Let me start with a statement that might seem far-fetched: enterprise customer success organizations looking to optimize and scale as they mature can learn a lot from the best practices of Grammy-award winning R&B supergroup Silk Sonic.
Before you laugh me out of the room, “leave the door open” for the possibility that there might be some parallels between customer success and musical superstardom!
In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Silk Sonic talked about their process for working together and how it helped their music become popular at such a massive scale, with more than a billion streams on Spotify. The article is a fascinating look behind the scenes of a great working team. And many of their best practices—assembling the right tools, finding the right mix of collaboration, and constantly iterating—are directly applicable to customer success.
That’s because as a customer success function becomes well-established, the challenge isn’t necessarily finding the right talent or having the right vision. The accelerator for mature, scalable growth is a rock-solid but flexible process that gets the most out of the team’s capabilities.
For Silk Sonic, that meant finding the right tools (instruments), investing in people (musicians), and continuously iterating (re-recording songs as needed). Customer success teams can apply these same strategies as they seek to optimize and scale.
Tools: Building a Customer-Centric Tech Stack
In early-stage customer success organizations, the tech stack is often a hodgepodge of existing software that wasn’t designed for customer success and homegrown solutions that aren’t really scalable. Once the team is established, it is crucial that the tech stack is as customer-centric as possible. You simply cannot scale as an enterprise company with tools built to do other things. Here are some must-haves for customer-centric tech.
- 360 view of the customer. Customer success teams need data that illuminates every important step along the customer journey, especially value milestones. CSMs need to know in real-time if a customer is not achieving a milestone in a timely manner so that they can intervene. And if a milestone has been achieved, CSMs should be able to begin pushing toward the next milestone, to renewal, or to upsell/cross-sell.
- Metrics and automation. The tech stack should be able to report on a wide range of metrics. Not because CSMs will use every single metric, but because they need to have many options in order to fine-tune assessments of customer health, usage, etc. But it is not just enough to have the metrics, they should be available on the same platform with engagement tools like in-app guides and email. The more metrics can trigger automated responses, the more CSMs can focus on other tasks, which is crucial when achieving scale.
- Feature depth. Customer success technology can have many components beyond simply measuring customer usage of products. Tools like surveys, API connectors, and CRM add-ons are available ad hoc, but the more you can assemble all features into one platform, the more efficient and standardized your practices will become. It is also important to think about what features you may need in the future as you grow because it is harder to modify once you are in the thick of growth.
People: Supporting the Customer Success Team
No matter how talented the team of CSMs is, they can’t maximize their potential without the right level of support. This includes capabilities, processes for collaboration, and the mix of team members who are hired. Ultimately, CSMs should feel supported to focus on what’s important and empowered to make contributions within a secure framework; they should be able to bring new ideas to the table without having to reinvent the wheel.
- Digital CS. Digital CS is more than just using technology to achieve low-touch engagement with customers. Digital capabilities actually make customer success efforts smarter and more effective. They can serve as enhancements to the natural abilities of CSMs. Automated functions give them more time to spend on strategy and problem-solving.
- Use CS metrics internally. Many of the same metrics and methods used with customers can be used with the internal team to improve transparency and performance. Metrics can be used to closely monitor the outcome of team processes to identify opportunities for improvement or the need for additional training. And of course, internal outcomes should ultimately tie back to core metrics like NRR.
- Specialize your team. When assembling a large customer success team, having a variety of specialties and backgrounds can be a huge asset. Some CSMs come from a tech admin background, others from sales. Some even come from outside the industry—even former musicians! Giving people with different perspectives the chance to grow will create a unique culture and environment that fosters creative ideas.
Process: Iterating as Challenges Arise
Mature companies often grow and scale in unexpected directions as the landscape changes. They could be expanding into new regions, targeting new customers, or launching new products. Customer success needs to adapt, and teams won’t always get it right the first time. Processes need to have flexibility built in so they can withstand the increased rate of change.
Constant fine-tuning a process or even starting over from scratch can be scary. People often fear change, and sometimes feel that the need to change course indicates that a mistake was made. In the world of customer success, this mindset is counterproductive. Customer success is a young discipline that is still evolving—best practices five years from now will be different. The key is that the principles remain the same: helping customers become successful with your products.
Transparency can help everyone on the team level set and feel more comfortable with changes. If everyone has access to clear, objective metrics that measure the impact of various aspects of the process, the judgment of the results and the need to change become impartial and not personal. As long as teams are actually measuring their impact on customer outcomes, they should be comfortable with changing processes as needed.
Scale Like a Rockstar
Just like becoming a Grammy-winner, achieving maturity as a customer success organization is the culmination of a long journey. The highs and lows along the way teach many lessons about what works and what doesn’t. For mature customer success teams, the challenge is to organize those learnings and standardize them in a process that enables CSMs to achieve their fullest potential. Because when customer success scales, organizations that don’t have their processes in place will often stumble. Those that do will be having the time of their life—and so will their customers!