I have had a lot of discussions lately with numerous customer success (CS) professionals and recognized thought leaders about the challenges in setting up a thriving CS team in an organization that has never had CS before. We looked at numerous examples where SaaS vendors invested in hiring a CS leader to build a CS practice in the workplace, and then later ended up cutting their CS program. Some very interesting insights emerged. Perhaps one of the most interesting insights to emerge was the idea that building an effective CS program and being able to gather metrics that clearly prove its impact and value on the organization's bottom line, requires a long-term commitment. It takes time to:
1) Establish a CS team,
2) Train the CS team,
3) Build out an effective, cross-functional methodology that delivers impactful CS services to customers,
4) Get customers to actually change how they are using your product / software / system to get more measurable business value from it, and
5) Gather the metrics to show the impact based on the work of the CS team.
And, of course, there will be inevitable mistakes and learning experiences along the way as you move from establishing a CS team, to maturing it into a highly effective and efficient part of your organization while helping your internal stakeholders (e.g., executives, sales, marketing, product development teams etc...) understand the importance of CS and the collaboration needed across the organization to have a long-term impact on your customers' value and your organization's bottom line.
Many organizations found that the CEO and other executives were expecting to see very fast, measurable improvements to typical CS metrics (CSAT, NPS, MRR…and all the other usual measures). Many CS leaders with whom I spoke said it typically takes 18 – 24 months to really get reliable measures and a solid baseline for these metrics. Yet, many company executives are very often focused on quarterly measures – such as sales, profit, growth, etc. and many CEOs are focused on short-term management of their company and often times expect to see short-term numbers to prove that their investment in CS is delivering outcomes the business needs.
So, what do you do when you have a program that requires a long lead time to deliver the results you need? One thing you can and should do very early on is identify and develop separate management metrics for both the short and long terms to measure the performance of the CS team in the short-term vs the long-term.
Long-Term Metrics / “Performance Metrics”
Many CS leaders are familiar with the various long-term metrics they can use to prove the impact of the CS initiative and many of the CS automation tools are very effective at gathering and reporting this data. As I mentioned above, items like Net Promoter Score (NPS), Customer Satisfaction (CSAT), Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR), and a host of other common CS metrics can be very useful. It's important for the leadership team to agree on the time frame during which you will gather a baseline, and when these metrics can be reliably used to show trends and changes that will impact how you run the business.
These long-term metrics can be thought of as “performance metrics”. They give you insight into how your operations are running so that you can evaluate what is working and what is not. They give evidence on which you can make important decisions for improvement.
Short-Term Metrics / “Trajectory metrics”
A bigger challenge, is how do you prove the value of CS in the short-term, long before your efforts have had the required lead-time to deliver an impact? One approach is to work with the CEO and other leaders to map out all of the actions and milestones that need to be achieved in order to build and deliver the long-term success that CS can deliver. This can include actions such as hiring a CS team lead, meeting with customers to identify the services CS needs to deliver to help them achieve success, hiring and training your CS team, developing your CS services, implementing a CS tool, establishing internal practices to have CS collaborate effectively with sales, marketing and product management, and a host of other actions that need to be done to get the CS program setup and working.
As you map these action items out with the CEO and other leaders, get them to agree on priorities and the realistic and appropriate time frames during which the actions should be completed. Get them to agree that in the short-term, the way to measure the performance of the CS team is to look at the actions that have been accomplished as evidence that you are on the right trajectory for building and delivering CS services that will result in the long-term impact the organization needs. We call these “trajectory metrics” because while they don’t prove the impact of your CS services (since you are not there yet), they give the best measure of confidence that you are performing against the path you agreed to with leadership to get where you need to be in the long-term.
By agreeing and focusing on these short-term, trajectory metrics, you give the executive team something they can focus on in the short-term to give them the confidence they need that their investment in a CS program continues to make sense and will one day deliver the business results they need. When you are in the process of building a CS program, it doesn’t make sense to use long-term performance metrics when you are not yet delivering the full services that will have an impact on the outcome of these performance metrics. What you need in this early stage is a way to measure your progress to increase and maintain executive level support for your CS initiatives.