The Ultimate Guide to Building a Customer Success-Focused Team

Reading time15 minutes
Philipp Wolf
Philipp Wolf
Founder and CEO of Custify.

The year is 2024. Customer acquisition costs are higher than ever, competition is fierce, and most SaaS businesses are struggling. Yes, times are rough. But, as the saying goes: hard times create strong men businesses. All it takes is a small, extremely powerful, and not-at-all easy-to-make shift toward putting the customer’s needs and success first.

Care to find out more? Do keep reading on.

What’s a Customer Success team & how’s it different from a Customer Support one?

Let’s get a few things straight. Primo, a customer success team is not meant to replace customer support. Secondly, the main difference between customer success and support is that the first one is a proactive service while the latter is purely reactive.

Now, if you’re in the subscription business, you probably agree that success is directly measured against customer loyalty to your business. We’re talking about the kind of loyalty that makes the customer reach for his wallet monthly/quarterly/yearly without any second thoughts.

Any business that achieves this is a business destined for greatness.

It wasn’t that long ago that this type of unwavering loyalty was a much easier target. A good product and decent customer service, and you were golden.

However, times have changed. If you’re to be successful, you’ve got to deliver value to your customers consistently. You must show them you understand and even anticipate their needs - sometimes better than they do. You need to position yourself not just as another product or service on their paysheet but as a trusted partner in their journey to success.

And that’s exactly what a customer success team is all about—a group of dedicated pros whose sole purpose is to help users get the most value out of a product or service. Starting to see why customer success and customer support are two different animals?

Like we said before, customer success anticipates the user’s struggles and addresses them before they become real problems. Meanwhile, customer support focuses on solving the customer’s problems only when they arise.

So, why should your business include a Customer Success department? Lower churn rates and boosted renewals. Bigger monthly and annual recurring revenue. Improved customer loyalty.

Potential new clients with zero acquisition costs (behold the power of happy and unsolicited customer referrals). Yes, when done right, Customer Success is a game-changer for any business.

Responsibilities of a Customer Success Team

Yes, you have every reason to be excited about the impact customer success could have on your business. However, before diving headfirst into setting it up, we suggest you take a step back and approach this strategically.

And here’s the first and arguably most important strategic decision to make at this point: define the primary responsibilities of your customer success team.

Without this clear delimitation, this new branch risks becoming an Everything Department. Instead of focusing on what’s truly important, the team risks taking on tasks other departments reject.

So, establish a framework outlining the customer success team’s exact responsibilities before anything else.

If you’re looking for a place to start, Custify’s recent Customer Success Insights report summarizes the primary responsibilities of Customer Success teams in 2023.

Chart showing what the primary responsabilites as a CSM are

The building blocks of putting together a CS team

Once the customer success team’s responsibilities have been set in stone, it’s time to start assembling the team.

Sure, the mere thought of building and integrating a new department within the business may likely send shivery chills down your spine. However, it’s important to remember that great opportunities often present themselves as significant challenges.

We suggest splitting this one huge project into smaller, easier-to-manage tasks that you can complete quickly.

Here’s how:

Define what Customer Success means for your business

This goes back to being strategic and ties in directly with the responsibilities you defined for your soon-to-be customer success team.

Since no two businesses are completely the same, we urge you to consider what you want your customer success team to help you achieve. After all, customer success is not a one-size-fits-all concept. Instead, think of it as a fabric you can mold around your organization’s goals, needs, and objectives.

Here’s a checklist to help you stay on track when defining customer success for your business.

1 - Assess your business model

  • What is your business’ value proposition?
  • How do you generate revenue? (e..g., subscription renewals; upsells; cross-sells; product upgrades; etc.)
  • What drives success in your industry or niche?
  • How does your business model impact how you deliver and measure customer success?

2 - Evaluate your customer lifecycle

  • Are you addressing your customers according to the stages they’re at? (e.g., newly acquired customers have different needs than those already using your product).
  • What are the critical touchpoints, and how do your customer interactions look at each stage?
  • What are the typical struggles or pain points customers run into along their journey?
  • How can you make this journey smoother?

Pro tip: Create a customer success journey map to define your customer lifecycle, highlight different touchpoints, and show who controls each.

3 - Define your objectives and key metrics

  • What are the main reasons you want to build a customer success team? (e.g., to improve customer retention; drive upsell opportunities; foster customer advocacy; etc.).
  • How does this tie in with your organization’s core objectives and strategic initiatives?
  • How will you track the progress made toward these objectives?

As you can see, defining customer success for your business is more complex than you may have thought. There’s no cutting corners, so give yourself time and space to answer these questions properly.

Key roles of your customer CS team structure

Your work so far will help you forecast your staffing needs for your soon-to-be customer success team.

While an understaffed team will need help identifying potential opportunities, overstaffed teams may prove inefficient and add unnecessary burdens to business expenses. So, getting the balance right is a big deal.

We suggest starting by creating an organizational structure for your customer success department. This establishes clear reporting hierarchies, streamlines task distribution, and makes it much easier to track performance. Plus, this solid foundation will make future expansions go a lot smoother.

Now, let’s examine the roles of a customer success department and to whom each role reports. What’s more, we'll also show you the salary expectations of each role according to 2024’s market.

Senior-Level Roles

Senior level roles chart showing the roles, average annual salary, roles in customer success team, and reports to

Mid-Level Roles

Chart showing mid-level roles

Entry-Level Roles

Chart showing entry-level roles

It goes without saying that your initial team structure will not include every single role mentioned above. Depending on the size of your business, a newly created customer success department may function well with a Chief Customer Officer, a VP of Customer Success, a Customer Success Manager, and a couple of Account Managers.

Skills to look for during the hiring process

Ultimately, the success of your customer success department rests on the shoulders of the people you hire. So, before you dive into the hiring process, take a step back and think about the skills, competencies, and qualities needed to help you drive customer satisfaction, retention, and growth.

So, what type of skills are we talking about?

Image showing the chief customer officer roles

Different roles require different skills, so let’s go through them individually.

Chief Customer Officer

Your Chief Customer Officer is the man with the plan. He focuses on solving long-standing customer issues and creating strategies to increase retention. As such, you want someone who displays strong leadership skills, has a history of meeting customer success goals, knows the industry, and has expertise in launching CX programs and campaigns.

VP of Customer Success

Your VP of Customer Success should regularly assess the customer journey, identify improvement areas, and constantly keep an eye out for proven-to-work processes or programs.

Considering all this, look for someone who has the aura of a leader, is natural at mentoring junior employees, and is really good at analyzing data.

Customer Success Manager

As soon as the sales process is over, the customer success manager will take over the relationship between your business and the client. He aims to help the client get the most value from your product and ultimately drive long-term sustained revenue by avoiding unnecessary churn and retaining the customer.

He will also oversee Account Managers and ensure they have the necessary tools and knowledge to perform efficiently.

To be successful in this role, customer success managers need a broad range of skills, such as communication, empathy, relationship building, and customer data analysis.

Account Managers

An Account Manager’s role is split into two equally important aspects. First, he’s in charge of building strong client relationships. Second, he helps bridge the gap between sales and support.

In a nutshell, the Account Manager is the liaison between your business and your customer. Ideally, an Account Manager should have at most two or three accounts under his wing.

So, what skills should you be looking for? Well, you’ll definitely do no wrong in hiring someone with strong customer service skills. Salesmanship is another skill to look for - especially if your business relies heavily on upselling or cross-selling. You’ll also be off to a great start by looking for someone who’s a great communicator.

What’s more, a Customer Success Manager would also need customer service experience, leadership skills, and working product knowledge.

Create training aids for the team

With recruitment over, don’t assume that your team is ready to start interacting with customers. Before that, they must fully understand the product themselves.

So, it’s up to you to ensure your team is equipped with all the necessary information about your offerings. They’ll need to know the ins and outs, starting with how your product makes life easier for clients, what sets it apart from competitors, and exactly what to say to reassure clients about the great decision they’ve made.

Useful training aids for team use

Besides the initial onboarding, consider providing your team access to materials such as:

  • Insights gathered from customer feedback, offering valuable perspectives on customer needs and preferences.
  • Detailed spec sheet with product features and capabilities, recorded demos, webinars, or training sessions to speed up the thorough understanding of your offering.
  • Access to existing sales materials. This will give your team an idea of what type of customer interactions to expect and how to respond to different scenarios.
  • Insights into industry trends and competitor analysis allow your team to prove themselves to the customers by offering valuable insights.

Set clear KPIs for your CS team

You know what they say: what gets measured gets done. So, you’ll want to clarify your expectations with your CS team and ensure that your performance indicators match your expected business outcomes.

These KPIs will let you evaluate performance, track progress, and push toward continuous improvement.

So, what relevant KPIs could help you assess your customer success team’s efficiency? While everyone talks about the CSAT (Customer Satisfaction) and NPS (Net Promoter Score), we’d like to focus on some less-discussed KPIs you should look at.

Customer Churn Rate

This metric measures the percentage of customers who stop using your product or service over a specific period. A high churn rate highlights that your customer success team’s efforts can definitely be improved.

Customer Retention Rate

As opposed to the above metric, the customer retention rate measures the percentage of customers who keep using your product or service over a specific period. A CRR higher than 35% over eight weeks is considered elite for SaaS businesses.

Product Adoption Rate

This is the percentage of users actively using and engaging with your product or service. The higher the number, the more customers successfully integrated your offering into their workflow. And the more they use it, the more value they get from it.

Time to Value

The faster your customer success team can help your customers realize the value of using your product or service, the higher their satisfaction will be.

However, contrary to the metrics mentioned above, calculating your TTV depends on the nature of your business and on how you define ‘value.’

An example is in order.

Let’s say you’re a SaaS offering project management software.

If you were to calculate your TTV, you’d start off by defining your ‘value’ as the moment a client starts training other team members on key features of your platform.

Next, you’d determine your start point - the moment the clock starts ticking. This, too, is up to you. It could be either the moment of purchase or the instant they set up their account.

Once you’ve established this, determine your end point—when the customer has realized the value. In our case, it could be when all the team members have successfully finished their training.

Lastly, calculate the time between the start and end points and measure your TTV.

Build your customer success strategy around customer data

Long-term customer success strategies aren’t based on hunches or guesswork. No, they hinge on the manual work of your customer success department and data insights. The more complete and accurate the data, the more you’ll discover about your customers, and the better your customer success department will be able to serve their needs.

Quick tip regarding data: make sure all your departments speak the same data ‘language.’ What do we mean by this? All teams should act together based on a specific set of metrics that have been clearly defined and collected. This way, you can avoid any confusion between teams and improve data analysis.

So, what data source should you be mining?

  1. Product usage - you want to know precisely how frequently your users use your product or service, what they use it for, and how long they’ve been using it. Use this information to create new resources to encourage meaningful product usage.
  2. Billing information - is your business revenue consistent month-to-month? If not, what’s the reason behind this? It could be that your billing system is confusing. Or, perhaps it’s a deeper issue that causes product disengagement. Whatever it is, you need to investigate it and fix it.
  3. Support team: Your customer support team is a treasure trove of essential information about the relationship between your users and product. Look for patterns, pain points, and opportunities for improvement gleaned from customer inquiries, feedback, and issues resolved.
  4. Website and content interaction - what buttons are your users clicking the most? How easy is it for them to find what they’re looking for? Figuring out the answer to such questions will give you powerful insights into what’s working on your website and what needs a revamp.
  5. Customer Success Software analytics—The beauty of using Customer Success Software is that it’s like an all-stop shop for everything you need to know about your users. Platforms like Custify will show you your biggest client promoters, key stakeholders, or point out those you risk losing to churn.

Diagram the success model for scale that will work for you and your customers

With your customer success department in place, it’s not time yet to rest on your laurels. Instead, take this opportunity to figure out how this team will scale as it helps you grow your organization.

Start by evaluating the current capacity and capabilities of your team. Do this while considering the size of your customer base, the complexity of your product, and the anticipated growth rate.

Remember that the more you grow, the more customers will require personalized assistance and proactive engagement. Your customer success team will need the resources to handle this extra load.

Another important aspect to consider is the impact of a product expansion. Check in with your customer support team to see whether they can accommodate new features or solutions within their current team structure and processes.

Don’t rush into thinking that hiring additional Customer Success team members is the only way to accommodate your business expansion. Sometimes, implementing scalable processes or investing in more advanced tools and technologies will pay greater dividends.

Is customer success possible without a dedicated team?

What if your business has just started showing signs of success, but having a dedicated customer success department isn’t doable now? Can you still make customer success a priority?

The short answer is ‘Yes’. Here are a few tips.

Remember when we said that a Customer Success team is proactive? Well, for starters, you’ll need to add Proactivity to your business’ daily agenda.

One way to be proactive about customer success is to create automated onboarding sequences for your new clients. Another proactive approach is to introduce your clients to all the training materials for using your product before they create support requests.

Everything that helps you share relevant information with your customers before they ask for it will help.

You could also start creating a customer journey map. The purpose of this map is to determine customer sentiments through each stage and identify areas for improvement. You can do this by running surveys like Customer Satisfaction, Net Promoter, or Customer Effort scores.

Final Thoughts

Only some realize that customer satisfaction equals long-term success.

And even though setting up and integrating an entirely new department into your existing organization is definitely not something to be taken lightly, it’s a clear sign that you’re heading in the right direction.

Remember: the ultimate goal is to delight your customers, give them unforgettable experiences, and be there to celebrate their milestones.

The investment isn’t to be ignored. However, you’re playing the long game, and the rewards will be well worth it.

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