How to build a customer service operation from scratch

By Scott Salkin, SVP and GM, Gainsight
From evaluating existing processes to tracking metrics improving visibility – 6 steps to building a customer service operation, by Gainsight’s Scott Salkin

Customer success is one of the most important growth drivers for any company across the globe. From new SaaS companies to established industries like healthcare, the one thing every organisation shares is a need to put the customer first.

The challenge to such a powerful growth engine is that it can feel a bit overwhelming. Where do you start? Who should be involved? What metrics should you track? How do you put customer success at the core of your business?

To get started, here are six steps to follow to build a customer success organisation today.

Step 1:  Create Company Alignment

Companies with customer success at the centre of their business see the best results. Each person needs to understand what it is and how their specific responsibilities contribute to it. The first step to building a Customer Success operation is company-wide alignment. These are your first three steps:

  • Show the value of customer success to get executive buy-in
  • Share data and insights to align your organisation around CS
  • Create a budget proposal that receives buy-in from leadership

To get buy-in across your organisation, here are some metrics to use – net revenue retention rate; churn rate; customer acquisition cost; customer expansion cost; and customer health index.

Step 2: Understand Your Metrics and Objectives

Once you have company-wide alignment, it’s time to clarify what you want your customer success organisation to focus on. Evaluate what your major objectives are for the current year and the next few years. What are your most inefficient processes? What siloes impede your operations? How well does the future of your product align with the value your customers get from it?

List the top three goals for your customer success operation and outline the improvements you want to see based on those goals. Over time, your customer success strategies will mature in complexity, but a simplified strategy is the best way to start.

Here’s how you should use metrics and objectives to get started:

  • Evaluate your current pain points to identify the objectives most important to the organisation
  • Assign metrics to each objective, ensuring that each is clear and meaningful to each department
  • Choose a North Star metric for the entire company

Step 3: Improve Customer Visibility

When customer success began, many of the strategies were reactionary. A decade later, the best customer success managers are proactive and highly transparent, both with their teams and with customers.

To ensure that your customer success strategies are proactive and effective, you need to establish a clear view into your current customer base, their priorities and their current customer health score.

Although the Customer Success Managers (CSMs) will access this information most frequently, it’s critical that all team members have access to it. Up-to-date customer information will inform their strategies, communications, and plans for the future.

Here are the necessary steps to improve customer visibility for your entire team:

  • Set the standards for your customer health, including universal standards, and specific segment standards
  • Aggregate customer data to determine what your current customer health is
  • Create a single, unified view of this high-level customer data, highlighting customer health scores

Step 4: Evaluate Existing Processes

Armed with clear goals you want to achieve, and how you’re going to track your progress towards those goals, it’s time to evaluate and update your processes.

Keep in mind that you aren’t evaluating performance, but rather, how these processes impact metrics your team has prioritised. Don’t cut processes simply because they haven’t performed in the past. Instead, consider whether they create any meaningful changes to your North Star metric.

Another consideration in this evaluation process is who currently owns the process, and which other teams are involved. By now, everyone in your organisation believes in customer success as a core driver of your growth. They will want to participate in ways that improve your most important metrics. When evaluating the efficiency of each process, be sure to consider how that might change with new voices added to the mix.

Here’s the best way to execute an evaluation process:

  • List your current customer success workflows
  • Map the workflows to the performance metrics identified in Step 4
  • Identify and document optimisation opportunities in your current workflows
  • Identify gaps in your processes and prioritise them based on your new North Star metrics

Step 5: Build New Customer Success Processes

Now for the exciting stuff! In this step, you and your customer success managers will fill in the gaps identified in Step Four to create new workflows, playbooks and plans to engage with your customers and help them achieve their goals.

Think outside the box. Your new ideas should be a combination of personalised engagements from your CSMs, digital engagements through a variety of communication channels, plus in-app engagements that meet customers exactly where they are in your product. As you brainstorm new ideas, use the enthusiasm and buy-in from your entire company to provide support to your CSMs and make it easier for them to do their job.

Here are the steps to building new CS processes:

  • Prioritise processes that drive value
  • Ensure alignment between CSM performance metrics and business goals
  • Distribute playbooks and process documentation to all involved team members for additional buy-in

Step 6: Plan for Scaling

Customer success is an essential growth driver for successful companies. Even if you are at the beginning of your CS journey, you need to think about scale. Improvements in time-to-value, personalised success plans, and insight-driven engagement playbooks will all result in product adoption and expansion. Your current CSMs will soon need even more support. Plan early and keep your plans flexible, should you reach your goals faster than you anticipated.

When you’re thinking about scaling your customer success programs, here are the questions you need to ask yourself:

  • What will be required to scale each new process?
  • Is each solution in our tech stack customer-centric?
  • What can we improve to make it easier for CSMs to do their job?
  • How are we ensuring that our tools and resources can grow with our team?

That’s all it takes! With each of these steps, you have built a strategic, comprehensive customer success operation. With time, you will be ready to start scaling your strategies, building out your team, and adding more powerful solutions to your tech stack.

About the author: Scott Salkin is the SVP and GM of Essentials at Gainsight.


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