It’s a commonly held concept that Customer Success Operations is Customer Success for the Customer Success team. I actually don’t personally love this analogy, but, like so many other aspects of CS, the definition of CS Ops is ever-evolving. In earlier stages of Customer Success Maturity, people tend to wear many hats, and operations can get wrapped up in other functions. As the organization becomes more efficient and receives more resources, CS Operations fleshes out into its own team, which can mean different things for different CS organizations.
You can get pretty creative with how you develop your CS Ops capabilities. Some build operations out as part of a robust CS Center of Excellence. Others start by splitting it out from Customer Experience (CX), creating separate CS, CX, and Ops teams under the CS umbrella. As TSIA puts it in a new report, “Customer Success is not an exact science, and as the industry continues to evolve, there are multiple ways to organize or measure your business…growing CX and CS Operations out of combined teams is very common.” Their poll found that 60.7% of respondents have a separate CS Ops team with different responsibilities from CX.
No matter how you slice it, CS Operations is becoming a big part of the Customer Success pie. Yet, some leaders still see CS Ops as the keepers of the existing tool stack and little more. But we know Customer Success Operations is more than just CS tool administration! In fact, we developed an entire maturity model to help CS leaders understand their operational capabilities better. In our deep dive into the subject, we break down all the critical functions that makeup CS operational excellence. Here, I want to look at the elements that make up CS Ops at a higher level and explore how they fit into the grander scheme of Customer Success.
Obstacle removers, road builders, innovators
What should organizations have in place to enable their CSMs and their customers?
That is the question at the heart of Customer Success Operations. When we take a look at how CS Ops should fit into our larger organization, we need to think about what best serves the customer-facing members of our department, and in turn, what best serves our customers. We also need to consider how our CS organization will grow over time. Where do we want to be in a year? Five years? Ten? Thinking ahead will allow operations to help build that runway for the whole team. As the group who usually begins with the primary focus of supporting and enabling the rest of the organization, CS Ops removes obstacles and paves the way so that you can plan and execute both short- and long-term strategies and goals. Then, they act as change agents for the organization, making CS better and more efficient by innovating new solutions as the organization continues to mature.
I’m going to repeat the most important term here – build. Your CS Ops team must be full of builders. The kind of team members that crave and excel at identifying solutions to complex problems, and then actually creating those solutions, testing them out by running pilot programs, and rolling them out to the customer-facing team members who will put them to use.
More than the sum of its parts
What are the primary responsibilities of CS Ops in your organization?
Our friends at ChurnZero have defined Customer Success Operations as having five key components to its roles and responsibilities: Data, Process, People, Systems, and Strategic Initiatives. Here’s how they describe each of these areas:
- Data: renewal forecasting, account health, NPS®, adoption
- Process: renewal playbooks, proactive touchpoints, cross-functional coordination
- People: goals, targets, performance, workforce/team planning
- Systems: CSM tool management and implementation, CRM ownership of customer elements
- Strategic initiatives: product, customer experience, marketing, engagement initiatives
If you’re at the beginning of your CS Ops journey, it isn't easy to take all of these spheres of operational support into account. Chances are, you've already got a lot on your plate! So, most CS leaders end up with a tool, hopefully a CS platform, but sometimes a jury-rigged CRM, they are either compelled to work with or have had to choose quickly. Then, they need someone to administer it, which commonly kicks off CS Ops. This is how so many end up thinking about CS Ops as tool administration.
The problem with this is that you’ve put the cart before the horse. Whether an operations team is already in place or not, your CSMs find themselves using a CS platform or other technologies meant to help organize, consolidate, and inform their efforts without a proper discovery process. This can be confusing and disjointing for the team, resulting in everyone just continuing to do things “the way they’ve always done them.” In this scenario, no one has answered the critical questions before flipping the “on” switch. What will this tool be used for? What analytics do we hope to gain? How will we communicate its proper utilization to the CSMs?
This issue is an excellent example of everything CS Operations encompasses. Yes, tool administration is an integral part of what they do, but they are also responsible for the process of discovering the best tools for your team – even to the point of spearheading the entire discovery process.
From here, their roles and responsibilities scale and grow alongside the rest of the organization. With the right capabilities, operations can move beyond Systems and into the other areas ChurnZero identifies – Data, Process, People, and Strategic Initiatives.
Sometimes the People, Process, and Strategy pieces get less attention than Data and Systems, but they shouldn’t be left out (even in the earlier stages of Customer Success). CS Ops can be pivotal to the success of any large- or small-scale CS initiative. From as early a starting point as possible, CS Ops should be involved in big strategy discussions so CS leaders benefit from their solutions-based way of thinking.
The Customer Success Operations Maturity Model
Are you ahead or behind the curve?
According to TSIA’s The State of Customer Success: 2022, the use of a dedicated CS platform (versus a CRM) has gone up from 44% in 2019 to 51% in 2022. This is great news – it means more Customer Success organizations will be implementing or expanding upon their operational capabilities in the very near future!
The industry is ready to tap into the true potential of CS Operations.
Marley Wagner is the VP of Marketing & Digital Customer Success at ESG
ESG created the Customer Success Operations Maturity Assessment to help CS leaders measure the health and effectiveness of their CS Ops capabilities to better understand the gaps between where they currently stand and where they need them to be.