A Guide to Customer Success Across Europe
Introduction by Allison Pickens, VP of Customer Success & Business Operations at Gainsight
In November, we held our second annual Pulse Europe conference. A few of us at Gainsight led workshops on Customer Success, but I think I learned as much (if not more) from the attendees about how to manage Customer Success in Europe, as they learned from me. These conversations were particularly timely, since my Customer Success team is starting to recruit our first team members in London.
An important theme emerged across these conversations: The “right way” to do Customer Success varies significantly across countries in Europe. There are certainly commonalities - in particular, Customer Success tends to be higher-touch in Europe than in the U.S. - but it’s mission-critical for a CSM team to vary its approach by country.
Coming out of the conference, a group of leaders decided to get together to document their observations of the unique requirements of doing Customer Success in each European country. What emerged is the following blog post, which aims to educate U.S.-based companies on how to expand their CS programs in Europe, and also to help round out the knowledge of European companies.
I can’t claim credit for this post, but rather I’m indebted to several other, more knowledgeable folks for writing it - in alphabetical order by last name, they are:
- David Apple, Director of Customer Success at Typeform
- Vinnie Cholewa, VP Customer Operations at CareerBuilder
- Jan Schlosser, former Director of Customer Success, Europe, Middle East, Africa, Russia (EMEAR) at Cisco
What follows is a thorough, candid insider’s guide to doing Customer Success in each country. While the guide includes some generalizations that may be helpful rules-of-thumb, they are based primarily on the writers’ firsthand experiences. The writers welcome you to add your learnings from your own experiences in the comments, so that we can continue to supplement this group’s perspectives.
CSM style: Documentation and process are as sure as the sun rising and setting in the U.K. Customer Success workflow comes naturally because of the processes that CSMs tend to follow.
Where to locate: The U.K. has the most vibrant start-up scene in Europe for emerging XaaS companies (mainly in London, but also in Birmingham, Manchester, and Edinburgh). In addition, several large global enterprises that are introducing their own Customer Success teams in Europe now have their European headquarters in or around London.
How to hire: The market has a lot of early-in-career talent who have experience in their first roles as junior Customer Success Managers. There’s plenty of compensation information readily available on sites like Glassdoor.com to help inform decisions on salaries. Labor laws in the U.K., more than many other European countries, are similar to those in the U.S.
Market factors: There are concerns about the impact of “Brexit” on the current business momentum; U.K.-based companies may be more limited to the U.K. market, as expanding into non-U.K. European markets will become more expensive at some point. Forecasts for U.K.-based companies are very conservative right now.
If you’re expanding here: The U.K. is the first economy in Europe where we see Customer Success building a beachhead coming over as a “movement” from the U.S. It is an easy market for a U.S.-based company to enter, as it is English-speaking. For U.S. companies moving to Europe, cost may be a factor. While London is a natural option given its world presence, cities like Edinburgh have plenty of individuals with the skills in multiple languages that are vital to operating in Europe at a much more cost-effective rate.
CSM style: Expect customers to want a high-touch approach. Attention to detail is critical to success in Germany.
There is a more conservative approach to Customer Success and high sensitivity to privacy for usage data, when used for measuring and automating customer success. Data must be stored locally and handled securely, especially for public-sector customers.
To serve German customers with Customer Success resources, you need to have native German speakers (available in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria) and German collateral. Ideally, your subscriptions should be available in German to be broadly successful here.
Where to locate: There are two or three main hubs for Customer Success: Berlin (XaaS start-up scene), Munich (the “IT-hub” for global classical tech companies), and Frankfurt (financial center with booming adjacent industries).
How to hire: You should be thoughtful about hiring permanent employees in Germany, because there is a lot of union-related inflexibility in moving employees when needed in a fast-changing business environment: long notice periods, costs of benefits, and hurdles in letting people go if the company grows to a certain critical size. Consider local regulations and comparably high tax rates.
Market factors: Germany is one of the healthiest economies in Europe with a lot of appetite to “digitize” the economy (i.e. “Industry 4.0”). Hence, it probably has the biggest business potential for Customer Success once the subscription economy gains ground here. However, we’re still skeptical as Germany usually moves slowly and is not seen as a digital leader despite their industrial leadership and potential.
If you’re expanding here: For outsiders, you don’t just jump into Germany. You need to have a very specific market fit and fully understand the nuances around data protection, legality and employment law.
Possible strategies to be successful in Germany in the subscription economy include building a strong foothold in smaller and more flexible economies first (most often, Switzerland) and expand into Germany from there when opportunities arise.
CSM style: Most companies look at Ireland as a potential candidate for housing a Virtual Customer Success Center, with locally employed agents who do not travel to see customers (hence the term “Virtual”). Local Irish companies are not yet very visible with Customer Success offers in the European market.
Where to locate: Many of the biggest names in tech have a large presence in Dublin, including Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, and Airbnb. This has attracted a lot of talent, but there is also a lot of competition for that talent. Intercom is the best known start-up founded in Ireland.
Market factors: Companies setting up in Ireland still enjoy some tangible tax benefits compared to other EU countries. Wages here are slightly lower compared to many Western and Central European countries (though not to Eastern and South European countries).
If you’re expanding here: Many companies look to Ireland to host their European data storage and servers. Don’t overlook the simplicity in the why, as the cool climate helps keep the giant processors happy.
Where to locate: Switzerland is a highly innovative and attractive location. It is a magnet for talent: e.g. Google’s European development center is based in Zürich.
How to hire: There is a very diverse and highly skilled talent pool available to drive Customer Success. You can leverage the country’s English skills in addition to its three main languages: German, French, and Italian. It has a fast-evolving talent pool for Customer Success emerging from local XaaS companies and global firms with a presence here.
Market factors: Significant tax benefits for enterprises and one of the most liberal sets of labor laws in Europe make it attractive for almost any industry to consider Switzerland as a major location and/or European headquarters. At the same time, it can be expensive to hire, particularly if you end up having to relocate folks to work there.
If you’re expanding here: Some call it “mini-Europe”, because if something is successful in the Swiss market, it is almost guaranteed success in all other European markets, especially Germany (with its sensitivity to data privacy and highly skilled workforce). Switzerland has the potential to emerge as a beachhead for Customer Success in Germany, due to language, geographical and cultural proximity and reputation in security.
Due to its geographic location in the center of Europe (easy to get from here to anywhere fast), multilingual talent pool, “Swiss” brand recognition, and a stable political environment for business (in spite of the highest labor costs in Europe), Swiss-based companies are among the most dynamic in Europe. They successfully serve European and global markets, in addition to the stable but comparably small local market.
CSM style: France has a highly regulated market that you cannot serve from outside France: it requires a local presence and the use of the local language for all customer interactions, shared materials, and organized communities. Servicing smaller customers to drive Customer Success can be done from outside France (as it has been done in Poland, Edinburgh, and other places), but requires French-speaking CSMs - often French nationals.Relationships absolutely matter in France. The best sales models will utilize a hybrid approach between prospectors and closers in pre-sales, and CSMs (driving usage and value) and Account Managers (fostering the long-term relationship) in post-sales.
France lags in regards to leveraging non-French subscriptions in the market and hence is rarely a priority to drive significant incremental business from better ARR and Renewal Rate improvements.
How to hire: Labor laws in France are very much in favor of the employee, which makes it very difficult and costly to fire people. Furthermore, the expectations for work hours (35 hours / week) and for vacation days are quite high. You don’t get the “joie de vivre” for free. :)
French people are generally well educated, and the younger generations are eager to do something different from the stereotype of the hierarchical, very formal, slow-moving, old-school French companies.
Market factors: France is one of the stronger economies in Europe, and is on par in terms of the startup scene with the UK and Germany.
If you’re expanding here: Be aware that selling subscriptions in the French market may appear easy, but if Customer Success investments are not made here, the business will not be successful. If you’re thinking of Paris, you will of course find expats from every country around the world. For this reason, Paris has been chosen by many U.S. companies as their European headquarters.
CSM style: Spain, like most European countries, requires local language support to serve local customers.
Where to locate: Cities like Barcelona attract talent from all over Europe. Asking someone to move to Barcelona from anywhere else in Europe is an easy sell, due to the weather and the quality of life. Companies like Google, HP, Cisco, Apple, and Facebook outsource part of their support and/or business development to Barcelona (via a local company called Sellbytell). Tesla is rumored to be planning to open a large office in Barcelona.
How to hire: Salaries in Spain are low compared to most of Europe, due to high unemployment rates. It is difficult to find native English speakers with prior experience in XaaS.
If you’re expanding here: Many Spanish start-ups now work in English in their offices.
How to hire: There are a few hot spots for talent here that are already leveraged by global enterprises: Krakow (with its multiple universities, great early-in-career talent pool, and multilingual capabilities in Polish, Russian, German, Italian, Spanish, and Arabic) and Warsaw, as the capital.
Market factors: With low labor costs, fairly liberal labor laws, and a highly motivated workforce, it is a great place to source talent for Customer Success functions: locally as Virtual Customer Success Managers, or as talent for other markets in Europe. It is one of the most interesting emerging countries in Europe when it comes to supporting innovation.
Nordic countries (Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland)
CSM style: The Nordics are a natural fit for Customer Success, given the lack of hierarchies in most organizations and focus on cross-functional collaboration. They’ll tell you they’ve been focused on Customer Success for decades and the rest of the world is just trying to catch up. While English is common in the Nordics, and business is often conducted in English, don’t assume your products will be adopted if they’re English-only. Local language and support is still important to long-term success.
How to hire: Due to very good English language skills, the Nordic countries could be served by team members who are located outside of the Nordics.
Market factors: The Nordics have a vibrant market with great potential for effective Customer Success teams. There are some large customers based here and innovation is traditionally driven here, too. This market has not been sufficiently embraced by emerging XaaS companies, but it is ready to be.
Other European countries
We three writers don’t have complete knowledge of how Customer Success is done in every single country in Europe, so we’ve excluded a few, e.g. the Benelux countries, Portugal, Austria, Italy, Greece, and others. If you can fill that knowledge gap, we encourage you to contribute to this insider’s guide by posting comments below.