Customer Success Managers are accountable for building and nurturing the on-going relationship with clients. This is broadly focused on understanding your client’s key business goals, becoming a trusted advisor, and establishing healthy relationships with decision makers that will drive the direction of your partnership with them.
However, in SaaS businesses today there’s often a struggle to define what this accountability means in terms of strategy delivery versus operational delivery. Because CSMs are key stakeholders accountable for the overall client satisfaction, it means that they are often involved in the operational day-to-day delivery of services such as the resolution of helpdesk issues, project deliverables, scope definitions and requirement changes.
Although the CSMs’ support is required and important in these areas, this should be clearly defined as a point of escalation and support, managing expectations with the business owners. This is different from being the person accountable for the ultimate delivery and resolution of issues themselves. Involving CSMs in too much operational detail and prioritising this over the long-term focus can have real negative repercussions. It can damage the long-term status of the account as CSMs start being perceived as a firefighter and the relationship starts dropping lower down the chain of client stakeholders, moving it away from decision makers and business owners.
To avoid this and help you keep a healthy balance between strategy and operation, here are some tips from my recent learnings:
1. Make sure your customer life cycle is clearly defined and establish from early on where in the journey stakeholders from each area of the organisations will interact. Throughout the customer life cycle, there will be different touch points where various people within your organisation will interact with different people in your client’s organisation. Having these interactions clearly identified will help you manage stakeholders’ involvement further down the line.
2. Map out a communication matrix. This will help clarify where the different lines of communication lie, making sure that the CSM connections are at the right level and involve key decision makers. Also ensuring the rest of your client’s organisation is well supported and owned by the right person within your business.
3. Define a strong handover process and checkpoints at the different stages of the life cycle. It often happens that stakeholders on the client’s side change from the business owners who agreed to the project, to the contacts involved in delivering the project. By the time the role of the CSM becomes more active, most of the relationship lies with the project delivery team rather than the business owners who commissioned the project. Having a good handover from sales as well as from implementation will ensure you are introduced to the right contacts from early on. This will make a difference in how your role is perceived in future.
4. Define ownership. While the Customer Success team is the key owner of the long-term relationship with the customer, it’s important to ensure roles and responsibilities are clear from the start and that there is ownership at each level of the organisation. Remember that Customer Success is a cross-functional responsibility and it needs to be understood as such by everyone in the organisation.
5. Have clear account goals and priorities. Keeping your account plans up to date and holding quarterly strategy reviews will help you keep the focus on the success strategy for your clients. Ensure quarterly meetings are booked in and prioritise these to ensure they take place. At times of firefighting, it’s easy to let strategy reviews fall down the priorities to focus on urgent day-to-day issues. However, the cost of letting them slip could be greater in the long run.
There’s no doubt that there is a close relationship between operational delivery and strategy delivery, and one could argue that one can’t exist without the other. However, there’s a difference in how they are achieved. From a CSM perspective, keeping a healthy balance between the two can be challenging. Especially at times where business pressures mean your focus switches to support issues that stress the relationship and cause client dissatisfaction. It’s important that as a CSM you are involved in all of these situations, but remember it needs to be at the right level and without compromising your focus on the long-term goals.
Every business is different and there is no golden rule that will solve this for everyone. It will most likely be a process of adaptation that your organisation will need to go through. Keeping in mind the learnings here shared will hopefully give you a starting point to understand where the balance might be for your organisation and allow you to focus on where your passion lies, the strategic delivery and long-term success of your clients!
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