Data and Technology is the Backbone of Customer Success
Technology and data are the cornerstone of an effective Customer Success Operations motion. Unfortunately, many organizations fall short of making the most of these two powerful tools in their Customer Success arsenal. In fact, only 24% of C-suite executives admit to successfully establishing a data-driven organization (NewVantage, 2021). Creating an effective process for centralizing your data in a designated CS technology application will empower your organization to analyze trends and patterns in your customer base, identify opportunities and potential threats and increase retention and expansion rates through data-driven insights.
To find out how to maximize the impact of Customer Success data and technology, I spoke with Rachel Toth, Gainsight Practice Lead at Valuzie. Rachel is a certified Gainsight admin who has helped some of the largest B2B software companies to implement and operationalize their Gainsight investment at scale. During our conversation, Rachel discussed the vital role that data and technology play in a Customer Success organization and the common challenges companies face in advancing their Customer Success Ops.
Read the full interview for Rachel’s expert advice on how to strengthen your organization’s investments in Customer Success data and technology.
Q: What was your first job? How did you get started in customer success?
“My very first job was transplanting plants in a greenhouse. It was a summer job and I really enjoyed it; I got to work outside and it sparked my love for horticulture.
I’ve worked in many customer-facing roles in different industries, but I started in Customer Success specifically when a good friend of mine, who was working in HR at a tech company, recommended a CSM job. My first foray into Customer Success was as a CSM focusing on the SMB segment at a SaaS company in Vancouver. I was tasked with building out a tech touch program, which led to implementing Gainsight and eventually moving into Customer Success Ops.”
Q: What excites you about working in the Customer Success domain? How do you think the domain will continue to evolve from here?
“What excites me most about Customer Success is that it is only at the beginning of its journey and will continue to grow and evolve across all industries. I think the evolution of this domain will see companies shift to be even more hyper-focused on the customer, with an increasing use of data and technology to drive more meaningful and personalized engagements in real-time. There’s a push towards customer-centricity and this increased interaction and participation with customers will create a more holistic and collaborative approach to the customer journey.”
Q: As a Gainsight Practice Lead, you’re an expert in Customer Success Ops. Why do you think customer success technology is an important investment for organizations? How do you see the relationship between CS strategy, technology, and data evolving as a company grows and scales?
“Customer Success technology is important because it helps provide deeper insights about the customer as a whole. Oftentimes, when you look at just one tool, whether that’s a CRM or another platform you’re using to collect telemetry data, you don’t get the full picture of what’s actually happening with the customer. However, a designated CS technology tool provides a comprehensive, 360-view of the customer and provides your CS team with a centralized place to capture their customer interactions and build out even more insights about your customers.
For CS technology to work effectively, you need to have strategy in place and you need to have clean data. You can’t operationalize technology if your strategy or data is unavailable or misaligned; they are all intrinsically linked and interconnected. As a company scales, that fact becomes more apparent but it also becomes harder to do. The bigger a company gets, the tougher it is to have an effective data governance model, a clear set of standardized processes and a strategy in place that provides value to your customers and across all teams. In my experience, companies can navigate this by documenting processes and iterating on them as they scale and communicating the value of Customer Success across the organization. When each team is working towards a common goal and understands the CS vision, it’s amazing what can be accomplished.”
Q: In your opinion, what are the most important elements of a strong CS Operations model?
“The most important aspect of a strong Customer Success Ops model is ensuring you have scalable and repeatable processes that are well-documented around a solid delivery model. Customer Success is the one department that works closely with all the other customer-facing departments (i.e. Sales, Marketing, Product, Support, etc.). These different teams all interact with Customer Success at some point, so you need to ensure that your organization has a standardized process in regards to taking in requests and information and then prioritizing those in alignment with strategic initiatives.”
Q: In your experience, what are some key challenges that software organizations are facing when it comes to the implementation and operationalization of customer success processes in Gainsight? How do you recommend that leaders overcome these challenges?
“I think the number one biggest struggle that organizations face when implementing Gainsight is the misconception that by just having the tool, they will solve all of their customer success problems. The reality is that Gainsight, or any Customer Success technology, is only as good as the strategy and the data that supports it. If you don’t have reliable clean data or the processes, strategy or team in place to build it out, the tool is just an empty shell.
Most companies aren’t realizing the full potential of Gainsight because they don’t have a strategy that’s been tested and trialed. Oftentimes, CS technology tools are half implemented, or only some features are operationalized, and if something doesn’t work then the team will just abandon the tool altogether. Organizations need to focus on making sure they have clean data and that their strategy provides prescriptive means of delivering customer outcomes.”
Q: How can B2B software leaders maximize the ROI of their CS Gainsight investment? Do you have any advice for organizations that feel like they could be getting more value from their Gainsight investments?
“Companies can maximize the ROI of their tech investment by focusing on the adoption of the product itself and on change management within their teams. If the tool isn’t adopted, and your team isn’t actually using the product, then you’re missing out on many metrics and insights you could be capturing and actioning in regards to your customer base. CS technologies like Gainsight provide a proactive approach to reaching out to customers and signalling overall customer health. Ensuring that you’re capturing all of your customer data, including meetings with customers and survey results, and making these insights readily available to your CS teams within the tool is critical to maximizing your Gainsight investment.”
Q:Where should a company begin when building a customer success operations function and how can they ensure its scalability?
“Organizations should start by assessing their needs and putting together the right team of people. Oftentimes, companies will choose a piece of technology like Gainsight, go down the road of implementing it and then realize that they need a designated team member responsible for enabling and operationalizing it. Focus on making sure you have the right people in the right seats and then purchase a piece of technology that can help build out your framework and processes. To ensure scalability, you need to have a good data governance model in place and standardized processes that are well documented and clearly communicated.”
Q:Customer data is a critical component of a strong customer success organization. What role do you see data playing in an organization’s customer success strategy and operations, and how do you recommend that software leaders make the most of their customer data?
“Data is an invaluable asset for CS organizations that are trying to understand what’s happening with customers, the progress they’re making with your product and the value they are achieving. To do this, leaders need to identify and capture a selection of key data points and focus on those specifically. Often, businesses invest in a new tool and, in their excitement, capture anything and everything. This results in a plethora of data points that aren’t helpful and don’t provide valuable insights to your team. Instead, focus on a standardized set of key metrics and document where these are coming from and whether it’s the source system, an individual or a specific team. This will help you determine if your strategy is in line with the reality of what’s happening with your customer base.
Organizations can make the most of their data by collecting all available customer data from every system and gathering it into one centralized source. This single source of truth will help teams generate insights that they can use to create a holistic view of the customer, proactively deliver value and reach out to customers at critical moments in the customer journey. For C-Suite leadership, we recommend having 3-5 metrics that you can analyze to determine the health of your CS initiatives, its financial viability and value to the overall organization.”
Q: What’s your favourite outcome that the Gainsight product enables?
“My favorite feature of Gainsight is the ability to have a holistic view of your customer. With the Customer 360 tool, Gainsight allows you to see how your customers are doing overall and how they’re interacting with your product. You can also proactively reach out to customers to strengthen that relationship, enabling CSMs to provide more value through deeper interactions with their customers.”
Bonus Q: What’s your favourite way to spend a Sunday?
“I’m a morning person so I love to wake up early and do some reading. I try to implement a no-screen Sunday so I spend a lot of time outside and take my dog on hikes around Victoria. Some friends and I have been doing Sunday dinners lately which is really nice. Sunday’s are good around here.”
Creating a Data-Driven Customer Success Organization
To elevate your Customer Success Ops using a data-centric approach to your people, processes and operations, consider Rachel’s top 3 insights:
- Before you invest in a customer success technology platform, assess the needs of your organization, determine the skills you need to operationalize it and invest in the right team to ensure its widespread implementation and success.
- Centralize all of your available customer data from every source into a single source of truth. This instance will enable your customer-facing teams to generate insights and deliver value throughout the entire customer journey.
- Operationalize your technology investment on the foundation of a strong strategy and clean data. The application of all three elements together is pivotal to delivering customer value repeatedly and at scale.
If you’re looking to optimize customer value and revenue retention, read our article about the 5 most important customer success data sources your Customer Success Ops team should be tracking.