the lynchpin in reducing those pains and accomplishing those outcomes.
Talk to your customer often about their business, changing/evolving goals, and their feedback on how you could improve your product for them. Share those insights with both your leadership and product teams and ensure that you work internally to close those loops. If your customers see you putting in the work and effort to help them, it will go a long way in creating a sense of loyalty.
Simply put, if you are in the position now of needing to scale your CS team and program, you are growing and that’s a good thing! As with all things, growth comes with growing pains and challenges but once you get to the other side, you’ll be better for it.
So, as you work to scale your CS program this year, a year of bootstrapping and doing more with less, don’t forget to optimize your customer experience, enable your customer and team for success, and adopt new technologies that will change the game as we move into Customer Success 2.0.
I look forward to seeing you there.