When Customer Success Becomes a Silo

January 9, 2019 Elizabeth MacAulay-Italiano

This article was originally published on WnTD's blog. With Elizabeth's permission, we are republishing and sharing it with our community. 

One of the most exciting aspects of developing customer success strategies is looking at how Customer Success is (or should be) integrated with other areas of the organization. It’s where you start to see the positive impact CS can have on the entire organization and how CS is truly a cross-functional business discipline. Unfortunately, CS often operates in a silo from the rest of the business which can be caused by cross-departmental communication not happening early enough and often enough. It can also happen when the senior leadership team has not agreed on and adopted a cohesive customer success strategy and culture.

We often get asked about what departments are the most important to integrate customer success with. The short and honest answer is across every department. However, I’ll start off with a couple of examples of departments to work closely with and why. Some departments you’ll work with on a daily or weekly basis, such as in the first example below. Others it might be a few times a month that you work with them, such as in the second example below, however, it is equally important to be on the same page with everyone in order to provide a great and consistent customer experience.

Sales

If Sales, The Leadership Team and Customer Success are not communicating and in agreement on what customers are the right ones to be brought in then it could result in high churn numbers that threaten the sustainability of your company. CS and Sales should regularly share information on what user type and customer type is successful in using your product and have a higher probability of being retained (this feedback loop should also make it’s way back to Marketing as well). If a certain customer type struggles to get value from your product or if there are use cases that are stretched to a point of being difficult to achieve then it can create an increase in not only churn but in the cost to serve customers as well. Both of these metrics will hurt the value of your company when trending the wrong way. This is just one of the many reasons why Sales and CS should be working closely together and aligned on strategy and execution.

Finance

Finance is one of the less obvious areas of a business that impact Customer Success but it should not be overlooked. We encourage organizations to look at every possible point of interaction with a customer as an opportunity for creating customer happiness or a risk of customer friction. Ask yourself, is it easy for customers to pay you? Is it easy for your customers to get billing information and questions answered? Can they switch from monthly to annual with ease? Is the billing process and cycle smooth and pain-free? We are big advocates of creating customer journey maps that highlight every interaction point with customers, right down to the details of billing. Doing this will help to highlight painful bumps and gaps your customers may experience.

An integrated customer success strategy will help to ensure your organization is considering and making appropriate decisions on all of the points above.

Now let’s look at what happens when CS is not integrated across the entire company strategy.

When customer success becomes a silo it negatively impacts internal and external stakeholders. It can create a poor and inconsistent customer experience. It can also have a detrimental impact on the moral and effectiveness of the CS team. While approaches may differ, I think we can all agree that a delightful customer journey and an engaged CS team is highly preferable.

At this point, you may be asking ‘OK, so how do we prevent this from happening or fix this if it’s already occurred?’.  

Knowing how to avoid silos (and what (not) to do) is a big piece of the puzzle. As a first step, let’s examine the causes. A silo occurs when:

1. When Customer Success Isn’t Part of the Organizational Culture.

If CS is not part of the organizational DNA then the business as a whole isn’t necessarily driving towards making customers successful. Departments will (at times) tend to work towards their own goals and agendas and it may not always mean it has a customer focus. No team will intentionally harm customers of course, but without an organizational customer focus teams may be doing something that unintentionally hurts the customer experience. For example, not all leads are valuable. If a lead comes in from a profile type that we know is unlikely to be successful vs a lead from our ideal target customer, then they should not be weighted with the same in value. Some organizations will go so far as to tell the ‘bad fit’ lead type that they are, in fact, a bad fit and turn away the sale as it’s the best thing for the organization in the long term. The old adage of what gets measured gets done comes to mind. If teams are driving towards a customer-centric mission and purpose and are measured accordingly then you are moving in the right direction of a customer-centric culture.

2. When the Customer Success Department Doesn’t Have an Executive Level Presence and When CS is Not Driven From the Top Down.

Customer Success has to be a top-down initiative. Buy-in and commitment has to start at the senior leadership level. We go as far as to say that it needs to be part of the company culture. If the leaders of each function are unified in their focus on key business metrics such as Conversion rates, MRR, ARPU, Churn, Expansion Revenue, LTV:CAC, Support Utilization Metrics, Cost to Serve, Leadtime, etc then the leadership team will make decisions and focus on what is going to help achieve overall business success and not just business unit success. It ensures that churn and NPS isn’t just a customer success team goal or problem. It becomes a company-wide goal or problem. Achieving not only buy-in but excitement for CS metrics at this level can help create a world-class customer experience at every point in the customer journey.

It’s worth repeating: CS needs to be driven from the top down. Period.

3. If the Customer Experience and CS is Not Part of the Overall Organizational Strategy and Vision.

If customer success goals and metrics are not part of the overall company plan in achieving your organization’s ultimate goals then you may create an environment where teams inadvertently harm the customer experience as silos will begin to form. When the overall company strategy and mission includes ensuring that your customers are successful with your product or services it will help to solidify your company’s health and success. It will reduce churn and increase expansion sales. Customers will become loyal fans and refer new business. if your customer’s success isn’t part of your strategy then the cost could be extremely high for your business.  

4. If You Are Selling to the Wrong Customers and if Customer Success isn’t Integrated into the Go-To-Market Strategy.

If CS is an afterthought in the sales and GTM plan it can create a scenario where an unscalable amount of time gets poured into servicing ‘bad fit’ customers by Customer Success Managers (CSMs) and Support Agents. They will try and prevent churn that is often inevitable when your product is not a good fit for certain types of customers and users. Even the best CSMs can’t make a square peg fit into a round hole and it’s unfair to ask them to do so on a regular basis. It’s a poor experience for the CSM, the customer, and for other customers who could use their fair share of time with their CSM and Support Agent.

5. If the Pay Structure of Your CS team is Not Designed to Drive the Right Behaviour.

If your CS teams compensation is highly leveraged on bringing in additional revenue then you just might have a second sales team (aka Account Management). Measure and compensate your CSMs on driving product adoption, Customer Health, NPS, decreasing churn, and ensuring your customers are set up for long-term success. If you are rewarding a behavior that doesn’t focus on these CS metrics but still expect the CS team to deliver on customer success then you could create silos between the customer-facing team members and leadership, which can create a moral issue. In the cases where there is a prolonged moral issue, your customers will begin to feel it too. 

6. When There Isn’t a Feedback Loop From Your Customers to Your Product Team.

Your customers are the best source of information on whether they are receiving value from your product and whether it’s an easy product and workflow to adopt. Unfortunately, many organizations make assumptions in this area and it can be very costly. If your product isn’t delivering value or is very difficult to use, it is (obviously) harder to retain customers. If there isn’t a deliberate, prescriptive, and regular feedback loop your organization will miss out on vital learning opportunities. Your Leadership Team and Product Team may be making decisions based on assumptions or bad data. Retention = a well designed and useful product + a world-class customer experience. Without this feedback loop, you are creating conditions for a silo that once in place, is difficult to knock down.

If you are reading this and you are finding this sounds uncomfortably familiar to what you are seeing in your organization you are right to be concerned, but it is not irreversible and does not necessarily mean an impending doomsday for your company. There are some ways to both prevent and break down these silos:

  1. Get executive buy-in and ensure it’s part of the organizational culture. Use data to make your case and outline the benefits of a CS culture and strategy. Arm yourself with anecdotal information but be sure to loop it back to data that will support your assertion. For example, if onboarding churn is high due to bad fit customers being brought on break your churn data down into market segments or verticals that show the increase in churn from your bad fit customer segments. Provide examples of why they are a bad fit with customer stories and circle the example back to the data.
  2. Share customer success metrics with the organization and educate all teams on the impact they have on the company’s overall health. Doing this at company All Hands Meetings or Company Stand Ups can be effective.
  3. Look at your strategy and evaluate were CS is integrated. If it’s not integrated than identify ways to do so. Perhaps create a customer experience task force to analyze and make recommendations. Include senior leadership and customer-facing team members on the task force.
  4. Understand who your target market fit is and ensure you are selling to them. If you don’t know then work with marketing, sales, and product to figure out exactly what the ideal customer profile is. This will be a vital step. 
  5. Ensure your CS team is measured and compensated in a way that drives behaviours that are focused on customer health, product adoption, and long-term retention.
  6. Lastly, review where your Customer Success Managers and team members are spending their time. If Customer Success Managers and Sales Executives rarely interact then that is a sign of a silo. If the managers of your customer-facing teams do not communicate regularly it’s another sign that you have a silo. Examine whether your CS team’s day-to-day actions are in line with an overall strategy. Is everyone working towards a common goal and providing a consistent customer experience? If not, it’s time to put a strategy in place to address this. A word of caution when examining this – don’t confuse a list of tactical actions with strategy. That may sound obvious but don’t assume that a list of tactical steps means that there is a strategic initiative driving them. It’s fairly easy to have a list of actions that a Customer Success (CS) team should carry out, such as schedule kickoff calls, conduct customer calls, do Quarterly Business Reviews (QBR), and update your customer Success platform or CRM. Yes, these are very important things to do but these actions are not a strategy in and of itself and do nothing to guard against silos between CS and the rest of the organization. These actions should have a direct relation to the overall strategy your organization is carrying out. For example, if you are looking to create a partner/advisor relationship with your top-tier customers you’ll want to ensure that your CSMs actions include QBRs and regular 1:1 communication with this client segment as opposed to strictly email and tech touches. You’ll want to ensure your customer engagement model for this tier is high touch, as discussed in a previous post.

As an actionable first step in understanding what may be causing silos in your organization, I’d recommend mapping out your GTM strategy and customer journey from both an internal and external stakeholder perspective. Examine who you are targeting in your marketing efforts and the journey that those who engage with your organization go on. Then map out the ideal customer journey and take note of where the gaps are between the two. To continue on with the example already discussed in this post, if you are selling to the wrong customer then a silo can quickly develop between marketing, sales, and CS because CS will struggle to achieve successful product adoption with a market that is actively being targeted and sold to. If there is not a feedback loop a silo and frustration amongst your employees and customers will surely develop. Inconsistent messaging will occur as your marketing material, sales team and customer success managers could be communicating different messages and information to customers. This creates a confusing customer journey. Or if your CS team and your product team do not have consistent communication and a strong working relationship then the product team may not receive valuable feedback and data from the CS team that could impact decisions on the product roadmap. If product features are released that are not in line with customer desires and expectations then it could lead to customers feeling ignored and they could begin to look at other solutions. 

Undertaking mapping out your current and desired customer journey can be a big task. Involve stakeholders and team members from each department to ensure you are getting a complete 360-degree view of the customer journey. It’s also worth investing some time in interviewing some of your customers to get feedback directly from the source as well. Determining what your desired customer journey is, also involves having a firm grasp on who your ideal customers are and what your definition of customer success is.

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About the Author

Elizabeth MacAulay-Italiano

Elizabeth MacAulay-Italiano is the Managing Director and Founder of WnTD Partners. Her experience includes over a decade in the tech industry and nine years of experience in Customer Success. WnTD is a consultancy that helps organizations scale their customer success strategies and operations.

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