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30 June 2021

How To Successfully Accelerate Your Customer Success Operations: 7 Top Tips From 2 Industry Experts

by Rida Ahmed Reading time: 8 mins
managing operations

Customer Success Operations Is The Key To Recurring Revenue Success

42% of leaders agree that managing operations and processes is essential to the success of their business (Journal of Economics and Business, 2018). A strong Customer Success (CS) Operations motion is critical to sustainable and scalable growth as a recurring revenue business, but building an impactful CS Operations model can be a daunting task. Many CS leaders face obstacles when trying to build a CS Operations team from scratch, showcase the value of their initiatives to Senior Leadership, and scale their team to keep up with the demands of an enterprise organization. 

Enter Emily Ryan and Mary-Beth Donovan – two CS Operations trailblazers that have helped leading software companies successfully navigate these issues and accelerate success. Emily is the Director of Success Management Strategy and Operations at Splunk and Mary-Beth Donovan is the VP of Customer Success Operations at VMware. During our recent webinars on the 3 pillars of CS Operations and building a high-performance CS Operations team, we got their insights about the fundamentals of CS Operations, its impact on recurring revenue, and best practices for creating a strong CS Operations strategy and team.

Here are Emily and Mary-Beth’s top 7 tips you can leverage to build a best-in-class CS Operations function that propels your organization forward.

1. Evaluate The Current State Of Your CS Organization

The goal of Customer Success Operations is to make your overall CS organization more effective and efficient through repeatable and scalable processes. To do this, Emily recommends evaluating the current state of your CS organization and determining what your strengths and weaknesses are. 

“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? I would start with onboarding but if your onboarding is already strong, then look at your churn analysis. Look at all of the numbers, metrics and user data that you can get out of each and every system for all customers, churn and still in existence, and start comparing,” says Emily.

2. Invest In A Strong CS Operational Model

One costly mistake that CS leaders often make is a lack of investment in a thorough Operations model that integrates customer success strategy, technology and data. As Emily states, building out an end-to-end CS Operations model will help you scale the impact of your Customer Success organization.

“By investing in a clear Operational model, you’re increasing your Customer Success Managers’ capacity to drive higher impact with your customers and drive more value in a more consistent, repeatable and measurable way. Without investment in Strategy and Operations, you cannot hope to get beyond your 1-5 customers/CSMs ratio. Adding a couple of folks on the Operations team may mean you can serve $10, $15 or $20 million extra on behalf of your CSMs,” states Emily.

3. Build Out A High-Performance CS Operations Team

Building the right CS Operations teams is fundamental to the success of your CS Operations model and your CS Organization as a whole; the right time is key to successfully managing Operations. Begin by outlining and filling the key leadership positions you need to succeed and then hire the right people to execute your vision. 

Mary-Beth shares how she created and structured the high-performance CS Operations team at VMware: “For my Customer Insights leader, I needed someone who could influence an organization-wide transformation. At VMware, this person is responsible for business operations, maximizing the coverage of the business and ensuring we meet the KPIs associated with our mission. For this position, you need someone who can actually bring teams along on the transformation and tell good data stories.

Then you have Delivery Operations. I can’t emphasize enough how important this role is because of the partnership with the business and the teams that are actually in the field. I wanted to make sure that this leader understood what it’s like to be in the field, how to bring process into the field and what it means to drive success planning and value realization.

Service Management is a role that actually has a lot to do with internal VMWare so I identified someone from inside the company who had relationships across the organization. It’s important to appoint someone with a growth mindset who can influence and steer the organization towards transformation.

For our Platform leader, I identified someone from the outside who understood the complexities of driving an enterprise Gainsight implementation. It’s also important for this person to be able to partner and work with your IT and data teams, listen well and deal with the ambiguity that comes with data management.

And then we have the Transformation leader. This role needs to be occupied by someone who is able to design initiatives out of change, create the right workstreams and then bring the appropriate teams along.

So, I started with my leadership team and then we pulled in the people responsible for executing our initiatives.”

4. Cultivate A Customer-Centric Mindset

According to Mary-Beth, you need to adopt a company-wide customer-centric mindset to drive consistent and repeatable value. 

“In order to grow ARR, we must engage our customers and drive value realization. That’s the crux of accelerating your business. Start by defining the customer journey as a cross-functional exercise and ensure that all teams are united on that journey and aligned on customer outcomes. Customer Success is not a is not a single function, it requires collaboration between Product, Sales and all customer-facing teams,” says Mary-Beth.

5. Master Your Customer Data

Successfully managing Operations initiatives requires complete, accurate and real-time data. The traditional approach to data management is an organization-wide architecture that’s centrally governed and includes customer data, as well as data from the entire organization. With the growth of Customer Success and the increasing demand from customer-facing teams, there’s an increased focus on master data

Mary-Beth has the following advice for leaders looking to make the most of customer data: “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.”

6. Learn To Implement Agile Successfully

Implementing Agile methodologies is crucial to fulfilling one of the key tenets of CS Operations; scalability. With the right Agile resources and team, you can continuously level-up your CS organization.

Here’s how Emily successfully operationalized Agile at Splunk: “ 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.”

7. Introduce New Capabilities Regularly

The CS Operational model is not a one-and-done initiative or an annual exercise. Building and managing Operations that continues to thrive requires frequent and incremental improvements. CS Operations should routinely introduce new capabilities to enhance their processes and the value being delivered to customers.

Here’s how Emily maximizes the success of their investments at Splunk: “The design process for us is more Kanban. We do 2-week sprints where we design, build, implement and release. Presently, we’re on 2 releases per month of user-facing changes. You have to give your team a moment to actually adopt the new thing you’re putting out. Change management is a heavy thing and you have to focus on it to ensure that the work you’re doing in Operations is impactful.”

A Powerful CS Organization Needs An Equally Powerful Operations Function

Customer Success Operations is the backbone of your CS organization. Investing in the right team, tools and processes will ensure that you optimize the impact, efficiency and scalability of your CS organization and maximize value realization for your customers. 

Are you ready to level-up your CS Operations and accelerate Net Revenue Retention (NRR)? Reach out to our team of seasoned Customer Success practitioners for expert guidance on how to supercharge your organization’s Customer Success strategies, organizations and technology.

Rida Ahmed

Rida is Valuize's Content Specialist. With a multi-channel marketing approach, Rida works to share Valuize's story as well as that of its team, clients and partners.