Customer Success Planning: 4 Things Leading Teams are Doing in 2020

The new year is quickly approaching, and with it comes reflection and planning. While customer success has evolved into a foundational role within software companies, it’s still an evolving field. So what should customer success managers be preparing for?

In our webinar Key Focus Areas of Top-Performing Customer Success Teams in 2020, we talked to a panel of experts about what lies ahead for the world of customer success in 2020. Megan Macaluso, Brian Merz, and Andrew Stapleton all shared their experience with topics like:

  • How leading customer success teams are planning for 2020
  • Customer success trends and advancements we can expect in the New Year
  • Key characteristics and skills necessary to build a top-performing customer success team

Here’s where our panelists are focused in the coming year:

Clarifying the customer success process to achieve repeatable results

Customer success can create real and lasting change within a business, including its bottom line. However, there can be a lot of moving parts and tasks to consider on the road to reducing churn. That’s why one focus for customer success experts this year will be clarifying processes and roles to make impactful change. 

Megan Macaluso, VP of Strategic Development at ESG, reflected on one of her biggest 2019 wins. She shared that “[As a consultant], one of the things that we do with our clients is to go in and try to improve customer success organizational maturity and operations and processes and outcomes, right? That’s a lot of work, and it’s really easy to focus on a final kind of lagging indicator of, “Hey, we want our churn to go down. We want our revenue to go up. We want happier customers.” That comes after a lot of work, and sometimes it’s hard for leadership to understand all of that good work that’s happening.“

“Something that we deployed this year was leveraging an MVP-type process. We can take a pilot group of customers, run end-to-end with the things that we’ve developed, measure that test, and then deploy it to the rest of your organization.”

Having a clearly-defined customer success project also protects your CSM’s time and sanity. Brian Merz, Senior Customer Success Manager at Slack, shared that it’s essential to “protect CSMs from being the kitchen sink for other organizations or your programmatic process implementation. If you let just anything get to your CSMs, you’re going to lose time to focus on what’s important for their customers and for thinking strategically and deeply executing on that.”

Delving into proactive data and indicators

Another way that customer success leaders are planning on making 2020 a great year by focusing on a proactive process that can stop churn in its tracks. Andrew Stapleton, VP of Customer Success at G2, has his eye on data that gives customer success managers a heads up about at-risk users. Andrew noted that “in the past, I’ve put together operations systems that look at adoptions. For example, how many times is a customer touching the system, and if you can measure that they’re kind of trailing off. That could be a lagging indicator. That could be a signal that they’re already gone.”

“One of the interesting things that we do at G2 is “intent data,” and this is where you can actually get signals of when your customers are researching a competitor.”

In addition to identifying “intent data” opportunities, Andrew and his team are working through how to mitigate potential churn scenarios. He added, “I think delving into signals like that—they’re great leading indicators—and then operationalizing them. So are you going to hand that to a CSM to do really careful bespoke outreach, or are you going to do ABM outreach? That’s something that we talk about a lot going into next year.”

Setting realistic expectations

The opportunities for CS teams to improve the customer experience can leave CSMs like a kid in a candy store despite the fact that time and resources are often incredibly limited for most teams. Megan is planning on taking a lesson she learned this year into 2020 planning. 

“I think we have some lessons hard-learned about implementing new processes and tools while integrating data at the same time, and expecting for there to be any sort of expediency for the return on investment that you make there. [You have to have] a reality check around how long that stuff can take.”

“My favorite analogy about this is it’s like doing a home project over a weekend and thinking “We can re-tile our floor in two days and we’re going to go to Home Depot one time.” That turns into three weeks of work and twelve trips into Home Depot because every time you uncover something or try something new, you have to fix it.”

Scaling a customer success program takes time and learning, so managing expectations is essential. 

Aligning customer success and product teams 

We talk about a company-wide culture of being centered on customer success and empowering customer success and product management teams to collaborate all the time here at UserIQ. You don’t have to take our word for the impact of alignment, though. Brian credits alignment for one of Slack’s 2019 wins. 

“We launched one of our most significant features in the last few years. Shared channels are the ability to connect two different Slack instances, and it was a huge strategic push. It happened to be the first time we really closely partnered with the product team very early on in the process through launch and beyond to make sure it was adopted successfully.” 

Having cross-team collaboration during the creation of a new feature worked so well that Brian plans to carry the strategy into the new year. “We just kind of blew it out of the water from an adoption standpoint, but kind of a bigger impact was the relationship that was formed between the CS org and the product org and kind of a working model for successfully rolling out major products.“

The evolution of the customer success role is pretty uncharted territory, and there’s no single best roadmap for how to develop your program. The good news, though, is that an iterative process delivers insights along the way that help guide your next steps. Customer success leaders preparing for 2020 should take time to review what worked for the teams this year, and where there are weak spots. Using this information, as well as the input from other experts, you can prioritize your 2020 efforts. 

Want to hear what other wins, challenges, and trends the experts shared? Listen to the full Key Focus Areas of Top-Performing Customer Success Teams in 2020 webinar here.

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