How to Build a Customer Success Team (And When to Scale)

Customer Success Team

When to invest in a customer success team is a big question for many growing startups. Obviously, happy customers are key to business sustainability and growth. But it’s best not to put too much into customer success management too quickly, as you’re putting disproportionate resources into working with existing customers at the expense of efforts to attract new customers.

Think you’re ready to build an effective customer success team? Before doing so, it’s important to understand the goal of customer success management, and then determine when during a growing startup’s lifecycle is the right time to scale a customer success team.

What is a customer success team?

What is a customer success team

Customer success teams are in the business of improving the customer’s experience to meet desired outcomes when they are using a product or service. This customer relationship-focused team helps manage the customer needs in a way that aligns with both the client and company goals to secure mutually beneficial, positive outcomes.

The most effective customer success strategies commonly increase long-term customer retention and reduce customer churn. The goal of a customer success team is to make the customer happy with the product or solution they’re using, which in turn improves customer lifetime value for the company.

When to scale a customer success team

When to scale a customer success team

It’s important to look at how much workload each customer success manager (CSM) on your team can and should handle. Assessing a realistic match-up between the volume of support needs and the amount of available customer success resources are available is essential to scaling your team at the ideal rate.

According to Dave Blake, former Adobe exec and CEO & founder of ClientSuccess, it’s best to have some metrics on your side before you ramp up your efforts in this area. Specifically, he recommends looking at three factors that can inform when and how you scale your customer success team:

  1. Annual contract value (ACV) target per CSM: Blake states that each CSM should be managing around $2 million in ACV, with some exceptions for strategic or relationship-oriented accounts.
  2. Product complexity: The more complex the product, the fewer accounts each CSM should manage.
  3. Volume of customers per CSM: Each CSM can only manage so many accounts proactively. Blake prefers to limit each to 25-35 accounts, with a limit of 50 unless automation is in play.

Looking at these three factors together will help you get a sense of when you’ll need to invest in customer success management. Get clarity about how your company or product relates to each of these factors and move forward based on your sense of what will work for you.

How to build a customer success team

How to build a customer success team

Once you’ve determined the time is right to build a customer success team, it’s useful to keep some best practices in mind as you begin to hire and set up more formalized processes for the team.

Lincoln Murphy, chief customer evangelist at Gainsight, maker of customer success software, offers three “scaling factors” that companies need to consider when increasing their customer success investment.

1. Get the right people on board

This means more than just hiring good CSMs; Murphy is saying that your team needs an excellent leader and that others in all departments of the company should commit and buy-in to what the team is doing. Murphy explained this a bit further:

“For Customer Success to really become part of your company’s DNA, it’s critical that everyone in your company — not just in the customer success management organization — clearly understands the desired outcome … and how we as a company help the customers achieve that.”

2. Put repeatable processes in place

Getting your customer success team to work together cohesively and provide the same types of services and answers to the same types of clients is an essential challenge as you grow. You can help this go smoothly by centralizing and operationalizing processes and documenting customer interactions. This can help ensure consistency and the ability to pass accounts between CSMs without missing a beat. Murphy mentioned:

“The reality is, no Customer Success team will ever stand alone in its quest to improve retention and help customers achieve their desired outcome. In fact, customer success requires more cooperation with, and assistance from, every other organization in the enterprise than any other group.”

3. Use technology to your advantage

One way of making your customer success efforts more efficient so you can provide more value with fewer people is to automate some of your processes. Of course you shouldn’t automate everything, but strategic use of technology can make scaling your customer success team much more successful. Murphy said:

“It’s often said that you should leverage technology where possible since it’s much more efficient to scale your technology stack than your humans. I look at it a different way for Customer Success: it’s much more efficient (and effective) to scale your humans when you leverage technology.”

Scaling your customer success operation may take trial and error. It’s difficult to get the calculus just right. But if you’ve miscalculated, the signals will soon be evident. Blake clarified this, saying:

“Natural signs that your model needs refinement include shallow customer relationships, overworked CSMs, lack of insights and knowing the true pulse of your customer base, and of course, an increase of customer churn.”

Keep your ear to the ground for these concerns, but if you’ve taken a careful and considered approach to your team’s growth, you’re more likely to only hear sounds of customer satisfaction.


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