window.addEventListener("hashchange", function () { window.scrollTo(window.scrollX, window.scrollY - 100); });

What "Bringing Customer Success to the Center of Your Business" Really Means (And How to Do It)

Check out the Catalyst CS Playbook. Learn detailed, customer-centric strategies for hiring, tooling, and process.
Kevin Chiu
December 8, 2021
Resources

The topics covered in this article (and more) will be presented at the CS at the Center Summit, a virtual conference on January 20, 2022. This all-day event features CS leaders from leading tech companies, all sharing their knowledge, experience, and advice on how to make your company more customer-centric. Register now!

-------------------------------------------------------

“Bring customer success to the center of your organization.”

What does that even mean? How do you apply that concept to your business?

I’ve been asked these questions by what almost feels like 1,000+ customer success leaders, executives, and CEOs. 

As a founder of one of the fastest-growing household brands in customer success, I figured it was my civic duty to provide clarity and context around this now commonly-used phrase.

Below, I will share Catalyst’s exact end-to-end playbook for bringing these words to life

This internal-facing and (until now) confidential playbook is something that I’ve shared with a few select CS leaders in the past. It’s enabled and supported them to get their founders, CEOs, and executive team to understand customer success at a deeper level. Often, this new understanding unlocked additional budget quickly and drove the necessary change management and cultural adjustments needed throughout their business.

First, some helpful backstory before we get in the trenches.

“Helping companies move customer success to the center of their organization” became our company tagline in early 2019 as we raised our Series A with around 15 employees. As the Customer Success category has exploded in recent years, and with Catalyst at the forefront, I’ve seen our mission statement resonate extremely well in the market; so much so that we’ve seen other companies in this space build it into their brand!

Fast forward a few years later to today going into 2022, every business is focusing their efforts on Customer Success and making their company more customer-centric. 

Why? 

Because if the pandemic showed us anything, it highlighted the new cardinal rule of business - Retention is the New Growth.

Chief Customer Officers (CCOs) are the new Chief Revenue Officers (CROs) of the world. There are more CSM (Customer Success Manager) and VP of Customer Success jobs than ever before. Demand for CS operations leaders has skyrocketed. Market demands are seeking a command center and customer 360 view that is more than what a CRM provides today – a system that actually shows holistic customer health and helps CSMs take proactive action has become table stakes as the most critical piece of any modern tech stack. 

In addition, Net Dollar Retention has single-handedly become the most important metric in the boardroom and it is no longer all about new business revenue growth. 

As a result, CSPs (Customer Success Platforms) are the new CRM (Customer Relationship Management). 

Now, down to business as promised: the Official Catalyst Playbook. 

9 Ways Catalyst Brings Customer Success to the Center of Our Own Organization

Before I get into how we bring CS to center, I wanted to set the stage. The original 4 P’s of Customer Success framework by Nils Vinje helped inspire our approach.

TL;DR - if you haven’t read the article above. The four most important pillars of operating any customer success organization correctly are People, Purpose, Process, Platform.

  • People - The foundation of any high-performing team starts here. Know your team’s strengths, know their weaknesses, and then fill in the gaps – align hiring profiles with your business model. 
  • Purpose - Understand the why. Make sure the purpose of your CS organization is clearly outlined, defined, and understood by your CEO, leadership, and cross-functional teams across sales, marketing, engineering, and product.
  • Process - Once the right people are in place and the purpose has been clearly defined, it’s time to build out the process that the CS organization and CSMs will follow. Data is a key part of the process, yet is often overlooked. Having clean data is the first step in any process. Without clean data, you won’t get any good reporting. More on that below. 
  • Platform - The most classic mistake of any CS organization is attempting to bring on a platform first before having the other 3. Now, this platform isn’t just limited to Customer Success Platforms like Catalyst. It’s related to tools like Looker, Tableau, and Clari. Not all software products are plug-n-play like Slack or Gong! Better defined business outcomes pre-purchase equals better product outcomes post-purchase.

Below I will use hashtags across #people #purpose #process #platform to indicate which plays are related to what category. 

1. Only Hire People Who Are Customer Obsessed

#people #process #purpose

Hiring. This one has always been core to Catalyst’s advantage. Investors and board members alike often ask me what Catalyst’s unfair advantage is – I tell them it starts with the people. I used to stalk the Glassdoor reviews of all top-venture backed hot companies who failed, and there was one underlying theme. 

It was the people. 

Not the market. Sometimes the product. Always the team. What leads to a bad product? Poor team. Poor product decisions. Poorly documented customer/sales feedback processes. Hire the best people here and ensure they are set up for success, and you will minimize your failure rates.

One of Catalyst’s core values is making sure that the mission statement stays aligned with our hiring profile. Below is a screenshot of a Scorecard system we use in the hiring process via Greenhouse Software. Staying disciplined to our methods, every engineer, sales, product, design, people team, and so on MUST rank high in this area.

Why? As an example, it’s so important to get engineers that care about customers – this includes code quality, testing, customer experience when fixing bugs, and overall empathy. Hire engineers who aren’t customer-centric and you’ll get a product that resembles such. Our engineering team isn’t just customer-centric, they’re customer-OBSESSED.

Most importantly, at some point the CS team is going to need them for data. Engineers who don’t care about building the right infrastructure, data tables, and tooling in products like Catalyst or data visualization platforms like Looker are going to cause major headaches and delays for CS leaders and operations teams. Every day I talk to a CS leader that says engineering won’t help them get data. 

It is worth nothing that this is a CEO and cultural problem. Not a CS leader's problem. 

CS leaders get faulted for not being able to do their job correctly when their systems, data, process, and support aren’t there. That’s like asking a sales leader to hit quota without any leads or a properly built out CRM like Salesforce with the correct information in there to forecast close dates properly. Input = output. 

2. Using Slack to drive desirable behavior

#process #platform

We have a Slack channel called #shoutouts, which is directly integrated with Lattice (our feedback review system). This setup enables employees to share documented feedback that’s used later for performance/compensation reviews. Shoutouts in Lattice automatically get shared into this Slack channel for the entire company to see. 

This drives engagement across the organization and – as a result – drives the right behavior.

Scaling values and culture is an incredibly difficult task. Little things like this go a very, very long way. Getting people to remember and appreciate values is often overlooked. This is why companies have stated that their “culture” failed to scale.

We’ve also directly embedded our company values as emojis, which we use to celebrate positive actions!

Again, the more these places these values live, the easier it is to have customer-centricity in your culture inside & out. 

3. Dedicated Go-To-Market meetings

#people #purpose #process #platform

We conduct a Dedicated Go-To-Market meeting with a Customer Success and Engineering/Product focus for one hour every 2 weeks. Out of my 35+ hour meeting weeks (thank you new Google Calendar feature 😳), this is my FAVORITE meeting by far.

In this meeting, we have Revenue/CS operations work with our CS leadership to prepare and leverage Catalyst to prepare rolled-up information into a templated slide deck. The deck covers all of the most critical information that we want to present to the following stakeholders: CEO, COO, Head of Sales, Head of CS, Demand Gen Manager, Product Marketing, Head of Marketing, CFO, Renewals, CS leadership, SDR managers, Product/Engineering key stakeholders, Legal, and Revenue Operations.

Notice, there are stakeholders here from almost every function in the business by design.

This is one of the most expensive meetings of all-time and I would say it’s worth every penny. There is a level of transparency, trust, ownership, and alignment that comes out of this meeting with one key goal – further aligning ourselves with better outcomes for our customers. 

What’s more important than that?

Here are some of the metrics we cover in the deck:

Where are we currently sitting with NDR for the month, quarter, year? Are we close to goal, forecasting over/under, etc?

Most importantly, how are we tracking since we last met? Improvements? Leveraging Catalyst’s Trend Reporting functionality, we can easily get a direct snapshot comparing Catalyst’s entire customer base (customer health vs. ARR) and see what has changed since we last met. It’s particularly useful to see trend/graph data and being able to dive into specifics with one click.

(Dummy data of Trend Reporting via Catalyst)

For context, our CS team owns renewals and the NDR number. We separate out the Renewal role/function/motion from the CSM IC (individual contributor) role. I know that this is a hot topic of debate, but I still wouldn’t have it any other way. Given that our CS leadership is at stake for all renewal revenue numbers, they are extremely on top of all customer health reasons, feature requests, business outcomes, and customer ICP alignment. Having been in organizations where CS did not own renewals or a revenue metric, I see this currently being advantageous to us at our current stage of the business*.

*Full disclaimer - this opinion could change as Catalyst’s business evolves and grows.

Top 5 Customers At-Risk and Churn Reasons. Yes, even a customer success business has customers that are At-Risk! This could be for a variety of reasons. Did we oversell a certain feature? Did we sell to a company too big outside of our ICP? Did we underestimate a technical dependency? Is a stakeholder leaving? Anything and everything for this must be bubbled all the way to the C-level, especially for the top mission-critical customers.

CSAT deep-dives. What are the average scores and what is the core theme of all the detailed comments? Where is Catalyst missing the mark?

We also recently released a Renewal Survey where we ask every customer: “If you were to renew tomorrow, would you?” This one question is probably better than any health score out there. It doesn’t get more straightforward than this.

Implementation. We know that implementing a CS product properly is one of the most challenging and critical things out there given the data complexities (integrating Salesforce, SFDC custom objects, data warehouse tables, data cleanliness, data matching capabilities, etc). As such, we ask for a full debrief on customers in implementation. What is their time to launch? Are we constantly decreasing this time to launch without sacrificing overall satisfaction and business outcomes? What are the technical nuances that we are uncovering as we move upmarket?

Top Requested Customer Feature Requests and ARR Alignment. What are the top requests from customers by segment, by feature, by ARR association. Does this align with what we are seeing in sales? Does this align with the product roadmap & vision? Engineering & Product are also expected to give updates if we are on-time, behind schedule, or blocked for any reason.

Product Usage Analysis. Leveraging Catalyst + Looker (directly embedded into our Catalyst product), we cover what are our top adopted features, our lowest adopted features, recent feature rollouts vs adoption metrics, and more.

(Looker embedded into Catalyst using demo data)

This has been a huge time-saver for our CSMs and Head of CS who do not know Looker’s product by-trade given that it requires SQL (LookML) or technical knowledge. Our data and operations team place these dashboards that Catalyst did not have out-of-the-box functionality for, into Catalyst, this way our team did not have to go to two different places. The more tools you have in your tech-stack, the more data silos you create, and the harder it is to get your team to adopt it. 

4. Dogfooding our own product

#platform #process

Our mission statement is around breaking down data silos and empowering every business to have ONE place to find all their customer data (pre AND post-sale). Notice how your CRM does not have all the data across usage data, ticketing, NPS, health, etc? We believe that every single person in an organization should have access to all customer data (with the right permissioning), and so we make sure everybody at Catalyst has access, too.

Does a sales rep want to know who is ‘Healthy’ for upsell? Use Catalyst. 

Sales rep streamlining hand-off notes for CS and IMs? Use Catalyst. 

Product wants to reference which features are being adopted by which customers? Use Catalyst.

Product marketer and/or Marketing wants to know which customers are referenceable and build a process for sales to use? Use Catalyst.

5. Separating CS Ops from Sales Ops as a resource

#people #purpose #process

This bears emphasizing: SALES Operations is NOT a CS Operation Resource. AT least, not in the way that most companies think. The reason being that, most of the time, they’re not able to think in the best interest of a CS team. 

It’s not their fault. They’re reporting into sales and have spent the majority of their career working with sales teams, rolling out sales tools, and thinking about presale processes. They’re not trained to think about the entire post-sale and customer lifecycle journey.

It’s actually a surprising fact that CS organizations we will talk to at a later stage, even at $80M+ ARR, will not have dedicated CS operation resources.

Attention all CEOs that are reading this - would you have a full-time sales team without dedicated sales operation resources? Probably not! Do yourself a favor and budget for CS operations and build it under a true Revenue Operations function and leader who can think about the operational design of a whole customer experience.

At Catalyst, Revenue Operations was built from the get-go as well as a data/business systems engineering team structuring the right data in anticipation of needing to one day pump it into a system like… you guessed it - Catalyst. Clean data is everything. Your systems need to be well-designed, well-integrated for a Customer Success Platform to work.

Shit in, shit out.

This even starts early on in the funnel with prospecting tools. If SDRs prospect bad leads and you start tracking bad data in Salesforce, that impacts your post-sale experience. Having all the perfect data to filter off of customers like Renewal Date, CSMs, Business Outcomes, Champions, Titles, Website Domains, Email Domains, Account IDs, etc. are critical to successfully leveraging a Customer Success Platform. What people don’t realize is that almost every system like Marketo, Hubspo, Catalyst, Zendesk, Outreach, and Clari is not successful when using bad or missing data. 

It’s not a tool problem, it's a data problem. 

Do yourself a favor: invest in a Revenue Operations team with a CS Ops Specialist that can strategize about this process early on.

6. Employee recognition

#people #purpose #process

Every quarter, our CEO presents the most customer-centric person in the company with an Oscar-like award. This is another cultural value that constantly reinforces good behavior! Who doesn’t want to be recognized by the CEO in front of the company?

(Real image of our amazing Dylan Watt, Business Enablement Manager and Engineer who always puts customers first.)

7. Define your ICP

#purpose

This is easier said than done and, candidly, still a work-in-progress for us. My Head of Customer Success kept saying we needed to do this and I didn’t really understand why. I would constantly think didn’t we already do this 100 times?! 

Here’s a classic example I see companies make: someone has a product that serves SMB, and an Enterprise company like Google comes knocking on the door offering a $2M check. What happens? 

You would be surprised how many CEOs (and of course, sales leaders) would take that check. But guess what? Say goodbye to your roadmap. This customer now owns you. Support? Goodbye to that too. They’ll be flooded with requests from one customer. Now you piss off the other 80% of your customer base.

For us, having Segmentation at the company size level wasn’t good enough. We needed to hone in even closer on data, tech stack, specific size of CSM team, and more.

Ensuring that every seller, rev ops, CEO, leadership team member, and the entire company is aligned on this is critical to the long term success of the business. Everything from sales process, compensation, roadmap is all properly-driven by a clearly defined Ideal Customer Profile.

8. Build customer empathy

#process #people

Early on in our pre-30 employees stage, we used to play a customer call in the office off of our projector every Tuesday during team lunch. This was for the entire company to listen to their pain points and build empathy for the customer. It was nice early on as we were all learning, but it didn’t scale. 

The company got bigger, and people who had already heard a bunch of similar calls stopped engaging as their schedules got more hectic as we grew and these were often the more tenured employees. As a middle ground,  we now share call clips with snippets via Chorus/Gong, and it works great, especially for newer employees ramping!

One transition that we’ve made (because there’s nothing more impactful than hearing it directly from the customer) is during kick-off week and/or any company-wide meetings, we will always invite a panel of customers and/or prospects for a live Q&A. We’ll have a professional moderator, pre-drafted questions, live walkthroughs from the guests, and give all of the Catalyst employees an opportunity to ask any question that is top of mind. 

This is one of our highest NPS-ranked events during these kickoff weeks because of how educational it is. 

Some examples of things asked or discussed:

  • Why did you choose Catalyst vs another platform? 
  • Why didn’t you choose Catalyst vs another platform?
  • How are you actually using the product now? 
  • Has the product met or exceeded your expectations? 
  • What are the gaps in the product that you wish you had? 
  • What are workflows that still exist outside of Catalyst?

9. #bringingcstothecenter

#people #purpose #process #platform

This is my favorite component - and the grande finale of how we bring customer success to the center of our organization (drum roll please)!

Back when we were still 20 employees strong, we built a Slack channel called #bringingcstothecenter. This is where we funnel in information across every point in the customer journey (SDR-sourced opportunities, Closed Won Deals, Closed Lost Deals, NPS, Implementation Surveys, customer feedback, etc). 

Here is an example of a new Post-Implementation survey we send out to our customers.

It’s important to note that this doesn’t only include the good stuff. It includes the bad stuff, too. 

For example, we show Closed Lost Deals. Where most companies would be too afraid to share this to the broader organization, Catalyst includes deal context on why we lost, screenshots of the email thread stating loss detail so it’s not just a rep summary, and quick links to call recordings attached.

We funnel in every Closed Won deal here celebrating WHY they chose Catalyst, top 3 business outcomes they wanted, confirming if they align with our Ideal Customer Profile, Feature Requests they want but we don’t have, etc.

We funnel in Low NPS survey results with someone stating why they may not be happy with Catalyst’s product.

The Closed Lost deals and low NPS/CSAT scores is what motivates us, aligns the company, drives transparency on where we are great, and where we are not. Companies that brush this stuff under the rug and keep it from employees are doing more harm than good.

For some fun examples, we also post customer funding announcements in the channel to celebrate our customers’ wins. Their success is our success!

We have also made it both a best-practice and a cultural process for CSMs to continuously share customer feedback.

In conclusion

Bringing customer success to the center is more than an attitude change. 

It’s more than a statement. 

It’s more than just talking about how you care about customer success. 

It’s acting upon it. 

It’s a company-wide culture and mindset that starts from Day 1. 

It’s a collection of different systems & processes that are all driven by the same customer-centric philosophy. 

If you want radical change for NDR, NPS, customer sentiment, and overall customer health, you need to incentivize and reinforce this kind of behavior by setting up the right org structure, headcount, systems, programs and management policies that reward positive actions. 

One piece of advice I know has always resonated with CEOs, CCOs, and VPs of CS I have spoken to - START TODAY.

These things will take time and you’ll wish you started yesterday!

This has been a process 5 years in the making for us. Even with a world-class, customer-centric team, learning from thousands of customer success leaders, and having the luxury of being in a business that works with CSMs, CS leadership, and CS operations daily (just-in-case you need some credibility when you share this with your CEO 😉 ), we still have a long way to go!

However, as a founder of one of the fastest growing customer experience platforms out there, I can guarantee you this - if you take the learnings from this article and apply it to your own business, holding true to being 1% better, every day, you will see exponential business impact long-term. 

I know we certainly have. 

Welcome to the era of customer obsession and putting their success at the center of your organization. As they say, customer success is business success. 

-------------------------------------------------------

Join us for the CS at the Center Summit happening on January 20, 2022, where we bring together 25 leaders from the world’s leading technology companies to talk about how to build your operations around your customers.



Better relationships. Less churn.

What’s not to love? Try Catalyst today.
Request Demo