Jan 3, 2020

Read Time 6 min

Lessons Learned about Building Remote Customer Success Teams from 4 Years on the Job


Author: Ingmar Zahorsky, VP of Customer Success, ChartMogul

ChartMogul hasn’t always been a remote company, but the customer success team started with remote in mind.

I joined the company 4 years ago as the first full-time customer success hire. Today, I lead a team of 7 people, split across 3 sub-teams.

In addition, that team is also split across several continents. Rather than seeing that as a hindrance, we actually think it’s one of the key factors that contribute to our success.

I’ve learned a few lessons about building and running a remote customer success team and I want to share them with you in this blog post.

For me, customer success comes down to 4 important steps:

  1. Figure out your priorities when hiring remotely
  2. Develop processes to integrate customer feedback quickly
  3. Jumpstart customer success with great self-help tools
  4. Set ambitious metrics goals

Let’s review each in more detail.


Your priorities should define your remote hiring strategy

One of my first challenges after joining ChartMogul was serving our customers in the U.S. I was based in Berlin back then (and I still am), so initially I had to switch my working hours in order to be able to cover the East Coast time zone (6 hours behind Germany).

This gave me an opportunity to quickly understand the challenges of being a Berlin-based startup (ChartMogul wasn’t fully remote at that time) serving the U.S. market.

It led me to the conclusion that the most effective way to build the customer success team at the company is to start hiring remotely from the onset.

However, I also knew that in order to manage effectively, we would need to have at least a few hours of overlap on a daily basis. So, when we started hiring, we already knew the range of time zones we were looking to hire in.

What does this mean for your team?

Before you are ready to start hiring remotely, you have to figure out 3 things:

  1. Where the majority of your customers are located
  2. How much overlap you’re looking to have with your reports
  3. Where can you hire (for legal and compliance purposes)

That might sound limiting, but in most cases, it would give you at least 5-6 time zones you can hire in.

That can also expand as your company grows and you start to attract customers from a larger set of countries and time zones.


Integrate feedback loops

At ChartMogul, we make a strong point of collecting customer feedback both in manual and in automated ways.

Tools like NPS surveys and customer satisfaction scores (CSAT) give us immediate feedback that allows us to identify areas in which we aren’t doing great and improve them.

But we believe that it’s also important to bridge the gap between the team and our customers.

We have a feedback channel on our Slack where we share comments and suggestions from our customers. This helps every team within the company understand who it is we serve and what their challenges are.

Another thing we do is to get product managers involved in the conversations with our biggest customers. This allows the people who drive the development of ChartMogul to witness firsthand how people are pushing the boundaries on what’s currently possible with the platform.

Speaking to customers who are successful with ChartMogul also helps us understand where the next 100 customers will come from.

Finally, we make sure that the learning flows across the organization as prospects become customers. We have a well-defined process for handing off new customers from sales to customer success that ensures customers receive a consistent experience across each step of their experience with ChartMogul.


Great customer service starts with passive help

Providing solid self-help resources is an important part of creating an effective customer success team.

A survey commissioned by Nuance Enterprise found that 67% of respondents prefer to use self-service rather than call a company on the phone.

For us at ChartMogul, self-help means two things:

  • Our Help Center, which features over 100 support articles; and
  • Our detailed API Documentation, which helps customers build advanced implementations using their subscription data

In the beginning, it was hard for us to set aside the time to create these assets. But we persevered and quickly started to notice that the volume of support requests was declining.

The discipline we’ve shown in setting time aside for building our self-help resources has repaid itself manyfold.


Set ambitious metrics-driven goals

It is impossible to micro-manage a remote team. This is a blessing both for employees (everyone hates being micromanaged) and team leads (micromanaging is very ineffective).

To lead, you have to create a compelling vision for where you’re going, cap it with a goal you want to achieve, and come up with a framework of metrics for measuring progress towards that goal.

At ChartMogul, metrics are a powerful tool to get the whole team on the same page and make everyone (including managers) accountable for their achievements.

Our initial goal when we started building up the customer success team, was to be very responsive to customer requests. That’s why we picked First Reply Time as our guiding metric that served as a measure of our performance.

Initially, we didn’t have enough people in order to be able to commit to a specific goal. As we started scaling the team, we implemented a Service Level Agreement (SLA) where we said our goal was to provide a first reply time within one hour during business hours in the U.S. and Europe.

It took us about 2 months to get there and we’ve kept our first reply time low ever since — today we stand at about 30 minutes for our first reply.

The goal of this process wasn’t to squeeze every possible bit of productivity out of the team. Instead, we wanted to think creatively about what’s keeping us from making progress and remove those obstacles — whether they were tied to the tools we used or the process we followed.

Going through this exercise really energized the team, so we used the learnings to create SLAs for the whole team, including when the success team collaborates with product and engineering. 

Today, we have metrics and processes for each part of the team and as well on a contributor level. That has really helped us improve our customer service operations dramatically. And we have the customer stories to prove it:

The commitment to our customers goes beyond the success team — it involves product, engineering, and every team within ChartMogul.


The secret to a successful remote customer success team

For subscription businesses (and SaaS companies in particular) customer success is not just “nice to have”; it’s essential.

For the typical SaaS company, profit from a single customer comes a long time after acquiring that customer. And because they can leave at any given moment, you need to make sure your product is constantly delivering value for them.

And this is where customer success steps in.

Making sure customers fulfill their objectives with your product starts with your team but goes beyond it — the whole company needs to align towards the goal of ensuring your customers get value out of using your product.

VP of Customer Success, ChartMogulLearn more about achieving that alignment and building high-performing customer success teams for SaaS companies.

Ingmar Zahorsky is ChartMogul’s VP of Customer Success. You can find more of his writing on the ChartMogul Blog or connect with him on Twitter or LinkedIn.


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