Chapter 6

How to Build & Manage a Customer Success Team

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Customer Success: The Ultimate Guide

The Importance of a Well-Structured Customer Success Team

What makes a sports team successful? Excellent athletes who work together on both offense and defense to win the game. A good pitcher alone won’t win a baseball game. He needs a good catcher and good infielders and outfielders to support him, good batters to score points, and good coaches to make strategic play calls. Having the right members and the right structure is key to the success of any team – whether that team is on a field or in a conference room.

When it comes to the structure of a Customer Success (CS) team, there are many factors that need to be considered, from the makeup of the team to the technology that will be used. Let’s break down these factors and take a look at what components are needed to structure an efficient and successful CS team.

Who Makes Up a Customer Success Team?

In baseball, the success of the team starts with the right coach. In CS, the success of the team starts with the right leader, which, depending on the size of the company and team, could be the Director of Customer Success, the VP of Customer Success or the Chief Customer Officer. This leadership role is responsible for establishing and cultivating relationships with top-tier clients, and understanding customer needs and how the company’s products or services can meet them. Next up, the team needs an Operations Manager who can help to manage and support individual members of the CS team, manage the team workflow and oversee the management of customer portfolios. Finally, the team needs Customer Success Managers (CSMs) who are responsible for monitoring and communicating with clients frequently and promptly. Below is a breakdown of these key roles and their primary responsibilities:  

  • Chief Customer Officer: The highest-ranking member of the CS team, the CCO works with the executive board to create and implement CS strategies, champions a customer-centered mindset within the company, and unifies customer data to create a comprehensive, 360-degree view of customers that is accessible to all team members.
  • VP of Customer Success: This person oversees the development and implementation of CS strategies, manages the existing customer base, and handles the management and growth of the CS team.
  • Director of Customer Success: The director helps to build and maintain customer relations by anticipating and advocating for customer needs, and oversees the management and support of internal team members.
  • CS Operations Manager: This person manages team workflow and internal processes to ensure efficiency, supports team members in improving individual impact and goal progress, and establishes an early warning system.
  • Customer Success Manager: A CSM works one-on-one with customers, guiding them through the customer journey and fostering a positive connection. They also advocate for the business goals of customers, and anticipate how to meet those goals and how they will change over time.

How is a Customer Success Team Structured?

To properly structure a CS team, it’s important to first figure out how many people the team needs. This is determined by how detailed customer-representative interactions are and by how frequently they occur. Teams that are very hands-on and have CS representatives frequently checking in with customers will need more team members handling fewer accounts, whereas teams that follow a one-to-many approach can have fewer team members handling more accounts. In Totango’s 2021 State of Customer Success Industry and Salary Report, 26% of respondents stated that the typical CSM at their companies managed between 51-100 accounts, while 17% of respondents stated that their CSMs managed more than 200 accounts.

How customers are segmented can help with the division of labor and the CS team structure. By dividing customers into groups based on shared characteristics, such as account revenue, geography or product line, the CS team can give more customers greater levels of personalization. Plus, it allows the team to deliver targeted, contextually relevant content based on each segment’s unique CS needs.

In a recent survey, Totango asked CS professionals how their teams are structured and found that the most popular way is by account company size (64%) followed closely by the account or contract revenue (63%). Other popular methods include lifecycle state (46%), geography (24%), product line (23%), and the industry or vertical (22%).  

What Technology Does a CS Team Need?

Just as a baseball team needs the right equipment (bats, balls, gloves, helmets) to win games, a CS team needs the right technology to help its customers succeed. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic and remote work mandates highlighted the need for, and value of, a digital-first CS approach. By utilizing data-driven CS technologies, teams are able to gain a holistic view of each customer account, provide hyper-personalized interactions, automate repetitive tasks, and efficiently scale their businesses without having to scale their teams.

The 2021 State of Customer Success Industry and Salary Report found that CS teams use a wide variety of technology to interact with clients and capture data across channels, including CRM systems (64%), Excel or Google spreadsheets (55%), help desk tools (51%), survey or customer experience tools (49%), and customer success platforms (42%). When a number of different, disconnected systems are used, however, it can be difficult for CS teams to determine the root cause of issues like customer churn or engagement. But when a CS platform, like Totango, is implemented, teams are able to pull in key customer metrics from across all data platforms into a single dashboard in order to gain a holistic understanding of customers and seamlessly integrate customer and operational insights.

Achieving Organizational Alignment for Your Customer Success Team

Customer Success industry leaders from Waystar, Monster, Bently Systems, and Totango discuss the importance of engaging the entire company, not just the Customer Success team, to drive better outcomes.

How to Lead a Customer Success Team

Building and leading a customer success team is no easy feat. From gaining the buy-in of other departments to training team members and earning customers’ trust, the role of a customer success leader can be as challenging as it is rewarding.

Recently, Totango had the opportunity to speak with two rock star CS leaders to hear their stories and learn some of their tips and best practices. Belinda Brooks, Customer Success Director at On24, talked about her experience leading a well-established CS team, while Maya Zippel, Enterprise Customer Success Manager at WalkMe, spoke from her perspective of leading a CS team that is just getting off the ground. Here are some key takeaways from this great discussion and be sure to watch the full webinar below.

  • Buy-in is critical: In order to be successful, you need to get buy-in from leadership, other departments and customers. Spend time talking with these groups to understand their needs and expectations as well as to establish the importance of CS to their overall success.
  • Break down silos: Effective collaboration and communication between CS and other departments throughout the organization is key. Establish clear rules of engagement as well as processes to facilitate this communication.
  • Clearly define objectives, onboarding and enablement programs for CSMs: Give CSMs all the tools and guidelines they need to effectively manage their portfolios and become a trusted advisor for customers, helping them understand the impact they will have on their business.  
  • Collect and activate data: Don’t gather data just for the sake of having data. Put data into context and use it to help improve the success of customers or other departments.
  • Instill a culture of proactive management: Ensure CSMs have the knowledge, data and communication tools they need to proactively manage clients, providing new ideas as well as ways to implement those ideas to improve customer success.

How to Scale a Customer Success Team 

If you were presented with the opportunity to double or triple the size of your business virtually overnight, what would you say? For most people, the answer would be a swift “yes, please!” But what about all of the growing pains that come along with that expansion? For one thing, how would you scale your customer success operations quickly enough to meet the demand that this type of growth requires? 

Well, that is exactly the scenario that Wisr faced in 2020, experiencing just over 300 percent growth in one wild and crazy year. Totango was fortunate to have the opportunity to speak with Wisr’s VP of Customer Success Christine Knific in a fantastic webinar about how the company tackled this tremendous task and came out on top.

In the webinar, Christine explains how the COVID-19 pandemic forced Wisr to transform their business model to meet the new needs of their customers extremely quickly. The company experienced a giant boom in business, and yet, they had only one person handling all customer relations. This was not sustainable for Wisr, so the company had to build and scale its customer success team virtually overnight.

8 Steps for Scaling Customer Success

To quickly scale their customer success team, Wisr followed eight proven steps, which Christine explains in-depth in the webinar. These steps included:

  1. Set up a customer success organization by hiring people that have the right skills and experience for your unique business – even if this means sacrificing one skill set for another.
  2. Get as much visibility as possible into your company, customers, and products.
  3. Learn your company’s current customer journey – no matter how basic or advanced it may be.
  4. Train your CS team with defined processes and procedures to enable them to confidently handle customers and make informed decisions on their own.
  5. Plan strategically in order to scale successfully.
  6. Evolve to a tiered coverage model to handle more clients without overwhelming your CS team.
  7. Implement automation to help scale effectively.
  8. Begin advanced journey mapping to determine the next steps for building customer loyalty and continuing to provide value.

Best Practices for Enabling Customer Success to Scale

Has your Customer Success strategy stalled out while you try to build out your team? Don't worry, we can help. See how Totango enabled Zoom to manage over 32,000 different accounts with less than 50 dedicated Customer Success managers - that is 1 CSM for every 700 accounts! (Whoa!) Totango’s helped Zoom do more with less through smart customer segmentation, facilitating automated communication without sacrificing the personalization that makes each customer special. 

Hear from Zoom Customer Success team members Claire Grayeb and Ashley Butler as they share their personal experience using Totango with their Customer success teams and the strategies they use to maximize their campaigns’ impact. 

In this video you will:

  • See how Zoom incorporated automation into their Customer Success Teams 
  • Learn how to start your own automated campaigns
  • Get tips to maximize impact of Totango’s Campaign Automation

Traits to Look for in a Customer Success Manager 

It’s commonly accepted that 80% of start-ups fail and the #1 culprit is having the wrong market fit. To be successful, startups usually initially focus on hiring the right engineers and product developers so they can build the right product. This is important, but equally important is having the right people at the front lines bringing back feedback about what really resonates with your customers and what doesn’t so you can keep driving your company forward.

A self-proclaimed start-up junkie, Jen Benson, VP of Customer Success at NewsCred, has grown Customer Success functions at three different startups. In her session at Customer Success Summit she talked about what to look for when hiring your first Customer Success Manager in order to drive success and create a company culture, both externally and internally.

3 Non-Negotiable Traits Your First Customer Success Manager Must Have:

1. Don’t hire for customer service skills, hire for raw talent.

If you can find a person that has all the skills you need plus a background in Customer Success, congratulations! You’ve just found a very rare, purple unicorn. Most of the time these Customer Success professionals are built, not found. These talented individuals grow into excellent, empathetic employees who can then transfer into other roles throughout the company.  By leveraging what they’ve learned in Customer Success they can then use their cross-functionally to fuel other parts of the business; including product, R&D, sales, marketing, operations, etc.

2. Don’t hire for well-rounded, hire for a high “give-a-damn factor.”

Your first Customer Success Managers need to innately want to win, to be successful and always be striving for the best for your customers. These people will have a history of excellence in their background, whether it’s on a sports team in college or in a previous role. They also need to be as obsessed with the company’s success as the founders are. This comes in handy when customer accounts are transferred from the CEO to Customer Success without any drop in enthusiasm.

3. Don’t hire for proven process followers, hire for cowboys who thrive in chaos and solve problems creatively.

When you’re in a start-up there are generally very few processes and guidelines for people to follow. You want to hire Customer Success Managers who thrive in this environment. Hire for talented individuals that possess the ability to be agile, move quickly, and fail fast, without taking it personally.

Scalable Coverage Models: A Digital Approach to High Volume Customers

Whether you have a small customer success team or a large, enterprise-sized CS team, one universal problem is finding a way to make your operations cost-effective while maintaining your relationship with customers. This dilemma only continues as your business expands, as you are not always able to grow your CS teams to keep up with the pace. Fortunately, Totango provides effective and scalable Customer Success solutions without needing to dedicate more people to your CS teams. 

This video will: 

  • Explain Tech Touch Programs and how they can help your Customer Success Teams scale 
  • Define the Customer Success Maturity cycle 
  • Discuss Totango’s Enablement, Engagement, and Escalation framework to improve your engagement with your customers.  

Hear from Amanda Hartman, Director of Customer Success at Egnyte, and Christine Knific, Senior Manager Digital Success at Totango, as they walk you through implementing Totango tools to help manage your Customer base. Learn from their real-world experiences to help you develop better practices to engage with your own customer base.