Customer success operations ("CS Ops") teams are responsible for assisting the overall customer success strategy of the company. What that involves and how it’s implemented will depend on the specific context of the customer and the product, and the relationships between them. However, a well-formed CS operations team will function across multiple departments and use several different skills to make sure it gets executed effectively.
Customer success begins at the onset of the customer journey and continues through to the end of the lifecycle. As such, it crosses multiple disciplines and involves innumerable touch points. It figures, then, that such a process needs a team that’s competent in making sure each of these points is rock-solid to pass the customer happily to the next one, and this isn’t always easy.
Customer success ops can be an incredible investment to any company looking to boost retention, reduce onboarding costs and increase customer lifetime value. We’re going to tell you exactly how, but first let’s go over why customer success is so important.
Customer success is defined differently across the software landscape. However, from our perspective, it's quite easy: customer success revolves around your customers achieving their desired outcome, as facilitated by your company.
This leaves a lot of questions to be answered, and these answers will depend on many factors that we will go into later, though it sets the blueprint for the concept of customer success and helps customer success operations with a framework to build upon.
When we talk about desired outcomes, we are defining more than the purchase and use of your product. The desired outcome for your customer is based upon their internal business goals -- it may be anything from driving more revenue, managing more efficiently and creating a better customer experience -- it's critical to understand the underlying business goals of your customer and the people who chose your product or service to achieve it.
Whatever your product, its application, or the desires of your customers; for you, achieving customer success means leading your prospect from the moment of awareness to the optimum application of your product or service. In this context, customer success is the company’s success, as a successful customer will become an unpaid promoter of your brand.
This makes customer success a guiding force in the entire customer journey from the first touch, through onboarding, and onto referrals and valuable feedback for continuous improvement for the company.
As such, a successful customer is possibly the most important stakeholder in the project, and to manage a process that works across all stakeholders & departments, a good CS ops team is essential.
Customer success operations are the thread that binds everything together. They do this by executing the customer success strategy; a complex, intelligently-designed series of actionable steps and collaborations between departments that are purposed to keep the customer on track through their journey and guide them all the way to referral.
How does this differ from general management and operations? CS ops are specifically employed to cover this discipline. As such, they’re dedicated to analyzing and improving the entire process to improve customer fit, streamline onboarding and maximize retention in a way that isn’t possible any other way.
If it’s still not clear why good CS ops are relevant, let’s take a look in more detail at some of the benefits of customer success to your company.
Why is Customer Success Important?
The best way to identify the significance of customer success is to work backward from company success. The role of the company is to find and keep customers. Company success can be reflected in attracting and retaining the most customers at the lowest cost to the business.
A great way to save costs on acquiring new customers is by maintaining current ones. Happy customers provide opportunities to upsell, which saves on the cost of attracting a second customer already, but they also promote your product to others in their demographic.
Referrals cost substantially less than customers acquired by other means. In fact, referred customers are at least 25% more profitable overall, as well as being more loyal and having a higher customer lifetime value than those acquired by standard marketing practices.
Therefore it’s obvious that the focus on customers reaching their goals and ultimately achieving high satisfaction -– the point at which they will happily refer to you as the very best-fit customers – is an investment that’s well worth making. This is how customer success is company success.
To break down how customer success benefits companies directly, let’s look at some of the simple gains available to a company with successful customers:
- First, a long customer lifecycle reduces churn. Customer retention is going to be a main outcome of customer success, especially with referred customers.
- With loyal customers, increased upselling opportunities provide opportunities to make sales without the cost of onboarding more customers, reducing sales and marketing costs significantly.
- High churn rates affect the bottom line, but it also affects company culture. Morale is higher when the energy put into acquiring customers is returned, long down the line. The more departments involved in customer success, the more rewarding customer retention can be to the working atmosphere.
- Loyal and communicative customers are great are giving feedback, and the process of devising the optimal solution to their pain points also provides opportunities to improve your product and learn your ICP in more detail. This leads to more value in your product for your current and future customers.
- Finally, as mentioned, a successful customer is a champion of your cause. With rewards for referrals, you can provide a service of gratitude to your happy customer and be rewarded with yet another high-fit one for little cost.
So, the importance of customer success is clear, but what are the processes involved, and how do you get everyone on board to contribute?
This requires a customer success strategy and is where a well-formed customer success operations department comes in.
Customer Success Operations
The role of customer success operations is to help facilitate and manage the entire customer success org. CS aims to engage, lead, onboard, foster, and maintain repeated interactions with the customer in a mutually-beneficial relationship that guides them as smoothly as possible to their desired outcomes. The success of this customer directly relates to the success of the company in all of the ways mentioned above.
Customer success ops need to work with a specific strategy to keep all the moving pieces of customer success functional and working together. This takes a specific set of skills and experience; something which is changing all the time as the concept of customer success becomes better understood.
Led by a customer success manager, the operations team will be responsible for the execution of the customer success strategy, and will be often tasked with the following:
- Working with CS platforms – This might be a customer health score designed in-house or specific software designed for the purpose. It will follow the customer success metrics deemed important to the team. A customer health score involves fine attention to numerous data from every department and touchpoint, and the team needs to fully understand how to make use of these data and improve the customer journey.
CS operations can also make great use of onboarding software such as Onboard.io, which can help automate parts of the onboarding process, so your team can spend more time working on the personal touches needed to guide your perfect customer through their journey. It also helps outline all the tasks you need to complete for the process as a whole.
- Liaising with all relevant departments – This involves facilitating the training and incentive policies of departments involved in the customer journey. Because CS operations are looking for best-fit customers, customer success includes sales and onboarding needs to be a smooth transitional process.
This in itself requires a certain sense of diplomacy and authenticity, as well as a wider understanding of the journey as a whole; something which departments may not have individually.
- Setting CS initiatives for the company – This is a big part of CS ops; with departments potentially at odds with each other in terms of their daily targets and incentives, customer success ops must identify how to motivate everyone to work together.
CS ops need to be able to implement and incentivize the processes within departments in a way that fuels that greater goal of customer success as a whole – not just success through the individual stage of the journey.
For example, if sales are being rewarded simply for the number of conversions, they won’t be focusing on best-fit. Commission bonuses in sales need to be addressed to create an incentive for retention, and CS operations need to oversee this.
- Tracking – the success strategy will have specific key performance indicators as metrics of customer success. It will be the responsibility of the customer success operations team to monitor and keep track of these and identify what makes for effective strategies and what doesn’t work.
This requires analytical and reviewing skills, and will need to involve a level of flexibility and inter-departmental teamwork.
- Forecasting – from the data they have access to, the CS ops team needs to predict and identify areas where customer success is succeeding or lacking. This can also help to forecast company or staff growth, or spot times to upsell.
Ultimately, the team will be providing a response to the continually-evolving landscape based on their analysis of data and a suggestion of things to come, allowing the company to proactively maintain and capitalize on upsell, resell, and onboarding opportunities.
Essentially, the role of CS operations is to make sure that everyone in the customer success functionality is working to their best ability towards a common goal and is adequately informed and ready to take action where and when necessary to maintain customers on the path to success.
When to Adopt Customer Success Ops
CS Ops can streamline any company’s customer success strategy, but there are some instances where they may be critical. Consider the following:
- If your company is looking to scale, and there’s a chance that your operations will not prioritize the customer, it’s a good idea to adopt or boost your customer success operations team.
- If post-sales customer care is an afterthought and your company is at full pace striving to acquire new customers instead, again, customer success is being overlooked and you should consider onboarding some CS ops to address the balance and make the best of the customers you have, as well as clean up the quality of the customer you’re onboarding to best guarantee retention.
- If the renewal process is disorganized and not chased up, and upselling is relegated to a secondary objective for your sales operations team, then there is so much room for improvement in your customer success strategy that you would be almost guaranteed to profit from an investment in CS ops.
There are countless more cases in which customer success is a neglected part of business, and it’s sensible to keep your departments working to their strengths. For example, customer care or support may struggle to shift from the reactive environment they’re familiar with to a proactive environment such as CS ops. In this case, it’s better to build a specialized team than to try and manage across skill sets.
If profitability is still a concern when considering a CS ops team, it’s worth remembering that adding a customer success operations role can help an existing CSM reduce customer care cases. If so, the role may pay for itself before even reaching the customer retention stage.
Whether you have a small team you’re looking to upgrade, or you want to designate a group of specialists to customer care, you’re going to want to know what to look for in your next customer success operations member.
Who to Look for in CS Operations
There are professional and personal qualities that are critical to look for when hiring a good CS operative. The role involves a mix of experience and natural social talent, and as such, it’s important to have a good interview and vetting process that allows for these attributes to shine through.
Here’s a simple list of some of the most important qualities in a CS ops team member:
- Analytical skills – Reports and data processing are a significant part of the reviewing and improvement parts of the role, so skills in these fields are very handy. This is part of analyzing what went right and wrong, but also in forecasting when and how to address the customer journey.
- Operations experience – Customer success is a relatively new concept, so trying to find people with experience in the role already might be a waste of time. Instead, focus on experience in operations roles that have a heavy customer focus.
- Spreadsheets and CRM – These are the software that will be used to keep track of everyone involved, so the candidate should be familiar with whichever products you’re using, or at the very least, something similar. Again, this will be part of the review and projection, as well as keeping track of where every department is in terms of training and adherence to the strategy.
- Problem-solving – This is one of the core traits. Figuring out where to take action requires an affinity for puzzles and a desire to find solutions.
- Wide scope of understanding – The above requires a ‘bigger-picture’ approach, which not everyone is capable of. Joining dots from all departments and multiple different data streams needs a very wide lens.
- Skepticism – Part of being analytical means not taking things at face value. Correlation doesn’t prove causation, and healthy skepticism is the path to an analytical approach to customer success.
- Time management – Being able to prioritize information and act in an organized manner is the only way to optimize customer success. Becoming distracted with low-impact tasks at the expense of pending, critical needs will cause bottlenecks.
- Communication – Possibly the most important; communication and social skills allow CS ops to function between departments and keep everyone on board with what the company goals are and how they’re going to be achieved.
Figuring out exactly how and where to find people for your customer success operations team might be tricky. Again, making use of automation services at Onboard.io can make the process a lot smoother.
Understanding customer success is one thing, but maximizing its value takes a special kind of talent. With customer success operations, the customer-first approach is prioritized as a company-wide ethos, and the consumer experience is woven into the fabric of the company culture.
This contributes to higher levels of customer retention, reduced churn, improved productivity, and huge leaps in product value with every loyal customer. It’s a key component of scaling a business, and an investment well worth making.