[Q&A] Customer Success Operations: Why You Need It & How to Set It Up for Maximum Revenue Impact
As your Customer Success team grows, it becomes necessary to set up an infrastructure around your data, processes, people, and systems to better enable your team – and that’s where Customer Success Operations comes in.
Emilia D’Anzica, founder of Growth Molecules, joined us for a webinar to dive into the highly sought-after role of Customer Success Operations. While more and more CS leaders are catching onto the value of having Customer Success Operations, they still face challenges in both convincing the C-suite of its need and finding qualified people to lead the function.
In the webinar, we tackle these issues head on and answer CS leaders’ most common questions including:
- What is CS Operations and what is it actually responsible for?
- How do I position CS Operations for budget approval?
- How do I measure the role’s performance and business impact?
- What influence does CS Operations have on growth modeling?
If you missed the webinar, you can watch it on-demand.
Q: What are examples of low-touch versus high-touch strategies?
A: A low-touch strategy can be something like WalkMe, Cast App, and Pendo. Those are all apps out there. I’ve used Appcues for some of my smaller clients that needed simple WalkThroughs in their platform. Those are things that you can put across your platform that don’t take a lot of effort that operations can implement. One of the teams I worked with, there were only 17 people. I had an intern that was helping me, so she quickly learned the platform, and then was able to scale it across all the CSMs.
There are five generations in the workforce right now. People, especially the newer workforce, very much want to figure things out on their own. They don’t want to make a phone call. So, you want to make sure that you’re rolling out these low-touch strategies. I don’t believe that there’s ever tech-touch. It is an enablement touch. It is an opportunity for you to engage with the client in a way that they want to engage with your product, and that’s more self-service.
A high-touch experience may require, for example, that they designate someone to get training or certification. For example, I think of AWS. You have to have someone who really understands that platform before you can deploy and maintain it. That will require more of a high-touch experience with more of the white-glove CSM.
Q: Does Customer Success Operations typically sit on the Customer Success team or within a broader operations team? Who does a Customer Success Operations Manager typically report to?
A: This is a debate that’s out there. I will say, there are pros and cons to wherever you put your Customer Success Operations. If you put the CS Operations under the Chief Operating Officer, they can scale across with Sales. For example, Sales, CS, and Product can really have this aligned, streamlined way of rolling everything out under operations.
If they’re under Sales, I have seen in my experience that Sales always gets priority. The Sales team wants something done in Salesforce. It’s going to take priority over the Customer Success team needing something in their Customer Success platform. I have mixed feelings about that.
Being under Customer Success can be powerful. But you just want to make sure that if that person is under Customer Success, they’re very well aligned and working very closely with the Sales Operations Manager.
I’ll just share a quick story. I was working for a company as an interim leader. Whenever the VP of Sales came to a meeting about numbers and data and metrics, whatever reporting, he never showed up without his sales operations. His sales operations knew all the numbers and was able to rattle them off. I never had that person. I was constantly expected to do all my own data analysis and had to show up just as prepared. You can imagine how some of those conversations went. Somehow, Sales always looked better. You want to make sure that you’re placing equal weight regardless of how or where this person is living.
Q: What’s the typical ratio of Customer Success Operations roles to CSMs or Support roles?
A: I believe it depends how much you’re putting in their responsibility. If they’re very good with technology, but they’ve never rolled out enablement playbooks, you may need someone on the team to help really understand the enablement of CSMs. They may be more tech savvy. If they’re not an Excel wizard, you might need a data scientist or data analyst to be part of the team. It just really depends on your use case.
When I was at WalkMe, we got our first CS Operations team at around month six of my tenure. I moved a very strong director into that role who really understood use cases. Then, I hired a designer to be on that team, and then a data analyst. Between the three of them, we got through maybe 500 customers. We had at the time around 35 CSMs on the team. So, it really depends on what do you want them to do, why, and do they have the skill sets, because you may need to supplement.
Q: How much Customer Success Operations talent is in the market? What other operations or specialized roles translate well to CS Operations?
A: There aren’t a lot of CS Operational leaders out there that I know of right now. I do know that a lot of VPs often call us asking, “Do you have a CS Operations Manager that you would recommend?” There are two people on my team right now who are going through certification to get a better understanding of CS technologies, so that we can serve our customers as consultants, helping them get technology up and running. I do believe this is an emerging field that’s hard to get certified in because there are so many technologies out there. But what I would recommend is looking at people like data scientists or sales operations; they can be really powerful. You just want to make sure you don’t assume that a sales operations person is going to build your enablement playbooks, because they probably don’t know the customer journey. You want to make sure you educate them before you hand them enablement as well. It’s a very different function.
Q: How long does it take to implement a Customer Success Operations role or strategy?
A: I love putting together a quarterly, one-page business plan. The average human gets overwhelmed when you put more than four tasks on their plate, and that’s even scientific. The average human can remember up to four things. I would suggest breaking it down by quarter. Do a brainstorm. Get a whiteboard behind you. Put everything down in your ideal world that you wish this person could do, and then prioritize. Enable them to be successful.
I would say a reasonable timeline is 100 days. Their month one, you set up a goal. Month two, what’s phase two? And month three. Even when you’re rolling out a CS plan, what can we accomplish in the first 30 days for time to value? Then, what’s phase two? How are we integrating more and more CSMs? And then, can we roll it out in month three? You always want to make sure you leave 10 days for reflection. What went really well? Let’s celebrate. But where were there missed opportunities and gaps that we can work on in Q2? The scrum methodology of rolling out any technology and being iterative with enhancements is really powerful.
Q: What skills should a Customer Success Operations Manager possess?
A: You definitely need to understand Excel and technology and how it enables CSMs. Someone on my team just finished working with one of our clients, and so I got to know their Head of Operations and Strategy. I don’t believe you can really lead strategy and operations unless you really understand not only the technical piece – so your CRM, your CSP, outreach, whatever it is that the company’s using – but also the human element – your CSMs, your customers, and the personas. Because how can you possibly do capacity planning or build playbooks or even maintain them in a CS platform? How can you give recommendations if you don’t put yourself in the customer’s shoes or if you don’t put yourself in the CSM’s shoes?
That’s why I believe the person who I moved from a director role into CS Operations, he was super technical, great with numbers. But he also had been a CSM, had used the platform, was certified, and really understood the use cases. He was exceptional. Today, he’s a VP at a company. All of those operational skills are things that you can develop with time, but you have to put yourself in the customer and the CSM’s shoes to really be successful in that role.
Q: When should you integrate a Customer Success software into your tech stack? What KPIs drive that decision?
A: I’ll answer the second one first. If you’re in firefighting mode, and you’re serving your customers with just sentiment, it’s probably time to get a technology to enable your CSMs. I interviewed someone yesterday for a role for a client and she’s using a Customer Success platform.
I asked her, “How many CSMs do you have on your team?”
She said, “Three and I have budget to hire a fourth this quarter.”
I said, “Why are you using a CS platform out of pure curiosity?”
I was actually taken a little bit back. She said, “Well, they’re managing a lot of customers and these customers have high ARR. There’s no way three CSMs could possibly be managing this much ARR without having deep insights of customer usage and without triggering actions in an automated fashion.”
So, my answer is that you can have as few as three people where you’re really leveraging the platform to guide your customer conversations and automation. And then, some companies just wait until they’re too much in firefighting mode. Without CS Operations, it compounds the issue, and the CS platform is set up for failure.
I’d be thoughtful. Think about your use cases. Think about your playbooks. Do a brainstorming session. I love whiteboards. I love writing all of the things that might go in the health score. And then, another column should be, where does this data live? Because if you can’t extract the data, how will you create a health score that actually matters? Before you implement, take the time. Do a workshop with your team for a few hours. Go back, think about it, and then come back and decide if this is the right approach, the right use case, before you go out and shop for a platform.
Q: How can you learn more about Customer Success Operations?
A: You can definitely just Google “Customer Success Operations”. If you did that a year ago, I don’t think there would be that many articles out there. But when I was even just thinking about what I wanted to speak on, when you invited me to be on this webinar, I realized there’s a lot of lacking information. I did find the one that Chris Hicken wrote from NuffSaid that said really valuable, probably the most robust white paper, on CS Operations. There just hasn’t been a lot written on it. There are CS Ops Slack channels. And then, there are CS Ops LinkedIn groups. I would search for those and join them. Someone recently invited me to an enablement squad on Slack, which I’m finding quite interesting.
Q: Do you see CSM training falling within Customer Success Operations, similar to Sales enablement?
A: When I ran Customer Success Operations at BrightEdge with a colleague who ran more of the support operations, we had 80 CS professionals under our operations team. What we found was that we can’t do all of it. We can’t possibly train on all of that. We were not SEO experts like some of the people who had come from agencies.
Every Monday, while I was responsible for the education series at 8 a.m., I was not responsible for all the content. It really gave every single person on the team an opportunity to shine, practice their public speaking skills, do research, and share ideas. That 30 minutes, while I was only 30 minutes, it got people excited about learning a new skill. The other thing I was responsible for was testing. After those sessions, 10 questions were sent out to the CSMs. If they did fall below eight, the manager was responsible for working with that CSM to ensure that CSM grasped that content.
So no, your CSMs are not responsible for all of it. When I was even rolling out a CS platform there, I had a data analyst doing all of the API stuff, helping with all of that. I had the design team helping me with the playbooks, so I couldn’t roll it out to the CSMs. Because it can be overwhelming, especially if you’re rolling it out to 80 people.
Q: How do you divide responsibilities between a CS leader and a Customer Success Operations Manager?
A: The CS leader is definitely responsible for carrying out the mission of the company, the vision, boosting the morale, and keeping a pulse on everything. Operations and enablement are like the foundation. They really ensure that the vision on the top is being met. From people, metrics, processes, they’re really helping layer in the different layers of that foundation. I really see operations as the right arm of a CS leader. You just can’t expect a CS leader to be able to do everything and do it well. If you have someone who’s really good with the data and the technology, they will enable the CS leader to go into those executive meetings, to share the metrics that matter at the board meetings, so that they get the budget they need and build a best-in-class customer experience.
Q: What KPIs should you use to measure the performance of a Customer Success Operations role?
A: This is a difficult question for most companies to answer. I did this all the time when we were onboarding at WalkMe. For the CSMs who are responsible for onboarding customers, we’d ask, “How much time are you wasting on support? How much money are you wasting per support call? How much time would you like to gain to make this a successful implementation?”
What I’m trying to say is that you have to have some sort of foundation. Sometimes, that will require a brainstorming session with your CSMs – looking at their calendars, seeing how much time they’re wasting on things that could be automated. And then, doing a comparison of what can that CS Operations person handle or take off their plate by automating a lot of it.
Things like AI – we of course we have Gong out there – that’s now taking notes for CSMs. Those platforms are about $1,200 a month. You can do the math. Think about how many notes, how many triggers are lost, because the CSMs aren’t taking the notes fast enough. They’re trying to focus on what the customer is saying. Now, with that kind of automation in place, you can think about how much time your CSM is saving.
I always say it’s about saving time, making people more efficient, and reducing errors. Errors in your CS platform and your CRM are rampant. You can really reduce them by having things in one central place. And then, just saving your VP time, so that they can really focus on the more strategic and look at the long vision, instead of trying to put all of these different Excel sheets together, to tell a story that actually makes sense to leadership. That’s what I would be looking at: time and effort. How can you make people more efficient?
To find out if you’re ready to add a Customer Success Operations role and how to get leadership buy-in for this new hire, watch the webinar.
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