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How to start Customer Success department

Introduction

You probably have heard about Customer Success so many times but are still very confused if it’s suitable for your business or not. Is that right?

How to start Customer Success

If yes, then this blog is going to be of immense help to you. The questions which you might have in your head are being answered in detail here so that, after going through it, you have clarity on whether you’re ready to roll out Customer Success processes or not.

Who is this blog meant for?

Are you a B2B SaaS start-up?  Or are you a large firm with a significant million dollars in recurring revenue?

Irrespective of the size of revenue handled by your firm, this blog is going to be of great help if you still don’t have Customer Success (CS) as a function or a department in place. If you’re a subscription-based business (doesn’t matter if the recurring revenue is on a monthly, quarterly, annually, or even a multi-year contract) you should have a Customer Success department. Hence, this piece of content will cover everything that you need to know about setting up a CS function for the first time at your organization (specifically the large organizations).

When to set up a Customer Success function?

What is the right time to start thinking about setting up the CS department? Well, if you want to answer this question, first let’s remind ourselves of the goal which Customer Success as a function can achieve.

The objective of Customer Success is to drive net dollar retention. Usually, when you cross a million dollars in ARR, the need for retaining customers and the revenue becomes increasingly important. You might also start witnessing different types of churn in your organization. At this stage, you should consider setting up a Customer Success department.  

When to set up a Customer Success function?

There are a few aspects that you can look at to know if you’re ready to roll out the success department yet or not. 

  • The fact that how you function is important but what is more important is the fact that -what your customers expect from you.  Are they expecting white glove services? Is that the premium you’re charging your customers? If yes, then you’d need a Customer Success function as it will ensure that your customers are getting what they need.
  • Are you selling $ 1000 technology or a $100,000 technology?- if you’re selling a $100,000 technology, your customers expect that they’ll be handheld to success. The higher the ARPA, the higher the expectations of success. 
  • Sometimes, it could be a regional expectation as well. In some regions customers expect greater engagement with your product/platform and in other regions there might not be similar expectations. Hence you need to understand the culture of the market and the customers to whom you’re selling. 
  • Try to understand how educated is your customer. Is your customer rolling out the technology of your kind for the first time? If yes, even if they don’t expect, they might need handholding, nudges, training, etc all along the journey to taste success using your product. 
  • Another thing to identify is- are your customers technology-resistant or early adopters of technology? You might need different approaches to handholding to customers with different characteristics. 
  • Another angle to look at is how complex is your product to adopt? Even if your customers can adopt technology the complexity of the problem that you’d need your product to solve for the customers might warrant a separate Customer Success department. 
  • You’ve got a lot of customers, but you’re not able to provide repeatable processes to onboard your customers and, thus, you’re unable to deliver value repeatedly. Then, of course, you need a Customer Success team to deliver that value!
  • One interesting facet could be if you’re facing a lot of churns, and you know that it’s not because of your product but due to various other factors, then yes, you should think about rolling out a Customer Success team. However- be warned that if having a customer success manager in your firm doesn’t make sense economically, then you might not want to. 
  • Your organization structure can also give you an idea if you’re ready for a dedicated Customer Success department! You will have different divisions for different functions such as sales, marketing, product, engineering, etc. However, when it comes to post-sales, your customer support is NOT Customer Success. Customer support is an independent, standalone business function, and renaming it as a Customer Success division won’t solve the problem of customer churn.

The above factors will help you in deciding whether you need a Customer Success Manager for your first customer onwards. 

Customer Support is a crucial function to have in a firm as your customers reach out to you through support channels, in case they face any issue. The point that I want to drive home is that, in a subscription business, you shouldn’t ideally wait for a customer to come back if they’ve got any problem. It must be ensured that the customer is getting value while using your product/platform. You must be proactive in your approach, rather than being reactive!

A dedicated customer success division is going to help you with this goal. The Customer Success team isn’t going to close support tickets. If you feel that your organization cannot afford to have two separate divisions for support and success, then it isn’t the right time to roll out the CS function yet. 

What is the right way to set up a Customer Success team?

Sometimes, even if you set up a Customer Success team at the right time, the team fails to deliver value or fails to achieve the objective it was set up for. Why does that happen?

Let’s try and figure it out. 

The key factor to understand this phenomenon may be to first know- 

  • Are you starting with Customer Success Managers or Customer Success Leaders? 
  • How clearly are the goals defined?

The clarity in the above points will determine if you’re setting up the Customer Success process the right way or not.  You need a Customer Success Leader before you start out with a customer success team. Starting a function- not just customer success, but any function- without a leader, would be disastrous. 

You will need a dedicated Customer Success Leader. The VP of sales or CEO or marketing leaders won’t suffice as they might be busy with hundreds of different other equally or more important items. The idea is to get a junior in customer success-Head or a Director- who can give his/her 100% to deliver success to customers and s/he is more likely to succeed than seniors from other divisions.

You would want to know the Job Description and Interview Questions for the Director of Customer Success if you’re planning to go ahead with the roll-out!

How do you hire the right Customer Success leader?

The next big question is “I know I need a Customer Success Leader, but how and where do I hire one?”.

Good question and we’ve got you covered. 

Unfortunately, the entire Customer Success space is so new and only a handful of experienced people are there who’ve been there and done that. As a result of which CS is a barren landscape!

Don’t you worry as there are few hacks that you could give a try to find out the right Customer Success leader for your firm?

Try to bring to the table a leader with domain expertise, who is well-versed with your business, and who can empathize with your customers about their problems. This trait is underrated but much appreciated by the customers. In the end, your product was hired by the customer not for merely adopting it but for solving his/her problem. 

Check out the 6 Attributes to Look for When Hiring New Customer Success Manager for a better understanding of the key traits! 

You can get a clear picture of what you want from your next hire if you know the Ten Interview Questions to hire the best Customer Success Manager (CSM)

Are you unable to figure out  Where to look for a Customer Success Manager? You will find a hidden secret here which can prove to be a game-changer for your Customer Success journey!

Structuring your CS team?

Now it’s time to gather a Customer Success team and give it a structure so that it starts functioning right away!

Customer Success Team

Within the success team, you need to have an onboarding specialist if your product is extensive and complex to understand. Be more focused on onboarding to start with as this will ensure a smooth customer journey. If you want your customers to stay with you for as long as possible, then onboarding is the right place to start with. 

You can check out the Customer onboarding guide if you’d want to study the process and its importance in detail. 

Now, if your product is data-driven then you would require a specialist to resolve data-related queries coming in from the customer. For example, our customer success tool – CustomerSuccessBox– is data-driven where there would be a lot of integrations with third-party software, we deploy an Implementation Engineer who can help onboard the customers comfortably and more efficiently. 

It is recommended to have a professional services team, in place (in addition to an onboarding team) if you have a complex product and have a lot of scales. This team will move out once their billing hours are over and the onboarding team will keep an eye out to deliver the customer success continuously. 

It goes without saying that a Customer Success Manager (CSM) is an indispensable part of your customer success team who can lead all the team members, specialists, etc  

In a nutshell, try to look at the big picture. If your business or the product is complex and your customers require handholding then having an onboarding team, professional services team, and customer success makes perfect sense. 

As long as the customer success isn’t rolled or merged with the customer support,  you will get the promised value delivered to your customers. 

How many customers should one Customer Success Manager manage?

“Should I have one CSM for every 10 customers or a hundred CSMs for hundred customers or is there any metric to calculate?”

 

To be honest, there is no right and wrong answer for the same. It all depends on the number of customers you’ve, the complexity of the product, and various other factors. 

There are CSMs who handle half a dozen customers and there are also CSMs who handle 300 customers! Now half a dozen customers would be having high ARPA (Average Revenue Per Account) and low volume. It is possible that these customers will carry a multi-million quota. 

On the other hand, someone with 300 customers might be carrying half a million quota. So the point here is that deploying a CSM for a particular customer should justify the unit economics. Start with your gut feeling, hire a CSM and assign the number of customers that makes sense to you, and fine-tune it as you move forward. 

Customer Success technology and its use

Without the Customer Success technologies, your customer success team is running blind. Customer Success team, as mentioned earlier, needs to run proactively and it’s not possible without the Customer Success tech. 

With the CS tech, like the CustomerSuccessBox platform, you can achieve- 

  • Good CSM to account ratio
  • High growth rate per portfolio
  • Low cost of delivering success per account or per dollar. 
  • Real-time data check.
  • Analyze the health of accounts, etc. 

Customer Success Technology

You want to run Customer Success not on a project management board or a CRM pipeline but on a data-driven board with automation, real-time checks, account health alerts, etc.  Without the CS tech, you’ll be in a reactive state of mind because you’re running processes inefficiently. 

Start with something home-grown which is absolutely fine if you don’t have enough budget but you need to adopt a tech that is data-driven!

 

Common pitfalls

Why do we see so many customer success failures? Let’s see some of the key reasons why does that happens so often. 

Common Pitfalls

  • Starting without a Customer Success leader.- It doesn’t make sense to roll out a function that isn’t understood by the team or the manager who is responsible for setting up the process. This is one of the major reasons why most of the CSM fails!
  • People start with too many goals at once.- Onboarding, retention, upsells, NPS, product adoption, etc. What people fail to realize is that you cannot get to these goals in 3 months or even a year! Prioritize your goals. 
  • Not all CS technologies are alike- Do check out, compare different tools and see for yourself which tool suits your business the best. 
  • There’s nobody who understands data at your organization. You need to have an identified owner who can understand the data and give actionable insights into the same. By data, we mean organization data, business intelligence data which is sitting in your marketing tools, billing platform, invoicing platform, product telemetry data, etc. Even if you don’t have someone like that, it’s okay as 90% of the businesses start without the data. But give it time but start investing in data as otherwise you won’t see results and end up firing CS leaders, team, facing churn, blaming each other for the terrible situation at your end.
  • The success lies in collaboration. None of the processes or the Customer Success leader or the Customer Success tech tool work in silos and do not deliver success working that way. Hence, all these need to be working together in collaboration to deliver the promised value to the customer. 

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