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26 May 2022

Lay The Groundwork For Growth: 4 Steps To Building An Unstoppable CS Operations Function

by Emily Ryan Reading time: 7 mins
CS operations

Customer Success Operations: The Revenue Drivers Of Your SaaS Organization

What do all leading B2B technology companies have in common? They empower their Customer Success (CS) team with the right tools, processes and playbooks to drive maximum customer value. But if you dig a little deeper, you will also find that these organizations are powered by a strong Customer Success Operations arm that works diligently behind-the-scenes to help Customer Success Managers (CSMs) excel at their jobs.

Customer Success Operations is the epicenter of a well-oiled CS engine whose focus is to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of your CS operations so that you can reach your destination of best-in-class Net Dollar Retention. With the explosive growth of the Customer Success Operations domain, many of the best practices to ensure the growth and success of this department are still widely undocumented and under-utilized. Luckily, that’s exactly what we’re striving to change. 

In this article, discover 4 expert steps to help you build and scale a powerful CS Operations function that will boost the efficiency of your CS organization to maximize revenue retention and expansion for your company and your customers.

1. Properly Invest In Your CS Operations Function

B2B technology leaders recognize the importance of other Operations functions, such as Sales and Marketing, but are yet to extend the same  level of importance to Customer Success Operations. From our experience, a costly mistake that leaders often make is under-investing in CS Operations. 

As your customer base grows and your organization expands, you need to invest in an Operations team to help you successfully support and scale your Post-Sales organization while maintaining a reasonable Cost-To-Serve. In order to achieve this mandate, your CS Ops team needs  proper investment with top-down buy-in. Don’t make the mistake of piecing this team together with resources and frameworks from your Marketing or Sales Operations. Your Customer Success Operations team is tasked to serve your whole client base and generate a higher ROI for your organization; they must be enabled and empowered with the proper resources to do so.

2. Look For Unique Qualities In Your Operations Team

While the qualities that make up your CS Operations team vary based on the size, scale and requirements of your company, there are some key skills endemic to the best CS Operations leaders. To thrive in this domain, a CS Ops leader should be strategic, creative and agile in order to handle the ambiguity and change that comes with building and scaling a CS Operations function from the ground up. At the same time, they should also be structured, tactical and process-driven, so that they can create and implement operational processes that facilitate the delivery of customer value across your customer journey. 

As Customer Success Operations is still over-extended in many companies, professionals within this space must have sheer enthusiasm for this job. Be mindful: there’s the potential for analysis paralysis with the overwhelming amount of work that often needs to get done in Operations. The best CS Ops leaders are able to comb through that pile, pick out tasks that correlate to value-driving activities and get moving in the right direction so look for candidates with a “get-stuff-done” and can-do mindset.

3. Create A Thoughtful Roadmap For Success

While most organizations place a great deal of importance and rigor on acquiring new customers through Sales, Marketing and Product Engineering, they seem to take their existing customer base for granted. Crucially, Customer Success Operations is all about the opportunity to leverage and optimize what you currently have; it looks at the opportunity for increasing revenue retention, improving brand identity and having happier employees (which ultimately lead to happier customers). The critical step to seizing all of this opportunity is honing in on a clear vision and creating a roadmap that guides your CS Ops team to success. 

Your CS Operations roadmap should be based on a three-pronged approach that accounts for executive-level priorities, end-user (CSM) input and CS Ops-identified opportunities. First and foremost, your C-Suite’s overall directive for your organization should be your team’s North Star. For instance, if your C-Suite is prioritizing expansion, then your Operations team should focus on optimizing expansion visibility, streamlining expansion process and analyzing opportunities for expansion improvement.

Next, you need to gather user-level input by going directly to your CSMs and uncovering the key challenges and opportunities associated with their tasks and getting a sense of their day-to-day. This can be in the form of regular and rotating chair-sides – where you sit down and have a one-on-one conversation with individual CSMs – or showing up to their team meetings to derive feedback once a month.

The third and final component is to review known and hypothesized current and future friction points, progress blockers and technical debt that should be accounted for in your roadmap. By empowering your Operations team to evaluate input from your Senior Leadership and CSMs and to spot areas for improvement, you can create a strategically-aligned roadmap that will increase the effectiveness of your team and the impact they have on your entire organization.

4. Start Small Before Expanding The Scope Of Your Operations Team

As we mentioned, CS Operations is all about opportunity. Once you evaluate your organization and processes, you will unearth a plethora of tasks for your Ops team to work on. Even with the best and brightest minds in your corner, your Ops team can’t boil the ocean right off the bat. To be effective as an organization, you need to identify and define the scope of the blazing fire that needs to be put out first.

Based on the vision you’ve identified in your CS Operations roadmap, select a project that maps to the direction you want this team to go in and focus their efforts there. If this is a new function, we recommend that you start at the beginning; how effective is your onboarding? How quickly are your customers getting value? How easy is your hand off from Sales to Customer Success? If your onboarding is already strong and you need a different place to start, evaluate your churn analysis. Look at all of the numbers, metrics, and user data that you can get out of any system for all customers, churned and still in existence, and start comparing. You don’t need to be a data scientist to get directionally relevant data about what is moving the needle for your customers and what’s driving value for them. This data collection process will help you narrow your focus as an Operations leader on what to improve next.

In the early months of having a CS Ops function with a leader at the helm, you can expect strong movement on one project. In the process of achieving this first goal, unexpected events will inevitably  pop up and new opportunities will be identified. However, it’s important not to let this function become a catch-all for everything in your organization; if this occurs, your CS Ops team will end up losing focus, deviating from your overarching vision and struggling to make meaningful progress. Think thoughtfully about how you can expand the scope of this team – once they’ve achieved that first goal and are more empowered, they will have a better understanding of your data and your customers and better relationships with the team their operations support. Creating clear and realistic steps to growing the size and scope of this team is essential to building a cutting-edge CS Operations function that is strategic, aligned to the company’s goals and able to make an impact. 

For a more in-depth look at how to build and scale a CS Operations function from the ground up, watch Emily’s recent LinkedIn Live session with Seth Wylie, Director of CS Ops & Admin Community at Gainsight. 

Build A Powerful Growth Engine

Customer Success Operations is a vital asset in every growing B2B technology company. As your business deals with a growing customer base and increasing organizational complexities, you need to fully invest in a CS Operations function and champion their success with the right team, tools and vision. With a robust roadmap, this function will help you improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your CS organization and drive best-in-class Net Dollar Retention.

Emily Ryan

Emily has nearly 15 years’ experience coordinating teams across Sales, Post-Sales and Product/Delivery to ensure successful customer interactions. Her unique expertise applying Customer Success Strategy to effectively establish, analyze and scale great customer-centric teams means her impact is not only to corporate revenue and retention, but to the health and productivity of the teams she empowers.