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If you’ve led a Customer Success team, then you’ve seen your share of meaningless Customer Success Manager (CSM) updates. You want the latest intelligence and information, but you don’t want a lot of useless information that creates additional work for you, the CSM, or the customer.

In many companies, CSMs are not trained on the information that should be gathered. Instead, they are told to contact, engage, and interact with their customers. But they’re not told how to relay that compiled intelligence in a way that informs and explains their actionable intentions and next steps.

Far too often, new Customer Success (CS) executives arrive to inherit a previously developed Customer Success system with poorly developed processes of providing updates. Many of these processes are archaic, uninformative, and leave senior executives uncertain as to who’s responsible for the next step and when it will take place. Many CS executives will tell you that the updates they receive provide the following lackluster information:

  1. Current State – A brief review of information that reveals the customer’s “emotional” state. This information reveals if the customer is happy or frustrated and the reasons why. Usually, there is very little information to explain “why” the customer is happy or frustrated, “what” are the subsequent resulting actions that will be taken as a result, “who” will be responsible for those actions, or “when” the actions will take place.
  2. Commercial State – As a result of the current state, the updates will likely articulate that any future state expansion opportunities or renewal opportunities will be impacted. Again, these updates, much like the current state updates, neglect to include what are the actions and remediation plans to help ensure that success is achieved for the customer and the company.

Anyone who gives an update like this will likely have more questions than answers regarding the next steps. These poorly defined status updates create an efficiency issue within the organization, which increases administrative overhead and reduces operational engagement and efficiency. Administrative hours are now being spent – unproductively – chasing down better customer information at multiple levels so that an action plan can be put into place to ensure the customer is moving forward in the most efficient way possible.

CSM Autonomy

Rest assured, there is a better and more efficient way to glean information from your CSMs in a way that is informative and yet gives them autonomy. CS executives will find that giving the CSM team more autonomy allows them to have more creative options in their tool bag. In turn, the CSMs can create a positive and proactive customer experience more expeditiously.

Executives who retain too much power at the top prohibit a quick and nimble workforce and place more day-to-day operations on the CS executive. No executive wants to be the reason for the bottleneck nor do they want to thwart an organization from being agile and efficient.

Recognizing that there are CSM organizations that have commercial responsibilities with their customers, one of the quickest ways to document autonomy and rules of engagement is by outlining an internal version of a Customer Success playbook.

This CS playbook should capture the standard operating procedures but also spotlight the commercial discounts and renewal discounts that the CSM can offer without executive approval. Those boundaries give individual contributors greater power to know where they can help the customer while also respecting internal company targets and commercial goals.

Companies adhering to Sarbanes-Oxley compliance must set limits that require executive oversight and approvals for granting customer discounts. However, identifying discounts below that threshold creates greater efficiency by giving this autonomy back to the CSM so they can control a positive customer outcome.

Now that greater autonomy has been given to the CSM, it is time to help them create a customer success update that is informative, actionable, and requires minimal engagement from senior executives.

3 Steps to Improve Customer Success Manager Updates

Creating greater awareness into customer accounts is key and it starts with leveraging the technology used to capture customer updates in either your company’s homegrown system, a commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) customer relationship management (CRM) system, or a Customer Success (CS) system.

Once the system is operational to capture CSM updates, set up the system to email or post updates on an internal website. These updates provide quick access to a distributed group of CS executives and others who have an operational interest and can help the customer through their department and services.

For smaller companies that only have several hundred customers, it is probably easy to set up the updates to send to a team of executives for review. For larger companies with thousands of customers, it is better to set up the updates for specific segmented accounts or account renewals. In an organization with a Chief Customer Officer, Vice President of Customer Success, and Director of Customer Success, these three executives would ideally be on the distribution at a minimum to see real-time updates stemming from the CRM or Customer Success system.

Now, it is important to make sure the CSM is providing information that is useful and impactful. This should begin with the CSM providing information on the following:

Step One - Current State Success Plan

Where is the customer in their lifecycle with your company’s technology or services? Mapping your customer’s experience through a Customer Journey Map is a critical capability. This “outside-in” exercise reveals critical milestones and moments that matter as defined by the customer.

Your Success Plan should align value realization to the Journey Map. What actions are being taken to get customers to the next value realization milestone?

If there are problems, the CSM should articulate what the problems are and who owns the action to resolve them and move them forward. If there are problems, these are considered tactical and should be done in parallel with strategic objectives and the implementation.

Be careful that your team does not remain in a tactical state. Resolving customer issues is satisfying to many CSMs, but tactical situations do not grow the business. Strategic actions are what grows the business and executing on strategic actions should be the goal of anyone who engages the customer.

Step Two - Likelihood the Customer Will Renew and/or Expand?

This is a subjective input provided from the CSM perspective. Often this is an important element of the overall customer health score and is also referred to as CSM disposition.

The CSM provides their perspective and should ask the customer's intention about renewal or expansion directly and not rely on electronic means. A more powerful update will then state, “I have asked the customer, John Q. Public, if they will renew and they replied on October 21, 2020, ‘absolutely, we have already sent the signed contract to Finance for processing.’”

Step Three - Intentional Management

The concept of intentional management stems from a highly recommended book titled “Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders” by L. David Marquet. As applied to customer success purposes, now that the CSM has shared this valuable intelligence, then they explain the most important part of the update: what do they intend to do?

This part of the update should begin with the statement, “Given the information available and presented, I intend to do the following:” From this point forward, the CSM should clearly articulate what they intend to do with this customer as a result of the information they have shared.

For the management team, this information should be captured on a CRM or CS technology system that is easily accessible for daily review. Some systems will automatically send CS executives an email with the CSM’s update. Either situation is fine and will then allow the CS executive to read the CSM’s intended action plan.

Sometimes, the plan articulated by the CSM requires a planned adjustment because the CS executive has additional knowledge that the CSM may not have received. Then, internal conversations can take place to modify the intentions and actions of the CSM. This team approach is highly successful, efficient, and will reduce unnecessary customer interactions to glean information previously received.

Intentional Management is the key to receiving updates from your team that has meaningful and actionable information. What do they intend to do? How do they intend to do it? The only question left for CS management to ask is, “Is this the right thing to do?”

CSM intentional updates that share the actionable plans of your CSM will help you understand how your CSM is thinking. As a result of your awareness of how your CSMs are thinking, you can now develop internal training plans to proactively modify how your team thinks about customer success.

Additionally, any time you provide team training on what “right looks like,” you are training your team to understand how management thinks. In both situations, this update process gives the CSMs autonomy to own the customer’s journey and provide information to help move them forward while also informing management and reducing the inefficiencies of poorly written status updates.

More importantly, this new way of using intentional management streamlines efficiencies within your customer success organization by reducing the administrative overhead of customer status updates. Also, it improves internal and external customer communications and trains the team on what right looks like in the world of customer success.

Additional Resources:

  1. Research Paper - Customer Health Tracking: Past, Present, and Future
  2. Presentation - Do-It-Yourself Healthscore Model
  3. Presentation – Launching a Transparent Customer Health Program
  4. Book on Intentional Management - “Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders” by L. David Marquet.
  5. Video – Greatness – by David Marquet
 
 
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Stephen Fulkerson

About Author Stephen Fulkerson

Stephen Fulkerson is the senior director of customer success research for TSIA. Prior to joining TSIA, he served as the vice president of customer success at both Upland Software and Alert Logic. Stephen has over 20 years of experience working in technology service companies, and has been a leader in professional services, technical account management, and business development for APAC and LATAM operations, but has spent the bulk of his technical career (12 years) in Customer Success.