Scaling Customer Success Part I


Photo by Edward Howell

The discussion of scaling Customer Success is a popular topic as it is a common problem organization’s face as they grow.

What works as a fast-growing startup – where the Customer Success team’s focus is very hands-on, high-touch and usually quite bespoke, regardless of what the customer’s subscription fee is - does not scale.

It is no longer efficient to operate in this manner once the company is big enough and starts moving away from ensuring product-market fit to driving customer growth.

Companies need to be able to scale how they drive customer success and they cannot hire Customer Success resources linearly to the increase in customers; it is not effective.

Vendors must create repeatable engagement models that are less resource intensive but still ensure that the customers are successful.

But making this change is difficult.

Why would an organization pivot when its high-touch model is working so well for them?

How does an organization know what a repeatable engagement model looks like when all they have known is having resources work with each customer uniquely?

Lastly, how does the company tell its existing customers it is going to spend less time or effort helping the customer?

In this series on scaling Customer Success, we will look at why making the change is so important, how to create an engagement model that supports scale and how to transition existing customers to a new, scalable model.

The Case for Change: Why Scaling Customer Success is Necessary

It is hard to walk away from a perfectly good working model.

Why when something has been so successful for a company, would it risk making any changes to its engagement model?

The problem is that what has worked so far – typically a very bespoke, labour intensive, time consuming approach to customer success – is not scalable.

Companies go through a natural evolution when they grow.

In the beginning, a company is trying to find product-market fit.

In this phase it is important that a vendor spends a lot of time with customers understanding how they are using the product and learning what features work, which don’t and which new features are required to get full value.

But once a company has found product-market fit, it is acquiring customers much more rapidly and bespoke engagements no longer work.

The high-touch model becomes a bottleneck for the vendor when the quantity of customers needing help to get started on an implementation or getting questions answered during adoption increases beyond the capacity of Customer Success Manager (CSM) resources.

Customer churn increases, CSMs become overwhelmed with the workload and customer experience starts to take a nose dive.

If the vendor does not figure out a scalable approach, it jeopardizes its own success.

This is when companies realize it is time to figure out how to scale Customer Success.

How to Scale Customer Success

The approach I recommend is to learn from the patterns of your most successful customers and use that as a basis to create a repeatable, engagement model.

That is, outline what customers need to be successful and then identify all the activities required to support that success throughout the customer journey.

Keep it simple and do not worry about automation yet as those are operational details which can be considered after your company understands what drives success and a positive customer experience.

Thinking about automation at this point only overcomplicates things and does not reinforce customer centric thinking.

For this reason, start out by defining the high-touch engagement model first and then reverse engineer to the low-touch model afterwards.

Companies find creating a repeatable engagement model easier when they think in a high-touch format.

They also tend to develop a more holistic approach that considers the customer experience when they do so.

With the repeatable, high-touch model in hand, the organization now knows exactly what the customer requires along their journey in order to be successful.

Automating this model into a scalable approach is fairly straightforward: look at the high-touch model and evaluate where there are opportunities to scale.

Jennifer Sutton, VP of Client Success at KEV Group suggests using lean principles and the concept of making something lean as a great tool to do this.

For example, if discovery and an assessment are part of the customer journey, create an interactive website that collects information and outputs a recommendations report on what the customer should do as a next step instead of having meetings to do this.

If the engagement model identifies that a 1:1 session is required, create a video that can be sent to the customer so they can review the same content in an automated fashion.

By outlining a high-touch model that addresses the customer experience and their holistic needs, and then making the entire model lean, a business ensures that low-touch customers still receive all the support they require in a seamless, positive manner.

The company also creates an approach ensuring that all customers receive an amazing experience and are successful albeit they may just interact with the organization differently (be it in a high-, low- or tech-touch manner).

Bottom Line: Scaling Customer Success Starts with Understanding Success

Automated, low-touch and blended approaches play a key role in the solution to scaling Customer Success.

To create a scalable, holistic customer approach identify what customers need along the entire customer journey by looking at the patterns of your most successful customers and then codify that into an engagement model that drives repeatable success and customer experience.

Next week in part II of this Scaling Customer Success series we will look at how to transition existing customers to a new, scalable engagement model.

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