Software is "eating the world". If you haven't heard of this term coined by famed investor Marc Andreessen, you may have been living under a rock.
As more and more companies leverage software to solve their biggest pain points and run more efficiently, the popularity and prestige of the customer success department has continued to expand rapidly.
The goal of the customer success organization is enable the customer to meet and exceed their expectations with your product or service.
To achieve all this, a director of customer success needs to understand customer perspectives in a detailed and accurate way, despite a changing environment and an infinite diversity in customer expectations.
With such a diverse role, there is an equally diverse set of requirements and a subsequent range of salaries available for the right director. Here, we’re going to look at the role in context, give some examples of the work involved, and cover the factors that affect the compensation for the work, so you can become a step closer to the customer success job you’re looking for.
The role of any good customer success department is to create a smooth and enjoyable experience from onboarding, through product implementation to account management. It’s about forming and nurturing relationships that facilitate and generate the achievement of your customer’s desired outcomes.
Customer success is a major determinant in a company’s growth. This is because customer churn is the limiting factor for many companies, where, at scale, they won't be able to add enough new customers to replace those who are leaving.
However, with a laser-like on customer success, churn rates can reduce significantly, and a SaaS can then stack new customers on top of those retained customers, driving growth like a hockey-stick.
The desired outcome for the customer is much more than just the purchase of your product or service; there are timeframes, emotional triggers, pain points, expansion, and ongoing value to consider too. Implementation and activation of the product are all parts of the experience and are opportunities to maximize success and bring customers closer to upsell and referral, which are great outcomes for your company and also validate the value the client is receiving.
To address all of these expectations, the customer success department must come from an intelligent and empathetic place. It requires collaboration between multiple areas of the company responsible for the customer journey and an effective set of incentives that focus on not only conversions but the long-term goal of customer retention.
For this to work, the customer experience needs to be well understood. Customer success requires managing the entire customer lifecycle to guarantee that only good-fit leads are passed happily along the pipeline. This means managing expectations, producing customer education, and following the best practices of nurturing along the entire journey.
With a successful customer success strategy, you’ll be reaping the rewards of reduced churn, improved morale, increased value, and the referrals that come from enthusiastic clients.
So, it follows that an effective success team requires an effective success director to pull all these factors together and build a functional team. Let’s take a look at what it means to direct such a project.
Director of Customer Success
The director of customer success should be a significant investment in the company. The role differs from a support person or customer success manager in terms of what they’re accountable for and their level of responsibility.
It’s a more precise role - while at the same time requiring diverse skills – that still focuses on aiding the customer in the attainment of their desired outcome.
This is done through building and running a qualified team and by the strategic quantifying of various metrics involving the customer experience, such as a happiness index or happiness score, all of which we will go over in the next section.
From these data, strategic improvements can be made at any of the customer touchpoints, and the entire journey can be streamlined for each account.
It’s the role of the director of customer success to build and run the team involved in this customer journey, all the way from start to referral. As such, they will need to have the widest scope of the entire process. They’ll also need informed and well-designed systems to plan and execute all components of the customer’s success department.
To put it another way, they’re responsible for unblocking all friction points along the customer journey and maintaining good customer health with the vision of retaining customers and leading them all the way to becoming a champion of the company’s product.
Again, this is all about engaging the customer and helping them get more value from the product. In turn, the company’s goal is to extract value from them in the process, by way of upselling and referrals.
This all needs to involve a structured process of expansion of current accounts and requires a special set of skills that foster teamwork, empathy, and strategic approaches to customer satisfaction.
Director of Customer Success Job Description
If you’re entering a new company as the director of customer success, you’ll be faced with a variety of different tasks and methods, depending on the size of the company and their previous experience with (i.e., established systems of) customer success.
The scale of your success team will determine your specific job description, and some of the roles may be closer to the responsibility of the VP of customer success, who should be overseeing the entire process. However, in smaller companies, there will be a lot of overlap in the role of the director and some of the experienced CSMs, and in many, there may not even be a VP. Therefore, a good director can cover a lot of bases.
For an insight into the day-to-day responsibilities and a sense of what a director of customer success job description might include, here are some of the common areas for which you’ll likely be responsible.
- Plan – In general, the role will involve planning out your goals and the goals of your team, across spans of days, weeks, and months. Any systems that need to be designed or improved need to be planned out with feasible timeframes and stakeholders need to be notified and kept on track.
These include customer health, but also account organizations, inter-departmental communications, and delegation of ownership of different parts of the process.
- Stay Active in the team – This will probably be email exchanges with department heads in a larger company, but could involve customer interactions or social media interactions with the customer success community. Follow-ups, new requests, team updates, etc. are all part of the involvement.
- Create a Health Score – If this hasn’t been done already, it’s the responsibility of the Director of customer success to design it. A health score means identifying the stages of an account to quantify their activation and engagement.
If it’s already in place, it needs to be monitored, reviewed, and adjusted where necessary. Then, it needs to be implemented.
The director of customer success will be the one who identifies which of the customers are at risk of churn and what to do to bring them back into the game and on the road to referral.
- Team sync – This is where you’ll be bringing people from the relevant departments together to update and align their perspectives with the tasks at hand. This might be followed by onboarding handoffs to the CS team, for example. Essentially, you’ll be facilitating the transfer of knowledge from sales to onboarding to deeper CS teams.
It is a place to share the bigger picture and encourage members of each section of the process to work according to the driving principles of customer success.
- Ask for testimonials – The director’s responsibility isn’t just to get customers into the best health score category, it’s also to follow up and engage to see how you can help one another add value. Whether this is done personally or delegated, customer interactions must include asking for testimonies and referrals and aim to increase the number of referrals to counter the number of canceled accounts.
- Monitor Deployment - Have someone monitor the customer’s deployment of your software, understand the friction points, and then relay this information in product meetings. This is the customer’s voice, and it’s invaluable as a way of understanding the customer's perspective.
There are plenty of other elements to running the show as director of customer success, but the ones listed above will be the common and familiar ones, and, chances are, if you’ve been in similar roles before, you’re already competent in many of these areas.
The scale of the company, the complexity and stage of the systems in place, plus, of course, the nature of the customers themselves and the products you’re working with, will all factor into the specifics of the role, and these will also affect the salary you can expect to make.
Director of Customer Success Salary
For all the reasons mentioned in the above section, the salary for this role varies wildly. Depending on where you look, most salaries are reported to sit somewhere between $48k to $330k.
Here are some factors that determine the director of customer success compensation.
- Experience - This shouldn't be news to anybody. The longer you're in the game, the more value you’re likely to be able to bring to the table. Chances are, you’ll be looking to take on a VP role in the future, so you’re likely to already know and have planned for getting the experience you need.
- Certifications – There are countless on customer success, and many of them will go a long way to boosting your salary. Course duration and topic coverage vary, so if you’re looking to take on some extra accreditation, check the desires of your ideal role and the direction you want to go in first.
- Company Size – Smaller companies are going to have a lower budget. On the other hand, they’re a great way to get into a higher position early on and demonstrate your chops to future talent attraction teams. If you’re successful in your role, you’ll be a critical driver of growth, and as such, you’re likely to be well compensated in the long run.
- Additional Benefits – Many roles come with additional compensation like cash bonuses, and intelligent bonus packages will put focus on retention and growth, incentivizing the long-term relationships between the customer and your team. Balance these additional bonuses against the base salary to get a true idea of how much you’ll be earning.
For reference, the average salary is almost $130k, before benefits. But these factors will be a better indicator of what you stand to earn. As always, more experience typically means better compensation, so a good reputation and background are going to take you a long way.
In order to boost your career towards the highest-paying roles, there are some basic principles that are good to consider, going forward, that will guide you to attaining the best director of customer success salary you get.
How to Maximize your Role
The return on a director of customer success should be five-fold. This means you’re not just tasked with making people happy, you’re going to need to know how to strategically motivate people within and outside the company and educate them on where, when, and how to add value.
Here are some simple principles to follow to best accomplish this. Many of these pointers are general philosophies that need to be well discussed with your team to make sure that everyone is working for the betterment of the customer’s experience.
- Don’t use the product as a metric of customer desire.
A director of customer success needs to be outcome-project-focused. This has been mentioned in one form or another repeatedly in this article, but it is the key factor in boosting the success of the role, and one in which many make mistakes.
Here’s how people get it wrong: establishing customer desires by working backward from the product or service is an ineffective and inaccurate way to determine desired outcomes!
The thought process usually follows that if the service solves a specific problem and your customer paid good money for it, that’s exactly what they want. However, this leaves the implementation and activation of their purchase totally out of the equation.
A good director of customer success has a deeper understanding of the customer’s needs, timelines, and expectations with the product, and how each of these is an opportunity to boost engagement and promote upsell and referral. Then, they need to be able to educate their team on the same.
- Aim for new customers to directly impact the bottom line.
This is essentially the starting target any director of customer success should be aiming for. This is done by matching the rate of churn with the rate of referrals and should be a focus of your team, with the mindset that you’re aiming to present your company with a clear return on their investment in you.
Part of this is escalating the value of your top customers. For referrals, it’s possible to create case studies of the best ones or even have them present their experience at conferences, which brings you a form of customer marketing, creating value for both you and your customer as a result of their relationship with your company.
- Make the most of feedback.
One of the most critical elements to maximizing customer success is opening up the conversation with them. Your point of contact, whether it’s yourself or your assigned person, needs to understand where customers are getting tripped up, from the customer perspective. If you’re not getting this feedback, it means the process is not working as it should. The most valuable growth opportunities come from these interactions, and this is something that takes empathy, consideration, and time.
This means if it’s not your role personally, your job is to identify and facilitate the person you assign to this task, so choose wisely. The director of customer success needs to be part of this loop and make sure they’re learning from the customer how to escalate value on both sides of the relationship.
- Don’t ignore onboarding.
Customer success begins with their first touchpoint but it accelerates significantly at the moment your personal relationship with them begins. The onboarding process is time-sensitive as well as being the first opportunity for the success team to make a mutually-beneficial and interactive relationship with the customer.
Two points to consider are the speed of the process and the pleasantness of the journey. Both of these contribute massively to the health score of the customer in the early stages of their experience with your product.
All customers are different, and the success team should be responsible for making sure the onboarding process is flexible to meet these differences. Onboard.io aims to maintain this flexible approach to onboarding while making use of the speed of automation to rapidly and comfortably lead your customer into your long-term relationship.
A director of customer success needs to adopt a strange combination of skills and abilities. It’s a role that mixes the personal with the professional and uses a variety of tools to fill a very specific role.
A good candidate is empathetic, has a wide scope, and is both a good leader and team player. Whatever the size of the company or team, the director needs to know that conversions are only the beginning, and the and-goal is retention, referrals, and valuable testimony for the company; through a smooth and pleasant onboarding, customer relations, and implementation of your product.
This is all followed by a persistent nurturing of relationships both with the customer and within departments, to gather a deeper understanding of the customer perspective and further drive value addition.