For Growing CS Teams, It’s About Both People and Machine

Growing companies require a properly scaled CS team — human engagement with support from automated tools.

Written by Anderson Chen
Published on Jun. 15, 2022
For Growing CS Teams, It’s About Both People and Machine
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Scaling customer success (CS) might seem easy on paper, like scaling the production of goods. When product demand grows, factories are expanded; assembly lines pump out more supply to meet that growth. But mass production has its tradeoffs — forcing growth without accounting for personalized strategy often results in a diluted customer experience, the word-of-mouth magic and empathetic human touch lost in the whirs and clanks of the machine. 

Today, the CS department as a whole has transcended the traditional sales umbrella and embedded itself as a crucial part of company growth. According to the Harvard Business Review, places that leverage machine learning platforms to improve customer success experiences see higher revenue gains, some up to 10 percent. But some companies find that automating the only human-level conduit to their clients ends up sacrificing the personal element so integral to client relationships. Customers don’t want to talk to robots all the time. 

“Hiring alone isn’t a recipe for success,” said Melinda Roberts, customer success manager at SimplePractice. “Instead, you need to invest in all the right ingredients.” In McKinsey’s analysis of the “CSM 2.0 experience,” customer success is a philosophy rather than a sales tactic. Though digital analysis and tools can help, those with an established customer-first culture excel in their field. More than filling vacancies as quickly as possible, it’s about equipping the right people with the right skills.

Software automation, while an essential support system for simple processes and basic self-service, can’t always replace the traditional CS experience. Teams that scale well strike a balance that frees up their managers from trivial tasks so they can engage clients with personalized expertise — a hybrid customer service. 

That’s the key to scaling CSMs for companies, a recipe built from preparation and talent: A base stock of quality-of-life tools, seasoned with subject matter experts that can curate close relationships with the “voice of the customer” and a hiring supply pipeline that ensures quality at every onboarding step. 

According to StackCommerce’s VP of Sales and Operations David Win, “No amount of automation will ever replace a customer-obsessed CSM who listens to the customer.” To see how CSMs today maintain a human approach to sales, Built In LA sat down with four companies that saw success balancing efficiency and customer rapport as they grew their CSM team, all without leaving their clients to the factory line. 

 

Kaleigh Sanchez
Sr. Manager, Client Solutions • Flexport

 

Flexport is a digital operating system for global trade and freight forwarding. 

 

What are the most important considerations when scaling a customer success team, and why?

I would say there are three main considerations when building and scaling a customer success or solutions team.

First is hiring and retaining your talent. Your people are the key to your success. I believe a good CS team member is somebody who is open to difference of thought and opinion; is able to operate and execute in the gray area; can read the room and tailor their approach depending on their audience; and loves to be commercial and build relationships with their team and clients. When you have somebody who fits this mold, hold onto them. 

Second is balancing business growth with team growth. Understanding the pipeline of new business, status of current business and overall market dynamics are all factors that drive the rate at which you should be growing your team. 

Lastly, providing continued education and learning opportunities. In a client facing role, you need to be a jack of all trades — understand yours and your clients’ market or industry, confidently present and speak publicly, calmly handle adversity and connect with your clients and peers in a meaningful way. I am always looking to grow and improve in these areas, and look to provide my team with resources to do the same.

When you have somebody who fits this mold, hold onto them.”

 

What tools or technologies do you use to make customer success more scalable?

The biggest driver for success when scaling our client solutions team at Flexport is the adoption of our technology. We have a plethora of tools to help businesses run a more efficient supply chain with less effort, which actually ends up decreasing the cost to serve on our side as well. 

Internally, we use various tools to support our clients, all of which either feed through or are linked to our platform in some way, shape or form. Slack, Looker and Google Suite are the major external tech solutions we use.

How are you striking the right balance of automation and human interaction, and how do you know which tasks can be automated and which ones are more effective when handled by a CSM?

Tasks that are repetitive in nature are the first we look to automate. Examples are reports that need to be sent out on a fixed schedule, or messages to alert specific parties when actions are taken throughout the lifecycle of our services. 

The reason we look to automate these types of tasks is to elevate our team members and allow them to focus on the true purpose of our job: To be a consultative partner to our clients. The human element is particularly important in a client facing role. We need to understand the various needs of our clients and their supply chains, and proactively let them know how we can support them depending on the current market conditions or demand for their product.

 

 

Flexport team members working in booths in the office
Flexport

 

Melinda Roberts
Manager, Customer Success • SimplePractice

 

SimplePractice is a management platform for health and wellness professionals. 

 

What are the most important considerations when scaling a customer success team, and why?

When many businesses think about scaling a customer success team, their first thought is to fill vacant spots as quickly as possible to combat their ever-growing request volumes. But you need more: A universally understood collective mission with transparent goals, internal and external documentation, onboarding and ongoing training and quality assurance programs, self-help and automated solutions, and robust data reporting. 

When we started to scale our customer success (CS) team, we quickly learned that a CS representative could not be subject matter experts (SME) in every area of our platform and service, and shoulder-taps could not be relied upon to fill in any missing knowledge gaps. This is when we started to pursue specialization, assign SMEs to specific areas of the product and build out a strong internal knowledge system for all team members. 

Our internal knowledge base is utilized by every member of CS and is categorized and arranged by the different areas of our platform. This model empowers our team members to provide active participation in capturing and providing access to deep product knowledge that ultimately benefits everyone at SimplePractice regardless of area of responsibility and role. 

From the first week of onboarding, we dedicate time to making sure that every team member gains a clear understanding of our broader mission, as well as is aligned with our qualitative and quantitative goals. Moving forward our monthly CS-wide meetings include reviewing our quarterly goals and our progress. This alignment reinforces the need to work collectively to achieve our goals and continue to provide our customers with support.

We recognize that AI and self-service have their limits.”

 

What tools or technologies do you use to make customer success more scalable?

The two that have most empowered us to scale are Zendesk and Solvvy.

Through Zendesk, we have been able to successfully automate our triaging process, create and maintain a library of templates and macros, track and measure realtime and historical KPIs and efficiently create and update Help Center guides. The work we put into Zendesk ensures KPIs, such as first reply time and full resolution time, remain low while allowing us to maximize productivity by allocating just the right amount of CS member resources across all of our team responsibilities and workload. 

Solvvy is a customer support AI software. By pairing it with our robust Help Center content, our team has been able to consistently maintain a self-service rate of over 61 percent month over month. This means our customers are able to receive 24/7 instant help and resolutions for simpler requests, while allowing our team to be able to focus on sharing thoughtful, tailored responses with customers that have more complicated and nuanced questions and need for assistance. By being able to self-serve and having unlimited access to resources and answers, our customers are able to spend more time with their clients.

 

How are you striking the right balance of automation and human interaction, and how do you know which tasks can be automated and which ones are more effective when handled by a CSM?

When we implement automations, whether it’s using Solvvy for instant resolutions or using Zendesk to automate our triaging, we have our customers’ interests top of mind. It’s not our goal to replace our Customer Success team with AI, but instead to empower our customers by giving them the ability to find answers to their questions, address simple matters, easily create their own support request and promote a deeper understanding of our platform and its capabilities. Ultimately that allows them to better harness the power of our platform so they can continue running their businesses and practices. 

We also recognize that AI and self-service have their limits. For the times that our customers require a personal touch, have in-depth and complicated questions that AI cannot solve or just need the reassurance of an empathetic human being, our support specialists are available to provide tailored and personal solutions to our customers’ unique needs.

 

 

David Win
VP Sales & Operations • StackCommerce

 

StackCommerce is a commerce platform for brands and publishers.

 

What are the most important considerations when scaling a customer success team, and why?

Effectively building your customer success team starts with adhering to a basic principle: Have the right people who will truly listen to the customer. We start every team meeting with a segment called “voice of the customer.” I highlight for the team what the customers are saying about our products and our services. This practice creates a culture of passion and real relationship with consumers, understanding them as humans and not just a conversion data point. The relationship enables us to dial into the robust processes and technology required to scale while continuing to serve.

 

What tools or technologies do you use to make customer success more scalable?

In order to make customer success more scalable, I ensure all tools and technologies are robust and repeatable. There are three types of tools I recommend. First, ensure you have a knowledge-based playbook that documents all possible customer interaction and defined success factors. These should be frictionless and repeatable. This playbook is the foundation required before you can successfully scale. 

Second, configure internal tools to be connected and easily accessible. No customer success team functions as a standalone; it requires collaboration and cooperation from other teams for any type of interaction with the customer, even seemingly simple ones such as, “Where is my order?”

Finally, be ready to assess and adopt relevant technology. There are a lot of products out there for customer success teams, but what you want is the right tool for your team and customer. In my assessment, I look for tools that take productivity to the next level or enable customers to have a successful automated experience without needing much human interaction.

Customers want to feel like they are having a conversation.”

 

How are you striking the right balance of automation and human interaction, and how do you know which tasks can be automated and which ones are more effective when handled by a CSM?

Utilizing automation versus human interaction is a constant balancing act. Processes that are easy, frictionless and repeatable are usually primed to be automated. That said, we need to make automation more conversational. Traditionally, our industry was obsessed with the first-contact resolution metric; we designed automation to be short and to the point. 

Today, with the fluidity of texting, social media and apps, the customer wants to feel like they are having a conversation. Therefore, we are pivoting automation to be continuous and conversational. Ultimately, balance is struck by the vision of the organization: What’s the overall importance of customer experience? This vision dictates the strategy for AI or algorithms and when to trigger a human interaction. As impressive as this technology gets, one thing I know for sure is that no amount of automation will ever replace a customer-obsessed CSM who listens to the customer.

 

 

HydraFacial team photo
HydraFacial

 

Nancy Parash
VP, Customer Experience and Sales Operations • HydraFacial

 

HydraFacial is a beauty health platform that offers skin care solutions. 

 

What are the most important considerations when scaling a customer success team, and why?

There are many important considerations when scaling a customer success team. The three important focus areas are: People, process and leadership. 

Hiring the right team member is key to the success of the department. Their personal index (PI) should match the job descriptions and responsibilities. Next is to create scalable processes and provide clear visions and layout for the onboarding process. The goal is to train new team members efficiently and quickly. It is also important to monitor the processes and update as the business changes. We seek to apply the principles of servant leadership daily to our customers, partners and fellow employees while creating a culture of empowerment, trust and ownership. 

 

What tools or technologies do you use to make customer success more scalable?

Key performance indicators (KPIs) are critical to a growing business. When these metrics are used properly it can really support customer retention and satisfaction. It is not only meant to show the health of the business but also allow the teams to celebrate the wins along the way. 

Regarding technology, every organization needs a strong enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM) systems to scale. These systems are needed to ensure proper management of the order book and to provide the most current data to the sales force. We also leverage the use of our business to business (B2B) ecommerce, social media and live chat to make it easier to interact and provide quality service to our providers. 

The three important focus areas are: People, process and leadership.”

 

How are you striking the right balance of automation and human interaction, and how do you know which tasks can be automated and which ones are more effective when handled by a CSM?

We follow a hybrid model of customer service at Hydrafacial. We utilize technology when it comes to order entry and order management to drive efficiency.  However, when it comes to complaints or urgent needs, human interaction generally is key. We strive to follow the first call resolution (FCR) model to support our providers and clear up their concerns, with the goal being one touch. By providing a hybrid model our accounts have the flexibility to choose their form of communication.

 

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images via listed companies and Shutterstock.

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