Needing to create a CS roadmap for Leadership but Leadership is our CS roadblock

Karen Chambers
Karen Chambers Member Posts: 15 Thought Leader
edited August 2023 in CS Org Conversations
Hello CS Community,

As most of you are as well, I am tasked with being proactive with our subscribers to create relationships, measure customer health, and  obtain their feedback to present to our leadership.  However, my entire 1 1/2 years I've been in this role, ALL of my efforts have been tossed aside.  I check off all my goals quite efficiently only to find all of my data and reports are basically set to the side every time. 

Our Dev team is operating on a completely separate page than Ops/Sales and there is literally no set direction for us which means I can't help our customers.  

I hesitated to post this but I am at a loss and not sure how to create my roadmap when leadership doesn't seem to be on the same page either.  

Can anyone relate or does anyone have some suggestions?  What kind of roadmap can I build that would work around the obvious infinite feature requests that have yet to be developed?

Very Grateful,
Karen Chambers

Comments

  • Emmanuel Malanda
    Emmanuel Malanda Member Posts: 12 Contributor
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    edited January 2021
    Hi Karen,

    unfortunately what you describe here is not uncommon,  in fact i may add that 2020 proved that many organisation implemented their CS strategy just because everyone was doing it and when tough times came around... guess what, CS was the first place the cuts were felt. to create a roadmap you need to have the buy-in from everyone in the organisation and there needs to be a belief that the roadmap would improve the customers lives. if this is not the case then i would suggest going back to the drawing board.
    • i would say is for you to understand what drives your firm, is it the product?, is it sales or is there a true passion to be a customer centric organisation whose growth is driven by how customers are doing? based on what you have stated " Dev team is operating on a completely separate page than Ops/Sales" i would guess that your Dev team has a significant influence/ they go away in a silos fashion and develop a roadmap of what they think or believe the customers would want :-)  

    • i would suggest forging a  deep partnership with your Dev team making sure they understand the power they wield in driving away or in attracting customers. you may want to set up weekly meetings with the Dev leadership to show they feedback from customers, discuss pain points which are being reported by customers and i would strongly suggest that you also prepare the reasons why some customers left (Churn reasons) or stayed with the firm. I also found that Direct customer feedback is also very effective in making people understand the impact. Slowly show your Dev team that their work is important and that aligning it with your customers voice will be even more impactful. The trouble with a lot of Dev teams is that they are so often removed from the coalface that they assume they know what the customers are saying when in fact most of the time it is really just that... an assumption.
    • you need to also understand if you truly have the buy-in from the top of the house. Do they really believe that the CS function is a growth engine? or do they firmly believe that growth of the business is driven by how well the customers are treated and managed?  if you cannot answer these two questions with a confident "YES" then you have bigger problems.... you need to ensure your leadership is onboard - try to understand why they felt the CS function was necessary in the first place and work your way from there... no pint creating a roadmap that gets tossed away....
    This is not easy and my advice would be to start small for the three point i raised above... as a CS function, we always need to show value and its only by doing this that we gain the trust of our peers and the leadership.

    i would suggest reading this book by Jeanne Bliss : Chief Customer Officer 2.0, hopefully it helps 

    Regards
    Emmanuel

  • Ed Powers
    Ed Powers Member Posts: 180 Expert
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    edited January 2021
    Hi @Karen Chambers--

    It's incredibly frustrating when senior leaders don't 'get it.' I have run into that situation several times myself.

    Ultimately meaningful change must come from the top down. As Deming said, "Quality begins in the boardroom." If there's nobody on the senior staff or the board who understands Customer Success pays financial dividends, then as @Emmanuel Malanda points out, you have bigger problems. And if the situation is unlikely to change, then seriously consider working somewhere else. 

    If, however, you can align with a senior executive who 'gets it' and is in a position to make things happen, then you can help them. The best way is to make a financial case for change because in the end it's all about valuation. According to Bessemer Ventures, a 2% improvement in churn increases company valuation by 20%. If you can credibly demonstrate the link between your situation and valuation, then you have a chance to influence the change you want. 

    I suggest gathering data about why customers leave and why they stay. You can Pareto the results and show the % of customers who cancel or reduce spend due to specific reasons. In my experience, the majority of the issues deal with unmet expectations for quality and value. Yes, Customer Success plays a role by ensuring customers realize the value they were promised, but most churn reasons still involve missing key features, bad performance, or difficulty using the product. Having the data allows you to associate the revenue loss (and by extension 5-7x valuation loss) because of product-related issues. 

    Raising awareness is the first step to change. Collect data and tell that story to the right leader. Let me know if I can be of help.

    Ed
  • Karen Chambers
    Karen Chambers Member Posts: 15 Thought Leader
    edited January 2021
    Emmanuel,

    First of all, thank you so much for taking the time to respond.  All of the info above is incredibly helpful!  So much food for thought,
    I don't want to elaborate too much more on the intricacies of my company since I've already divulged quite a bit of info (and not in the best light).

    I'd say the product drives my organization.  I'd love to say we had a customer-centric approach but clearly from my initial inquiry... we are not.  We were acquired two years ago by a larger organization and it seems the leadership is at a standstill with next steps so nothing has progressed in all that time.  

    For point #2, my question back to you might be about how to navigate those relationships without overstepping my boundaries with my boss.  He is typically the liaison between the two groups as VP of Operations.

    Point #3, My VP believes in the CS role and also what I do but even as a VP, we still can't get the developments we need.  I am not sure he sees the role as a growth engine as he should.  I appreciate these questions as I have work to do in getting him on board.  I would say definitely YES for the second part of this question that how our current base is managed is key for keeping them happy.  It seems there was no real "sales" or "growth" talk prior to the acquisition.  Even now, we still don't really have upsell opportunity.  Renewals are rare and typically a write down.  I've offered insight here from my previous experience but that fell flat as well.

    I will make it my priority to simplify and present the data which clearly illustrates we need to develop what the clients are asking for or we'll lose them.  We have wonderful ratings on support... its just lack of functionality that gets us in trouble.

  • Karen Chambers
    Karen Chambers Member Posts: 15 Thought Leader
    edited January 2021
    Thank you, Ed.  I think both your response and Emmanuel's response highlight that I need to build a strong case illustrating my data in order to improve my outcome with leadership and get the approvals needed to make progress.  

    Very grateful!!
    ~Karen
  • Julie Chapman
    Julie Chapman Member Posts: 3 Navigator
    edited January 2021
    One of my favorite bosses taught me the importance of selling internally first.  I come at this from the sales side, but I can remember bringing in some really big clients, assuming that company leadership and support teams would be excited, but that wasn't always the case.  As soon as I had a sense that the deal was moving forward, I started selling to internal teams so they saw the value in making them a priority.  I love what Ed and Emmanuel shared about data and ROI, absolutely a critical piece, but don't forget to also include some personal wins.  Once you find your internal champions, understand what they may get out of it personally --- that emotional piece is often what is needed to see it through to the end, especially when the going gets tough.  Are they looking to beef up their own resume, are they looking for a promotion, do they want to be seen as an innovative leader, etc.  I'm sure you've got your work cut out for you, but it sure will be rewarding for you when you get it done!
  • Karen Chambers
    Karen Chambers Member Posts: 15 Thought Leader
    edited January 2021
    Thank you, Julie!  I like the angle of finding my internal champions and essentially building a team to get us over the finish line.  Def something to think on!
  • Jan Young
    Jan Young Member Posts: 21 Thought Leader
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    edited January 2021
    @Julie Chapman's advice to sell internally is spot on.

    I would also think about how you might approach your VP to get him on board so that you have his support as you reach out internally to build relationships. Maybe you can talk to him about it as a "new year's resolution" that you want to understand the different areas of the business better-- frame it as helping you to do your job better so he doesn't get territorial over relationships. 

    It's interesting that your boss is VP Ops-- typically, if CS isn't its own group, Tech Support is under Ops and CS is with Sales. That may be part of why your boss isn't focused on revenues-- he's not feeling the pressure to increase revenue, just decrease costs. When you meet with people in Sales, they should be more receptive to the revenue topic, you can mention it to your VP, but decreasing costs/ optimizing processes & people would be the lead with him.

    Also, consider what @Ed Powers suggested-- aligning with a senior executive who gets it, and evaluating if ultimately the company is going to be concerned about customers and churn.
  • Naomi Aiken
    Naomi Aiken Member Posts: 6 Seeker
    edited January 2021
    Hi Karen,

    I certainly understand your position. I'm grateful to now work for a company that highly values CS, but in past roles at other companies to say that I felt 'tossed aside' is an understatement.  Luckily, it seems the tides are turning and SaaS overall is seeing CS roles with more and more influence and budget. 

    Anyway, I recently attended a Webinar delivered by Anna Talerico where she talked about this exact topic, and I found it SO helpful in better understanding why some companies still don't 'get' CS, and more importantly, how we might change that view. 

    I found the recording of the Webinar if you want to watch it. Here's some notes on what she recommends doing to help change the perception of CS and get more clout at your organization:
    • Working Laterally:
      • Working cross-functionally with other departments to meet the company's strategic objectives.
    • Being Proactive:
      • Create the perception of being proactive-be the calm in the eye of the storm
      • Post-mortem & learn from every fire drill
      • Communicate learnings & action plans across the organization (without finger pointing).
      • Undertake strategic initiatives to improve customer success.
      • Onboarding, Renewal, Usage & adoption
      • Share reports & data on a regular cadence
    • Communicating:
      • All Staff
        • Monthly CS highlights email-wins, challenges, DYK customer insights
      • Leadership Team
        • Standardized monthly reports-wins, expansions, post-mortem on losses, trends, gross & net retention, health scores, at risk customer interventions
        • Quarterly CS business review-stop, start, keep
        • CS education-CS industry stats, information, article summaries
    • Thinking Data First:
      • Customer Success is a relationship-driven function. Tell the story of those relationships with data.
      • Communicate the way they communicate
      • Proactively provide reports, plans & insights
      • Surface churn risks with context and action plans
      • Provide churn post-mortem learnings
      • Identify problems, trends and ideas worth discussing
      • Be cautious about surfacing problems without solutions and ideas
    • Managing Up:
      • Align on expectations & measurements
    Hope this information helps you navigate CS at your company going forward! 

    All the best,
    Naomi
  • Karen Chambers
    Karen Chambers Member Posts: 15 Thought Leader
    edited January 2021
    Hi Jan!
    Thank you for taking the time to offer some advice!  So, yes, our VP definitely wears several hats... he oversees our "sales" as well (which only consists of one gentleman).  Since we've been acquired, he has been feeling more of that "sales heat" that any sales person knows well ;-) so there has been a bit more focus on ramping up our one sales guy to kick it in gear.  All that said, I am attempting to broach the idea of renewals and ways to create upsells... none of which exist today so I am working on that.  But again, I come up with all these ideas and find I am lacking in my attempts to get him, and the powers that be, on board.
    I think one of my Q1 goals will be to engage with the VP of the Dev team more and see if I can bridge that gap and create an internal champion there.
  • Karen Chambers
    Karen Chambers Member Posts: 15 Thought Leader
    edited January 2021
    Oh wow this is good stuff Naomi!  Thank you for sharing!  I'll certainly watch the video but your bullet point are already a great help.  I'll circle back after I watch.  Thanks again!!
  • Karen Chambers
    Karen Chambers Member Posts: 15 Thought Leader
    edited January 2021
    @Naomi Aiken I just finished watching that video you linked above.  Thank you!!  It was very helpful and I have plenty of notes.  Sadly, I am a one man show in my department so I am a tad overwhelmed with "all the things" bc I certainly can't get to all of that on my own... along with executing daily CS duties with our customers.  Def will be helpful when I get more manpower to be able to cover all she had mentioned.
    Thanks again!
    Karen
  • Naomi Aiken
    Naomi Aiken Member Posts: 6 Seeker
    edited January 2021
    Hi @Karen Chambers, I'm so glad you also found it helpful. She makes some really great points about what to do (and not do!). Happy to chat further if you want!

    Naomi
  • Mahesh Motiramani
    Mahesh Motiramani Member Posts: 21 Thought Leader
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    edited January 2021
    Hi @Naomi Aiken - Thanks for sharing links to the presentation by Anna Talerico. This was, for me, easily a top-10 presentation in the last year or so. Valuable not just in the situation that Karen finds herself in but for all the CS leaders, in learning the best practice for creating influence as CS leaders and earning a seat at the table.

    Talking about influence, I came across a very relevant article for all of in CS leadership roles: https://www.fastcompany.com/90588403/3-ways-to-build-influence-at-work-and-get-more-done
  • Karen Chambers
    Karen Chambers Member Posts: 15 Thought Leader
    edited January 2021
    @Mahesh Motiramani thank you for sharing!  That article was a timely read and coincides with everything I continue to read or any advice I receive.   
  • Naomi Aiken
    Naomi Aiken Member Posts: 6 Seeker
    edited January 2021
    @Mahesh Motiramani - Thank you for that article - I agree it is very relevant! Great read.