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Customer Success operations 101: Drive productivity with purpose, people, and process
This is a guest post by Jason Conrad, advisory board member of Customer Imperative.
Today, you’d be hard-pressed to find a high-velocity Sales, Marketing, or Product team without a designated operations function. Beloved by their tactical peers, operations brings needed discipline and reason to fast-paced, outcome-driven teams. They focus on how to get things done more efficiently and effectively.
Following the trajectory of these more established functions, the next natural progression in Customer Success’ evolution is specialization. As your Customer Success team matures, and your need to scale and automate grows, having your own designated operations function becomes essential to maintain high performance.
CS operations 101: Why you need operations to scale
When your strategy, organization, and execution suffer, so too does your productivity and scalability.
Productivity looks at your output relative to your input. “As employees, we want to do more in a shorter amount of time. When we represent our organizations, we want to generate more revenue with fewer resources,” explains Smartsheet in their article on calculating productivity.
To find out if you’re prioritizing Customer Success productivity, let’s look at these common questions and answers.
Who administers your customer systems (such as your Customer Success platform, CRM, or support desk)?
If you replied, “Sales Ops or Marketing Ops,” you’re not prioritizing the customer, because post-sale customer needs will always come second to generating leads and sales team efficiency.
If you replied, “Customer Success Director or above,” you’re not prioritizing your team by spending valuable leadership time on administration when it should be used to build your team’s strategy and remove obstacles in their way.
Who ensures the renewal process happens for all your accounts?
Again, if you replied, “Customer Success Director or above,” you’re not getting the most value from leadership.
But more often (and worrisome), we find that teams don’t follow consistent renewal processes. They reactively respond to raised events or close their eyes and wait to see what happens with auto-renew clients. This is a lose-lose situation for all involved.
“If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will,” writes Greg McKewon in his book Essentialism.
Aspire Business Development breaks down McKewon’s point: “When you’re not focused, strategic, and accountable for how you spend your time and efforts, the end result is going to be lots of wasted effort, false progress, frustration, and reduced success.”
If you don’t prioritize your team’s productivity and efficiency, you won’t ever achieve more with less (and here are three reasons it’s time to invest).
What is CS operations?
Customer Success operations (or CS ops) comprises five main areas of roles and responsibilities:
- Data: renewal forecasting, account health, NPS®, adoption
- Process: renewal playbooks, proactive touchpoints, cross-functional coordination
- People: goals, targets, performance, workforce/team planning
- Systems: CSM tool management and implementation, CRM ownership of customer elements
- Strategic initiatives: product, customer experience, marketing, engagement initiatives
Customer Success leaders and managers are busy gaining, retaining, and growing customers. Without the focus, initiative, and care of a dedicated owner, these operational areas of Customer Success cannot mature.
What does a mature Customer Success organization look like?
It depends on your go-to-market (GTM) strategy and your product complexity, but there are generally four functional groups: Professional Services (also referred to as onboarding), Customer Care, Customer Success Management, and Customer Success operations.
As its own function, CS Ops can advance strategy initiatives around the customer experience as well as manage renewal forecasts, data analytic systems, and process implementation.
When should I add CS Operations?
SaaS businesses typically begin to invest in Customer Success operations when they reach around $10 million in revenue. This is when Customer Success begins to shift from generalist to specialist roles and develop repeatable processes in each area.
More generally speaking, operations becomes viably and financially beneficial when adding a role focused on process, procedures, and automation/playbooks more than pays for itself.
So, let’s say you have a five-person Customer Success team. If adding a Customer Success operations role can make each Customer Success manager 20% more efficient, it’s a profitable investment.
You can apply the same math based on a team of 4, 10, or +20 Customer Success managers.
But you don’t have to let securing a new resource hold you back from getting underway.
Oracle’s GVP of Customer Success & Renewals Catherine Blackmore shares best practices from their Senior Director of Customer Success Operations Mitchell Flinn in her article The Operations of Customer Success. Blackmore writes, “[P]roviding folks on your Customer Success team with stretch assignments for various ops projects is a great way to get started. [Mitchell] recommended that you take a look at folks who care the most about the systems and tools you use, or the individual who is the most operations-oriented on your team.”
What processes and metrics does CS Operations build?
One of CS Ops main responsibilities is building repeatable processes for:
Customer Success operations also sets performance metrics for these processes to measure their effectiveness and guide their continual improvement. At a minimum, they should track performance metrics across four key areas: revenue, product, customer feedback, and customer experience. The table below provides metric examples for each area, but you do not have to focus on them all. Track the metrics that are most important to your goals.
Here are a few general use cases for how CS Ops uses these metrics:
- Revenue metrics: Customer Success operations builds a revenue forecast to show upcoming renewal and at-risk revenue. As a Customer Success leader, you should be able to walk into a board meeting with a crisp slide on what quarterly revenue is up for renewal and at-risk, and why, by category.
- Product metrics: Customer Success operations—with collaborative help from your chief product officer and product managers—gives Customer Success managers product usage and adoption data to make informed, data-backed decisions.
- Customer feedback metrics: Customer Success operations analyzes customer satisfaction survey (such as NPS, CSAT, and CES) findings to inform leadership on areas of opportunity for development.
- Customer experience metrics: Customer Success operations monitors service quality and productivity as it relates to overall operational efficiency.
What’s the ideal job profile for Customer Success operations?
The exact background, skills, and traits needed for a Customer Success operations role will vary based on your product and market, but here are some common recommendations:
- Strong reporting and analytical skills
- 3–5 years of experience in an operations role with a focus on Customer Success or similar function for a SaaS business*
- Strong Excel and Salesforce skills
- Data analytics, business intelligence, and reporting skills
*A candidate does not need a background in Customer Success. As a growing discipline, this exact experience will be harder to find. Experience in roles such as operations or revenue operations is suitable. The discipline is less important; you just want to ensure they understand (and enjoy) operational processes and efficiency.
- Strong analytical, organizational, and problem-solving skills
- Desire to understand process from beginning to end
- Tendency to deep dive into trends and anomalies (an individual who has a level of professional skepticism about data and pursues the meaning/causation behind results)
- Teamwork; strong communication skills and cross-functional collaboration*
- Excellent organizational skills and time management
*When building your customer strategy, you need to involve your customer and other internal teams. Relying solely on your Customer Success team will skew and narrow your perspective and feedback. The individual needs to influence without authority to drive stakeholder support and action.
Customer Success operations managers typically have a median base salary range of $60,000 to $80,000, plus an incentive bonus. You should highly consider basing the incentive bonus on revenue—whether that’s gross revenue retention or net revenue—to help drive operational efficiency and customer experience initiatives.
Customer Success operations directors typically have a median salary of $120,000 to $200,000 on-target earnings (OTE). This individual should have 5 to 10 years’ prior experience in this role.
Compensation ranges vary by geographic location, organizational needs, scope of the role, go-to-market strategy, and selling motion.
Increase the value of Customer Success with operations
Customer Success leadership should be focused on leading their team and strategy. Customer Success managers should be focused on managing their customers. Neither should be bogged down by processes and data systems. And relying on prospect-focused sales and marketing operations teams to supplement an operational role will always put the customer second.
We know that SaaS businesses increase retention and revenue when they adopt a customer-first approach. As your business and Customer Success team continue to expand, so will the dynamic nature of your daily operations. You’ll have more customers with more needs and more data. Hiring to meet this demand is not sustainable. Instead you’ll need to optimize your processes to reduce inefficiencies and costs through CS ops —your fuel for productivity, scalability, and long-term business value.
To learn more about how Customer Success operations drives transformative change to internal processes, watch this webinar presented by Jason Conrad.
Jason Conrad is a senior product leader at Ultimate Software and is responsible for the creation and execution of the product strategy for Ultimate’s next generation HR offering and the mobile app used by millions of workers globally. Jason is also an advisory board member of Customer Imperative, a Customer Success strategy, operations, and lifecycle management company and creator of GainGrowRetain.com, an open, free community for Customer Success leaders.