One of the ongoing questions around customer success has been whether and when to create a team devoted to the function. A number of organizations simply add customer success responsibilities to an existing team, such as training, support, service or sales, while others have one or several people devoted to the customer success function.
1. Where Does Customer Success Reside in an Organization?
There is no right answer for these organizational questions, as each company is different in terms of capabilities, structure and maturity. In addition, the question may be more complex than most realize. In some cases, individuals working within another group may be more suitable for managing customer success rather than a separate organization, given that the organization lacks empowerment and resources. If customer success is its own island, without authority or the ability to enact change, there is little point in having a separate team.
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2. What’s the Right Mix of Skills in a Customer Success Team?
Another dimension for consideration involves the responsibilities given to the customer success team. If a team is saddled with too many other tasks, they will not be able to devote the proper attention to the function. The active listening inherent to understanding customers takes time and availability. In addition, if customer relationships become too transactional — focused on things like support issues, payment problems, sales needs or similar — there is neither the time nor the uncluttered focus to fully understand more complex customer sentiment, goals and issues.
3. What Are the Overarching Customer Success Goals?
If the customer success function is tasked first and foremost with renewals, mining for reference customers or getting approval for customer testimonial assets, or conducting training modules, there is a diminished capacity for listening to customers and being able to jump in to help customers achieve success as defined by each customer.
All of these factors affect the proper functioning of customer success just as much as its particular organizational structure. If these factors can be satisfied and the CS team is appropriately empowered and resourced without conflicting roles and responsibilities, having a dedicated group for customer success generally makes the most sense. This enables a clear focus and creates a growth path of maturity for the customer success practice. It generally makes it easier to recruit new or replacement customer success professionals to the group, as necessary.
A dedicated CS group can also avoid political overtones, and the information they provide can serve the entire company, instead of being centered around one particular team, promoting their particular interests. A dedicated team may also be able to serve as a go-between to get various groups to work together to solve an issue of a particular customer or to improve practices that will be beneficial to serving all customers. The customer success team should ideally have a consolidated system for capturing information and providing metrics of customer health.
Do You Have Company-Wide Buy-In for Customer Success?
Having a group devoted to unconstrained listening, problem-solving and improving aspects of the business that ensure successful outcomes for each customer is powerful, but the entire company must buy into this value and support it. Other groups may have insights and ideas that might make customers more successful, but these may be channeled through the customer success team or done in parallel. Different departments may be well served by having direct customer contact to better inform their work.
Determining the right structure for a customer success team and how customer success dynamics must flow through the entire company takes some serious consideration. Each company needs to decide the best approach for their own specific environment. This environment is subject to changes and evolves, so it may require a different approach to implementing customer success. Considering the needs and benefits of customer success is something that should be assessed on an ongoing basis. Those that develop the optimal solution at the proper time will enjoy strategic advantages to make the company more competitive, profitable, and to facilitate greater scalability.
Shreesha Ramdas is SVP and GM at Medallia. Previously he was CEO and Co-founder of Strikedeck.