Customer Success is a new discipline and can mean different things to different people. Some companies see Customer Success as being synonymous with Customer Support (I disagree), while others see it as a friendlier title for their Sales team, and still others position Customer Success as part of their Professional Services offering that customers need to pay handsomely to access. As a result, there is often also a lack of clarity around best practices and how to appropriately structure and manage a Customer Success team. Occasionally I see a write up of the role and responsibilities of Customer Success teams that I strongly disagree with and a recent post published by Blossom Street Ventures provoked my ire. Titled “The 11 Commandments of Customer Success”, I feel comfortable suggesting you disobey 5 of their core “commandments” for how to run a top notch Customer Success team.
Customer Success commandment: You should make your customers the de facto “Head of Product”.
It’s an anecdote that has been repeated ad nauseam to demonstrate that users are not able to properly articulate their desires, but here it goes: “ If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses” -Henry Ford. While customer feedback should certainly drive your product decisions, all feedback is not created equal. This post does a great job of breaking down a few common types of user requests and how to prioritize certain types of feedback over others. Releasing a new feature is a huge drain on your team’s resources, and building in the hopes of satisfying one client, or even a small group of clients, rarely makes sense. One-off features can muddle your company’s vision, create major ongoing maintenance costs, and might result in your team just chasing the feature sets of your competitors (a great summary of why Product teams should rarely say yes to feature requests here). In summary, companies should certainly solicit and weigh user feedback, but a top-notch Product team is able to incorporate this feedback into their company’s mission and vision.
Customer Success commandment: Give onboarding away if you have to.
I 100% agree that onboarding is a critical investment in your customers’ long term success, but the way Blossom Street Ventures suggests teams position these onboarding services that bothers me. “You should always try and charge an upfront fee for onboarding, but if a customer won’t pay it, then give them free onboarding anyways.” Why stretch your CS team’s bandwidth for customers that don’t value your services? Alternatively, onboarding should be a value add or it should be free- it shouldn’t be both a service you monetize and give away for free. That approach is the worst of both worlds- customers will perceive it as worthless, or as something you’ve unsuccessfully tried to rip them off by charging for. What free onboarding really represents is a commitment by your team to ensure customers are getting value from your products. Onboarding can provide huge value, but it should either be included after a certain MRR threshold/ free for all customers, or it should have a clear (and enforced) pricing structure.
Customer Success commandment: Contract structure is important; Touch, touch, touch; The Rule of 40
The issue I take with these 3 commandments revolves around the way a company envisions its Customer Success team working with their customers.
Contract structure is important
The argument presented in the Blossom Street post is that all contracts should automatically renew and that companies should offer 90 day opt out clauses in lieu of pilots. While it’s important to ensure the contracts your sales team create properly manage expectations up front, it’s more important is to ensure your pricing makes sense to support the CS team you envision. For instance, if you want to offer a dedicated CSM for every account, how many accounts will each CSM own? Is there a minimum spend to have a named CSM? How will you onboard and empower your smaller accounts? What engagement frequency is reasonable to expect? These considerations should impact your contact structure and pricing to ensure your Customer Success team can offer the level of support your leadership team envisions.
Touch, touch, touch; The Rule of 40
Your Customer Success team’s communication frequency and CSM to customer ratio depend on your company’s ACV breakdown and service level expectations. Customer Success teams focused on Enterprise accounts would cringe at a 40:1 ratio of CSM to customer. However, SMB teams won’t have the luxury of a 40:1 ratio, and as a result they will need to look for opportunities to scale their CSMs’ efforts. A good rule of thumb is to automate these touch points where it makes sense and minimizing “check ins” where you don’t add value. Also, non-invasive in-app messages are a good way to communicate non-critical information.
In short, these 3 commandments are part of a broader vision of how you expect your Customer Success team to interact with your customers and how the level of personalized attention you want to offer might vary by customer size or type.
What were Blossom Street Ventures’ other 6 commandments that I did not find issue with? Below’s a final rundown:
- New features are great, but not critical.
- Your customers are your best new clients.
- Low usage or unwillingness to adopt features can be warnings.
- The first 3 months predict the next 9 months.
- Educate the customer.
- The Customer Success Team is not the only group in charge of customer success.
What do you think, would these items make it on your list of Customer Success “commandments”?