Building the Customer Success Center of Excellence
While most successful companies know the inherent value of Customer Success (CS), the Customer Success Operations sub function is now becoming the driving force to create a dynamic customer insights engine that cultivates customer advocates and drives sustainable revenue growth at scale. This has set the stage for the next logical step in the Customer Success maturity model. The CS maturity model has evolved from CS 1.0 (Break-Fix and Reactive) to CS 2.0 (Proactive and Strategic) and in many companies, is now ready for CS 3.0 (Customer-Led Growth; Standardization and Scale). CS 3.0 focuses on techniques to effectively standardize and scale your CS org and practice by putting into place the right operational models and best practices. It can also have a broader impact beyond revenue retention and growth by driving cross-functional alignment and improving organizational health by creating headspace for the teams to solve the biggest problems faster.
In this blog, I provide a high level introduction to CS 3.0 to get you started in the right direction as you begin thinking about laying the foundational stones for scaling your own CS org and practice.
When considering how to scale your CS practice, you must start by assessing the operational readiness and maturity of your existing organization with the overarching goal of implementing a scalable operational model driven by the ability to standardize, repeat, and repurpose. To achieve this, you must be able to answer questions such as whether you have a unified customer data model to ensure seamless bi-directional flow of customer data within your company's internal systems, which of your customer success workflows and playbooks can be standardized and automated, and whether your team is skilled enough to move from a high-touch engagement model to a scaled engagement model.
To really deliver a true customer retention and scaling strategy, the Customer Success philosophy and methodologies must scale beyond a team or a job title. They must scale through the entirety of your business from the product roadmap to data to internal and external execution. The need to drive that level of alignment toward delivering customer outcomes has been the impetus for the evolution of the Customer Success Center of Excellence (CS CoE). The CS CoE is a unification of approaches to put the customer at the very center of the company's operating model.
To start building a CS CoE organization for your company, you might start by hiring a few CS Ops personnel to help manage CS operations. Then, once your high-touch CS org for your top-tier customers is set up, you can start thinking about building out a formal Customer Success Center of Excellence with a focus on scaling your CS operations across different customer tiers, regions, business units, and solution offerings. The CS CoE is the natural evolution of expanding CS Operations to scale across the entire organization and across all customers in a scalable, repeatable manner while maintaining a customer delivery model that maximizes value to the customer.
One of the first tasks to set up your CS CoE is to establish the vision, mission, goals, and charter of your CoE organization. Here is an example of the Vision, Mission, Goals, and Charter for a CS CoE.
Vision: Become the most reliable partner for the customer success management (CSM) community and empower them to deliver the best possible experience to customers and partners to achieve their desired outcomes.
Mission: Enable CS teams and partners to adopt a standardized, optimized, and scalable operational model that delivers a world-class customer experience (CX).
Goals: To achieve our mission, we will focus on the following goals:
- Collaborate with Customer Success leaders across different regions and business units to develop shared success definitions and identify leading and lagging indicators to trigger timely actions to increase adoption or mitigate risks.
- Work with cross-functional teams to design programs and lean processes that empower CSMs to deliver superior customer and partner experiences, resulting in increased business outcomes
- Optimize customer experiences, maximize customer ROI, and foster cross-functional collaboration.
Charter: To deliver on goals, we will:
- Provide operational thought leadership and partnership to CS leadership and cross-functional stakeholders, including key partners.
- Standardize, optimize, and scale CS programs, workflows, best practices, and tools across different regions for maximum effectiveness and adoption.
- Continuously enable CSMs by optimizing CSM onboarding, upskilling, and certification processes.
- Build and manage a reliable source of truth for views and dashboards that provide critical insights to CS personnel, leaders, and executives.
Focus Areas and Key Initiatives for CS Center of Excellence (CS CoE)
When developing the CS Center of Excellence, it's important to consider the following key focus areas:
- Standardization: Define and implement unified workflows, journey maps, playbooks, and metrics. Develop a digital touch strategy and timeline, and leverage automation to streamline processes.
- Efficient operations: Optimize processes, measure metrics, analyze data, and maximize reach, efficiency, return on investment (ROI), customer experience (CX), and forecasting.
- Scope of responsibilities: Clarify the scope of responsibilities for the CS CoE organization.
- Alignment and buy-in: Secure buy-in from key stakeholders within the company. This is crucial for the success of the scaling and optimization strategy. Since the operational sub-function is not directly linked to revenue metrics, it's important to demonstrate how the org's scaling initiatives can positively impact a company's bottom line and growth, using data and metrics to support the value proposition.
In addition to these focus areas, the CS CoE can drive key initiatives to build a strong learning and execution model for the CS team, driven by data and adaptable to changing variables and environments. These initiatives can include:
- Voice of Customer Programs
- NPS/CSAT surveys
- Data consolidation and analysis projects (e.g., C360, systems integration)
- Customer segmentation
- NRR/ARR and upsell forecasting
- Selection, implementation, and maintenance of CS tools
- CS resource planning and forecasting
- CS upskilling and training
We covered a lot of material in this blog. So to conclude, let us get back to the basics and focus on the main takeaways.
- To maximize the impact and ROI of your CS org, you can leverage your CS CoE by making data your friend by building a strong data-centric operational model.
- The CS CoE/CS Ops functions can improve efficiency and predictability to provide a consistent and enhanced customer experience to fuel customer led growth.
- If your CS COE/Ops is designed and deployed properly, it can become the foundation for long-term success and scaling or your CS org.
Disclaimer: Some extracts in this blog are from my upcoming book called 'Scaling Customer Success' (available on Amazon)
Chitra is a seasoned Customer and Partner Success Leader with a proven track record of success in leading customer and partner engagement strategy, technical advisory, onboarding, adoption, retention, service monetization, and cross-functional teams to achieve exceptional business outcomes. With 20 years of global professional experience and a unique blend of innovative thinking and execution skills, Chitra brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise across a range of industries including hi-tech, finance, insurance, retail, manufacturing, and healthcare.
Chitra has worked with renowned companies such as Motorola, TIBCO, LinkedIn, Ayla Networks, Joveo, Couchbase, and HPE, where her focus was on building, delivering, standardizing and scaling Customer and Partner engagement practices and operations.
Chitra holds a Master's degree in Computer Science from the National University of Singapore and a Master's in Information Management from the University of California at Berkeley.