Many startups are built on the shoulders of superstar customer success representatives.
These are the folks who will do whatever it takes to make the customer happy. They get in early and stay late working through client issues with every relevant member of the organization – from coders to finance, all the way up to the c-suite.
They aren’t just heroes for their customers; they’re heroes for their employers as well.
Fast-growing firms with flat hierarchies can depend on these customer-success champions to do whatever needs to be done to retain clients and expand their relationships.
They are, in short, many young companies’ most important assets.
Unfortunately, these customer success heroes cannot scale as the company grows. As a result, firms need to anticipate the transition and know how to build what comes next.
Superheroes Don’t Fly In Customer Success
As companies grow, superstar customer success reps are either stretched too thin to perform their heroics or burn out. (This demarcation for complexity is different at every company, but we usually see it happening when companies break through the $200 million revenue mark.)
Because the process worked so well for so long, and goes bad so fast, many companies remain rooted in customer success heroics long after they stop producing dividends.
The problem is often magnified by the fact that hero-based customer success results in biased customer feedback. (Client gaps between corporate strategy and service delivery go through the filter of customer success champions, who still maintain excellent relationships with clients.)
For many companies, it’s not clear they need to overhaul their customer success model until strategic clients have already started walking out the door.
All of these factors make it critical for companies to be planning to migrate to the next stage in their customer success structure before they start hitting the wall on net promoter scores (NPS) and client retention.
You Can’t Overcome Heroes With Half-Measures
Many of our clients will ask us, why not scale the existing, hero-based culture of customer success? After all, the model worked so well in the past for so many companies.
So, why not just use a customer-success hero to manage a team of other heroes?
This approach is simple, elegant, and wrong, introducing some intractable problems.
First, from a recruitment point of view, it’s challenging to hire one exceptional hero customer success rep. It’s nearly impossible to hire a whole team of them.
Second, most super-star customer success managers want to be solving problems for clients. As a result, they tend not to want to be training and managing a team doing the activity they would rather be doing themselves.
Third, and most significantly, more clients, larger clients, and more complicated client problems create too much complexity for a hero-based approach to work, no matter how many heroes you have on staff.
In short, scaling requires a team-based structure, where there’s a greater degree of specialization for each team member, and the team’s plans are guided not by intuition but, instead, by coaching, playbooks, research, and support systems.
Moving to Sustainable, Scalable Customer Success
This team-based approach has several critical ingredients.
Consistent, Impartial Customer Feedback. Companies need to have a way to track the alignment between corporate strategy and customer experience. The most effective of these is the voice of the customer program. (Our approach differs from other research methodologies using this term – click on the link above to learn more. In short, we define it as a systematic method for determining the gaps or alignment between corporate strategy and customer experience.
Managing Customer Success As A Product. The second critical ingredient is managing customer success (the client’s success, not the customer success team) as a product.
One of the primary characteristics of hero cultures is that companies manage each internal customer success organization (Product Development, Support, Professional Services, Training, etc.) as an independent entity, not as a team working together.
To scale, companies need to approach customer success as a product, where the internal organizations work together as a cross functional team, so that there is enough shared information about clients to segment them, and then develop similar and trackable requirements and deliverables for clients across these segments.
Client Data And Insights Shared Across The Organization. Finally, in hero-based cultures, a great deal of the insight and experience about a particular client stays bottled up with the customer success representative.
Team-based cultures need to create resources so that all the representatives and the entire organization can provide excellent guidance and support to the customer. These resources include needs-based segmentation data, playbooks on engaging customers by segment, and systems that support collaboration among team members to drive superior customer outcomes.
Hero-based Cultures Work, Till They Don’t
It’s hard to transition away from a hero-based model. That’s because it works really, really well… until it doesn’t.
A heroic individual can only do so much, and the superstars of yesteryear may end up redoubling their efforts again and again, until the spinning plates start to fall or the representative burns out.
Clients with super-star customer success reps will likely feel like their customer success representative is overservicing them while the company is falling short. Since the state of the customer relationship is often coming through the company’s sole point of contact – the customer success rep himself – feedback may be biased or misleading.
Often companies won’t know that there’s a problem until a client leaves.
Growing companies need to consider the migration to team-based customer success before it starts hitting the wall on customer retention and NPS.
Learn more about when, how, and why to institute a team-based customer success approach in this webinar.
If you’d like more details on customer research, and the best way to understand when there’s a disconnect between client experience and corporate strategy, check out our recent article on Voice of the Customer or Contact us.