May 13, 2022

Read Time 7 min

The four CX pillars that every Customer Success leader should know with ChurnZero Chief Customer Officer Abby Hammer

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When is the right time to add Customer Success operations? How do you make product and Customer Success work better together? What’s the most effective way to gather customer feedback?

Tackling these questions is tough for even the most seasoned Customer Success leader. Because as the industry evolves, best practices change. Keeping up with the latest trends from LinkedIn, Slack groups, communities, colleagues, and competitors can feel like a full-time job. That’s why it’s helpful to have foundational frameworks to focus your thinking and strategy.

ChurnZero Chief Customer Officer Abby Hammer joined The CXChronicles podcast to share how she’s used the four mainstay CX pillars—team, tools, process, and feedback—to build a high-performing Customer Success organization from the ground up and turn it into the most operationalized part of the business. Abby also talks about the tactics that our own Customer Success team has used over the last three years as we’ve averaged over 100% revenue growth.

Episode highlights

Make renewals a natural progression of the customer relationship.

“If we do relationship building well, if we do product adoption well, if we do value realization well, then renewal and expansion are just crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s as opposed to being this momentous part of the relationship.”

Align the organization around Customer Success.

“I believe in an organization where Customer Success sits in the middle because that’s another way of saying the customer sits at the middle, if Customer Success is ultimately responsible for them.”

Turn Customer Success and product into BFFs.

“People renew on services and on the solution. If they don’t like your solution, even if they love you, they’re not going to spend tens of thousands of dollars to be your friend. That’s not how anything works. If they love the solution, but they can’t consistently rely on you for the things that live around your solution, they’re also going to go looking somewhere else.”

Look out for perceptions gaps among those teams.

“In most organizations, the biggest disconnect between product and Customer Success is how they think and how they have to think to be good at their jobs. A CSM is traditionally going to be someone with a really high EQ, really relationship focused. Product, on the other hand, has to come from this more objective space. They cannot live and die by every single thing that happens to every single customer. They’ll never make it. A lot of the disconnect between those teams is how they share their insights, how they share their perspective, how they communicate with one another. If you ask those two teams what they want to accomplish, they’re going to say the same thing. Where we fall apart in partnership really comes down to discussing how we use each other to accomplish goals.”

Get the product team in front of customers.

“I encourage every product team, if you’re not talking to customers constantly, do it. Start now. You need to experience what the Customer Success team experiences. You need to have a touch of that awareness as you think about things. Think about ways you can bring Customer Success, bring support, bring professional services into the process of developing a solution. Some of the best litmus testing that you’re going to get as you develop a solution is to turn it towards your own team and say poke holes in it before we’re done coding.”

Tell customer stories with data.

“On the Customer Success side, I tell people you have to lead with the data. If you want to influence a product manager, don’t bring a story, don’t bring an anecdote, don’t bring your energy and your nerves. Bring your numbers. That’s what’s going to move the needle for product and for the business.”

Don’t overengineer processes.

“As with all great things in life, with process, moderation is your friend. None is bad, but you can also go in the other direction. All Customer Success teams go through a period where they go too far in the other direction. They start from nowhere. Then they get excited about the possibilities. They overengineer. We’ve gone through that same period as well.”

Refine operations as you go.

“The fact of the matter is, that [your processes] cannot be set it and forget it. As your team changes, as your customers change, as your product changes, you have to adapt to that. What looked like success for a ChurnZero customer three years ago, would be a horrifically unhealthy customer now. If I never looked at my health again and just left it and said, ‘Well, it was good three years ago, it must still be good now,’ I’d be making poor decisions as a leader.”

Add Customer Success operations before you need it.

“Sooner than most groups realize, Customer Success operations has to become a defined role. Not a thing that a leader does on the side when they have time and when there aren’t 16 other fires that they’re trying to put out, but an actual defined role. Marketing has ops, no one questions it. Sales has ops, no one questions it. It’s because you need a particular mindset and skillset to do it well. As your team grows, as your customer base diversifies, as you try to do more, you need someone who’s solely focused on that. They make sure you have good feedback loops and good data analysis on what’s working versus not. One of the biggest pieces of advice I give to other Customer Success leaders is to find ops before you are very convinced you need it. If you wait until you’re like ‘Oh, who we need it,’ now you’re digging out of a hole. Try to avoid dipping into that hole in the first place. You can save yourself and your CSM a lot of trouble.”

Elevate Customer Success within the organization through a dedicated operations role.

“The efficiency and accuracy of CSMs is the number one reason to get Customer Success ops because we’re all trying to do as much as we can with what we have for the benefit of our customers. Customer Success ops is all about capitalizing on that. But the other time I tell people they might want to start thinking about Customer Success ops is when they feel like what they do as a customer team doesn’t have a place in the org. People don’t understand it, they don’t recognize it, or even worse, they’re not benefiting from it. There’s a lot of lip service going around about being customer centric. Sometimes in Customer Success, we think we’re not part of the problem because we deal with customers all the time. But you are if you’re not the constant source of customer insights to every other part of the organization, and Customer Success ops is usually the main owner of that.”

Expand your product feedback pool beyond customers.

“At ChurnZero, anyone can submit product feedback. It could be a prospect. It could be a customer. It could be an employee. We don’t care where the feedback comes from. We want it. Because that gives the product team a very rich environment to work in instead of guessing what people want or trying to decide would A or B have a bigger business impact. Then, you can tie [feedback] to actual numbers, to deals won or lost, to renewals won or lost, or even expanded. It allows product to make very business-driven decisions when you have a good method of collecting that feedback.”

Get the finance team on your side.

“If you are an actual revenue team, finance is going to be really interested and should be really interested in just about everything you say. Because the most important thing they have is perspective, an idea of what is coming. If there are going to be bumps in the road, those bumps are less horrific if you knew they were coming versus if you were riding along and everything seemed fine. Insight into the health of the business and how that relates to dollars is huge for finance. If you haven’t already spent time with your CFO figuring out what numbers they need from you, do that.”

Earn a say in defining your ideal customer profile by using data.

“Sometimes, Customer Success feels like the victim in the situation around customer fit. Like, sales gave us another meh customer. I mean, look it’s going to happen sometimes. […] But if you can say, ‘Here’s the profile of customers who we renew and we expand. Here’s the profile of customers who we lose,’ you’re suddenly going to have a lot more say in what fit looks like and how it develops than what you have previously.”

Conduct more qualitative customer research—across all departments.

“If you need to know something [beyond what] can be answered in one or two questions, the more you can lean toward listening tours and interviews, the better. Sometimes we think product’s a small team or there are too many customers. But you can leverage all your resources if everyone knows what you’re asking for and that the goal is to go and listen. It’s not to change minds, it’s not to convince, but rather it’s to absorb and to bring back information. […] The more we talk to people directly, the more exposure we get to the language that they use and the nuances of tone and direction and where a thought travels. Because you are getting to the human behind it as opposed to just the checkmark on a survey. Surveys serve an important purpose, but a controlled purpose.”

Find ways to build customer affinity around the business.

“To me, relationships—and I say this is a person who’s been in CS for a long time now—are a double-edged sword. If your relationship is based too much on the individual, it’s a weak foundation on which to build your house. If I had a customer who is like, “We love Abby. We love no one else but Abby and that’s the only person we ever want to talk to,’ then if I win the lottery and I move to the Bahamas, now what happens to that relationship? […] When we think about relationships, we need to think about how we build relationships through understanding challenges, understanding goals, understanding intent, and have that be the foundation of interactions, and not have it be necessarily associated with just a single human. Because single humans—particularly in the environment we’re in right now with the job market—are shaky ground on which we stand. That’s what Customer Success needs to get its mind around. How do we build relationships that are very human, but also don’t require a specific human?”

Want more on Customer Success teams, tools, process, and feedback?

Understanding the CX pillars is part of getting the basic right. Because no matter where you are in your Customer Success maturity—whether you’re starting from ground zero or looking to scale an already successful team—you cannot underestimate the importance of building a solid foundation.

If you’re looking to start or simply brush up on your CS strategy, check out the ultimate guide to Customer Success in SaaS. This handbook distills down the vast learnings, expertise, and experience that our team of Customer Success executives and professionals have amassed over a decade of working in various roles in the industry.

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