Jul 21, 2023

Read Time 7 min

What to consider when transitioning to a digital customer success strategy


Scaling a team is hard to do and requires change. You need to root out the repetitive tasks, establish a framework for executing, and then automate what you can.

In the past, these challenges mostly concerned fast-growing startups and large enterprises. However, nearly every SaaS business today has had to find ways to cut costs while increasing its levels of service and revenue.

For resource-strapped CS teams, that’s led to exploring digital strategies. “It’s no longer optional if you need to operate in an efficient way,” says Lynn Tsoflias, CEO, CustomerGuru. “Your digital strategy matters even more now.”

For some, a digital approach stirs notions of an impersonal and shallow customer experience. But Lynn says that’s not the case: “The customer experience should be the same but how you deliver it might be different.”

In our webinar, “Scaling customer success” Lynn shares how CS teams can scale their operations and outreach by implementing a digital strategy that uses automation and generative AI.

The webinar’s Q&A session covered topics including how to transition from using a traditional CS model to a digital CS strategy, how skills differ between high-touch CSMs and digital CSMs, and more.

Your digital customer success questions answered by Lynn Tsoflias

Q: How do you define digital experiences?

Lynn: A digital experience is a user’s interaction with a digital touchpoint and one-to-many touchpoint, such as email marketing, in-app cues, webinars, FAQs/knowledge bases, videos, online community. These connected touchpoints create a customer’s digital experience with your company and product.

Q: How can CS teams get other departments to buy in to their digital strategies?

Lynn: I recommend creating shared metrics across teams. For example, the CS team can be on point to find a customer that will do a customer video or case study, and then marketing commits to producing X-number of case studies. Another example is CS and product sharing ownership of metrics for product utilization and health scores.

Q: How can CS teams transition from a one-to-one engagement model to a digital strategy without compromising the customer experience?

Lynn: Sometimes, I’ve seen businesses just switch off. All of a sudden, they’ll say you no longer can call us. I’m going to give you an example from Insightly. You have to strategically plan how you migrate over to customers. You have to think about positioning it as a better thing. What I mean by that is when I was launching the community—again, with Brenda, she’s amazing—she launched this community and we were taking away the ability for customers to email us through customer support. We were taking it away completely, and we told them that their only way to get support was through the community.

We positioned the community as a value add. We said to them, you will get faster responses in the community than you do in the queue. Sometimes they had to wait eight hours. That’s terribly long. In the community, they got a response in two hours.

Try to position it as a valuable thing, if possible. There are always benefits to some kind of change. Pick the right time to do it. Maybe the renewal is a good time or when you’re experimenting with new customers because they don’t know what it was like before. You can see how it goes with new customers and work out the kinks.

Q: How do skillsets differ between a digital CSM versus a traditional high-touch CSM?

Lynn: Yes. For someone who loves to be an enterprise customer success manager—that requires engaging one on one or with an executive—you have to be strategic. You have to be talking about high-value things. You can’t go in there and say we’re resolving a support issue or what do you need me to do? You have to meet them where they’re at. That tends to be a more skilled person who’s great with executives, great with talking value, and great with even selling. I’m seeing CSMs becoming more sales oriented.

The digital CSM is someone who’s more comfortable doing webinars in a one-to-many scenario. Maybe they’re a little bit more of a marketer. They love to do customer marketing. Maybe the marketing team is only working on brand and new business, so the digital person likes writing those email communications. Maybe they like enablement and building the tools that are needed for the CSMs on the frontline. Oftentimes, I’ll take that digital person, move them up to a mid-market CSM, and then move them to an enterprise CSM.

Q: What is your recommended CSM-to-customer ratio?

Lynn: That’s a question I get so often. I will tell you a range. But honestly, it’s like, asking me how much is the price of a house. I’m going to be broad and then I’ll help you be specific.

The range that I have seen is $2 million to $6 million. Now, that’s the revenue range. I know you asked me for accounts. I will give you a rough range for accounts, but this answer only matters if you outline what your CSM does. If your CSM does customer support, renewals, and onboarding, then my answer is going to change dramatically.

I’m just giving you a rough number. I wouldn’t go run and do it. For enterprise, it might be 15 to 30 accounts. In the mid-market, it might be 50 to 70 accounts. For small businesses, I don’t even do that because I introduced CSMs intermittently. I had a pool of CSMs. But I really want to reiterate, you have to go through an exercise called customer success capacity planning.

You get in a spreadsheet and list out what your CSMs do. Then, ask them to go into this spreadsheet and write down how many hours do they spend doing each task. Do they spend 10 hours doing a QBR? Do they spend 10 hours working on a PowerPoint presentation each week?

You have to really quantify. Because I’m telling you, they’re going to spend hours on things you don’t even know. Then, that model spits out the number of accounts they should manage.

Q: My company offered dedicated CSMs to every customer who has the potential to spend above $100/mo. How do we segment in terms of enterprise and SMBs and not miss the low-hanging fruit?

Lynn: First, I would identify which customers are spending the most money with your business. Then, I would look at who has the potential to spend more. If, for example, you have a very large customer, but they are only spending little with you, then they should be categorized in the enterprise. There may be other things to consider. For example, what solutions have they bought from you? Perhaps, you want to consider priority geographies or industries. Then, you need to determine your cutoff points for each segment. This allows you to determine how many customers are in each segment (enterprise, mid-market, and small).

Q: How many customers does an organization need to have before launching a community?

Lynn: If you don’t have enough customers, a community may not be the right strategy for you. An exact number is hard to pinpoint other than to say when you reach a point in your headcount—you keep adding headcount because you get more and more customers—you need to identify your cost to serve. Does it make sense to put this $100,000 resource on a customer that only spends $10,000? And now I’ve given the CSM 150 accounts; are they really going to make an impact?

You need to ask: is this launching a customer community the right strategy? And you might not like this answer, but if you don’t have somebody that can manage it, I don’t know that I would do it. I have seen so many messes where you can have customers who are really making noise—or frankly, they’re not even customers, you don’t even know where they came from. They’re not following your policies and you want to be able to ban them from your community. It just might not be the right time. Sometimes waiting is more than fine.

Q: Based on your experience leading customer teams, did you pay advocates to help with customer support within the community?

Lynn: We did not. It was a “give-get” program where we gave them a badge. Everyone knew they were experts. They had to go through training. Then, we gave them swag. We gave them early previews of the product. For some people, we gave them a case study. We sometimes promoted their company. Honestly, some people just love the honor of being an ambassador. It was good for their brand. It turned out to be a great program. Frankly, unbiased, we don’t want to have to pay people in that scenario. In your scenario, you might decide that is needed.

Our ambassadors then committed to a certain number of days to be in our community answering questions. Our moderator was great. She wasn’t awake 24/7, but she would watch who was a good ambassador and expert so that we knew they could answer those tier-one questions properly. In fact, we positioned it such that you got a faster response time in the community than you did on the email queue support.

Q: How do you use ChatGPT to analyze qualitative data?

Lynn: For example, you can use qualitative data from your NPS survey and copy-paste those comments into ChatGPT 3.5 or 4 with a prompt to recap the data. Be specific about the recap you would like to see. You could also upload the whole file into CHatGPT4 code interpreter, alongside instructions on how you want it to analyze the information.

Q: Is it efficient to copy and paste existing training docs into ChatGPT, and then use its output to form future responses to customer support questions?

Lynn: I would recommend looking into solutions for each separately. For example, a good software that can analyze a long document/PDF is Claude v2 (Anthropic). For example, you can use it to summarize a 40-page training document, translate and localize the document, and re-write the document to target a different audience. Some customer support solutions are Forethought, Intercom, or Cresta.

Q: What are examples of value pillars? How do you handle customers who have multiple value pillars?

Lynn: Value pillars are based on the benefits your customers experience using your solution. For example, a value pillar could be mitigating risk and increasing employee productivity. For a CRM solution, a value pillar would be increase sales and employee productivity.

For customers with multiple value pillars, I would provide one digital experience combining both value pillars, if possible. That said, depending on your business, you may want to focus on one pillar first and then begin the next one. During the sales cycle, ask sales to prioritize which pillars are most important to the customer, that way you know which one to do first.

Q: What tools can companies use to generate benchmarking reports at scale?

Lynn: These types of reports come from the vendor. For example, Zendesk produced a usage benchmarking report for me as their customer. The report will come from the vendors you work with or your company may produce this report for your customers.

Creating a digital CS strategy can feel like an intimidating undertaking, especially if you haven’t had a lot of experience using automation before. Learn what goes into building a digital CS strategy in our blog, “Four steps to build a digital customer success strategy from scratch.”


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