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22 July 2021

3 Industry Experts Share 6 Best Practices To Build An Industry-Renowned Customer Success Operations Organization

by Mirah Gocher Reading time: 6 mins
customer operations

Accelerate Customer Success With Customer Success Operations

Customer Success (CS) Operations is a new addition to the world of Customer Success that has grown exponentially in both size and scope over the last few years. While individual companies are taking the lead in defining the specific responsibilities of CS Operations, they are primarily responsible for creating efficiencies and streamlining processes. Given the infancy of the domain and its sky-high growth potential, there is still some uncertainty among CS leaders about how best to build a high-calibre CS Operations organization that operationalizes Customer Success strategy with best-in-class technology and a masterful customer data model. 

To address this, we turned to 3 CS Operations pioneers; Mary-Beth Donovan, VP of Customer Success Operations at VMware, Emily Ryan, former Director of Success Management Strategy and Operations at Splunk, and Mathieu Brillon, SVP Digital Strategy at Valuize. Emily and Mary-Beth recently spoke to us and shared their expertise on the 3 pillars of CS Operations and how to build and scale a high-performance CS Operations team. In this article, they answer all your burning questions about Customer Success Operations, including where to start, how to scale, and what to measure in order to drive sustainable revenue growth.

Q: Where should you start when building a Customer Success Operations organization?

“I would start by getting to know what your Customer Success Managers (CSMs) are doing and what your customers are going through right now, to the best of your ability, and then identifying strengths and weaknesses. I know most companies focus on: ‘why are we churning customers? What is our renewal rate? How do we deal with at-risk renewal customers?’ You can start there but as an Operations lead, I would 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? So, onboarding is the first place I’d start but if your onboarding is super tight and you need another place to start, look at your churn analysis. Look at all of the numbers, metrics, and user data that you can get out of any system for all customers, churn and still in existence, and start comparing. You don’t have to be a data scientist to get directionally relevant data about what is moving the needle for customers and what they care about. That data will help you narrow your focus as an Operations lead on what to improve next,” advises Emily Ryan. 

Q: How did you operationalize the loop from Customer Success to Product and bring all of your customer-facing teams together?

“We make sure Product is engaged in defining the customer journey. Customer Success and Product actually go through the strategic exercise of defining the customer journey and aligning on the outcomes that matter at the critical engagement points that we’ve designed for the business. Then, we have QBRs on a quarterly basis where we bring Sales, Marketing, Product and Customer Success together and talk about the business. We share progress, blockers and customer feedback. That’s really the best way to do it and to hold yourself accountable in terms of governance and review of your business,” shares Mary-Beth Donovan.

Q: How can you optimize your access to and use of master data?

According to Mary-Beth, “build relationships with the people who have the responsibility of master data so you can share how it’s going to be used and define requirements. We are their greatest advocates so it definitely becomes a very strong partnership. The other element that we’re driving and influencing are the metrics. We want to make sure that we’re measuring things like Time to First Value and Time to Expansion. There are critical SaaS metrics associated with running these businesses so we need to influence and bring teams together in regards to defining those metrics.” 

According to Mathieu Brillon, “the traditional approach to data management is an organization-wide architecture that’s centrally governed. That includes customer data but also all of the organization’s data. With the growth of Customer Success and the increasing demand from cross-functional teams, there’s also increased focus on that master data. If you’re in a situation, potentially for smaller organizations, where you have the opportunity to control that master data, just do it! It makes things a lot easier. Of course, in larger organizations, there’s already a data structure in place and CS is more of a beneficiary of that rather than a driver. But, as you’re growing cross-functionally and centralizing your needs, CS’ influence is growing for sure.”

Q: What are some metrics and KPIs that demonstrate a successful CS Operations organization?

“I have 6 teams under my department so every team is responsible for what we call ‘output metrics,’” Emily Ryan explains. “Output metrics include the number of internal Gainsight tickets fielded, number of playbooks developed, and number of time-study participants. Those are some output metrics and it’s good to start tracking those over time if you don’t know where to begin because your output metrics can actually help you understand what your impact metrics should be.” 

“Impact metrics should ideally tie what you’re delivering and what you’re developing back to your users, CSMs, renewal sales reps and your cross-functional team members; how did this playbook impact CSMs’ ability to be prescriptive to customers? How does your Operations team’s output impact your customers at your company? How does your enablement team’s output impact your CSMs knowledge and their impact on customer retention and expansion rates? Ideally, you measure both but if you can only start with one, start with output metrics and measure them over time. We measured our output metrics for a year at Splunk before we started adding in impact metrics,” shares Emily.

Q: What are some resources CS leaders can use to learn Agile frameworks, specifically for a CS Operations team?

“I learned Agile methodologies through a combination of having too many friends in Product and Engineering, but also reading Richard Sheridan’s book, ‘Joy Inc.:How We Built a Workplace People Love.’ In the book, Sheridan breaks down how the company uses Agile and Scrum as it relates to how they work with customers and help them be successful. A lot of the tenets I still use today are from that book. Of course, Scrum Master Training and certificate programs  are always good to level-up, but Joy Inc. is a good starting point,” recommends Emily Ryan.

Level-Up Your Customer Success Operations

Customer Success Operations is the key to scaling your Customer Success organization and your company as a whole. They provide tactical and strategic support that creates efficiencies and drives recurring revenue growth so building the right team and providing them with the right tools and resources is crucial.

Are you ready to accelerate the success of your CS operations? Read our latest article for 5 trusted ways to build a high-performance Customer Success Operations team. 

Mirah Gocher

Mirah is our team's Marketing Manager. With a creative and data-driven mindset, Mirah helps lead Valuize's marketing efforts to deliver meaningful results for our company, clients, partners, and stakeholders.