In this interview, Nykki Yeager, a customer success consultant, talks about how CS is helping an organization to transform its business impact with a greater focus on customer growth and retention.
How did you first become involved with Customer Success?
I started working in tech companies in 2009 as a customer support agent, and I moved into management in 2010. I found my way into customer success in 2013 after taking a role where I was hired for support but ultimately tasked with doing whatever it took to make sure our customers were getting value from the product and growing their use of it.
In the beginning, we didn’t know that things like the onboarding and engagement activities we were doing were called “customer success” until I started doing more research and connecting with others in the space. Since then, I’ve worked in leadership roles in support, success, and marketing and have done some consulting.
How have the companies you’ve worked for approach Customer Success?
Customer success managers are ultimately guides for the customer journey, and they’re tasked with educating customers on the potential of the product, helping customers reach their goals, and making sure that customers are getting value.
What are some challenges associated with the process of building a new Customer Success department? Any tips for avoiding or overcoming them?
Any time you’re building a new team, you’re creating something that didn’t exist before. And when you’re growing a team, you’re creating new versions of a team that haven’t existed before. This naturally presents challenges depending on what stage you’re going through. For brand new teams, I think the biggest challenges are:
- Prioritizing what to focus on, because there’s so much to do.
- Keeping everyone aligned, since there hasn’t been a long-standing standard for things.
- Balancing efficiency with flexibility. Process definition and automation are great but need to be built after understanding what’s really needed.
1) Choose your initial goals based on where the biggest opportunities for impact are, and stay on track. There will always be more things to do and try, but if you’ve decided on a plan, have the confidence to stick to it unless there’s overwhelming evidence that you should change course.
2) Encourage coordinated communication through a platform like Confluence or Notion. Strong documentation and a single source of truth for everything from team goals to call checklists will lower the friction to finding information and keep everyone on the same page.
3) Don’t get overly focused on process and standardization too early on. Spend some time learning what customers want and need. Connect with customers first, then build systems to support connections at a larger scale.
For companies interested in forming Customer Success departments, what should their priorities be out of the gate? Are there any other best practices companies should adopt as they build their Customer Success teams?
Priorities will be different for every business. Look at your data. Do you have a problem with churn or a lot of drop-off during onboarding? Listen to your customers. Do they write to customer support often about how to use the product? What are they saying in their NPS feedback? And talk to your team. Do they feel there are untapped upsell or expansion opportunities that they don’t have the time to pursue? Be sure to do your research before starting any department to find out if there’s a need for it and where.
A more universal best practice when starting up a successful team is defining how they’ll fit in with other existing customer-facing teams like sales and support. Draw clear boundaries and codify how these teams will collaborate and complement one another, otherwise, there may be competition or friction.
How do you measure the success of your CS team (or how do you measure the success of your CSM)?
1) Product usage
3) Quantity of onboarding and check-in calls
What tools, processes, and best practices have you implemented (or are planning to implement)? One best practice that any team can benefit from is being data-driven. Data is the feedback loop for continuous improvement, so important parts of the customer success operation should be measured. Then, they can be optimized.
In choosing (or hiring) a new CSM, is prior experience in Support, Sales, Professional Services, Marketing key requirements for you? It’s not a key requirement for me, but it’s certainly helpful for a candidate to have prior experience in one of these roles. Broadly, it depends on the business. A complex product or in a very specific technical niche might need someone who has previous experience in a particular role. Others, like ones I’ve worked for, can be more flexible and hire people who come from a variety of different backgrounds. I’ve been able to focus more on finding the right fit in terms of skill and disposition.
Where do you think the CSM should focus - hitting the revenue goal or helping the customer understand the complex process of the product? Ideally, these would not be at odds. If you have to pick one, then there’s probably a problem with your forecasting, your product, or your strategy. Understanding the product should lead to a value that should lead to retention.