Think about how your team is managing your customers. You may be doing some things well and then several things may come to mind as lacking, cumbersome, or just plain difficult. For many companies thinking of this process, or lack thereof, doesn’t give them warm fuzzies. Some of you are reading this because you just lost a big account and you still aren’t sure why. Others are wanting to learn more about the steps needed to create a CSM team. Current processes just aren’t working, the team is stressed (and bailing) and tracking the customer journey is difficult. Still others are just curious about this newer phenomenon called Customer Success. Regardless of your reason for wanting to understand the maturity modeling for Customer Success, welcome to the conversation! I speak from the experience of working with our customers (CSMs themselves) and understanding where so many are positioned today in their journey.
When we look at the stages of growth in Customer Success, we identify 5 key areas:
- Skill (customer management, business experience and soft skills like conflict management)
- Process (the way we work and communicate with customers)
- Data (Accounts, Contacts, and Contracts)
- Technology (systems used within the company to track and manage customers)
- Organization (the team within the company that has responsibility for the customer).
Each of these areas evolves throughout 5 stages of maturity: Heroic, Managed, Repeatable, Measurable, Optimized.
In the beginning, skills are lacking or varied between team members, however, even the team itself is not well defined at this stage. Processes are reactive. Those managing the customers are always playing “catch up”, going after the low hanging fruit, the accounts that are most in trouble today. There is a blend of customer success and support. Good processes, if any, are not documented or consistent and are managed in a technology not built for this use – Excel, a CRM, etc. Visibility between teams is virtually non-existent. Data might be housed in several systems and is not consistent. Contracts are not up-to-date or are just plain missing. Contacts are outdated – with no clear champion or “power user” for the accounts. Renewals come and go. Churn is happening and the team is not aware. It’s usually a surprise.
Managed: (early awareness)
Awareness that what we are currently doing isn’t working and the idea to learn and change is starting to emerge. We rely on top talent to get the job done, but knowing how and when to scale this across the entire team is a must. Basic skills and processes are beginning to be recognized, the team is starting to be formed, and conversations around best practices are coming together. Good questions are being asked:
- how much time do our customers need and how much time are we spending on them today?
- how many team members do we need to manage the accounts correctly?
- what are the gaps and risks?
- what steps can we automate?
A single platform is purchased and starting to be implemented. Data is cleaned and centralized, and shared across teams. While this stage can feel good at times, many teams find themselves back in Ad Hoc reliving painful heroic efforts. A commitment here to automation and process improvement will get you to the next step.
A CS team is established when we fully dedicate one or two CSMs to managing customers– maybe focusing on high touch customers first. Time is being tracked against activities, giving a better view of effort, allowing capacity to be understood and planned. Processes are customer-focused with proactive steps to make sure they are healthy and happy. – NPS surveys are sent out at specific times, retrospectives are taking place, and product usage tracking is more robust. The CSM platform is integrated with the CRM – new closed-won accounts are being sent between the systems, with automated steps to start these accounts off on the right foot. Healthscores (NPS survey results and product usage) are managed with triggers to make sure troubled accounts are taken care of quickly. Clear renewal dates and demonstrated value to the customer assists the CSMs in beginning these conversations well before those dates roll past.
Agile Customer Success is the preferred approach to managing multiple accounts with iterative, adaptive and prescribed best practices In this stage CSMs are improving processes and skills to seamlessly address variability in customer needs. This can be done through expansion opportunities within accounts (which is more natural at this point), introducing functionality that was previously underutilized by the customer or by adding monetized levels of service. Data is clean and visible across teams with technology that is fully adopted and optimized. Team members and management can run reports across any measure and dimension to forecast revenue, time spent on specific customers or tiers of service, or total MRR on active accounts, etc. During this state therefore, CSMs are also becoming more efficient and effective. New team members can be hired in a timely manner to match efforts for new accounts being closed because we understand what it takes to do the job right. They can quickly be impactful because processes and activities are precise and automated.
For most companies this last stage is just a vision of the future that will change and evolve over time. This is currently how Bolstra envisions greater success for our customers as they embrace change and new ideas, but this vision will likely change and improve over time. In this optimized state, multiple team members and roles within the organization are striving to evolve and improve processes and skills. Innovation and ideas are shared and grown for the internal team and customers alike. Specialization for team members and groups can be implemented, the process for which may begin in earlier stages. CSMs rely on proven agile processes that allow them to identify opportunity and deploy solutions to enhance the customer’s experience and adoption with the application, which justifies ROI. We have evolved from simply protecting revenue to growing accounts and expanding revenue and making a positive contribution to negative churn. Vision is realized for the team and company with shared MRR goals.
Does any of the above resonate with you or sound like where you want to be? Begin the conversation with your peers and team to understand where you are today and don’t be discouraged. We have worked with customers in all areas of these stages and would love to understand where we can partner with you on your path to Customer Success!