There's a colossal difference between leaders and managers. While managers are there to enforce processes, ensure compliance, and make sure people are hitting their KPIs, leaders work for their teams.
The people we lead today are the leaders of tomorrow, so it’s vital that we give them the opportunity to contribute, grow, and learn.
With that said, let’s dive into eight tips that will help you lead your customer success team to greatness. 👇
1. Maintain open communication, internally and externally
I don't think anyone reading will be surprised that I’m saying this, but effective communication and relationship-building skills are key to success in CS. They can save you from so many challenging situations.
If you have to give a customer some news they weren't expecting, or there's a defect in the product and you need to buy some more time, or it's coming up to renewal and they haven't gotten the value out of the product they were hoping for, having the ability to communicate effectively and build relationships with customers can get help get you out of that hole. It’s no different for internal communication – both within your team and with other departments.
It's also incredibly important for a customer success team to be open with each other and share best practices, discussing what's working well and what's not. The best thing we can do is create a safe environment where people feel they can share both the good and the bad without being berated for bringing bad news to the table.
Bad news is only bad news if you don't do anything with it. However, if you use it as a learning opportunity, not just for yourself but for the rest of the team, you can improve your processes, grow as a person, and learn from mistakes to prevent them from happening again.
2. Stay flexible
Customer success also requires a degree of flexibility. You have to deal with everything that gets thrown at you, whether it be requests from marketing to contact customers, getting feedback for the product team, or reaching out to customers for referrals, case studies, and introductions. You’re doing all that on behalf of the company you work for, so it's about give and take.
Being flexible with both customers and internal stakeholders is crucial. If you're willing to bend on behalf of other teams, the relationships you forge will benefit you in the long run – if you need to call in a favor from the product team, for example. Leaning on those relationships will ultimately lead you and the company you work for to succeed.
3. Learn from your new hires
With so much going on in the world of CS, you need to stay up to industry trends – or risk being left behind. Thankfully, there’s a wealth of online communities where thought leaders congregate to share information. It's worth taking a little time each week to read through these communities and watch the odd video about the latest processes and technologies.
However, it can be hard to find time for all that research between back-to-back meetings, so why not lean on your team's experiences as well? One thing I do whenever someone new joins the team is ask about their previous company's processes. I want to know how they ran QBRs, for example, and what the onboarding process looked like.
I also get them to share their experiences in a presentation with the customer success team. They’ll talk us through those processes, what went well, what they enjoyed doing, what was more difficult, what didn’t work as well, and where the customer wasn't getting as much value as they might hope.
4. Empower your CS team to innovate
There's nothing wrong with having a look at your processes, even if they seem to be working just fine, to see where you can improve them. If someone on your team would like to make an improvement, let them. You can provide guidance and set boundaries, but create an environment where people can try new things and if they don’t work, that's okay. Nobody's going to get everything 100% right every single time, but if you don't try, you'll never know.
If you create a culture where people feel confident to share things that aren't working well and are empowered to come up with their own ideas and suggestions, that's not only going to have an impact on the company’s progress but on their learning and development too.
Trying new things and taking risks – even if it means failing on a small scale – is okay. That said, it's important to test the waters and roll out new processes to a small subset of customers before implementing them company-wide. That way, if something goes wrong, you can nip it in the bud nice and quickly, learn from it, and either take out the new process or enhance it.
Customers like working with organizations that are at the forefront of technology and trying to improve. They appreciate companies that strive to innovate and do more because they benefit as a result. The problem with not making any changes is you can become stagnant very quickly, especially in the ever-changing technology landscape.
5. Involve your team in building new strategies and processes
Let's look at an example of how to motivate your team and get the best out of them when it comes to building and adopting new processes.
Suppose you want to improve your onboarding process to provide even more value to the customer during the kickoff call. I’d recommend you approach this by first involving the team in the discussion. You can guide your team on the changes you want to make and why, and then give them the space to go and try out a few new ideas.
That way, they have a chance to think the new process through, understand why they're doing it, and they can bring their personality and experience to its creation. Plus, if you get them to play out their ideas, first in a one-to-one situation and then to the wider customer success team, you can build their confidence and give them some useful tips on how to improve before delivering the new kickoff call to a customer.
6. Prioritize your CSMs’ success
As a CS leader, it can be tricky to be 100% available to your team because you tend to be so busy all the time. I try and carve out as much time as I can, even if it's just half an hour per week, for each person on my team – that's an absolute minimum for me.
It’s important to know what their success metrics are both within the organization and outside of work. If you know that you have a team member who wants to become a senior CSM or even move out of customer success, help them get there. Not only are you helping that person achieve their goals in the long run, but in the meantime, they're going to work harder for you because they appreciate what you're doing.
If they want to go traveling and your company allows remote work, why not enable that for them? You'll get a fantastic team member off the back of it. There's a lot of trust involved on both sides, but you'll build a team that’s prepared to go above and beyond without you having to ask just by creating that supportive environment.
Good leaders prioritize the success of their team members by understanding what motivates them to hit KPIs and succeed with customers. If you can help your team to succeed, you’ll have a stronger team that’s happy to work for their customers and the company. In other words, you’ll have fostered an incredibly positive culture within the team.
7. Be the voice of the customer in your organization
One of customer success’s most important responsibilities is being the voice of the customer in your organization and fighting on their behalf. You are their eyes and ears and you need to communicate their concerns and successes internally to the rest of your team. You need to be able to articulate what the customer is trying to do and the problems they have.
While customer success is not just about solving problems, that can be a very rewarding part of the job. To do that well, you need to get into the weeds of the customer's problems and goals. Try to understand their desired outcome. It's not just about the problem, but what they’re trying to achieve.
Often, customers will try to solve problems themselves and get frustrated if they can’t. It's okay to ask the customer some very frank questions about what they’re trying to do, how important it is, and what would be the effect if they don't manage to do it. You want to quickly understand their timeframes and the scale of the issue they're trying to solve. Sometimes, what seems like a big issue initially is not so big once you dig deeper.
Putting yourself into their shoes and having all the information will enable you to address the situation properly. Only then will you be able to come up with different solutions and articulate the importance of those solutions internally on the customer’s behalf. That way, you’ll provide better customer service and ultimately achieve better outcomes for both the customer and your organization.
8. Break down silos between functions
Siloed functions are an all-too-common problem.
To break down these silos, have a chat with other departmental leaders. If you're new to an organization, this is a great opportunity to ask the heads of sales, product, engineering, and marketing about their goals and problems in achieving them. Customer success can be a real enabler for the rest of the company, and it works both ways.
For example, if not much information is being passed to CS from sales before onboarding, you need to communicate the benefits of putting a new process in place to the head of sales. Nailing a proper handover is going to reduce the risk of churn and make the customer happier and therefore more susceptible to upsell and cross-sell opportunities, which in turn, brings in more revenue for the sales team – laying those benefits out is going to help you get sales’ buy-in.
Once you have that buy-in from the top, it's important to speak to both sides and find a balance. The sales team might not want to do much in the way of admin, while the CS team might need more information to make the customer successful. Once again, communication is key, and both sides may need to bend to find a solution that benefits everyone in the long run.
No matter what you're doing, think about why you're doing it and think about what it means to the customer. Your business is going to be the most successful when you give the customer an amazing experience, so all of your KPIs or your processes should be solely around providing that experience.
If there’s a gap in your processes and customers are falling through it, that’s a problem not just for one department but for the business as a whole. That's why it's vital to have good collaboration between departments. As long as all the departments are aware that this is for the benefit of the customer and that in turn benefits all of us, you should have no problems getting everybody’s buy-in.
Be on the CS School podcast
This article was adapted from Richard Convery’s appearance on the CS School podcast. If you haven’t checked it out yet, you’re missing out!
Do you have a thing or two to say about customer success? Or maybe you want to share the tips and tactics that have brought you success.
Whatever it is, we’re always looking to elevate new stories and tidbits of wisdom on CS School and encourage you to get involved!