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When you and your executive team decide it’s time to build out a customer success department, you’ve made an important first step. Ensuring your customer base is retained, growing, happy, and successful with your product or service is perhaps the most important aspect of your business. Wait—it is your business. Success in SaaS is retaining and growing your accounts.
The decision to add a customer success department or to rebuild it from the ground up if you already have one may have been a straightforward decision. You know that customers are the foundation of your business and you understand that without month over month growth and predictable revenue, you won’t be successful in the long term. But the question comes down to this: do you know what it takes to build a successful department - and where do you start?
If your executive team has placed priority on customers, then we’re here to help ensure that your customer success department is built on a solid foundation of tried and true best practices.
Below we’ll share 3 Do's & 3 Don'ts of building a successful customer success department:
When building out a winning customer success department, it’s important to keep the focus on the customer at all times. It’s easy for CSMs to get distracted with internal battles or long to-do lists, but encourage a culture where everything in the company is focused on the concept of customer success. If the customer is the #1 priority, then other issues will fall to the wayside or will be addressed at a later time. Asking the question, “how will this help our customers?” is a good gauge to temperature check the focus on your organization to ensure your new or revamped department has the right priority focus.
It’s easy for CSMs and executives to get into the mindset of checking things off the long list of to-dos. There are issues to solve, products to sell, upsells to pitch, and internal challenges to navigate. But an important aspect of building out a customer success department is consistently delivering above and beyond expectations for the customer - even if it takes more time to do it the correct way. You’ve heard the saying “under promise and over deliver”, right? This phrase couldn’t be more applicable to your customers. They are counting on your company’s product or service to help them solve important problems, and the customer success team members are a vital part in delivering on promises (and sales contracts).
Dave Blake, Founder and CEO of ClientSuccess commented in a recent OpenView article, “You need your team to be empowered to actually deliver on customer success. “You need them to be able to take care of their customers and even go above and beyond at times.”
Metrics are the lifeblood of any successful customer - and any successful customer success department. The focus of CSMs and other executives across the company should always be on ensuring customers hit their metrics and KPIs - this is incredibly important. CSMs should have a laser focus on their customers’ most important goals so that they can keep a pulse on how customers are progressing towards their key metrics. When a strong focus is placed on not only retaining customers, but helping them to grow and thrive in hitting their own internal goals, then your company’s product or service becomes irreplaceable to them.
Finding talent for our customer success department is hard work and often daunting at times. What kind of traits are important to look for in a CSM? Is past experience as a CSM necessary? If you and your executive team are trying to build your team quickly, then it may be tempting to settle on hiring a handful of qualified CSMs that seem capable - even if they aren’t the best of the best. Hiring the right talent and taking the time to search for the right company fit is imperative to the long term success of your company and your customers’ success. If you hire out of necessity, you may compromise down the road. Or, in a worst case scenario, you are forced to let CSMs go down the road because of a too-fast decision on hiring. Spend the time to thoroughly interview, work out compensation plans, and weigh out the decision carefully. Hiring one rockstar CSM can be like hiring 3 mediocre CSMs - don’t take the risk.
Dave went on to explain in the OpenView article, “It doesn’t matter what background they may come from. It could be someone in sales that’s ready, that loves the customer relationship and wants to move that direction. Or it could be somebody in product who just has a passion for seeing customers leverage technology. The main thing is that they have the ability to develop deeper relationships with customers and align an organization around that relationship.”
Customer success team members need to work cross-functionally across your entire company - and they need to be empowered to do so for the sake of your customers. If you silo your CSMs and don’t allow them to meet with other teams as needed or worse, place your CSM team members away from other teams, then you are discouraging them from resolving customer issues that may impact other teams.
“It’s not just one department that’s in charge of customer success,” Dave later commented in the same OpenView article. “It’s all departments. Whether it’s sales, marketing, product, support, or customer success, they have all touched the customer in some way, either directly or indirectly, and so you need to have them each plugged in and aligned with the proper cross-functional accountability and empowerment for each.”
There’s nothing worse than allowing negativity to foster in the customer success department, and the words “That’s Not My Job” can light negativity like a forest fire. While not every single customer situation - whether positive or negative - needs to be handled by a CSM (and shouldn’t be), those words are like poison to a positive environment. Rather than words like “that’s not my job” or “I don’t have time to deal with that”, encourage positive talk like, “I believe that is a situation best handled by the accounting department” or even “I’d love to help with that, but Cindy is a better point of contact for that particular question.”
The point is this: whenever possible, foster collaboration across the entire company, eliminate negativity, and ensure the focus is always on the customer and their respective success with your company’s product or service. When building out your customer success department, the biggest components are:
1) Customer Focus
2) Delivering in Big Ways - Consistently
3) Staying Laser Focused on Results.
What lessons has your company learned from building out a CSM team? What would you do differently next time?
Check out our resources below for more customer success best practices and insights for how your organization can build strong customer relationships:
Learn more about how ClientSuccess can help your company develop a strong customer success methodology and strategy with easy-to-use customer success software by requesting a 30-minute demo.