What's the most effective way to scale a customer success team beyond the first customer success manager?
I’ve been at Eightfold for just over 2 years now, moving over to customer success from a 20+ year career in Talent Acquisition, so remember that my experience is unique vs. a traditional CS career path. I was the first CSM to join the EF team, reporting into a leader who had created the group from scratch. I moved from senior leadership position in my previous position to an individual contributor role with similar compensation. I was concerned that I might be taking a step back, but I knew I had a lot to learn. We then added several other experienced professionals from different areas that would complement our expertise. As we grew, we created more levels, adding Sr. CSM and CS Associate roles. We also created Director roles and promoted internally (I took one of those roles, just about a year after I started). We also looked internally to add to the team, so brought over someone from Talent Acquisition as well as someone from our Professional Services department. In hindsight, I am so glad I took the role as an individual contributor, as I learned so much, which I was able to bring to my role in leadership.
To summarize, what worked best for us was to bring on very experienced people with a variety of backgrounds at first, and then develop the structure as we grew.
Scaling a customer success team beyond the first customer success manager requires careful planning and execution to ensure that the team can handle the increased workload while maintaining high customer satisfaction. Here are some steps that can help:
- Define customer success metrics: Before you start scaling your customer success team, it is important to define the metrics that you will use to measure success. This could include customer retention rates, customer adoption, NPS or other relevant metrics.
- Hire the right people: When expanding your customer success team, you need to make sure that you are hiring the right people. Look for individuals with experience in customer success, strong communication skills, and a passion for helping customers succeed. If your product requires deep domain knowledge, make sure that the people you have hired have worked or have experience about that domain too.
- Develop a training program: Once you have hired your customer success team, it is important to develop a comprehensive training program that covers your company's products and services, customer service best practices, and your customer success metrics. Create a BootCamp resource library for the relevant trainings one needs in order to be successful in your team.
- Establish processes and procedures: As you expand your customer success team, you need to establish processes and procedures to ensure that everyone is working efficiently and effectively. This could include defining customer communication protocols, establishing escalation procedures, and setting up a system for tracking customer interactions.
- Leverage technology: Technology can be a powerful tool for scaling your customer success team. Look for customer success software that can help automate workflows, track customer interactions, and provide valuable insights into customer behavior.
- Continuously monitor and optimize: Finally, it is important to continuously monitor and optimize your customer success team's performance. Use the metrics you defined in step 1 to track progress and identify areas for improvement. Then, make changes to your processes, procedures, and training programs as needed to ensure that your team is operating at peak efficiency.
Scaling customer success doesn't necessarily mean adding more CS headcount, at least not immediately. Before that, some foundations and a solid go-to-market framework should be implemented.
Seek alignment from executive leadership on the metrics and KPIs the business wants to deliver upon and how this team will be deemed successful, or if that doesn't exist, provide a recommendation.
Create a detailed view of the customer journey and what the engagement framework should be, i.e. what exists today and what should exist in the future, including where there are gaps in documentation and process.
A point to note here is to be agnostic of who does what when going through this process, putting the customer first and focusing on what they need vs defining the roles that will support the customer can provide flexibility around role definition and alignment.
Once the gaps around what's missing are understood, see what resources are available internally to start building processes and documentation.
I would then work through the following steps to determine the next customer success hire or hires.
What gaps in customer onboarding do you have, and will the next hire need to focus on that area?
What are the most important customer segments that need coverage from a CSM? Look at the number of customers per CSM.
Which roles will typically engage with the customer?
How technical do they need to be?
What will the responsibilities of the CSM be (this can vary wildly from company to company)
What does the employee onboarding process look like, and what do you estimate their ramp time to productivity? What do you need to do to condense that process?
Understand your budget in the near term, set expectations around what you can do with that budget, and be explicit about what you cannot do.
Run scenarios based on the company's performance over the following quarters and years, and start planning what you would need for that. Think about customer segments and how to serve them, scaled CS and digital touch points.
In my experience, if an organization is just starting out with CS, it's best to first be very nimble because pretty much anything goes at that point. But, it's super important to design a framework based on the long-term vision. Through my years I've seen where CSM teams were built very quickly but without very much operational framework for the team to execute against. So, think about where you want the CS org to be in 3-5 years and build a framework that allows you to grow into that model: engagement models (high, low, digital), compensation models (base+bonus vs. base+variable vs. flat base), what the charter of the CS team is (adoption vs. adoption & retention vs. adoption, retention & growth)
Hiring the first Customer Success Manager is a great start, but you need to learn and work around that learning process. You should hire someone with leadership experience or more senior experience.
Ask these questions:
1. What would your onboarding process look like next quarter if you have three times more than your current customers?
2. What is the optime number of customers a customer success manager can handle?
3. How are you segmenting your customers?
4. Do you need a dedicated customer success manager to handle just premium accounts (High Revenue)?
5. How is your current feedback process from the customer internally?
6. What current metrics are you tracking, and how can these impact the company's growth?
7. Are you using the current tools (software, technology,etc), if not, what are the best?
These are just a few questions that could help you to create an strategy to escalate your Customer Success Team