From the Experts: How Customer Success Operations Drives Efficiency and Productivity in Customer Success Teams

By June 3, 2020Blog

While your customer success team may have started with a “grow as we go” approach, there comes a time when you need to manage all of the moving parts better. Customer success operations are all about supporting your CSMs to focus on doing what they do best. 

In our webinar, Customer Success Operations: Driving Efficiency and Productivity in Customer Success Teams, we spoke with three experts about their experience with CS Ops. 

CS Operations leaders Jeff Beaumont, Mary Iapicca, and Chelsea Leavitt weighed in on topics such as:

  • The impact they have on efficiency and effectiveness in CSMs (and how)
  • The critical role of customer success operations in supporting CS decision-makers
  • The best first steps to take when beginning a journey into CS ops

Here’s what we learned. 

Signs a company needs a CS Operations manager

Customer success operations is a new role in most companies, and questions often arise about how you know it’s time to start looking for a CS Ops manager. For Jeff Beaumont, Customer Success Operations Lead at GitLab, it’s all about getting crystal clear on how you think the role could impact your team. 

“First is outlining exactly why you want the person and what that person will do. It could look like creating a job description even if it’s not a formal job description, just a list of things you want to do.” Jeff shared. 

He also added that “There are a few questions to consider. One, will ops help increase the efficiency of my team? And if so, can we come up with some sort of estimate, some sort of ballpark? It doesn’t have to be precise. So, for example, if we have a team of three CSMs and we hire a CS ops person and that CS ops person is fully devoted to the CSMs, that person has to get each of those CSMs at least 33% more efficient just to break even. Conversely, if we have a CSM team of 30, that CS ops person only needs to increase each person’s efficiency by say 5%, and we’re already light years ahead.”

Another potential benefit of hiring for a customer success operations role is freeing up your director’s or manager’s time.  “When I’ve been a director, I have been inundated with all of the people management, strategy, operations, and everything else.  And if I could hire somebody for this, that would free me up to pursue strategy, to pursue my team, to take care of them and address their needs.”

Jeff’s final point was that “are ops going to help provide that much-needed reporting or dash-boarding or analytics that I don’t have time for?”

If answers to questions such as “what are the likely causes of churn” or “what causes a person to engage” are essential to your team’s success, then a CS Ops manager can dedicate time to uncovering answers.

Chelsea Leavitt, Senior Customer Success Operations Manager at Drift, is pro-CS OPs as soon as possible. 

“I’m pro hiring ops as soon as possible. You will just continue to add tech debt as you grow, especially if you’re in a hyper-growth phase, and you’re adding hundreds of employees yearly. That tech debt’s going to get really heavy, and ops can certainly come in later on and clean it up. But you’re not going to get them to have that strategic point of view. They’re going to be cleaning up a mess. And so get them in there when you can, whether it’s that 30 CSM level or if you can get it down to the first five hires, that’d be awesome, in my opinion.” Chelsea shared. 

How to get executive buy-in for CS Ops

Whether you’ve already decided you’d like to explore hiring a customer success operations manager or you think you’ll find yourself there in the future, it’s likely you’ll need to sell the idea to leadership. 

Mary Iapicca, Director of Customer Success Operations at EVERFI, received buy-in for the need for CS Ops when she could prove there were worthwhile projects the existing team simply didn’t have time to dedicate to. 

“The thing for me was we would have our annual retreat where we would talk about CS and what we were going to do to improve the health of our customers and how we could scale efficiencies, and everybody came up with some great ideas. And over the year, people would work on those projects off the side of their desks, which never came to fruition. We would get back to that annual event and that retreat, and still, we had the same issues, but we didn’t see any dedicated time to those projects. That’s where we realized we needed an operations person, someone that was going to drive those projects home.” Mary shared.  

Another key element to convincing executives of the value of the role is tying it to crucial KPIs. 

“You have to take all of those great ideas and create an outcome that relates to the business. What are the business KPIs and how can you affect that? I think that the most prominent one for CS is renewal rates. If you can look at what you don’t have, or what you cannot accomplish, or where you don’t have a project coming to fruition, you can tie that back to the business objective and make sure that they can see the value of this one position.”

How to evaluate and improve current processes

If you’re coming into a company as a new customer success operations manager, how do you begin to evaluate and improve current processes?

Some questions that Jeff suggests posing to the CS team include:

  • What are you trying to achieve? 
  • If you had infinite resources, what would you do? 
  • What’s your number one pain point?
  • If your company quadrupled in the next 12 months, what would you have to change now to deliver an excellent experience, and what would break?
  • Do we have a solid data foundation?

Mary is also a proponent of shadowing CS managers to learn about their typical workflow. “Understanding the current processes is really important. If you’ve been a customer success manager before at the organization that you are now in an ops position for, it can be helpful because you have so much of that background knowledge.”

“If you haven’t done that, shadowing your customer success managers and watching their day in and day out of what they’re doing can eliminate and highlight gaps in the processes. Also, trying to do it yourself.”

Getting first-hand experience with customer success processes may help you identify challenges or opportunities where current CS managers have gotten accustomed. 

Mary also added, “Your [CS operations hire] should take the first 60 to 90 days to think strategically before they jump in. Get an understanding of what’s going on, think about what you want to do, map out that project plan. I don’t know how often I’ve been in a situation where the project just needs to get done.”

If you’ve already been in the company and are moving to an ops role, Mary suggests looking at key metrics. 

“If you have that data look for gaps, where are customers showing unhealthy attitudes or behaviors, and how can you change that? What can you implement to make a change? And then look at, on the reverse side of that, what processes are actually driving negative behavior that you may need to change.”

Challenges and opportunities for CS Ops

With any new role comes its fair share of challenges and opportunities. Here’s what the experts see impacting CS Ops managers.

Mary started by saying, “ I think the biggest challenge and opportunity that we have is around data and metrics. It’s a huge opportunity to make a bigger impact on what’s possible. Understanding what’s going on, how your customers are interacting, and then making a change based on that.”

On the other hand, the absence of useful data poses a challenge. “If you don’t have that data, that’s also an area that’s a huge challenge because you can’t make recommendations without knowing what’s going on. Often, you hear an individual or a customer calling out one thing that’s going wrong, and that’s all you hear. Still, you don’t hear from all the other people [with] healthy attitudes and behaviors around your product or about your company.” 

Chelsea has seen that it’s a particularly challenging time for customer success teams, given how COVID-19 has impacted everyone’s lives. 

“I would be surprised if someone didn’t raise their hand when I asked the question, do you have to think outside the box? Right? Everyone is having to pivot and change and adjust. It’s a crazy situation. And so I’ve seen it push, not only at Drift but just others I know in this space to think bigger and outside the box.”

Jeff echoed Chelsea’s points by saying, “I would reiterate Mary’s point on data and Chelsea’s point on being human. Those are going to be the two pillars for right now and probably forever.”

For growing customer success teams or those that never seem to be able to get to explore their ideas and ambitions, a CS Ops manager can save the day. Having a person dedicated to improving processes, understanding data, and supporting CSMs can improve productivity and efficiency. 

Want to hear more of what the experts had to say about this new role? Listen to the full webinar, Customer Success Operations: Driving Efficiency and Productivity in Customer Success Teams here.

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