There is nothing better than “geeking out” with fellow CS Ops people. Much like Customer Success five years ago, we’re still figuring out how to define excellence. I’m fascinated by the tactics, the priorities, and the structures, and I know how valuable those insights are to other folks also building CS Ops teams. I spoke with Melissa Allen, Senior Manager of Customer Success Operations at Okta, to learn what brought her to this career and what makes her successful.
Okta provides identity protection and secure technology, utilizing their “Identity Cloud.” Through pre-built integrations and infrastructure providers, they help companies securely manage their organizations. With such a vast enterprise, I imagined it was a particularly tough challenge to make the best possible impact through CS Ops.
Getting to Know a Fellow Ops Person
I began my discussion with Melissa about how she found herself in this field and at Okta. “Back in the day, I was a programmer,” Melissa said. “That’s kind of how I became a Gainsight admin, and being a Gainsight admin ultimately led me to end up doing an operations-type role. When I came to Okta, they needed a Gainsight admin and an ops person to support customer success.” Melissa fit the part.
Melissa is passionate about CS Ops. It is more than configuring software according to others’ requests. Melissa wanted to be one of the people at the decision-making table. She wanted to help lay direction and encourage the organization to think strategically about building CS Ops efficiently. “So, that’s why I went to Okta,” Melissa explained. “I was looking for that seat at the table to not only know how to get things done but to be able to talk through the different strategic things we should be doing as a customer success organization.”
A Thoughtful Org Chart
Melissa helped me understand where Okta places CS Ops in the company. She explained that Okta ran a “sister” approach between Customer Success and Renewal Sales, which are connected closely in a team titled “Customer First.” Although Okta uses Gainsight to help strategize renewals, the close coordination between a joint operations group makes a difference. “You want them connected. You want them in sync. I do like that we have our operations and strategy team with both of us combined.”
More broadly, Customer First operations also include support, professional services, and everything post-sales that dives into the current customer base. Then the sales and marketing ops team sits under a separate Senior VP. These two power “sisters” work well together and create an overall success for the company.
Evolution of CS Ops
Melissa’s role has continued to grow and evolve just as the field of CS Ops has:
- Her role is directly involved with leadership and customer success. She is present at meetings twice a month, especially listening to the concerns of the CS team. Part of the resulting roadmap involves Melissa making changes in Gainsight to help the organization become more efficient.
- She offers ideas and strategies previously not thought of to build on.
- Melissa is responsible for headcount modeling and compensation planning (which she has begun to build in Gainsight). Melissa explained that she’s “taking a holistic view of what this person can do to support CS without actually being a CSM.”
Then, there is yearly planning around what Okta calls VMTs. These are goals set at every level—personal, team, and overall company. As they establish goals to drive for, they create roadmaps to accomplish them over the next year. Melissa’s goals are collaboratively determined 50% by the team and 50% by Melissa. The CS Ops goals align with the CS team and how she can best support them. She adds one to two additional goals that mainly drive her personal growth.
What Ops Brings to Okta
The scope of responsibilities and value that the CS Ops team brings is far-reaching. The Ops team’s intent is three main things: to support the people, the processes, and the systems of Okta.
Regarding the people, they primarily assist CSMs and renewal reps, in addition to the leadership. Next, it is their partners, like the data team, the IT partners, and finance. No matter the project, CS Ops is constantly working to help support other teams and organizations enterprise-wide.
The second part of the CS Ops charter is supporting processes. These processes include reporting and analysis of VMTs or goals, quarterly ops reviews, any type of risk management, capacity planning, compensation, budget, workflows, and strategic projects.
The last of their responsibilities is supporting systems such as Gainsight and Salesforce. There are also collaboration tools that they are trying to improve. Altogether, Melissa ensures that requests are thoroughly recorded. “This provides us a way to not only keep track for ourselves and allow us to set priorities but also to help build up the leadership and say we’re busy and we need an extra headcount.”
Overall, Melissa believes that her mission is to find ways to make things “more efficient, more collaborative, and somehow find a way to make lives easier to help the customer.” For her, that can come in the forms of building success plans, making sure the health scores are correct or automating emails, all powered by Gainsight. But Melissa’s particular gift and passion is seeing pain points and needs. Her strategic thinking is her “superpower” —the ability to see the need before others do, knowing that whatever they create will help grow the team and be more scalable.
Current and Future Goals
Melissa and her team have just finished developing and rolling out digital health scores, which they continue to analyze and enhance. They incorporate various customer levels, such as mid-market and upper market, while testing metrics for their digital market customers, which they hope to expand. Dashboards in Gainsight drive much of their data analysis. Melissa understands that “Doing more with data and using data to be a better advocate for our customer” is necessary as they move forward. It takes a seamless and holistic overall team approach between CS and CS Ops to accomplish this all. Melissa brings that vision (and the elbow grease) to create a cohesive roadmap that enables Okta to reach their company’s goal.