I think everyone understands that a Customer Success team never stands alone in its quest to improve retention. In fact, it’s my claim that Customer Success requires more cooperation with, and assistance from, every other organization in the enterprise than any other group. Think about it and I believe you’ll come to the same conclusion – every single organization in your company has a direct impact on the retention rate.
Some of these are obvious such as Product/Engineering and Customer Support. Some are not as obvious like Finance – don’t tell me that customers aren’t affected by the quality of their invoices. But, of all the organizations in the company, probably none has the impact on Customer Success that your OnBoarding team/function does.
Let’s take a step back just to get on the same page organizationally. In general, I’m talking here from the perspective that Customer Success and OnBoarding (by whatever name you call it), are two different groups of people and that there is a handoff from one to the other when the initial product implementation is complete for new customers.
Even in the situation where the Customer Success Managers do customer OnBoarding, the quality of that onboarding process has a direct and significant impact on the challenge facing the Customer Success team and the long-term retention rates.
With that as our backdrop, let’s consider five critical aspects of the relationship between OnBoarding and Customer Success:
- A high-quality handoff is crucial.
- Make sure the onboarding project has a clear end.
- Document the specifics of the handoff.
- Incent collaboration between the two teams.
- Move players between the two teams.
Let’s look at each of these a bit more closely.
1. A high-quality handoff is crucial.
OnBoarding is often very difficult. Although you probably try hard, and rightly so, to transfer knowledge from Sales to OnBoarding, there is much new information about your customer that is learned during the implementation. This is a very good thing but only if that information is passed on appropriately. Customers are very patient in helping us understand their business because they know, in the long run, that will pay off for them, too.
To that end, they will answer endless questions in their quest to help us make sure our software solves their business problems. But nothing irritates a customer more than having to answer the same questions again. And even again. Take great care to pass on the critical information about your customer from OnBoarding to Customer Success so your CSMs aren’t asking the same questions again. The time it takes to transfer this knowledge fully will pay off forever.
2. Make sure your onboarding projects have a clear end.
It’s virtually impossible to have a clean transition and transfer of knowledge if the onboarding project never ends. This is one of the major challenges you’ll encounter when the same team does both onboarding and Customer Success. In that situation, it can be quite unclear when onboarding ends and Customer Success begins. The other reason for having a clear completion point for your onboarding projects is that you’ll have an excuse to celebrate. If you are going to drive a Customer Success culture, this is really important. You can’t just ring the bell when a sales deal closes.
You have to ring the bell, preferably a bigger bell, when a renewal happens, when an upgrade is done, when more licenses are purchased, when a new lifecycle stage is reached, and especially when the customer goes officially into production. Lastly, you HAVE to measure your OnBoarding team on expediency in completing their projects. This, by definition, will create some tension with your Customer Success team, but it’s still necessary. See point #4 for more on this subject.
3. Document the specifics of the handoff.
This one may go without saying, but we’re going to say it anyway. Although the direct handoff is usually from OnBoarding to Customer Success, there are potentially many other teams that will benefit from the documentation of the knowledge gained during onboarding. Customer Support is an obvious example. The more they know when talking to customers, the better for everyone.
For many companies, the original implementation project is by no means the last Services project. Any new engagement should start with a review of what you already know about that customer and much of that will come from the documentation of the original handoff. Again, the diligence required to document this well will pay off tenfold.
4. Incent collaboration between the two teams.
Both your OnBoarding and Customer Success teams will have measurements that are specific to them. For example, OnBoarding might be measured on the average length of their projects and the post-onboarding customer sat score. Customer Success is likely measured on overall retention rates and perhaps also on the improvement in the Account Health Score. These are perfectly legit but I recommend you find one or two measurements that emphasize the importance of collaboration between the two teams.
One obvious example is to have your OnBoarding team incented on the overall retention rate, too. I believe that all post-Sale teams should have retention as one of their measurements (and incentives if they are on a variable plan). Another possibility here would be to incent both teams on the Account Health Score 60 days after onboarding is completed. There’s no way this measurement can get consistently better unless both teams are doing their jobs AND collaborating closely.
Anything you can do to make the two teams feel and act like one will be of great benefit. Speaking of which, check out the next point.
5. Move players between the two teams.
The value of doing this is probably immediately obvious however, the execution of this idea can be a bit daunting. The shuffling of people between jobs can be disruptive and create a productivity hit. It can also be amazingly powerful. Think about the collaboration perspective that your best Project Manager would bring to the Customer Success team if they joined that team for six months.
Conversely, think about the obligation to their ex-colleagues that one of your CSMs would have if they were managing onboarding projects. I contend that both teams would benefit greatly from a trade like this. Just do it once and keep everyone thinking about it or make it a regular rotation. Both the individuals and the teams will benefit greatly, don’t you think?
For most SaaS companies, many different people will touch a customer, especially during the first 12 months they are a customer. One of the key differentiators between the great companies and the not-so-great, is the quality of the handoffs between these teams and individuals.
I would contend that the handoff from OnBoarding to Customer Success is THE most critical of all the handoffs. Doubling down on this one will bring major returns on that investment.