10 Questions to Measure your CS Ops Maturity

By Paul Reeves, Principal Consultant at Growth Molecules.

CS Ops is like Iron Man’s armor- -it’s how a human CSM becomes a superhero.

When it works, the technology, the processes, the people are a high performing yet graceful machine. It’s art. And when it fails to work–customers don’t launch, don’t adopt our product, CSMs are unprepared or not informed–it’s quite ugly. In short, Thanos steals half our renewals and we’re wiping the ashes of churned customers away from our tear-filled eyes. 

In the movies, Tony Stark is tinkering in his lab in one scene, and in the next, he’s spanking baddies. In reality, launching and running a CS Ops function is a bit more complicated. This post will define the charter and functions of a mature and effective CS Ops team to help you grow your own. 

I created a Customer Success (CS) maturity model some years ago that we now use in Growth Molecules as part of our assessment service. This article is about measuring CS Ops maturity. In coming posts, we’ll share assessment tools and our complete model. 

Let’s start with the basics. CS Ops is about enabling your Success team to be operationally excellent as they continually achieve their business objectives. The function typically starts as a few responsibilities that a more data or tech savvy CSM owns,  like making reports. When designed and resourced appropriately, CS Ops can grow into an embedded team that significantly reduces the cost to serve and improves LTV by ensuring customers realize value continually. 

One way to formally, intentionally start a CS Ops function is to do an assessment using our maturity model. Once you know where you are, you can define a strategy and develop the areas that need improvement in an informed, coherent manner to be sure you’re building a scalable foundation. We measure maturity by looking at competency in managing systems, people, and processes. We start by asking these questions:

  1. Do CS teams have the right technology to enable effective, scalable performance?
  2. Are customer account and contact data complete and up-to-date?
  3. Are commitments to customers captured and shared?
  4. Is relevant customer metadata available for use in health monitoring?
  5. Is value defined and realization measured and shared with the customer?
  6. Are bi-directional communications enabled and captured?
  7. Are CS teams onboarded, trained, and continually developed?
  8. Are best practices and learning captured, operationalized, and shared?
  9. Is performance monitored, managed, and reported on effectively?
  10. Is the CS Ops function correctly designed and sufficiently resourced?

1. Do CS teams have the right technology to enable effective, scalable performance?

CS teams frequently inherit the technology used by other groups, like Sales and Support. It makes sense, and for very young companies, it can even work at first. But at some point, when customer retention and growth becomes a key component of the go-to-market strategy, you should revisit the technology CSMs use to ensure they know what they need to focus on every day.

A CRM or SFA tool that works for an account executive in Sales to manage a handful of opportunities doesn’t automagically handle the various different journeys that the hundreds of customers may be on. A CSM managing tens or hundreds of customers need effective, efficient ways to focus and guide users every day. 

A key part of your CS Ops function should include a responsibility to set strategy and provide recommendations for technology the CS team uses. CSMs should be focused on customers, and leaders should be focused on outcomes. The CS Ops function can figure out how to make it work. 

2. Is customer account and contact data complete and up-to-date? 

Do you know who your current customers are and who you need to work with? Can you filter them by tier, product, contract start date, ARR, health? Do you have an accurate list of contacts with correct titles and email addresses? When was the last time you deactivated contacts that no longer work for your customer?

Younger companies struggle to decide when they should transition from a spreadsheet to a CRM. Sometimes they’ll use wikis or task management systems to manage customer lists in the earliest days. In one case, I joined a very technical startup as the first VP of CS and asked for the customer list. I was told, “Easy peasy”. Two weeks later I was given a list and a caveat, “This might be correct…” Unfortunately, from experience I can say, they are not the exception. 

Any company that uses a modern CRM is halfway there. But is the data sufficiently complete, correct, and up-to-date? More mature companies struggle unnecessarily with these challenges. Your CS Ops team leads the selection, configuration, and maintenance of tools and processes that make it easier for your teams to keep customer info up-to-date.

3. Are commitments to customers captured and shared?

Especially for B2B companies, it can be very unclear what is promised to a given customer. This challenge is compounded when the company doesn’t have agreement or SOW templates, and every customer gets something slightly differently.  CSMs need to understand what customers bought so they can deliver accordingly.

In one company I helped, paper contracts were in a “special” cabinet in the physical office. As a next step in managing contracts, the company began scanning the paper documents that were printed and signed. Having these electronic documents linked to the account in the CRM was an essential step for them so CSMs (and service teams) could know definitively what the customer paid for. While there are many ‘correctish’ answers, capturing and sharing commitments with your team is a basic requirement, and the CS Ops team should help or ensure this happens for every customer.

4. Is relevant customer metadata available for use in health monitoring?

Health scores rely on product usage data and other data that answer essential questions like, “Is my customer using my product?” “How often?” In the digitally rich user experience available now, you can also get data from emails interactions, websites or KB visits, training participation, CSAT, NPS, and support interactions to name a few. What about contract terms? Is this customer on a month-to-month plan? Risky! Or, are they in the middle of a multi-year agreement; that’s encouraging!

A CS OPs team should own and manage a customer health program that ensures CSMs have actionable insights. 

5. Is value defined and realization measured and shared with the customer?

While product usage by itself is a form of “value” it is insufficient. We also know the only product you have is your customer’s success. Are your customers achieving their business goals in using your products and working with your teams?

Your CS Ops function should continually work with Sales, Product, and Marketing to understand what value means to the customer and capture that value. Typically this will be distilled to data like metrics, feedback/quotes, packaged in presentations or dashboards that can be shared and validated. 

6. Are bi-directional communications enabled and captured?

Are your customers able to communicate with your teams in ways that are convenient and effective for them? Customers can use ticket systems, phones, chat, or video conferencing but what’s the best way for you to serve them?

The CS Ops team can work with stakeholders to ensure that customers can communicate and have their concerns addressed sufficiently while more scalable approaches are chosen. You wouldn’t expect your CSM to test chatbots instead of working with customers, would you? 

7. Are CS teams onboarded, trained, and continually developed?

HR may onboard a new team member to a company, but typically each department onboards a new member to the role. The CS team is fortunate to have a function like CS Ops to make this smoother and more effective. Team members who onboard faster are more productive sooner, which keeps other team members focused and productive. 

The CS Ops team can create handbooks and onboarding tools to ensure the team is continually capturing lessons learned. In the beginning, the CS Ops team may make the first versions of the CS handbook. My favorite example is the GitLab Customer Success handbook that anyone can view. 

8. Are best practices and learning captured, operationalized, and shared?

Over time, the amount of revenue directly managed by Customer Success should continue to grow and eventually be larger than net new revenue. At scale, a more efficient CS team will improve margins while increasing revenue. Thus, capturing and continually improving best practices is an important competency of a CS Ops team.

9. Is performance monitored, managed, and reported on effectively?

A key responsibility of the CS Ops team is to work with the CS leader and managers to report on team performance.  Helping the CS leader understand if customers are launching on time, are satisfied with the service, and within budget are key to scaling. If the team isn’t meeting performance goals, where are the gaps? An

Here’s an example set of data CS leaders frequently use to measure performance impact. The Metrics that Matter workbook created by Emilia D’Anzica explains metrics like the following and illustrates them with examples:

  • Net Revenue Retention (Including Logo Retention Calculation)
  • Time to First Impact
  • Net Promoter Score
  • Customer Lifetime Value
  • Customer Acquisition Cost
  • Customer Acquisition Cost to Lifetime Value Ratio

10. Is the CS Ops function correctly designed and sufficiently resourced?

I’ve seen CS Ops as a function that happened, and as a result of an intentional plan. Which one do you think is more likely to have sufficient support and resources to be effective? A chronic problem of younger CS Ops functions that just happen to exist is that they are overloaded and under funded. They have plenty of opportunities to help a team but lack the proper tools and staffing to be fully effective.

Ensuring that the CS Ops function has the right charter and is sufficiently resourced is an important responsibility of a CS leader and is an important indicator of its CS Ops maturity. CS Ops is a strategic investment for two reasons: Experienced leaders will be able to educate the CEO and CFO on the value of a properly funded CS Ops team and be able to secure required resources.

In conclusion, it’s clear that CS Ops has emerged as a thing in SaaS and is here to stay; it’s like CS a few years ago. But a properly defined and sufficiently resourced function is the outcome of a CS leader and company that understands what to expect from the team and how to empower it. We will publish our assessment tools shortly so that you can measure the maturity of not only your CS Ops but of your entire CS function. Stay tuned!

About the Author:

Paul is a prominent Customer Success thought leader recognized as a Top 100 Strategist in 2017 and 2018. He wrote the foreword for The Beginner’s Guide to Customer Success. He is a founding member of the Customer Success Leadership Network and the Customer Success Standards Initiative. He has been a mentor for emerging Customer Success leaders for years and routinely participates in First Round Capital’s fantastic mentoring program. Paul specializes in helping B2B enterprise SaaS companies, from $0 to $50M ARR,  launch or redesign effective scalable  Customer Success programs for both tech touch and white-glove customers. He has joined very technical companies and repeatedly improved NPS scores from negative and single digits to 60+ within 18 months.  

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