How to Define, Measure, and Advocate for Customer Success Operations
Have you ever wondered:
- What’s the difference between Customer Success Management and Operations?
- When should I add Customer Success Operations and how do I advocate for the role?
- What goals, metrics, and tools does Customer Success Operations use?
If so (like the rest of the Customer Success world), then this article is for you. At ChurnZero’s recent virtual RYG, we held a panel discussion with Customer Success leaders who answered these popular questions and offered up their best advice on goals, strategies, and tactics for Customer Success Operations.
ChurnZero vRYG panelists included:
- Jennifer Jones, Senior Director of Customer Success Operations at Vector Solutions
- Rachel Yockey, Vice President of Experience at Realync
- Bora Lee, Manager, Customer Enablement at ChurnZero
Here’s a recap of the top takeaways from our panel discussion. (You can also watch the recording.)
How to Delineate the Roles of Customer Success Management and Operations
For Rachel’s team at Realync, Customer Success Managers focus on the client – their strategy, their adoption, their success – and handle the relationship aspect of the job. “Every day, [Customer Success Managers] use ChurnZero and the tools that we have to deliver successful suggestions to our clients and help them be where they need to be with our product,” says Rachel.
As the VP of Experience, Rachel is always thinking big picture and strategy. “Our [Director of Client Success Operations] is the realist on the team who says, ‘We can make that happen, but we need to do that in a scalable and consistent way. How are we going to use our tools to do that?’ It’s really [Customer Success Operation’s] job to empower our Customer Success Managers to do their jobs well,” says Rachel.
Jennifer, Senior Director of Customer Success Operations at Vector Solutions, describes a similar distinction between the functions: “Our Customer Success Managers are full-time with the customers. It’s our role in Customer Success Operations to provide them with the tools and processes they need to be successful. We want to remove any barriers and roadblocks and make it easy for them to do their jobs.”
Jennifer says a big portion of those obstacles include scalability: “We take a step back and look at things from a bigger picture because we’re not having to deal with the day-to-day – whether it’s my product or my service isn’t working the way I’d like it to. It’s key to have Customer Success Operations as the foundation.”
Should you ever combine the roles of Customer Success Management and Operations?
From Jennifer’s perspective, its circumstantial. She recalls a past situation where a Customer Success Manager with a smaller book of business was assigned special projects related to Customer Success Operations but notes that it was the balance between roles that made this possible.
“If somebody’s managing what you in your business would consider a full book of business, it’s going to be very challenging,” says Jennifer. “You could potentially set some things up as developmental opportunities and carve some time out for people. But it gets pretty rough in terms of the amount of time it takes to do some of the things that we work on in Customer Success Operations, from gathering data to meeting with all the different stakeholders and putting all the pieces in place. It’s rough to do it long term.”
As a socially driven role, Customer Success Managers want to have customer interactions as a mainstay in their daily work. Whereas “Operations people are much more focused on getting data cleaned up and making sure processes are tacked down,” says Rachel. “That can be a very yin and yang relationship.”
Rachel advises that when it comes to Customer Success Managers taking on operations work, you need to have an honest conversation about the individual’s skill set, where they’ll thrive, and if they’ll be happy in a blended role.
“There are people out there that can do both and find fulfillment in both,” says Rachel. “But if you’re one or the other, I would caution you not to try to bite off more than you can chew in thinking that this is a way to a promotion or to go up the ladder if you’re going to be burnt out and miserable in six months because you aren’t fulfilled on one side.”
How to Know When to Add Customer Success Operations and Advocate for the Role
According to Rachel, it’s time to introduce an operations role when you find yourself asking, “Should we create another Google sheet for that?”
“When we knew that there were tools that we had in place that we weren’t taking advantage of, that was when it was really evident that we needed [operations],” says Rachel. “Basically, if we knew that a Customer Success Manager might have a little bit of capacity, but not enough to bring a project to fruition, that’s a breaking point.”
As a benchmark, SaaS businesses typically begin to invest in Customer Success Operations when they reach around $10 million in revenue. But Rachel realized the upside of investing well before then.
“We were at $4.5 million in Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR) when we brought on Customer Success Operations,” says Rachel. “We were investment-heavy and investment-forward, but we were also at a moment in our business where we were hockey sticking. We were going to crash and burn if we didn’t get [our data] cleaned up. For us, it was paramount to make that investment early to make sure we could scale and grow faster down the road.”
As Rachel mentioned, to successfully scale Customer Success, you need clean and organized customer data – and that’s where operations can help. “You’ve got to be ready to provide the customer experience that you want to provide,” says Rachel. “If you’re not providing that experience because you don’t have the data and you don’t have the tools to do your job, you’re just digging your hole deeper and deeper.”
As for advocating for an operations role, Jennifer says that Customer Success needs to help organization leaders understand that the post-sale experience is just as important as investing in bringing in new revenue. “It’s great to bring the revenue in, but you can’t keep it if you don’t have the right tools and processes in place to provide value to the customers.”
How to Identify Goals, Metrics, and Tools for Customer Success Operations
Customer Success Goals and Metrics
Creating a culture where Customer Success Managers support each other and work as cohesive unit is essential to Rachel: “There’s one true-north usage number that we look at across our entire user base. That’s our one true-north measurement that we attack as a team.”
Rachel adds that Customer Success Operations also participates in eligible bonus events that are based off those usage metrics as well as special projects.
Both panelists said they measure performance against customer retention, highlighting ARR and Net Annual Contract Value (ACV) growth.
But Jennifer cautions against looking at retention numbers in isolation. “There are so many more metrics that are out there. Retention is great, but if you don’t know all the pieces that go into that, and you’re not tracking those indicators, you may end up with a not-so-hot number,” says Jennifer. “Understanding what rolls into that is where you can start to look at things like Journeys and ChurnZero. Are people on track? Are they off track? We look at NPS as well. We use ChurnZero for that and run campaigns and Plays off that to ensure that as these scores come in, particularly Detractors, that we’re able to do something with the data that can help us achieve our overall retention goal.”
Customer Success Technology and Tools
When it comes to investing in tools that position Customer Success teams for success, both panelists also agreed that a Customer Success platform is a must.
“I wish we’d implemented ChurnZero a long time before we did,” says Rachel. “That was one of those things where it’s like ‘Oh, but we’re doing fine. We can get through.’ Then all of a sudden, you’re not getting through, and you wish you would have had all the data.”
“We’re trying to build in that tech-touch that still has that human element behind it,” says Rachel. “That’s how we’re trying to balance the scale to see if we can increase the ARR that each of our Customer Success Managers manage. If you don’t have a Customer Success tool, ChurnZero or whoever else, get it like yesterday. Find budget for that.”
Jennifer says her team takes a similar approach when managing their high-velocity book of business. “To give everybody that touch, over the last year, we’ve moved to a tiered model,” says Jennifer. “We have four different customer segments based on ARR. The top two tiers get more of the white glove. We’re moving to a more digital experience – not completely digital – with the help of tools like ChurnZero to really focus more on that hands-on touch at the higher level.”
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Check out these additional resources on Customer Success Operations:
- Blog: Customer Success Operations 101: Drive Productivity with Purpose, People, and Process
- BIG RYG Session: When 1+1 = 3: Why Customer Success Operations Is Your Next Best Hire
Customer Success Around the Web
- 22 Examples of Customer Retention Strategies That Work– Learn the most applicable customer retention strategies that the biggest brands are currently using to inspire loyalty.
- Secondary Effects of Churn: Part 2 of 2– Discover the top ten actions to start taking today to reduce your company’s churn.
- Building a Comprehensive Customer Health Score– Find out how to calculating a rigid, comprehensive customer health score.
Fighting Churn is a newsletter of inspiration, ideas and news on customer success, churn, renewal and other stuff and is curated by ChurnZero