One of the things to watch out for when managing customer success is a lack of alignment with other teams in the company. Oftentimes when management identify early signs of an issue through increased cancellations, negative feedback or drops in usage it leads to the conclusion that “we need to invest in customer success”. However this team or initiative can end up being created and managed in a silo from the rest of the organization.
It sounds obvious but customer success that happens in isolation is destined to fail. Here's some tips for aligning other teams in the company around the customer.
Senior Management -
This is where it starts. Executives or founders need to communicate the current position and the vision for customer success. What it is, why it matters and how you are going to get there.
Some tactics that can help here include:
1) Hold managers across the organization accountable to customer success metrics - For example, certain product team goals could be based around usage, reliability and qualitative feedback as well as features shipped and bugs fixed.
2) Demonstrate the impact of compounded customer churn on company growth - this can work well in startups or companies where employees hold a stake in the company but make sure to communicate it as an opportunity and not a negative that will impact morale.
3) Develop and promote those who are committed to solving for the customer - this a powerful tactic to demonstrate that customer success is not just important for the company but can impact your career growth.
This kind of speaks for itself, if you don’t have a great product it’s going to be hard to develop successful customers. In many companies and particularly startups the product is the customer success team but in companies where the teams are separate here’s some things to consider to keep the relationship between CSM and product strong:
1) Don’t let CSM dictate the product roadmap - This is rule number one and I plan on writing a more detailed post on this one. It’s important that a customer success team doesn’t dictate the road-map and scream for every feature to the product team. On the flip side, product shouldn’t ignore CSM but should provide an open communication channel and seek their insight often This feedback can be used as a starting point for usability research and interviews.
2) Relate some product team goals to customer success metrics - see above.
3) Have a dedicated intermediary- it’s a good idea to nominate a member of the customer success team who can directly meet with product managers and engineers and feedback developments to the team and provide training as a whole this will avoid things getting chaotic.
People are often surprised when I suggest marketing has an impact on customer success but there are a few crucial elements that directly impact CSM teams:
1) Positioning - one of the reasons that marketing have an impact on customer success is their influence on product/service positioning. If the product is marketed in a certain way sales will also sell it in the same way (it all rolls down). So it’s important to make sure that CSM teams align to this positioning but also provide feedback on whether this positioning is realistic.
2) Communicating success - the case study - a classic piece of marketing collateral but also essential for CSM teams. Case studies are commonly used in the sales process but can also provide a template for customer success and ammunition in difficult renewal situations.
3) Customer marketing - many larger organizations invest heavily in customer marketing. It’s not something smaller companies can usually focus on but even having dedicated time scheduled to communicate product changes, new features and connect users with one another is crucial for customer growth.
It’s no secret that most important team to be part of customer success is sales. Much like sales alignment with marketing, alignment between CSM and sales teams is extremely difficult. Sales can be a tough job and is inherently short term focused and therefore at odds with long term customer growth.
It’s naive to ever think the relationship will ever be perfect. However, I noticed some things that companies have successfully implemented to help this alignment:
1) Sit CSM and sales teams beside each other - this is a simple tactic but has huge psychological impact. CSM teams will learn to understand sales challenges while sales teams will understand the pain customers feel when expectations aren’t met. Nobody wants to cause their colleagues undue stress (I hope not anyway) so this will keep things honest and provide a direct feedback loop.
2) Make churn/retention part of sales compensation - this is a controversial tactic and not suited to all sales teams but it can be very effective in companies where monthly or quarterly renewals are the norm. Tying comp % to individual churn % will ensure sales bring on the customers who are the best fit.
3) Provide ongoing training - I see a lot of companies providing great new hire training on “what customer success is” and “what makes a good fit customer” but it’s important to keep this training going at regular intervals as people simply forget or fall into bad habits.
4) Use team meetings to communicate success - if you have situations where multiple teams are in the same meeting it can be effective to use this as a platform to communicate customer success. Relating this to sales, it can be used to show how alignment has helped or how a situation that was initially negative was turned around with the goal of avoiding those situations in the future.
As you can see customer success can’t happen in isolation. At the very least it needs to be communicated to the entire company and ideally considered as a part of every team. Of course there’s countless other examples of how to build this alignment but hopefully some of the above examples will get you thinking about how to apply it to your own company.