The Department – Optimising the Customer Success Team

There will be a variety of starting positions that are possible when we consider what it means to optimise your team. 

For the purpose of this post let’s look at four different scenarios:

  1. Building the team from scratch
  2. Inheriting a team of several members (not necessarily trained CSM’s)
  3. A large disconnected team to take through change management
  4. Further optimization of a highly functional team

These are all meaty subject areas themselves but for starters, what do you need to consider:

  1. Building the team from scratch

You may find yourself in a position where hiring needs to be done quickly in order to cope with scaling the business. If you’re not under pressure to hire quickly then this will still apply, you just have more time to consider what you need.

Before you place the job add or engage a recruiter, ask yourself the following few questions:

Where will these CSM’s sit – can they be remote i.e. not in the country of business, will they need to come into the office (eventually) or can they be permanently remote workers? Do you have customers in specific regions that require certain language skills?

What needs do your customers have and what treatment model are you trying to execute? This will dictate the level of seniority, possibly the industry knowledge needed or level of CS experience required. What ratios of CSM to customer are you working with for your hiring and how does this dictate the skillset and experience you require in the team. For example, if you’re hiring for a 1:500 treatment, the skillset and experience would be different from a 1:20 since the customer success engagement is very different. Optimizing your plans for the team and knowing what you need before recruiting will be crucial to your success in the longer term.

  1. Inheriting a team of several members

If you have a team of Ca) SM’s with a mix of experience and you are looking for some ideas to optimize the team can I suggest the following: work to the strengths you have within the team. You may very clearly know what the weaknesses are but I often find it’s harder to draw out the strengths of each individual team member. Asking the right questions helps of course and I use a combination of techniques to help me with this. Some members of the team may be more forthcoming that others in presenting or offering to use their strengths for the team. This might be leading a project, or delivering a useful piece of collateral for the team. Others need time to think. When sharing what their strengths are and how they might be able to use them more in the day to day, I’ve found that a) the individual lights up with the prospect of doing more of what they love, what gives them energy and b) because of this they are a more engaged employee c) the other team members recognise their value and contribution to the wider team. I’m a fan of the Marcus Buckingham concept of developing strengths – here’s an introduction to explain more

Read my blog post about Developing and Coaching CSM’s

  1. A large disconnected team

I’ve had the experience of working with a large disconnected team of CSM’s. The goal was to bring 9 different CSM models together into one. This change impacted customers too, not just CSM’s individually and it was a sensitive and detailed operation that took months to achieve. The key to success was communication, repetition, vision and clarity.

Getting different levels of managers working towards the same goal is important. Generally people don’t like change so having buy-in at different levels will create a faster move to the ideal state. If your Customer Success department needs an overhaul you’ll need a plan and it will take time but it’s entirely possible. Ensuring that customers don’t get caught up in the changes, that they don’t suffer because of internal changes should always be top of mind. 

If you are leading the change then find your tribe, those that you trust to carry the torch of change throughout the organisation and delegate who will take charge of different tasks. If you’re not the leader, you can still show leadership and have the opportunity to be an influential part of the plan. What are your strengths, offer them for service or present a solution that can help in the rollout. That might be being a representative for the larger team on the ground, the voice of the customer feedback, or running workshops to assist in the change management process.

  1. Further optimisation of a highly functional team

Even if you have a high performing and functional team, that in itself will keep you on your toes to keep them in that state. It’s a wonderful place to be, hard work but incredibly rewarding. Optimizing this type of team will require short term and long term goals, active use of strengths and personalities and of the depth of experience too. 

The level of detail is considerably deeper than perhaps you’ve experienced with other teams and no stone is left unturned. Maximising the efficiency of team meetings, templated emails, data utilisation and cross-departmental collaboration will all be on the agenda for deep dives and with that comes a task list. 

It’s constant change too, remaining agile and reprioritising tasks will be a regular part of team operations and conversations. Of course, the speed at which change occurs will largely depend on the business or industry you work in and the openness and goals of the company and culture.

In summary, whether you’re leading a new team and recruiting for scale, or pulling together large complex teams, all members make up the whole, so consider what skillset or experience you need, where it needs to be to meet your customers needs and also the culture of the team you want to build or create. This will impact the characteristics, diversity and personalities you will need to create the most successful and effective team. A team that impacts your customer and therefore their journey and lifetime value.

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