Sep 2, 2022

Read Time 5 min

The power of defining Customer Success with Abby Hammer and StartupCX


Does your company understand the potential of Customer Success? Unfortunately, a few CEOs still think it’s just a trendy name for customer support, or believe that CS is there to schedule meetings and keep customers happy.

Your CS team’s success depends on how your organization sees your role. If CS is viewed as an amorphous, frivolous function, you’ll have less funding, less authority, and less influence.

If you’re struggling with a shallow perspective of CS within your company, you need to build awareness. Start with defining the purpose of CS, then build awareness of your business contribution and revenue-building powers.

You’ll find helpful guidance to get started on the latest StartupCX podcast, featuring ChurnZero Chief Product Officer Abby Hammer.

In this episode, Abby shares the importance of putting parameters around CS to increase its value. You’ll also learn why support isn’t a stopgap for CS, how product and CS can work better together, when to hire your first CS role, and what it takes to succeed in CS (hint: it requires more than having “people” skills).

Episode highlights

Understand other departments’ worldviews

“[Customer Success and Product] don’t inherently—to overgeneralize for a second—communicate the same way or process information the same way. Invest in those teams knowing how to communicate well with one another. Give exposure to the opposite entity of what you do every single day. Walking that mile in someone else’s shoes can do a lot for partnership.

“When I was a PM exclusively, I often felt like CSMs came in too hot to every single conversation. It was hyperbole and emotions all over, everywhere. Sometimes, I felt like they were even being rude. When I was a CSM, sometimes you feel like PMs aren’t listening to you. They don’t understand the seriousness of a situation or the implications for you and your livelihood for the business. If you’re looking for somewhere to start to get those teams aligned, think about how you share information, think about how you communicate with one another because if you work that, you’re going to be in a much better spot to build upon.”

Encourage product managers to immerse themselves in the customer’s perspective

“Because I always came from that customer background, as a PM, the voice of the customer and connections with the customer teams has always been a big part of what I think makes product fun and what makes you successful at making product. If you end up in an ivory tower scenario of like no, I’ll tell you what you want, don’t you tell me what you want, it’s not all that fun, quite frankly. You feel very disconnected from what you’re putting out into the world, from the solutions that you’re producing. It can be much harder and much more challenging to be really immersed with customers. It comes with a lot of other things, but you build better products, and you get better solutions.”

Back up your argument with evidence, not anecdotes

“For CSMs, I try to encourage them to communicate with PMs in more of a way that they understand. How can you bring data to the table? How can you let data tell the story for you? Put anecdotes to the side. They have their moment, but that’s not the main way you make arguments. How can you really have a data-led approach in that situation?”

Invest in defining the role of Customer Success within your organization

“A mistake a lot of startups make is they’re muddled about how they define their Customer Success resources. If you ask a lot of startup leaders what’s the difference between customer support and Customer Success, they’d either give you a canned answer because they read an article somewhere that told them that, or they wouldn’t know the difference.

“If you want to prioritize customer experience, defining the role, making sure you know how it’s different from other important and related but not the same functions, and making sure that the title and the position and the authority you give that person—whether they’re internal or external within the organization—is clear out of the gate. Doing good Customer Success retroactively, trying to insert it back into the organization, is perfectly possible. People do it all the time. But it’s going to be a harder row to hoe than beginning from the stance of what happens to our customers matters to us.”

Have an idea about your customer journey from the very start

“[Identify] the customer journey early on. Don’t wait to figure out what the experience should be till you’ve seen it a bunch of times. Start with a theory. You should have a theory of what that experience should be. The journey that you map out should be based on the customers’ expectations and what they want to experience and what they want to achieve at different points. If you start there, then you refine it and you change it as you grow, as both an organization and as a product.”

Hire a Customer Success role sooner than you think

“Your first customer hire […] should definitely be within your first 10 hires, probably within your first five. Now, you need sales. You’ve got to sell something before you can renew it, so there is a bit of an order of operations here. But again, when you think about the momentum you can pick up if you have good product market fit, if you’re doing well selling into the space, the speed at which the customer experience can get away from you is fast.”

Don’t make support a stopgap for Customer Success

“I see a lot of groups have a first hire be someone like customer support. Not going to argue that. You’ve got to have somewhere for customers to go when they ask questions and when they need help: I can’t log in, what the heck is going on here? All those sorts of things. You’ve got to have a home for that. But you also have to make sure that’s not where your support for customers ends. It’s not just having someone who can answer [customer] questions when they put their hand in the air. Sooner than you might think, you have to start thinking about how do we anticipate needs. […] Most customers don’t find their way to success entirely on their own. That doesn’t necessarily mean they need a human every single step of the way, but they need guidance every single step of the way. That comes from someone being focused on that experience and defining it from the beginning.”

Be purposeful with your proactivity

“If you are interested in Customer Success or you’re already in it and you want to excel, spend some time thinking about what proactive means, read things that help you understand what it means, and think about how you can intentionally apply that in your day-to-day life. The nature of work—especially at a startup where things are typically fast-moving, sometimes a little chaotic—naturally leans toward reactive. It’s so easy, even if you’re stamped with “I’m in charge of being proactive,” to get sucked into the reactive things just because of life. You have to be very intentional with your proactivity. It does not happen unless you prioritize it and you put specific intent on it.”

Hone your emotional intelligence to excel in Customer Success

“If we talk about the intention of how you grow your career, it’s something you have to think about. Customer work has high highs and low lows. That’s the nature of dealing with people in general, whether it’s in your personal life or your professional life. It has high highs and low lows. Becoming a well-rounded Customer Success professional requires you to really hone your people skills, but then also hone your own emotional skills to be a bigger boat in the storm as opposed to riding the high highs and dipping into the low lows. That takes time. That takes practice. It takes intentionality.”

Part of defining Customer Success is specifying its relationship with others teams-—especially when it comes to product, the closest counterpart of Customer Success. These teams must have a good working relationship if they wish to grow. In our article, “Customer Success and product: How to align your customer-centric stars,” Abby shares the benefits of brining these teams together, how to recognize when they’re not coexisting, and how to better understand each team’s working styles.


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