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8 September 2022

8 Skills Every Customer Success Operations Leader Needs To Succeed

by Emily Ryan Reading time: 7 mins
operations lead

Strategic Leadership For Smooth Scaling

In today’s high-velocity subscription-based economy, a solid Customer Success (CS) Operations motion is imperative to driving sustainable and scalable growth. In order to properly build what will become the circulatory system of your recurring revenue business, you need breadth of knowledge and skills. 

The roles and responsibilities of a CS Operations Lead are expanding – both in scope and complexity. In dealing with shifting market dynamics, constantly evolving customers and an onslaught of new data, CS Operations leaders are faced with more challenges and questions than ever before. In order to meet the growing demands of the modern subscription economy, CS Operations Leaders must leverage the transferable skills they already possess and acquire a careful mix of strategic and tactical skills.  

In this article, we outline 8 essential skills that you must master as a Customer Success Operations Lead in order to succeed in this role, excel in your career and drive sustainable and scalable growth for your organization.

1. Business Strategy

The role of a CS Operations leader comes with an expansive mandate aimed at tackling inefficiencies. To thrive in this domain, an entrepreneurial mindset is key; you must be strategic, creative and agile in order to handle the ambiguity and change that comes with scaling a CS Operations function. At the same time, you must also be structured, tactical and process-driven, so that you can facilitate the delivery of customer value across your customer journey. As a CS Operations lead, you will be instrumental in outlining and scaling Customer Success objectives, strategy and processes and a background in entrepreneurship or experience working at a small business will be helpful in understanding business strategy, approaching problems thoughtfully, investing strategically, considering cost-benefit analysis and implementing unique ways of thinking. Remember: there’s a lot to do on the CS Operations side and having strong business strategy acumen is fundamental.

2. Organizational Change Management

CS Operations as a function is responsible for constant change in the organization through continuous optimization and improvement. A “do as I say” approach doesn’t work when introducing new processes, initiatives or ways of working. To truly succeed as a CS Operations lead and ensure the achievement of your initiatives, you must exercise empathetic and effective organizational change management skills. 

The ability to successfully enact change, especially in people and their behavior, is an often overlooked yet critical skill you must possess as a CS Ops Leader. You must be able to understand how people work and move them into a new way of thinking operating, both at the tactical and executive level. You need to get hearts and minds aligned with your Operational roadmap and organizationally change the way people approach their jobs in order to achieve your goals.

3. Get Stuff Done Attitude

As Customer Success Operations is still over-extended in many companies, leaders must have sheer enthusiasm for this job, a “get-stuff-done” and can-do mindset. There’s the potential for analysis paralysis with the overwhelming amount of work that often needs to get done in Operations. As a CS Operations lead, you must be able to analyze your growing to-do list, pick out tasks that correlate to value-driving activities and get moving in the right direction. 

Because the subscription economy is constantly evolving and the pace of change is staggering, managing your projects and accomplishing your goals requires a nimble and Agile way of working. An Agile approach allows you to structurally account for change and push your team at the speed needed to handle that pace of change. While project management works well, Agile methodologies grant people the freedom to be creative and driven at the same time, allowing you to accomplish your strategic goals and objectives without sacrificing your team’s vision and innovation.

4. Exposure To The Customer Experience

Empathy is a critical component of ensuring the delivery of optimal customer value across the customer journey. You must have a thorough understanding of your customer ecosystem, their pain points, goals, milestones and desired outcomes through direct exposure to and contact with customers. This can be in the form of Support, Customer Success Management, Professional Services or Education. Empathy and understanding is what sets a great CS Operations Lead apart from the rest so that real world, boots-on-the-ground experience is vital to succeeding in CS Operations. As the next step, gain some experience leading digital engagement strategies and methodologies as this expertise will help you successfully scale value across your customer base.

5. Process Design

The role of Operations is to operationalize, implement and iterate Customer Success strategy through process design. You need to understand CS methodologies to be able to operationalize these procedures successfully across your organization and streamline processes that will make you and your team more effective and efficient in your jobs. These standardized procedures include processes such as customer onboarding and offboarding, customer success planning through hands-on approaches and via a scaled approach, and risk identification, mitigation and reduction. In order to optimize your organization, you must be able to understand processes, both within a role and cross-functionally, manage how that process needs to be implemented through behavior shaping and define how to structure that process so that it can be supported and scaled by systems and technology.

6. System Administration Knowledge

While you may not need direct, hands-on-keyboard experience with the various systems and tools being used in your organization, a solid understanding of system administration strategy, including software development tools, practices and methodologies that support your processes is a must-have. To leverage your tools to their full potential, you should also have a procedure in place to train and document those processes, or direct others on how to do so. Understanding the specific features of your systems will allow you to leverage your platforms to deploy a CS strategy and roadmap successfully, while understanding each platforms’ limitations will allow you to pivot and reshape your strategy if necessary.

7. Data Analytics Capabilities

Another crucial skill that you must master is a deep understanding of customer data and a proven ability to analyze and evaluate this data to tell a compelling story that is relevant to your organization and to Senior Leadership. Additionally, you need to be able to analyze key KPIs and spot potential opportunities or issues within your Customer Success organization for organizational development. 

A critical aspect of data literacy is the ability to communicate and show CS Operations’ overall value in helping your company meet their strategic objectives and goals. You must be able to gather data around how many customers you’re impacting, which directly relates to how much revenue you’re impacting, which then equates to how much margin you’re impacting. By telling this story through value delivered and revenue impacted, you can make a business case for deeper investment in your team and your systems, which will allow for greater positive impact to the business. Gathering this information, weaving it into a compelling story and communicating it clearly are all critical skills for every CS Operations leader to master.

8. Persuasion

As a CS Operations lead, you will work cross-functionally and collaborate with teams from across the organization. As such, you will need to be able to translate complex technical terms and issues into clear and simple concepts, reset expectations with various teams based on technological capabilities and showcase the value of your team to top executives. All of this requires a careful mix of effective communication and persuasion. Ultimately, you must be able to clearly and effectively articulate why what you do is one of the most important jobs in the company.

Maximize Profitability Through Customer Success Operations

By providing tactical and strategic cross-functional support, you can improve the efficiency, effectiveness and profitability of your entire business as a CS Operations Lead. In order to achieve this, you need to possess a critical set of skills and competencies that help you navigate the ever-changing world of Customer Success, optimize efficiency across the organization to drive profitability and work cross-functionally to obtain buy-in from the top-down.

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.