Customer Success as the Liaison
Whether you’re leading a Customer Success operation, or playing a key role in a customer centric organization, it can feel like every day is juggling act. Balancing internal resources including sales, support, marketing, IT, and engineering, with customer needs, is no easy task. If no one is focused on prioritizing the customer, it will require a good deal of determination to turn processes around to a customer-focused way of thinking.
Same Mission – Different Objectives
In other branches of business, employees think about their personal goals, and not necessarily about how the customer factors into them. For example, salespeople focus on meeting their quotas, while marketers are always thinking about how to finish their content projects. In direct contrast is the role of the Customer Success manager. Even though CSMs have the responsibilities of concentrating on customer churn, retention, and upsell/cross-selling, a key portion of their job is to motivate their teams to positively interact with customers on a daily basis.
The reason why it is so difficult to reconcile Customer Success with the rest of the business operations is that Customer Success is a relatively new function. It doesn’t have the advantage of years of proving its utility like Sales, Support, and Marketing, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less critical to the fate of the bottom line. If you want to stay in the black, Customer Success is the future of ensuring recurring business.
Bringing It All Together
While each team is responsible for their sector of the company, the unifying goal of all the parts should be customer-centric revenue growth, increasing market share, and exceeding investor expectations. Each segment does this by emphasizing a different part of the customer journey, which means that the Customer Success teams needs to bridge the gap. The collective goal of every company is to satisfy clients with a product or service they can’t get elsewhere; CSMs create a framework using a CS Automation platform, like Strikedeck, that aggregates the customer data from all teams to create an analytics framework that pieces together unique insights about each customer so that everyone can understand them from the inside out.
All teams, including Sales, Support, Marketing, IT, and Engineering, come to work every morning with the same mission: move the business forward. However, each sector has their own objectives to fulfill on their path to the finish line. There is always room to improve, so when one target is hit, the next is automatically generated, pushing them to achieve even greater heights. The specific examples below highlight how different objectives, even with the same mission, lead to vastly divergent paths, even when they have the same end goal. We will also cover how CS handles similar objectives, alongside each team.
Sales managers, account executives, and Sales engineers focus primarily on bringing in new customers. They’re responsible for taking in the leads generated by marketing, and turning them into paying accounts. Once these accounts become established, they’re passed along to Customer Success to ensure their maintenance and renewal. Sales Engineers partner with CS teams for the onboarding process, creating interfaces that explain the product to the user. When it is the time for targeted renewal, upsells, and cross-sells, they create a display to showcase new product features in a compelling manner.
Of all the disparate sectors, Support and Service work most closely with Customer Success. They are the first line of defense when it comes to any product malfunctions, and send complicated issues or recurring/ongoing cases to the CSM responsible for that account. While they focus on closing as many tickets as possible, they also try to keep customers at a consistent satisfaction level. The goal from both sides is to avoid causing the clients any inconvenience, so they coordinate with CSMs if issues aren’t being resolved quickly or the platform itself is not working.
Marketing teams are responsible for creating content. Whether it is videos, blogs, social media posts, PR pages, or promotional pieces like white papers, they generate the materials that can then be used in lead generation. The marketeers furnish the reference accounts that Sales and CSMs use in their pitches and onboarding, respectively, and push customer data to both sectors so that everyone is fully up to date on what is working. Likewise, CS works directly with Marketing in constructing the appropriate materials for customer retention, and account expansion.
The IT department focuses on maintaining the infrastructure of the platform, increasing tool efficiency and uptime for employees and customers. CS teams report critical issues to IT teams, and IT takes care of the technical problems that CS cannot solve themselves. There is a lot of coordination required between CS and IT, because CS’s job is contingent on the efficacy of IT’s operations. If there is too much downtime between the the service request and the resolution, customers will get fed up of losing valuable operations time, which reflects poorly not only on the the CSM, but also IT and Engineering.
The Engineering department is always on the cutting edge, developing new product features that Sales can sell, Marketing can advertise, and CS can use to boost renewals and upsells. However, like the IT department, they are also in charge of making sure the product stays online without any bugs. If there is an issue that CS cannot fix, Engineering steps in to quickly troubleshoot. Support, Engineering, and CS partner together on the tough issues to make sure customers get transferred to the right people as quickly as possible. During the downtime, the CSM interacts with the customers and figures out how to keep them satisfied for the long haul.
These are just a few examples of the engagement scenarios and cross functional aspects of a Customer Success organization. It can be a challenge to interact with all teams under varying circumstances each day, but it allows CS to be perfectly positioned as the liaison between each teams and the customers. Ultimately, the Customer Success team builds their problem solving repertoire and gains a multilateral skillset that will allow them to excel in any aspect of the business. While it is a challenge to maintain so many moving parts at once, the advent of CS allows for a more connected and unified operation.
Bridging the Gaps
In order to implement this system of checks and balances between the disparate teams, it’s important to maintain a operations charter that details how the Customer Success team works. With new systems being implemented, it’s natural that there will be some confusion as to how things will change. Head off the questions with a simple white paper or brief that details any adjustments, and make sure you create an online database that everyone can consult with their questions and suggestions. If you implement the effective feedback, it’ll show that you’re listening and people will feel invested in the the new operating processes.
Before you start making any changes, make sure the key leaders of each team, like Sales, Marketing, Support, Engineering, and IT, are all on board. You need their vocal support and cooperation because there will be frictional issues in starting the daily CS interactions that will add new tasks to everyone’s plate. You don’t want the be an “interruption” in their daily operations, as opposed to a valued liaison and member of the team. If you do not harness the other teams’ resources from the inception of your CS operation, you will end up seeing more reds than yellows on your Customer Health dashboards, simply because people didn’t understand what the CSMs do.
The Key to Success
If, as head of your Customer Success organization, you do not clarify what the CSM’s role is in the company, other teams will look upon your operation as an unnecessary nuisance. Instead, if you make a clear and compelling case that outlines how CS integrates with each subset of the business, like we have shown above, it is undeniable that CS brings value to all aspects of the operation.
So, in conclusion, the key to making CS work is to show how CS owns the customer journey and that its success cannot be accomplished alone. CSMs are often dependent on other teams that have battling priorities, but when they work together, customers feel more satisfied than ever before. It is critical that the leadership team of your company has an understanding of what your CS operation does, so that they will be its staunchest advocates.
Director, Customer Success & Tech Services
Over his 18 year career, Vipul has experienced enterprises ranging from startups to Fortune 100 companies. He is now the Director of CS at Ellie Mae, with previous experience at Indix,Brocade, Oracle, Sun Microsystems, and Netscape. As a Strategic Advisor to Strikedeck, he provides expertise in a variety of functions, ranging from CS and high touch programs, to traditional support centers around the globe.