Whether we are a small bootstrapped team or a large resource-rich one, we always find ourselves having to do more with less. As a leader, I always find myself thinking, “How can Customer Operations work smarter, not harder?” I am not opposed to hard work, but in the era of technology, artificial intelligence, and tools galore, it would be silly not to take advantage of all that is offered. Not only will optimizing help you scale, but it will free up your ever-so-valuable resources to focus on the high-value activities that cannot be automated or operationalized.
There are many things that you can do to help your Customer Operations Organization run at peak efficiencies. Below are three simple steps to get you started down the journey of operationalizing.
Step 1: Do an inventory
Do an inventory of every type of communication (to both internal and external customers) and processes you own. Really dig deep on this one. Chances are, there is still a large portion of your communications that is manually sent and could potentially be automated.
Great places to look are:
Support - Is your team still manually responding to every single ticket that comes through? This is usually the biggest low-hanging fruit item. There are many ways to add automation that can solve simple inquiries.
Success - Product updates, engagement emails, onboarding communications, all of these are things that you can automate (we will touch upon a few of these in greater detail below).
Surveys - What surveys are being sent to your customer and how? Believe it or not, the majority of surveys sent still require heavy manual intervention. Solve for that.
Insights/Reports - Look at how you are currently disseminating information (usage, value, and so on). Is it manual? Is there a way to solve for this either in your product or via automation?
Make a list with each area of opportunity. You will use this list in the next step when figuring out where to focus first. Protip: I have a never ending list that I am always adding to. I actually keep it open all of the time. If I ever find myself with downtime, I revisit the list and look for ways to continue to iterate and improve.
Step 2: Solve for the obvious stuff
Once you’ve done your inventory, pluck that low-hanging fruit off and start your automation and operationalizing adventure. Trust me, a small investment early on will have a big efficiency impact down the line.
Your “obvious stuff list” will definitely depend on the results of the inventory that you conducted. But, in general, a few easy things that you can implement are:
Onboarding Guides - There is great value in building onboarding into your product, but if that is not possible or doesn’t make sense, figure out how to operationalize your onboarding as much as possible. A great way to do this is to trigger specific emails to send at different phases of the customer’s lifecycle. For much larger customers or a more complex product, operationalizing this may come in the form of a kickoff call with a very detailed plan on what that customer’s onboarding will look like, with goals and timelines.
One-to-many training webinars - Offer these on a regular basis. Not only is this just a great practice to implement, but it also is a proactive way to think about engaging your customers. Many of the individuals that attend these webinars can be resource drains on your support and success teams. By proactively offering these trainings, you save on your valuable resources and, by default, increase efficiencies.
Playbooks - Customer Success teams have certain core activities that they generally own to help decrease time-to-value, increase adoption, and reduce churn risk. Many of these activities are manual, but there are some that can be automated with playbooks. Some of the key ones that you can easily automate are onboarding, nurturing campaigns, at risk plays (when key features are not being used or adopted), and post-churn/re-engagement strategy.
Early Warning Systems - Simply put, this is a Customer Success platform that will provide you with proactive insights to get ahead of your day. When a Customer Success platform is implemented correctly, it can be the ultimate operationalization tool. It can help you really understand what is happening with your customer base before they even know it.
Step 3: Document your processes
Last but not least, document your processes. In order to grow, scale, and operationalize, you must have your team all marching to the same beat. What I have found to work well is creating standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the key processes owned.
Doing what you say and saying what you do is really the key to providing a consistent experience to your customer. It’s also very helpful to your team and stamps out ambiguity in their day-to-day.
A simple format that I’ve found helpful (and that you will find on every SOP in my org) is:
Purpose - Define the reason for this SOP. This is very helpful to balance and make sure you are not just documenting for the sake of documenting. If you cannot state a practical purpose, then it may not need to be an SOP.
Process - Make a step-by-step guide on how to do a particular process. A great way to check if your SOP is comprehensive enough is to have someone that does not generally own this process attempt to do it using your guide.
Resources - What external resources or other SOP’s complement or add clarity? Include them in your SOP.
As a rule of thumb, SOPs need to be updated as your product and company evolve. There should always be an owner that is responsible for keeping things clean and up to date or they will quickly become obsolete.
This simple three step process is only meant to get you started thinking about how to operationalize and automate. While this is definitely not all-encompassing, this is a great way to get started on that journey.
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