The Evolution of CS Operations Image

The Evolution of CS Operations

By Gainsight Team

When thinking about CS Operations, it’s best to think first about how the motion of operations works overall in a company. 

Generally, when you consider operations, you think of the responsibilities that keep the company moving. Operations are in perpetual motion, managing every activity of the daily business. But where do those actions derive their source of power? Did the individuals performing those activities suddenly decide it would be a good idea to do them? And where are the strategies, metrics, and oversight to know that they performed accurately?

Everything executed in a company daily ideates from a table of executives. Then, they decide how to implement those strategies into existence, including determining who will be accountable for accomplishing those strategies. If you understand that, you can begin to understand CS Operations as a microcosm of the entire business’s operational structure.

CS Operations Origins

CS Operations began out of need, but as business gets more complex, it continues in an evolutionary state. Its progress is in parallel to the beginnings of customer success itself. No one quite knew what to do with CS in the beginning. What would be their scope of responsibilities or objectives? Where would it sit on the org chart? Who would oversee them? Over time, CS evolved when more CSMs and CS leadership looked to improve and standardize its practices, processes, and procedures. 

In the beginning, CS Ops roles were in flux. There were ops people answering emails, almost as a form of support. Others were consultative, or they advised about technical needs. There were even some hired as administrators of the new CS or CRM platform. If the CS team was advanced enough, CS Ops were building out onboarding procedures, enabling support with better motions, and constructing customer-facing teams, such as renewals, while keeping them aligned. But in that first phase, and even today, if you get CS Ops people together, they ask each other what they do. What are their best practices? Do they have playbook and strategy suggestions? No one has CS Ops wholly defined, so there is room for experimentation and improvement.

Most execs began to see that CS Ops’ core nature centered on resource planning and strategy over time. Like the larger operations structure and motion, CS Ops had an overall construction based on the premise of cross-company alignment, resource management, and the main objective of keeping operations running daily. But the true importance of their role came about when CS orgs attempted to scale.

CS Ops Leadership

Justifying the role of a CS Ops leader used to be a complicated process. Over time, the value and return on investment for this role became more clear-cut. From Data and Processes to People and Systems, their responsibilities mirrored Sales Operations, step by step. By examining Sales and knowing CS Ops’ duty, you could create a sub-cycle of strategies centered around questions. So let’s dig deeper into those questions and answers to help find a leader capable of driving strategy into motion. The first set of questions are about who should be a CS Ops leader. 

  • Do they have the desire to design processes that can lead your organization and company to scale? 
  • Can they see longitudinally to solve the problem? 

These questions are grouped together because they center on a particular quality: the vision to see the bigger picture. Often, people can get caught up in the whirlwind of day-to-day management. Problems are like mud that causes you to sink. To design processes that scale, you have to rise above the mud, identify the issues and possible solutions, and create manageable steps to the solutions while utilizing your resources properly. That leads us to our next set of questions.

  • Does the individual mind getting in the trenches and getting their “hands dirty?” 
  • Can they think on their feet, solving problems, and creating new operations? 

Getting down in the trenches also indicates a passion for leadership and work. They have a love of problem-solving and understanding processes so deeply that they can seek answers to issues at every level—talking to Product and Engineering, Sales and Marketing, or sitting with the CSM. They are willing to solve customer problems by “reverse engineering” the issues and getting at the solution. CS Ops leaders consume information at great volumes and look from every perspective to ensure nothing is missed. 

  • Is the CS Ops leader candidate one who has a history of working productively across teams and other organizations?
  • Have they operated in roles where transparency drives strategic decisions?
  • Can they accept responsibility at the highest level and partner with other leaders to drive the company strategy forward?

A true CS Ops leader will lead from the pack with a clear message of direction and communicate creatively to make sure they are understood. CS Ops leaders are not just leaders. They are listeners. They have to be to encourage the best contributions of their team members. They also have to model cross-collaboration with other departments. That is only accomplished by listening. And authentic leadership is not about demands and commands but influence. 

Where Does it Fit?

Every company is different, so the structure of the CS organization is different too. CS Ops can appear in various forms at companies, even those with the same business model. Large or small, SaaS or not, CS Ops can have multiple responsibilities and varied placements within organizations. 

Some may report to the Sales VP. If so, you’ll often see it named “Revenue Operations”. The purpose behind this placement is because the customer lifecycle begins with Sales and cycles back through Sales from a renewals and expansions perspective. There is often a shared tech stack between Sales and CS. Therefore, having the resources responsible for Sales and CS Operations on the same functioning team makes sense. The challenge or downside is that the CS Ops leader may find themselves fighting for priority and competing with the Sales leader’s objectives. 

Alternatively, CS Ops can fit snugly under your Chief Customer Officer (CCO) or head of customer success. This placement is Gainsight’s recommendation, especially for new CS Ops teams, as it provides greater scope and control over the customer lifecycle that falls within the domain of CS responsibility. The caveat is that it requires purposeful coordination with other operational teams, such as Sales and Marketing. Silos can be easily remedied with a shared campaign calendar and data governance agreement. 

A third, uncommon option is where all operations fall under an administrative operations leader with responsibilities over Sales Ops, Marketing Ops, and CS Ops. This combined ops team could be structurally under the Chief Operations Officer (COO) or Chief Information Officer (CIO). The benefit of this arrangement is to consolidate the entire company’s operational needs. Every department is essentially its customer. The drawback is that the organization is less agile and requires more planning and justification for using resources. Nevertheless, this motion can be healthy as a company scales to a more significant level.

There is a balance that CS Ops must perform in knowing its resources and capabilities for results while also achieving the company’s goals. They must develop best practices and efficiencies that raise the level of accomplishment. Not only must they be reliable and adaptable, but they must also keep growing the level of excellence in operations. That excellence is part of the example and training they give to the entire CS organization, especially customer-facing employees. They can drive efficiencies and identify the most valuable actions to push forward. Time is money, and the less time wasted on busywork, the better. There is a standardization that must be present for all CSMs. The way to do that is through CS Ops.

The bottom line is that no matter where your CS Ops department sits within the company, it requires a high level of coordination and purposeful alignment with company goals and objectives. Gainsight offers a ton of valuable information for those looking to get started or level up their CS Ops knowledge. A great place to start is here to get a clear sense of what CS Ops can do for your company.

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