March 8, 2017

How to Create a Customer Success Staffing Model

Francoise Tourniaire, Founder of FT Works and a veteran in Customer Success, discusses the importance of creating a Customer Success Staffing Model and offers valuable insights on the topic.

How to Create a Customer Success Staffing Model

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Creating a Customer Success Staffing Model: A Conversation With Francoise Tourniaire

“Customer Success” as a phrase is a relatively modern concept, according to Francoise Tourniaire, Founder, FT Works. She explained that many who have been in the field for a long time smile when they hear the phrase “Customer Success” because the concept has existed for decades, under other names. Francoise’s entire career has been under the umbrella of Customer Success. She believes that true Customer Success happens when organizations stop waiting for customers to contact them with problems, but rather, accompany customers along their entire customer journey.

Drive Value at Every Stage of the Journey

Francoise’s career has been in high tech where it’s often perceived that the sales cycle is simple: a company creates wonderful products, customers use the products, tell their friends who also buy the products, and so on. However, she shared that in order to see success, customers need to first be “onboarded” and then need to be helped along the way as they encounter issues, and also need to be shown new ways to add value that they may not be aware of.

“Customer success is success, period. If customers are successful, the company will be successful,” said Francoise.

About Francoise and Her Team

Francoise’s career was first in training, then support, and now formally “Customer Success”. Today, she works with tech customers in a consultancy aspect, from startups to enterprise companies like Cisco and Oracle. Depending on size of companies and needs, she may help her clients set up a dashboard, develop an entire customer success program, or she may help them define a staffing model, start a new process, or streamline current processes. Francoise often works with startups that are transitioning to a more established Customer Success program.

Francoise currently has 10 partners working with her who all have specialized skill sets to help in certain areas of Customer Success. For instance, one important part of the process is building customer portals, and she has team members who do nothing but that. Others help her with soft skills training and process definition.

Readers may also know Francoise by several of the books she has written. Her first book, now in its second edition, is “The Art of Support”. She has also written several other books on customer support and service.

In this conversation, Francoise shares her proven approach to building out a “Customer Success Staffing Model”. Let’s explore in detail:

The Customer Success Staffing Model

The Why

To Francoise, having a staffing model is essential for organizations that are trying to rationally run a Customer Success team, or a business in general. She explained that if leaders want to have a chance to secure headcount and measure the success of the team, they should create a staffing model. “Often people see a staffing model as a useful tool when talking to the Finance department, but to me it’s much more useful to use to talk to yourself, your own management team, and the entire contributor base,” said Francoise.

Many ask her how they can build a staffing model if they don’t have solid metrics. She explained that each department needs a forecast, even if they know “nothing”, and they must define their assumptions. Over time, she explained, benchmark data will be available and assumptions will be vetted and refined. After creating a staffing model, every organization should update it at least twice a year, if not more often, depending on how established the company or department is. “If you change things, you can go back to the staffing model and ask if it made a difference. Yes, you can use it to justify headcount, but also to ensure discipline across everything you do,” she said.

The Formula:

The staffing model formula for Customer Success is very straightforward in Francoise’s mind. She explains the formula for building Customer Success staffing models in the following steps:

1. Segment the Current Customer Base

Francoise explained that for the Customer Success staffing model, it’s important to decide based on experience or forecasting how much effort and time is going to be required to service customers. With that in mind, she recommends separating out new customers and established customers as newer customers typically need more onboarding, and therefore more effort and time should be dedicated to them.

Moreover, she explained that it’s likely an organization will use different staff members to do those onboarding tasks, so it’s important to ask questions such as, “How many customers do I have?” “What customers segments do I have?” She suggested that most organizations will have 2 or 3 customer segments with each segment further divided between old vs. new customers, which makes 4 or 6 total buckets.

2. Determine the Effort Required

Once the customer base is divided into segments, leaders should evaluate based on the desired outcome or experience how much effort or time is required. If new customers need 1 full week of onboarding, for example, then that’s 40 hours. That same exercise should be applied to each segment and each overall bucket.

One word of caution, however, is that many companies only look at the tip of the iceberg and forget how much extra time is required to accomplish each task. For instance, the CSM needs to prepare for the onboarding, they may need to travel, they may need to coordinate schedules, and so on. Once all effort hours have been identified, that number equals the total effort hours.

Francoise also offered a word of advice for organizations looking to change or reduce effort. For instance, she’s working with an organization now that is implementing a new training program that will reduce the number of effort hours. Rather than training each new client for 3 hours, they are training 10 clients at a time for 3 hours total, which significantly reduces the number of effort hours required. The staffing model should reflect that transition.

3. Evaluate the Denominator

When determining the denominator, Francoise explained that this is the simplest number as the calculation is usually fixed over time. She explained that most CSMs don’t actually devote 40 hours a week to customers as they need to accomplish other tasks, too. To calculate this number, Customer Success leaders must determine the number of hours actually available for customer work. For instance, CSMs will take vacation days, have sick days, will spend time working on projects, will attend internal meetings, will read and respond to emails, and so on. “What you will likely find is that CSMs are available about 75% of the time. Too often, organizations don’t take that into account, which leaves team members stressed and afraid to take a vacation,” she said.

4. Arrive To The Outcome

Once all of the previous numbers have been determined, the equation will provide the Customer Success leader with the number of CSMs that are needed. Francoise further explained how to calculate the headcount for 2 other groups: managers and operations team members. Staffing for these groups are simple ratios based on the number of CSMs required.

  • For operations: to avoid bloated groups, determine this number based on a ratio. The operations function of Customer Success should represent no more than 5% of the team.
  • For managers: Each manager can likely handle about 10-12 CSMs (or operations individual contributors), so you can determine the manager headcount using a simple ratio.

Francoise’s Final Word of Advice

When asked for a final piece of advice for Customer Success leaders, Francoise shared,

“It’s just math in the form of additions, multiplications, and divisions. Often, people are intimidated by staffing models as they can be made incredibly sophisticated and complex. But the simpler you make the model, the more you will use it, and the better. Don’t be intimidated and don’t get overly complicated. Just start simple and use the segments that you already know.”

Customer Success eBooks:

5 Ways to Surprise & Delight Your Customers

Customer Success as a Culture: Customer Success Leaders Edition

Customer Success Blog Posts:

Compensation Plans for Customer Success Managers

Who Owns the SaaS Renewal? 3 Ownership Models

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.

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