Transforming your customer success strategies into revenue-driving operations takes more than additional customer success managers.
Expanding the team is not always the right answer to address scale and impact. Often, it’s about leadership. Just as you wouldn’t expect to scale without a sales or marketing operations team, you can’t achieve the growth you dream of without a CS Operations team either.
We’ve worked with a lot of companies making the transition to onboarding CS Ops and are sharing our best tips for building out your CS Ops team for the first time. To help get you started, we compiled the questions we get most often, plus the best answers so you can hit the ground running.
Why CS Ops?
When you’re just starting out in CS, your first hires are likely CSMs. That’s great! They are the driving force of any CS team. And then you’ve probably brought in a rock star Customer Success VP. Another great move! Well done!
You might be tempted to load up your new VP of CS with Ops duties. But time and again, we’ve seen that VPs of CS shouldn’t split their job between executive leadership and operations. The VP is the big-picture thinker and strategist; the CS ops lead is a master of programs, processes, and data.
How Do You Know You’re Ready?
Once you go over five CSMs, you’re heading toward an inflection point where just adding more CSM headcount isn’t going to get you the results you’re looking for; it’s just adding more people to do CS without having operational insights or alignment on top-level CS strategy.
Another way to determine if you’re CS Ops-ready is to select certain customers where CS needs to be more scalable. Human heroics is not a sustainable solution for the increase in responsibility and impact. Instead, you need a change in the way you approach problems and the tools you use to execute your CS strategies. That’s what your CS Ops leader will do — remove the need for CSMs to be superheroes.
One final sign that you need to call in the CS ops big guns is when your executive team is starting to request CS metrics be presented at your company’s board meetings. This means your org is taking CS seriously (which is seriously great news), but it’s likely a handful of autonomous CSMs aren’t going to be able to produce the data the execs need. That’s not just bad for your organization, it’s bad for your CS team; the more value you can prove CS adds, the better for everyone.
How Do You Make the Case for a CS Ops Budget?
First, let’s level set on what a CS Ops might cost you.
At Gainsight, our research shows that the median investment in CS Ops reported by companies is 3% of the CS budget; if you’re just getting started, you’ll likely be spending more.
So once you’ve got your budget numbers dialed, it’s time for the ask. And you’ll want to be uber-prepared to justify it.
You’ll want to pull together data that shows what’s possible for your CS team in the next 30, 60, and 90 days once you get a CS Ops pro on board. It’s important to note (and to make sure your exec team knows) that this isn’t a “flip the switch” type of hire. Improved Gross Revenue Retention (GRR) and Net Revenue Retention (NRR) outcomes will lag behind the hire, but there are plenty of other indicators that will be more immediately apparent that you can focus your projections on, like:
- Improvements in time to first value and product adoption rates
- Percentage of customers with goals defined and verified outcomes achieved
- Improvements in renewal execution and percentage of renewals in compliance with process
- More accurate forecasts
- Improvements to how risks and handled and closed
- The ARR of at-risk renewals that successfully renew
- Expansion ARR sourced by customer success
- Increase in % of customers with expansion opportunities
- Improvements in size of and time to close an expansion
Armed with good data and compelling forecasts, you’ll be posting that job soon.
How Do You Hire the Right CS Ops Lead?
We won’t go as far as to say that CS Ops leads are unicorns, but we will say this: it takes a person with a unique combination of skills, traits, and personality.
Here’s what’s on our must-have list:
- Project management skills
- Analytical thinking
- People first thinking
- Problem solver
- Team player
- Strong communicator
- Perseverance and tenacity
- Hands-on personality
- Takes ownership
- A true passion for CS
And if you can these extras with your CS Ops lead, hire that person stat:
- Technology credentials
- Experience as a CSM/AE
Where Does CS Ops Report To?
One question we get asked a lot: Where should CS Ops report? Well, we hate to say it, but there’s really no one right answer to that question (sorry!). But most companies have their CS Ops lead reporting to the CS leadership—Chief Customer Officer, VP of Customer Success—the COO or the CRO.
Instead of deciding first where the CS Ops leader will report, consider how much intuitive understanding of the CSM role that individual has. Jeff Beaumont of Gitlab weighed in on this and says that if a CS Ops lead has an empathy for the CSM role, they can comfortably sit in Sales Ops / RevOps / BizOps where they can take advantage of being in kind of a “center of excellence” for your organization’s whole Ops universe. If not, “then you want them sitting in CS, where their whole lives can be keenly directed at improving CS, with much less danger of misunderstanding needs, prioritizing incorrectly, etc.”
If you decide RevOps isn’t the right place for your CS Ops to “live,” you might want to take a cue from where your Sales Ops team reports. For example, if Sales Ops reports to the CRO, then CS Ops would report into the CCO.
What Should You Expect CS Ops to Contribute to Your Org?
With your CS Ops team now firmly planted on your org chart and a superstar hired to lead it, you’re ready to up-level your CS function with these new experts on board. And though every organization’s team will do Ops differently, the common thread is that this team will be the backbone of your CS practice.
Here are some of the core functions and roles your CS Ops team will take on to help scale your org:
- Plan the roadmap for your CS practice
- Create, source, and manage digital-led systems and tools that will scale as your business grows
- Develop best practices for integrating human CS and digital CS
- Give CSMs the tools and processes they need to do their best work
- Oversee all data science and reporting
- Craft actionable insights from that data
- Create the structure and processes for executing the “one-to-many” CS approach (bulk email, in-app engagements, events, community, etc.)
- Offer strategic consulting for CS leadership