Business Operations was one of my favorite courses in business school. I still put on my operations cap when I think about how quickly fast fashion giants such as Inditex can mimic fashion trends to have them in-store in weeks to how quickly some fast-food chains such as Chick-fil-a adopted new ordering methods during the pandemic.
If you have ever waited in line for a COVID test or vaccine, you understand how successful operational leadership can hinder or accelerate a positive customer experience.
In Customer Success, operations leaders also play a pivotal role in driving efficiencies by combining technology and data. In most organizations, CS Operations governs six key components:
Reporting, data, and systems are on the technology side of your CS Ops functions. At the same time, strategy, process planning, and content creation are geared towards ensuring teams are adequately enabled to execute similarly to ensure a seamless customer experience. You may be thinking, “Well, my CS function is still maturing, so maybe I am not ready for CS Ops.” Let’s unpack the ways that easy gut judgment can set you up for failure.
Let’s examine one of the real-world operations examples mentioned above. Imagine at the outbreak of the pandemic when even medical professionals were uncertain. Their inability to identify the root cause or have historical knowledge about what the world faced made everyone reactive. As time went on, experts issued guidance about hygiene and distancing, which empowered people to feel safer by making proactive decisions about their health. As more data came together over time, it gave medical professionals the tools to predict the likelihood of serious injury based on pre-existing conditions and types of exposure. Now we are in a state where the vaccine has allowed us to be prescriptive about how to exist as we begin to reemerge socially safely.
Your CS practice can similarly follow these same four stages as it matures and your client base becomes more complex. The key to a smooth transition from reactive to prescriptive is making critical CS hiring decisions as early as feasible in the growth of your CS org. Without the suitable hires, you’ll see cracks form and widen in your path to success. For example, frequently, without an Ops leader, your CS leaders will get bogged down with operational debt: unclear playbooks, time-consuming processes, weak visibility into customer health, and more. In addition, as your team grows, without enablement in place, employees will take it upon themselves to make their own decisions about how to do things, and you will find yourself undoing the bad habits that formed with good intentions.
At Pulse Everywhere, Delphix shared a benchmark that the right time to hire an ops person can be as soon as you have 3-5 CSMs. When you double that number, you should start thinking about an ops person and a systems admin. Building the proper foundation early on will set your team up for success in the long run. Getting the right people in early on is half of the battle. The other is understanding your data sources and how they all fit together. CS Ops should define and know the source of truth about your customer data. It takes a team with that expertise to effectively analyze your customer segments, product telemetry, expansion plays, etc., for senior leadership. Insights from CS Ops directly empower decision-makers at the highest levels of the company.
So, who’s the right person to lead CS Ops? First, picture your dream partner—robust, tan, and sharp. Now toss that image aside (sorry)—the right ops person is going to be a lot easier to find than your dream mate! During our Pulse Everywhere CS Operations track, we heard from Ops leaders who started as SDRs, solutions consultants, and even technology engineers. While having someone tech-savvy is important, you do not want someone overly credentialed. People who are too technical may, in fact, be naturally motivated internally to build something complicated. At Gainsight, we believe in simplicity. Better attributes include someone passionate about problem-solving—think project management, analytical and curious instead of technical.
Once you have those foundational attributes, you can layer onto your wish list someone who loves complex data and understands what to measure, when to measure and how. Your ops leader is going to be digging deep to unlock the power of your customer base. To do that well, they will have to challenge various cross-functional leaders, innovate and develop processes and strategies that will pivot as your company grows.
So if you have got this far and agree—yes, we need CS Ops asap, and we know what to look for—what can you expect in return? At Delphix, they were able to improve their revenue forecasting substantially. The CFO and other CXOs appreciate being able to use this data to be prescriptive about roadmap decisions, act quickly on customer signals, and scale the business more efficiently. For any business, whether you answer to the public markets or a private board, predictability around revenue is vital for fundraising to drafting a comprehensive 10-K. Delphix has the NPS and attrition numbers to prove how instrumental CS Ops has been in improving their customer experiences—with an NPS in the high 90s and attrition under 4%. Customer Success is the long game. It is bigger than the sale—you want to watch your clients grow with you over time and renew. So, you won’t achieve these numbers overnight. Instead, when you are starting with your first hire, focus on the small wins. Perhaps you can create systems efficiencies to save money on licenses; others will begin reporting on data instrumental in the company’s trajectory over time. Wherever you start, having your finger on the pulse of the relevant customer data will empower your CS organization and, in turn, your customers for the long haul.
Finally, your new CS Ops resource may report directly to Customer Success for prioritization, and so there’s a direct connection with the CS team. Alternatively, you may choose to consolidate like-minded operations resources across multiple teams into one group reporting to Revenue Operations to gain efficiencies. While there’s no one-size-fits-all reporting structure, the key to deciding where CS Ops lives within your organization lies in having it report to senior leadership who best understands the vision and impact.
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 learn more about the role and connect with like-minded professionals. We want to hear from you! Have more insights about what you’d like to know about CS ops, email us here.