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Oct 14, 2022

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Five lessons in communication from ChurnZero’s big a$$ book shift

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Sooner or later, if you’re in Customer Success at a growing SaaS company, you’ll need to undergo a book shift.

A book shift is where you take all of the accounts your CS organization is responsible for, and reassign them to new CSMs. You might move accounts based on contract value, or employee count, or the arrival of specialized CS professionals on your team.

Book shifts often happen naturally between seed and series A, when you move from growth to scale, and again when you get ready to IPO. While every company is different, the SaaS business lifecycle follows a pattern.

ChurnZero’s CX team recently effected a book shift—a big a$$ book shift, as we named it—to split our team into segments based on customer size and engagement model. The benefits to our team and our customers would be huge—but the project’s success would depend on how well we communicated them.

This week, at BIG RYG 2022, ChurnZero’s Alli Tiscornia, Kaylin Law, Naomi Aiken and Bree Pecci shared the lessons of our big a$$ book shift to help other CS leaders find their way. One aspect that stood out: the importance of communication. Here are five takeaways we jotted down.

1. Know and document your “why”

“ChurnZero’s CX team really wanted to optimize for focus and efficiency,” said Alli. “The way our organization was set up was typical for our SaaS lifecycle stage, optimized for product edition and contract value. Over time, this meant that our CSMs had books of business that included SMB, mid-market and enterprise accounts.”

Because every organization is different, your “why” might be around customer experience, or scale, or growth. Regardless, given the size and complexity of planning, then explaining your book shift to internal stakeholders and customers, your first step is to define your why as succinctly as in the slide below.

2. Make sure your team knows what’s in it for them  

Your employees will want to know how a book shift is going to make a difference, because it’s a lot of work for them. You need to appeal to your team on how it benefits them, and how it’s going to benefit their customers.

Break the benefits down for different groups. For CSMs, it could mean a more balanced book of business and increased clarity. For support people, efficient ticket routing and a better customer experience might be the main sells.

Anticipate the questions that your team will have, including “people issues” like team hierarchy and compensation changes. If you’re planning to build a more hierarchical model, for example, CSMs might ask whether their titles will change.

It’s crucial to be proactive in communicating the details to your team. As part of the process, we held an Ask Me Anything session for CSMs.

“We put every single question we received in the deck, and everything was answered,” said Bree. “We still have that internal document to this day so that CSMs can go and reference it. This was absolutely a critical step: I don’t think we could have moved forward with as much cooperation from our CSMs without taking the time to make sure.”

3. Be transparent with customers about upcoming changes

A book shift typically involves change for your customers, too. ChurnZero’s team took the upfront approach of giving customers an early heads-up via email, even before the details for each account were finalized.

“It felt important to be as transparent as I could that changes were coming,” said Alli. “While I didn’t have all the details on whether customers’ CSMs would be changing, and how they’d be impacted specifically, it was right to let them know that something was coming. If they saw a shift in their service level as we went through our book shift, they would understand why.”

As a CS platform and partner, the ChurnZero team had the benefit of their customers being CS professionals who understand the how and why of a book shift. If your own customers are less receptive to the idea, be extra-thoughtful about your message to them—and be realistic. Expect conversations with customers who don’t appreciate the idea of their CSM being taken away from them, or transitioning to more of tech-touch model, and be prepared to walk it through and help them understand the vision.

4. Assign a project manager with great communication skills

A book shift is complex and requires so much work that it becomes hard for everybody to hold themselves accountable for all of the moving parts. You need somebody—whether they’re officially a PMP or not—to be your project manager.

As well as understanding the project in its entirety, and holding your team accountable to their deadlines, your project manager needs to be a nexus of communication for everything from quick questions to status updates for all stakeholders. The team used ChurnZero’s own journeys and in-app checklists to communicate milestones and tasks, and foster responsibility among CSMs.

Maintaining an executive summary from a project management perspective is really important, said Kaylin, ChurnZero’s manager of professional services and project manager for the book shift.

“You need to be able to explain how decisions got made,” said Kaylin. “Alli could take it into her executive meetings and show them what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, the methodologies that we’re adopting. It’s not just for execs—I took it to an implementation team meeting, for example. It gives everyone the same information and it’s repeatable.”

5. Hold a transition kickoff day for your CSMs

Once ChurnZero’s team knew that everyone was on board internally and externally, and once our preparation and training was complete, we held a transition day for our CSMs. No customer meetings; no calls; the day was solely to focus on the transition ahead.

“I was a little skeptical of the team coming to me and pitching an entire day with no customer meetings whatsoever,” said Alli. “But they made the case that with so much information to go through, and the fact that some CSMs were getting new managers, so we allocated the whole day.”

“It was one of the most valuable pieces of our entire rollout process,” Alli added. “The team was 100 percent right: It gave the CSMs a level of comfort, and showed that we respected them for their time and effort.”

 Did you miss BIG RYG 2022? 

Stay tuned for more highlights and session recaps on the ChurnZero blog in the coming weeks. To find a RYG meetup near you or explore our webinar series, visit our Events page.

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