Customer success operations, colloquially known as CS Ops, is a new type of role we’re beginning to see crop up within customer success.
Now, you might curse the floor at the prospect of another opaque-sounding job title. But actually, the function of customer success operations pretty much does what it says on the tin.
Like any ordinary operations role, CS Ops functions within customer success to help it run smoothly. An operations team is critical for any business up-scaling, helping provide it with stability and direction.
But why should you hire a customer success operations role? It drives productivity.
In this article, we'll be interrogating the following:
- What customer success operations is
- What a Customer Operations Manager is
- Data analysis and customer success operations
- When to invest in customer success operations
- How CS Ops impacts the customer success function
- How CS Ops impacts whole businesses
- The "lean-in" model of customer success operations
- Building a customer success team with CS Ops
What is customer success operations?
Customer success operations is a role that organizes and streamlines a customer success team.
Operations management is a function in and of itself, and it’s emerging across all fields – from marketing to sales. Investopedia describes operations management as "the administration of business practices to create the highest level of efficiency possible within an organization."
A Customer Success Operations Manager will be responsible for coordinating, actioning and analyzing the structures in place within a customer success team.
As a business function, customer success is innately forward-thinking and aims to remove barriers between the customer and their product use. A clear, smooth customer onboarding process is at the heart of CS, and this transparency is mirrored in the well-oiled efficiency of Operations Managers.
But since customer success is still a fairly new area in business, there can be a little ambiguity surrounding its definition. Because of this, the role of CS Ops might mean different things to different people.
With this in mind, how do we combat this lack of certainty?
We asked a few of our experts how they define customer success operations.
Phil Kowalski is the Director of Customer Success & Revenue Operations at Biobot Analytics, and had some pretty interesting takes on what CS Ops is:
‘CS Ops roles have the mission of driving productivity, consistency, efficiency, and scale across CS orgs. Those goals manifest into managing the processes, tools, reporting, and some new initiatives for CS teams. As gross and net revenue retention become a big focus area for all sorts of organizations, building in an operational infrastructure behind a powerful CS team lets the company drive positive outcomes.’
We also spoke to Adam Schifferli, VP of Customer Success & Operations at Circuit, the fitness and lifestyle services company, about what the role of CS Ops means to him.
Here’s what Adam had to say:
‘The CS Ops role is one of enablement; sales and marketing organizations have been doing this for a long time, but it’s a newer branch of the CS tree. Essentially it’s the question and answer for scalability, as well as a tighter integration along the entire revenue channel – from first marketing touch, through implementation and adoption, and heading into renewals and growth.’
Both Phil and Adam touch on some interesting points here.
Firstly, a customer success operations role activates the initiatives of the wider customer success team, allowing these goals to merge with an organization’s mission statement.
Secondly, the CS Ops role enables more streamlined touchpoints between each stage of the customer journey, from the initial marketing touchpoint all the way to the eventual product renewal. ♻️
Maybe you’re in the operations business already and are looking to branch out into customer success. Perhaps you’re looking to make your first CS Ops hire. Whatever the interest, if you’re new to this job function it’s worth us ironing out what exactly a Customer Success Operations Manager does; let’s get stuck in.
What is a Customer Success Operations Manager?
Promoting cohesion is the paramount obligation of a CS Ops Manager, ensuring each CSM acts in unison towards the organization’s overarching goals. For example, a Customer Success Operations Manager would either have to develop processes from scratch or maintain an existing system that will track and maximize the quality, efficiency and performance of customer success.
If an organization is expanding its customer success team, there’s a greater demand to ensure data collected is accurate and that decisions are made based on this data. Growing a team at pace is necessary to provide operational support and develop processes that drive product adoption.
Above all else, ownership is the key to success in this job; without it, the ability to effectively carry out customer success strategies will eventually run to a halt. Having a Customer Success Operations Manager within your ranks means that someone is responsible for the changes and overarching organization necessary to keep your organization's CS function ticking over.
Data analysis and customer success operations
Data is essential for customer success leaders to interpret customer engagement and guide business decisions.
Customer success leaders should track both internal metrics, like churn rate and health scores, and external customer data from products and surveys.
Internal data allows leaders to identify at-risk customers and trends to present to management. External data provides a window into the voice of the customer – are they satisfied? Which features do they use? By combining internal and external data sources, leaders gain a multidimensional view of customer health and opportunities.
There are four primary data sources:
- Product usage metrics
- CRM interactions
- Financial performance
- Third-party information
While this data provides valuable insights, leaders must beware of inconsistencies and information overload.
The key is transforming raw data points into meaningful insights. By combining data sets and examining patterns, leaders can identify leading indicators of renewal and expansion. For example, heavy product usage and executive engagement in the months before renewal may correlate with growth. Leaders can then set goals and metrics to focus the customer success team on these high-impact activities.
Data analysis and outcomes
The key is transforming this data into measurable outcomes that demonstrate value. For example, equating platform activity metrics with internal process improvements and cost savings. This value quantification strengthens renewal conversations. Overall, data should inform conversations with customers and management. Thoughtful tracking and analysis of various data sources allow customer success leaders to spotlight progress, identify risks, and maximize mutual success.
Ultimately, customer data should inform an executive dashboard to showcase customer health, while individual metrics guide frontline teams' priorities. With the deluge of data in today's landscape, customer success leaders must stay vigilant to focus their teams and demonstrate value through data-driven insights. The customer journey has gone digital – data is the compass to navigate it.
When should you invest in customer success operations?
When it comes down to broadening your team, you should always make sure the utility of the role is the real reason for recruitment.
There isn’t much point in investing in a salary that isn’t needed just yet, otherwise you’ll be throwing money down the drain. And if your customer success team is still in its infancy, with only 1-2 CSMs, you won’t have much to organize and streamline yet.
You should invest in a CS Ops role when you have a blossoming customer success team of approximately 5+ CSMs. Once you start employing more than 10 CSMs, you might want to consider hiring a junior position, a Customer Success Operations Assistant. 👥
We asked our CS Ops experts what they think is the right point for businesses to invest in customer success operations. Here is what Adam from Circuit had to say:
‘The CS ops role begins to make more and more sense as teams try to adjust to a lower touch cadence strategy, as the “Ideal Customer Profile” begins to emerge from data, or a RevOps strategy is adopted. Different drivers for the same cause, answering the question of how to enable current state teams to deliver higher & repeatable results with scalable elegance.’
We asked Phil Kowalski from Biobot Analytics what he considers to be the sweet spot for businesses to invest in CS Ops:
‘CS Operations should be someone's responsibility from the day a company has their second customer. It obviously shouldn't be someone's full time job at that point, but it should be something someone at the org is thinking about and building towards i.e. how to build repeatable processes to deliver great engagement and retention.
‘I'd advocate bringing it in as a full time role ASAP, as it pays dividends down the line – this is especially if the CS team is growing and scaling. Having solid tools and processes greases the wheels on bringing in new employees to the organization, so new CSMs can focus on what they do best. Oftentimes some of the operations work can fall on the leader of the CS team, so offloading that to an operations role can let CS leadership focus on more strategic initiatives to push the team forward vs. managing more tactical updates.’
Adam and Phil touch on some really interesting points here; Adam claims that CS Ops allows a ‘scalable elegance’ once a CS team is advanced enough to collect accurate customer data; Phil, on the other hand, believes that having a dedicated customer success operations role enables the Head of Customer Success to carry out strategic initiatives, rather take up their time with administrative tasks. 📁
How will Customer Success Operations impact the customer success function?
The essence of the CS Ops role is to relieve the customer success team of the burden of general administrative tasks in a way that streamlines operations within CS, and prevents a breakdown in communication as the team grows. After all, customer success leadership should be tasked with just that: to lead their team. 🎖
By alleviating the rest of the CS team from the more mundane tasks of processes and managing data systems, they have the time to properly address their own tasks at hand. In other words, customer success operations seamlessly support the rest of the team as it scales up.
We’re curious to know the exact repercussions on a CS team. Here’s what our experts had to say:
‘The rise in CS Ops correlates with the increased importance in viewing customer success as a revenue-generating function. With more value placed on the customer success mission, organizations create a strong backbone through CS operations, enabling each CSM and CS leader to be better at their job.’
Phil Kowalski, Director of Customer Success & Revenue Operations at Biobot Analytics
‘Investing in Customer Success Operations – it's CSMs’ dearest friend! By making useful insights immediately available, automating lower value tasks, and leveraging more data at scale, the operations function allows the CSM to focus more on the things that only a human can do who is well aware of their customer’s goals and initiatives.’
Adam Schifferli, VP of Customer Success & Operations at Circuit
So, we’ve covered how CS Ops can impact the customer success team, but does it impact the wider organization? If so, how?
How will customer success operations impact businesses as a whole?
We’ve all heard of the "Butterfly Effect" – the theoretical concept that the smallest movement can bring about monumental change; the same can be said of implementing new positions within an organization – no matter how small, they will have a knock-on effect on a larger scale.
Having a well-supported, highly-functioning customer success team at the behest of a Customer Success Operations Manager, means that the customers will have the full attention of the CS team, enabling them to fulfill their goals. A successful CS team will reduce churn rates, promote customer retention and generate a greater sense of customer satisfaction.
We wanted to know whether this role does impact the whole organization, so put this question to our CS Ops experts, Adam and Phil:
‘In terms of how CS Ops impacts businesses as a whole: one thing to consider is how CS Ops interacts with other operations groups on other functions. There's the debate on where CS Ops employees should report into – a CS leader or centralized operations leader and I can see either working depending on the organization.
‘I think the biggest thing to consider though is that a CS Operations should be strongly connected to other operations employees within other functional groups. This is important to make sure initiatives are aligned - oftentimes in overlapping systems - throughout marketing, sales, and CS. When ops groups aren't aligned, this can lead to duplicative and/or contradictory efforts, wasting valuable resources. With more and more emphasis placed on delivering strong customer experiences, having a strong connection to and from CS Operations to the rest of the org will help fuel overall growth.’
Phil Kowalski, Director of Customer Success & Revenue Operations at Biobot Analytics
‘The development of CS Ops is like the advent of the train in an era of the horse and buggy. A new world of possibilities opens with reliability, predictability, stronger cross-functional insights to further conversations and development with marketing, sales, and product. It is in that central place that customer success is traditionally at it’s best, and with the support of strong operations their work becomes far more powerful for the direct customer as well as the entire organization.’
Adam Schifferli, VP of Customer Success & Operations at Circuit
Both Phil and Adam highlight that hiring a CS Operations role acts as the support system required for customer success, and depending on the type of organization, liaises and aligns with other departments.
The "lean-in" model of customer success operations
CSMs must embrace uncertainty to create value like mapping company values to stakeholders' needs and phasing rollouts.
When CTOs or executives dump overwhelming requests and data on CSMs, they can follow a process so they don’t freeze up: level set realistic scope and resources, map needs to company values, analyze data methodically, set smart goals, and build phased rollout plans. Even complex data becomes manageable by segmenting so you identify the first opportunity and 90-day plan.
But tactical “field” skills around customer program execution can only take CSMs so far. To lead world-class CS orgs, you also need “off-field” skills – building trusted relationships and collaborating with your peers across business units. Dynamic companies have CS leaders with equal field execution and relationship-building skills to accelerate renewals and customer value.
Those core leadership skills let you foster shared beliefs around customer centricity across your company. When CSMs lean in and nimbly build networks and allies across orgs – in product, services and marketing – that “off the field” foundation results in powerful “on the field” outcomes for customers, showing the tangible value their CS leaders provide.
Tactical skills can be taught – the innate drive to constantly learn, build trust, challenge yourself, and empower organizations around the customer cannot. Master both and you’ll lift your career and company to new heights.
Building a customer success team with CS Ops
Your customer success team is the heart of the customer experience. Building a skilled and collaborative group that drives loyalty and growth starts with hiring the right people – those with domain expertise, emotional intelligence, and a passion for customers.
Create an inclusive process that identifies team players oozing with empathy. Immerse them in the vision to make customer-centricity the norm. Ensure diversity of perspectives and backgrounds so your team can relate to all customer types. Routinely check success metrics and be ready to pivot approaches based on the data.
Getting leadership buy-in for major customer success transformations is also key. Evolve the team in lockstep with company growth. When proposing organizational shakeups, forecast results and get key stakeholders on board.
With the proper structures and culture in place, your customer success team can forge enduring customer bonds, provide product insights, and lift the business. But it requires intention and investment because this customer-obsessed unit is the face of your company.
To wrap up
All in all, the role of customer success operations is one that is a definite must for a fast-growing customer success team.
Without this level of support for administrative tasks and to streamline processes, fractures might begin to appear and lead to an eventual breakdown of communication and overwhelm the CS team.
In essence, a CS Operations role allows CSMs, the VP of Customer Success and/or the Head of Customer Success to focus on their tasks at hand, aiding productivity. 💪