Welcome to our blog series CSM from the Trenches, a community for frontline Customer Success Managers (CSMs) that discusses trends, best practices, and advice for the frontline.
Being on the CSM frontline allows us to directly influence the success of our clients. I love that; as our clients are successful, we’re successful. Each day we learn from the trenches what it takes to make clients happy and successful.
Our “Mentors” questions are geared toward CSMs receiving mentorship directly from Director-level and above customer success leaders, in order to help them grow professionally. The goal is that by sharing our experiences we’ll be able to learn and apply more practical advice / practices to our careers.
One of those questions asks, “What are two or three ways you’ve established (or improved) “customer success as a culture” within your organization?”
We’ve compiled a list of answers from 7 Customer Success Mentors. Let’s get started!
7 Customer Success Mentors Share Ways to Improve “Customer Success as a Culture”
This is a really good question, because customer success is definitely a culture and not just a department; an entire organization must be bought into the idea in order to excel. From sales to marketing to implementation to onboarding, everyone must understand what customer success looks like and be aligned on the desired outcomes.
The way I’ve always done this is speaking with each department head as I join a company. and look at how we can establish internal alignment. For example, with the sales team we might consider how customer success can help the company become more commercial in the way we pitch products. On the other hand, salespeople might be able to help customer success with clients who have stopped engaging with us. I’ve also worked toward greater utilization of a reference program where we set up satisfied customers with potential prospects, which often results in a new sale.
These are a few ways I’ve contributed to the discipline of customer success as a culture. It’s certainly a give-and-take relationship with other stakeholders. Product, for example, might present the product roadmap to customers and in return customer success will help beta customers understand the new features as well as set up customer interviews for the product team to gather feedback.
Goal alignment is key for any organization to build customer success as a culture, especially within the C-suite. These individuals can help drive objectives forward and measure against any key performance indicators.
We’re fortunate enough to not only have clients throughout the entire country but our team works that way as well. We’re located in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Colorado, Texas and New Jersey so having open communication and a central “hub” for all our client data is extremely important to our culture.
Being a small company, we share a lot of the responsibilities of client success and retention but we try to be clear on who is the “champion” for each specific area. Having weekly, virtual team meetings with Zoom is a great strategy to make sure we’re all on the same page. Being that our clients and team are located all over the US, we understand the value of bringing everyone together face-to-face. Twice a year we host our “Exchange” meeting where all our clients and team members come together to share best practices, learn from industry experts, hear updates from our team, and really have the chance to just be together and build on relationships. These meetings are so important for us to re-focus as a team and hear directly from our members on what they are happy with and what they’d like to see more of. Being face-to-face offers an environment for open communication.
Another tactic we established was forming an advisory board of our core members. The purpose is to have a representative sample to bounce ideas off of and hear directly from them on what solutions they would like us to focus on. It’s been great to have something formal established and a have a group of members that we know want to represent the collective bettering of the network.
The last one I wanted to share was the concept of yearly stewardship reviews. For each client, our team schedules a one-hour call with our client’s leadership team to just listen and learn more about their business. What’s working for them? What’s keeping them up at night? How can we be a better partner? We make it a point for them to know that we truly care about their success and want to be there for them on whatever level they need us.
True customer success takes a village. Period. CSMs can’t do it alone! So one of the things I’ve tried to and continue to do is instill collaboration beyond the customer success management team. Companies are stronger when customer success becomes more than just a department.
At SmashFly, we partner closely with our product management team. As a SaaS company our customers are in the product every day so it’s important we’re connecting them with the team directly in charge of the product. This allows us to have conversations on how can we make the customer experience better and more successful.
Additionally, learning how to be the voice of the customer to help navigate and prioritize business initiatives internally. Sure, we can share customer frustrations as they are provided to us but more importantly, we should be the team gathering feedback and data so we aren’t making decisions on assumptions. Customers want to be heard and we are the conduit to the rest of our organization, like the product, engineering and our leadership team. Companies need to centered around the success of their customers; it shouldn’t just be the responsibility of the CSM.
*Former Director of Customer Success, AspireIQ
As is typical for most customer success teams, AspireIQ worked hard to always consider our customer’s experience all the way through their entire lifecycle with us. What was the deal cycle like from Sales? What was/is their product experience? What did they do? Did they have any support issues alongside that? What was their Customer Success experience like? And finally, what are the takeaways? What are we looking to understand and potentially not replicate in the future? How can we evolve or better our own services or platform?
We put a lot of effort into improving these postmortems to better understand why our brands would or should stay. It was important for us to move away from Customer Success simply reviewing the client’s experience and why they churned, because reasons for churn can be so varied. That’s not to say the lessons learned from churn aren’t valuable, I just believe we often overlook the reasons why customers stay.
Regardless of industry, we need to remember we’re not the only solution available and competitors are usually anxious to gain our clients’ business. So in cases where we do secure a renewal with clients, we should always ask ourselves “why”. What did our company do to earn the renewal?
This kind of success analysis approach not only helps mature and foster your customer success team, but it also aligns other departments to “customer success”. The entire company can benefit in understanding why a client has renewed multiple times; there must be a compelling reason for them to stay. It’s every company’s goal for clients to find so much value in the product or services it offers, that we strive to become as sticky as possible.
One of the first things we’ve worked on is shared responsibility across the company for our customer’s true success and creating accountability for each team. To get more specific, we’ve actually created a shared strategy around NPS. Every three to six months, each functional team leader across the company submits one to two priorities for how their team is going to move the needle on our company’s NPS objectives. Our head of engineering, product, finance, etc. each report on what they can do in order to achieve a better NPS score next time. It’s not just a responsibility of the Client Success team.
Another thing we do is hold monthly risk mitigation meetings, where a representative from each of the functional teams reports on how they’re mitigating certain risks that they own – e.g., If it’s related to not delivering on a growing list of unaddressed product enhancements, a Product team leader plays the role of reporting on mitigating that risk. This has created a more collaborative approach to solving client-related issues. It’s awesome that each functional leader is fully bought into and feels responsibility for the general success of our customers.
A third thing we do is hold weekly company meetings where someone from our Client Experience team (whether it’s implementation, support, client success, or technical solutions) share some sort of customer story. And about once a month, we hold client interviews where invite 1-2 clients and spend 45 minutes in a Q&A session to learn about their experience with us. This helps foster a greater awareness of what our challenges, successes, and value propositions are.
One thing I have found to be very effective are regular meetings with sales leadership, or sales counterparts. Holding these meetings consistently has helped ensure there’s an open line of communication between sales and customer success. Even as a frontline CSM, I would encourage regular feedback sessions with sales. You can discuss what’s working and not working, or what each of you are seeing that could be improved upon.
I think we often assume that our partners across the aisle, if you will, fully understand our processes and the value we can provide as CSMs. In reality, I think it’s actually different than you might assume. An open line of communication can help you learn some things about your own process, and you might be surprised at how much you haven’t communicated, or how much has been misunderstood about your process.
I would also suggest aligning yourself with your product counterparts. Early in my career, I made it a point to get to know each of the product managers within my organization. Good relationships with product leaders and managers can help in delivering more accurate and timely answers to your customers on why a feature works a certain way, why something might be broken, or better anticipate upcoming enhancements.
The first thing I’ve done is leverage data; we’re a data-driven organization in that we kind of live and die by what the data is telling us. When I started with BetterCloud, I made sure I had good insight into why customers stayed and why customers left. We created greater visibility around that data and were able to share that outward with each function in the organization. The go-to market function usually has a really good pulse on what’s happening. But as we started to try to get buy-in from our engineering team, product teams and developers, they needed to understand what the data was telling us.Share the data so everyone can understand and you can speak the same language!
Secondly, I’ve focused on educating my organization since a majority didn’t really understand what customer success both as a practice and principle were. I’ve spent a lot of cycles starting at our internal company summit, where I addressed the organization, and talked about customer success, what it is and how my team made customer success a reality through cross functional orchestration. I also went on a road tour and met with each cross-functional department to speak with them specifically about customer success and the role they played in the bigger customer picture. For some folks there was a direct correlation in that success, while for others there were three degrees of separation. For those less connected, it was important to tell them the story. I took specific initiatives, projects or product functionality they were working on and helped them understand how what they were doing every single day was contributing to the value and success of our customers. Through that narrative, they started to feel more connected and bought into the idea of customer success.
Another initiative we’ve worked on is connecting people directly to customers. Giving—whether it’s our product, engineering, marketing, or executive leadership teams—access to our customers has also increased customer success as a culture. Our customers enjoy getting the additional support and telling their success stories, which in turn makes customer success a more tangible concept. But it’s equally as important for internal teams to hear from customers who aren’t happy and satisfied or customers who have left and why they made that decision. This way, we’re not only celebrating our wins but also acknowledging areas of improvement.
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