Apr 10, 2020

Read Time 5 min

How to Nail Implementation and Customer Success Handoffs


As a deadline-driven team, Implementation fiercely adheres to project start and completion dates (for their sake and the customer’s). To balance their perpetual project intake, they’re eager to offload projects once completed so they can move on to the next. But issues arise when project handoffs occur at a less-than-ideal time for the next in the line of customer succession.

With a prescriptive approach and coordinated effort, seamless transitions can become a reality.

During customer onboarding, two main handoffs occur: the Sales-to-Customer-Success handoff and the Implementation-to-Customer-Success handoff. In this article, we’re going to focus on the latter and how to nail it.

Note: Some organizations may refer to their Implementation team as “Onboarding” (i.e. Client Onboarding Specialist or Manager). We’ll refer to this function/role as “Implementation” in this article.

That’s a fumble.

First, let’s set the stage with a shift in semantics.

Originating from sports terminology, a “handoff”’ means to directly hand to a nearby player. A handoff’s biggest risk is the chance of fumbling the ball (or in our case, the customer experience).

In a corporate context, the term implies a degree of passivity and desertion.

“I’m handing off this customer, now it’s your job to go and run with it. Godspeed.”

It doesn’t signify a bi-directional exchange, or what we like to call a “knowledge transfer.”

So, from here on out, we’ll use this more positive term instead.

Understand team roles and work styles

Before you plan your customer-facing transition strategy, you need to clearly distinguish team roles. Implementation and Customer Success typically operate under different organizational structures, although they may report to the same executive leader or belong to the same broader function. Implementation is a project-based team and rolls off customer accounts once the implementation phase is completed. Unlike Customer Success, their relationship with the customer is finite and bound by a project deadline. Customer Success uses an account-based model where the customer relationship continues throughout their lifetime.

Working under these different organizational structures often necessitates different workflow styles. According to Fast Company, there are four basic types of workflow styles:

  • Logical, analytical, linear, and data-oriented
  • Organized, sequential, planned, and detailed-oriented
  • Supportive, expressive, and emotionally oriented
  • Big-picture, integrative, and ideation-oriented

As an autonomous, results-driven function, Implementation focuses on project efficiencies and productivity. Their work style is more likely to fall within the first two bullets and be described as analytical, linear, sequential, and planned. And although Customer Success is equally as focused on delivering outcomes, they prioritize long-term relationship building over agile management. Their work style may skew towards the last two bullets and be described as supportive, emotionally-oriented, big-picture, and integrative.

To create a more cohesive and supportive transition process, recognize and understand how these key traits complement and strengthen one another as well as where they may cause friction.

Involve Customer Success early

The knowledge transfer between Implementation and Customer Success happens during a pivotal point in the customer relationship. Your sales process ignited customer momentum, excitement, and trust, and now the onboarding phase needs to stoke that fire and fan its flame

Both Implementation and Customer Success should be included on the customer welcome call. Together, they’ll make introductions, walk through the onboarding process, and begin capturing requirements for technical implementation. This will set the precedent of active and consistent Customer Success support throughout the customer’s lifetime. Also, if it’s not a video call, be sure to include a slide in the presentation with a picture of the Implementation and Customer Success point of contact so the customer can put faces to names.

After the welcome call, Customer Success will likely bow out until it’s time for their return to take over as the customer’s main liaison once implementation is completed. But during this critical time, a lot happens. Many moving technical pieces need to come into place to set the customer up for success. And though Sales (hopefully) gave Implementation some indication, they find out what it’s truly like to work with the customer and their team firsthand. Documenting these details makes all the difference down the line when, not if, your recall begins to fade.

Capture effective notes

At any stage in their journey, your customer should feel confident that their varied points of contact (whether it’s Sales, Implementation, Customer Success, or Support) are synced with one another. Accidental or not, exposing information gaps to the customer signals incompetence, laziness, and perhaps worst, indifference.

That’s why it’s vital that Implementation thoroughly documents their projects throughout this process to share with Customer Success. At a minimum, we suggest capturing:

  • Your main point of contact’s name, title, and sentiment towards your company, product, and process (positive, negative, or neutral). Tracking sentiment helps indicate where your customers’ priorities lie. You should also include why you believe the customer feels this way (whether it’s communicated through implicit tones and actions or direct feedback). Here are some words you might include to describe your customers’ sentiment:
    • Positive: encouraging, open, kind, excited, appreciative, upbeat
    • Negative: annoyed, frustrated, pessimistic, angry, nervous, overbearing
    • Neutral: passive, reserved, calm, easygoing, accepting
  • Supporting stakeholders’ names, titles, and sentiment towards your company, product, and process. These stakeholders might include your main point of contact’s superior, a Sales Operations or CRM Administrator, or a member of their Product/Development team. This will inform Customer Success of how they should position future communications or needs that involve these roles.
  • Current customer priorities including their desired product outcomes and top objectives as well as targeted go-live dates or goals from their executive team.
  • Product integrations so Customer Success knows what customer data is available.
  • Opt-outs of product functionality. If a customer doesn’t configure a key feature, Customer Success should know so they can adjust their product training and goal setting.
  • Outstanding tasks that are incomplete or ongoing and their expected completion date.

Remember, an ounce of proactive notetaking is worth a pound of best guesses later.

We recommend storing these notes in an easily accessible place for both Implementation and Customer Success as well as other functions, such as Support, who may need to reference them later. At ChurnZero, we log these notes as an Activity on an Account in the customer’s onboarding journey.

Conduct an internal implementation debrief

Before Implementation has their last customer meeting to finalize implementation and reintroduce Customer Success, they should hold an internal meeting with Customer Success to brief them on everything that happened during implementation. This should be easy since Implementation will have descriptive notes to guide the conversation instead of relying on memory to recall information from the last few weeks or months. During this meeting, Implementation adds extra color and commentary to their notes and Customer Success asks any follow-up questions to ensure both teams are the same page before sitting down with the customer.

Finalize implementation with customer

Now that Implementation and Customer Success are aligned, it’s time to schedule a customer meeting to confirm deliverables were met and signoff on the implementation. Customer Success should attend to act as the segue into the customer’s next onboarding phase. Their presence also reinforces the significance of achieving this major milestone and shows a united display of support. After the meeting, Implementation should send a follow-up email to confirm the customer signoff in writing and share meeting notes and action items.

Customers may occasionally reach out to Implementation with questions after their final signoff, but Implementation should politely direct them to their Customer Success Manager. This will ensure that customer communications are funneled through one primary channel and don’t risk getting entangled or lost among multiple touchpoints.

Solidify a strong partnership between Implementation and Customer Success

To encourage proactive knowledge sharing among teams, you need to prioritize and practice transparency. Gaining insight and awareness into another function’s responsibilities and workload, humanizes the team and creates a greater sense of appreciation for their contribution. It’s much easier to cast blame on a different function when you don’t have an intimate understanding of the people behind the work and what they do. Cultivating a transparent workplace forges a shared respect among teams and holds them accountable for their output and its impact on others. So, when it comes time to transfer knowledge and customers between teams, they’re handled with confidence and care.

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