May 5, 2021
CS Operations is an up-and-coming role within Customer Success. If we’re to get up to speed and create CS Ops roles within our companies that are focused and effective, we ought to learn from how other teams are doing it. That’s why this week, I’ve enlisted the help of CS Ops experts to answer 15 common questions about their role, function, and more.
Note: I recently posted this question on LinkedIn. Click here to see what other CS leaders had to say.
“No matter what, even if Customer Success is sitting under Sales, CS Ops needs to sit squarely with the broader Customer Success team reporting to CS leadership. This is crucial for proximity, visibility, and awareness of the deep nuances of what's happening within the post-sale motion.” —Jeff Justice Williams, Enterprise Lead of Customer Success at Box
“CS Ops is best suited to sit with people who have very similar skillsets so they can collaborate and load-balance between different roles. So having CS Ops within the CS team allows Ops to really focus on the top needs and understand those needs in detail for the CS org.” —Seth Wylie, Head of Customer Success Operations at Gainsight
“Not necessarily intentionally, but when CS Ops reports into Sales it always seems to come secondarily to the needs of the Sales team and the Sales Ops activities. Having CS Ops report into CS and being very close to the leadership there has consistently been the best way I've seen it work.” —Beth Yehaskel, Revenue Optimization and Customer Success Architect at Winning by Design
“One of things that I've leaned on to justify CS Ops is if as a CS leader you want me to make data-driven decisions then I need someone who can help me access that data. So if you start playing that out and say, ‘Let's use data, make better decisions, reduce churn by X percent— and what does that translate to dollarwise a year from now?’ The result is usually pretty shocking. Suddenly you look at that number compared to the salary of a CS Ops person and it becomes clear that it’s totally worth the risk to get even a fraction of that.” —Beth Yehaskel, Revenue Optimization and Customer Success Architect at Winning by Design
“I like having enablement (training, marketing materials, etc.) under the CS umbrella because that role needs to know the specific tools, processes, workflows, and data that are relevant to the CS org. Having the enablement team really tightly tied into Customer Success makes sense.” —Marco Innocenti, Senior Leader of Customer Success Operations at Zoom
“This is a struggle for Ops in general. When my previous boss said he would love to get a better sense of what a performance-based bonus would look like for the CS Ops team, I didn't know where to start. When I spoke with Sales Ops and Finance, they were just sort of like, ‘Eh, we kind of do a thing.’ So I don't have a great system for that. I think that there are things you could use like MBO’s, an internal NPS, etc. But I carry a little bit of a chip on my shoulder about performance-based bonuses. I just prefer the salary approach. We've leaned towards that, but every employee at Gainsight also has a company-wide bonus that's part of their comp.” —Seth Wylie, Head of Customer Success Operations at Gainsight
“I've seen companies look for their first CS Ops hire when their CSM team matures from reactive to proactive—shifting from firefighting and triaging to proactively guiding customers along a specific path to achieve key milestones that enable value realization. CS Ops then partners with CSM leaders in designing, operationalizing, and continually evolving these proactive strategies.” —Sonam Dabholkar, Director of Customer Success Operations at Gong.io (201-1,000 employees, 51-200 team members in CS)
“It can often depend on whether your company uses a low or high-touch model and average customer value. If it is a low-touch model, a CS Ops person could be your first CS hire. That person could build customer communication automation and reporting, and then from there hire CSMs to start engaging where the opportunity warrants the investment. In a high-touch model, I think it is still wise to hire one CS Ops person from the start, but that often is not seen as the highest and best use of funds at that stage. If your company does not hire CS Ops from the start, here are a few signs you need the function:
"Scalability and bandwidth issues of frontline CSMs are both key indicators of the need to introduce repeatable and potentially automated processes. If there is a need to build or buy third-party tools to support is another flag that it is probably a good time to look at hiring a CS Ops professional." —Michael Haygood, Director of Customer Operations at Multiple Companies (201-1,000 employees, 6-50 team members in CS)
“CS Ops spans a wide range of responsibilities, so it’s important to be purposeful about defining what your first hire will focus on and what level of depth they’ll go to in each area. Key items will typically be systems, forecasting/reporting, hiring planning, team process, special projects, and possibly enablement. Based on my experience being on and building CS Ops teams, for a first hire I would look for someone who 1) has broad CS ops experience, and has touched all the areas above 2) can act as a true partner to your CS leader - someone who will bring suggestions and make their work better 3) has worked at a company that has made it to the next major milestone your company is trying to reach and has ideally seen that transition. *Bonus points if they have experience working in CS themselves because that will give them a leg up in understanding your team and providing recommendations.” —Jackie Lusardi, Senior Customer Success Operations Manager at Drift (201-1,000 employees, 51-200 team members in CS)
“I have prioritized analytical skills and attention to detail as key attributes for anyone being added to the CS Ops team. Refining processes and scaling customer communication requires a lot of data review and validation. Having a "good eye" and being able to perform and understand Excel lookup functions sets the foundation for clean data and an ideal automation environment.” —Karen Blue, Customer Success Operations Manager at CentralSquare Technologies (1,001-5,000 employees, 6-50 team members in CS)
"Systems/Tools Admins: we need people who love making the tools work for our teams. Data Analytics: someone to help make data-driven decisions. Project Management: a skill that allows us to continue to drive both CS Ops and CS projects as a whole." —Robert De La O, Director of Customer Success Operations at Menlo Security Inc. (201-1,000 employees, 6-50 team members in CS)
“First you must align to your company’s Go-to-Market (GTM) strategy and Objectives & Key Results (OKRs). You want to set the expectation that your team is a strategic partner and not a reactive support group. If you are aligned and influencing the GTM strategy, and your team is driving towards the overarching company objectives, it is easier to prioritize what work is most important and what gets moved to the backlog. Second, manage CS Ops like a product where your stakeholders and CSMs are the customer. Implementing an agile methodology will help you collect and prioritize tasks through a backlog, breakdown complex, cross-departmental projects into manageable sprints, create flexibility to address changing business needs, set a regular cadence and change management process for releasing new functionality, and establish a measurement framework to test and monitor adoption and impact.” —Renee Burrell, Senior Director of Customer Success Products & Operations at MarketStar (1,001-5,000 employees, 51-200 team members in CS)
“In our low-touch segments, CS Ops focuses on workflows and alerting, all based on health and churn analysis. In a sea of customers, our goal is to help those 1:Many CSMs prioritize their time and mitigate risk. With our high-touch segments, we help the CSMs focus on diving deeper to better understand each customer's engagement, sentiment, and usage. —Chelsea Leavitt, Senior Customer Success Operations Manager at Drift (201-1,000 employees, 51-200 team members in CS)
“Adoption Rate, Churn Rate, NPS, and Post-Sale Revenue.” —Kate Paliakova, Director of Customer Success and Operations at Logyc Co.
“All of them! We align ourselves closely to the overall CS Org metrics of CARE - Customer Satisfaction (NPS, CSAT), Adoption (Users vs. Features), Retention, and Expansion. If we are doing our job then we can easily spot risk and trends in our healthscores and provide feedback to the teams we support on how they can better engage with customers.” —Robert De La O, Director of Customer Success Operations at Menlo Security Inc. (201-1,000 employees, 6-50 team members in CS)
"There are three types of metrics Customer Success Operations teams should be paying attention to. The first type of metrics is the company level KPIs the Customer Success Team is responsible for impacting. Metrics such as, the Net and Gross Renewal Rate, Net Promoter Score, and/or Active Usage Rates. As a Customer Success Operations team your primary responsibility is to enable the Customer Success Team and operationalize the customer journey, and to do this effectively you need to continuously monitor the performance of the team and how your efforts are impacting those overarching metrics. The second type of metrics to pay attention to are process performance metrics. This will help you monitor the performance and impact of the business processes and systematic workflows you implement to support customer success initiatives. Is the new onboarding process reducing the customers time to value? Is the new risk playbook being adopted by the customer success managers? What are the click-through rates on automatically triggered product adoption emails and are we seeing an increase in product adoption as a result? The third type of metrics are your Customer Success Operations Team's productivity and performance metrics. This could come in the form of managing completion of quarterly objectives and key results, customer satisfaction scores from your Customer Success Management team, or agile performance metrics to monitor the quality, quantity, and velocity of work completed." —Renee Burrell, Senior Director of Customer Success Products & Operations at MarketStar (1,001-5,000 employees, 51-200 team members in CS)
“The increased efficiency of your front line CS colleagues. We should see and measure our impact internally by how we free our team’s time to engage with customers. Also, increased QBR output, consistent quality of engagement, and increased high-value activities are all interesting measures of program success.” —Michael Haygood, Director of Customer Operations at Multiple Companies (201-1,000 employees, 6-50 team members in CS)
"We hold ourselves to the same metrics and goals that we put on the CS team. If they are hitting their retention and health goals, then we know we are doing our job as well." —Chelsea Leavitt, Senior Customer Success Operations Manager at Drift (201-1,000 employees, 51-200 team members in CS)
"As an Ops team, we use Salesforce, JIRA, Tray, and Zapier to manage most of our work. We also have a tool called Sonar that is helpful on the Salesforce systems side." —Chelsea Leavitt, Senior Customer Success Operations Manager at Drift (201-1,000 employees, 51-200 team members in CS)
"Our CS Ops team uses Gainsight. It's our one-stop-shop for most of the data that we use and the automated "Calls to Action" and tech touch communications that we set up." —Karen Blue, Customer Success Operations Manager at CentralSquare Technologies (1,001-5,000 employees, 6-50 team members in CS)
“We have 2 (hour-long) regularly scheduled meetings with CS leadership every week. The first, at the beginning of the week, is focused on CS Ops projects and updates. This would be where we propose any new set of work or we talk about outstanding questions. This has been a helpful forum for presenting our ideas and priorities. The second is a meeting we call "CS Metrics” and is on Friday. This meeting focuses on presenting data and findings to leadership. CS Ops owns portions of this meeting, along with other CS leaders. This is a great time to highlight findings in the data and make recommendations based on those facts and observations. It is helpful to back up what you're saying with proven data.” —Chelsea Leavitt, Senior Customer Success Operations Manager at Drift (201-1,000 employees, 51-200 team members in CS)
"I meet with our head of CS weekly, we have CS Ops roadmap team reviews monthly, and quarterly roadmap org updates. We also have project plans and syncs as needed to get feedback, circulate questions, and get clarity." —Michael Haygood, Director of Customer Operations at Multiple Companies (201-1,000 employees, 6-50 team members in CS)
“CS Ops should be in close sync with other operational teams in the company that sit in other functions, e.g. Sales Ops, Marketing Ops, Business Ops, Finance. Quarterly planning sessions and bi-weekly meetings with the leaders of each team facilitate ongoing alignment of priorities and sharing of key updates. Using a central project planning tool and consistent project methodology also helps these cross-functional teams seamlessly collaborate.” —Sonam Dabholkar, Director of Customer Success Operations at Gong.io (201-1,000 employees, 51-200 team members in CS)
“I think there is a realization that customer-focused teams have not had the operational support that Sales and other teams have typically had. As we start to better define CS Ops we will have more clear career paths, communities of interest, and a sharper focus on how operational excellence can drive better customer outcomes.” —Robert De La O, Director of Customer Success Operations at Menlo Security Inc. (201-1,000 employees, 6-50 team members in CS)
"I'd like to see CS Ops expand beyond what I've been hearing lately, which is "lives under CS leadership, focuses on CSMs." We should think more broadly about the entire customer journey and make sure to be in a position to see a more holistic view of how the customer is experiencing your brand and product through various stages. This might mean staying close to those team members working pre-sale, to understand the buyer journey and carry that over to the post-sale team. It could mean diving in with your services organization and ensuring teams are coordinating their strategic approaches with clear ownership." —Chelsea Leavitt, Senior Customer Success Operations Manager at Drift (201-1,000 employees, 51-200 team members in CS)
"I'm increasingly seeing CS leaders (VP of CS, CCO) work closely with CS Ops to not only operationalize key initiatives but also as an innovative thought partner to guide and evolve the CS strategy. I believe we'll see CS Ops involved more in this space, and will also see a clearer career path formed from CS Ops to CS executive roles." —Sonam Dabholkar, Director of Customer Success Operations at Gong.io (201-1,000 employees, 51-200 team members in CS)
“I believe there will be an increased demand for CS Ops over the next 5 years and will see overall less economic growth over the next 5 years than we saw the past 5 years. Because of this I feel many companies will orient themselves toward increasing productivity per CSM, as priority over/instead of leveraging increased headcount. This will drive the need for increased automation and increased productivity per team member. These are two of the needles CS Ops can most directly impact.” —William Buckingham, Customer Success Operations Manager at Delphix (201-1,000 employees, 6-50 team members in CS)
ADVOCATING FOR CS
What if There Were No CSMs?
Here’s Nick Mehta, CEO of Gainsight, with an interesting angle on how to justify the need for CSMs: evaluate what would happen if you removed CSMs from the equation.
The Art and Science of Customer Experience
“What we’ve learned from [delivering delightful customer experiences] at scale is that there is an art and a science to delightful customer experience.” Yamini Rangan, CCO at Hubspot, offers her perspective on why customer experience has become more important for B2C and B2B alike, and what customers are demanding from their buying experiences today.
How to Design and Implement an Effective Onboarding Process
Here, Lincoln Murphy has fleshed out (in detail) 4 tactics to build out an effective onboarding strategy. He offers some back-to-the-basics reminders like defining what it means for a customer to be “onboard.”
On Speaking up and Shutting up
“It took me a long time to realize that A) the impulse to stay quiet is a signal to speak up, and B) the impulse to say one more thing is a signal to stfu.” Here’s Ed Batista with a concise and thoughtful post on the role emotions play in how we contribute to discussions.
Success Happy Hour is a weekly newsletter for Customer Success leaders. Each week we feature one digestible piece of advice or a framework from a top Success leader, along with the best resources from that week. Subscribe here.