From the Experts: Scaling Your Customer Success Organization

Building and growing an organization is often a figure-it-out-as-you-go operation, especially when you’re building and growing a department that’s fairly new to most companies. Tactics and processes that previously worked may be unsustainable now, and there comes a time when change is needed. When it comes to scaling customer success, though, how can you be as proactive as possible to achieve smooth growth?

In our webinar The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of Scaling Your Customer Success Team, we talked to a panel of experts about taking customer success to the next level. Laura Kightlinger, Erika Putinsky, and Kim Rose all shared their experience. Let’s get into it! 

How do you know you’re ready to scale your customer success team, and how do you overcome scalability challenges?

Here’s what we learned about proactively scaling customer success. 

Your key metrics can signal trouble with your existing team size

Laura Kightlinger, EMEA of Seismic Software, notes that the first signs that it may be time to expand your CS team are when key metrics start faltering. For example, “if you’re starting to see an increase in churn [or] decrease in adoption” or “negative trends in a customer satisfaction rating that you use, whether that’s NPS or something else” are all cause for investigation. 

More customers mean more CSMs are needed

Another proactive method for maintaining customer success coverage is paying attention to an influx of new customers or initiatives from the sales team. Erika Putinsky, VP of Customer Success at WhatCounts, shared that “whenever our sales team obviously is growing the customer base then we want to make sure that we’re scaling up our customer success team. It’s important for us to stay lean but also to make sure that we’re supporting our enterprise customers and our larger customers that the sales team is bringing on.”

Beyond numbers, customer relationships are your CS benchmark

While metrics and sales numbers are powerful tools for understanding your customer success team’s output, you can’t ignore the human element. Laura noted that “mumblings of feeling like ‘we’re not getting the attention we used to’” are something to look out for. 

Kim Rose, VP of Customer Success and Support at Buildium, also recognizes the need to keep your finger on the pulse of customer relationships. “One is when do we think we’re losing touch with our customers? Meaning we just don’t have the bandwidth to cover the customer base or we’re feeling out of sync or out of contact with those.” 

A repeatable process is key to scaling successfully

If all goes well, scaling your customer success team is something you’ll need to do over and over. To make growing your team easier in the future, you’ll need an established plan. “Having repeatable processes is the key because if you don’t, you can quickly get into a lot of challenges where people are just not working efficiently or not working together well,” Kim shared. 

Kim adds that “for us, it’s really about documenting those processes.” Having agreed upon playbooks and an understanding of the handoff between sales or what to do with a “code red” situation ensure that “scaling will be smooth.“

Erika also touched on the importance of sales to customer success handoff. “Sales has to give us that nice passover, and have explained everything to the customer.” 

Company-wide alignment also helps the scaling process

Another necessary element for scaling is company-wide buy-in around the importance and impact of customer success. Erika shared that she and her team “really work to make sure that everyone’s defined success in the same way. So from our president to our COO, to even the people in finance, we’re all on the same page.”

Laura echoed this sentiment, adding that “I don’t want my CSMs trying to fix the product just because they need to retain that customer. We need buy-in that their role is to go talk to product about the feedback that’s being heard, and product that needs to take it further, for example.”

A customer success team that falls behind leads to broken feedback loops

Another topic the panelists touched on was the very real consequences of a customer success team that is overwhelmed. Laura noted that “customer success is often the window for the rest of the company into the customer base. We’re continually getting feedback back to product to be able to iterate, make sure that we’re staying relevant in the market and if customer successes and scaling isn’t doing that, it’s hard for the product team as well.”

Kim also added that when the customer success team is overwhelmed, there’s a chance that valuable feedback will be left behind. She said, “there is a tendency to really listen to the squeaky wheel. And in doing so, you run the risk of not just becoming disconnected from product because you don’t have the capacity to close the feedback loop, but potentially listening to the wrong things and reacting to the wrong thing because the squeaky wheels are getting your attention and that might not necessarily be representative of what’s needed by the whole customer base.”

Finally, Erika added that “if our folks aren’t able to go out and understand what’s trending in marketing, then it makes it harder for them to work with the customers to truly think about product-market fit and bring those great ideas back to product.”

Just like the role of customer success in and of itself, the process of scaling customer success requires a blend of data and human touch. Paying attention to user metrics and feedback helps you see the need for scaling, while a documented process and company-wide buy-in help the process go smoothly. We also learned in the webinar that a burdened customer success team has a negative ripple effect across the entire organization. 

Want to learn more about scaling your customer success team? Listen to The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of Scaling Your Customer Success Team here.

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