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Six Steps to Building a Customer Success Team (And How NOT To!)

Let us help you build your CS department in six steps. Along the way, we’ll point out some common errors people make when starting. Avoid these pitfalls, and you’ll reach your goals faster.
November 24, 2022

We know you want people to love (and use) your product. But it’s not going to happen by itself. Even if you have a mega-viral product on your hands, it’s unlikely that top tier users will instantly know about every feature and how it can help them—that’s where the customer success department comes in.

Customer success team members do everything from research and collaboration to helping customers achieve their goals and upselling appropriate add-ons.

Let us help you build your CS department in six steps. Along the way, we’ll point out some common errors people make when starting. Avoid these pitfalls, and you’ll reach your goals faster.

Steps to Building a Customer Success Team

(RODNAE Productions / pexels)

Step 1: DO your research first

Taking the time now to educate yourself about your customers will make future endeavors easier. You’ll better understand who your average client is and can better cater to them. Reach out to your loyal customers and find out what they love or what can be improved. Even reach out to the ones who churned to find out why, if you don’t have that information already. Keep the following questions in mind as you develop an identity (persona) for your customers:

  • What’s it like to be your customer?
  • What do they experience on their side of your software or platform?
  • What does their interface look like?
  • What industries is this appealing to?
  • Do you keep hearing common pain points about your service?
  • Do you hear common gripes about their industry or tasks?

DON’T put the cart before the horse

Don’t hire a CS team and assume you’re automatically on your way to success. Your staff needs defined missions and goals. Where are the weak points that need improvement? What solutions can they provide to improve customer experience and interactions?

They also need to know how you will measure the success of the team. What key metrics do you need to improve? Churn rate? Customer engagement?

Step 2: DO create an onboarding/integration plan for your clients

Document the necessary steps to onboarding and getting clients acquainted with your product, including key steps and touchpoints on the way to being fully onboarded. Even if it’s incomplete, it provides a framework and a great starting point for building out a complete onboarding process.

Next, outline how your CS team should collaborate with other teams—particularly sales, marketing, and product—to document and resolve issues with the process or the product. In an ideal world, you’re determining all processes ahead of time. However, reality will likely delay this. Instead, focus on creating a process every time you come up to a problem or moment of friction (rather than a spot solution). Over time, this will make things much smoother.

DON’T expect too much too fast

You and your team need time to research, brainstorm, develop, experiment, implement, and build relationships. Don’t expect your CS team to complete all these tasks and produce measurable results in a few weeks. Focus on fewer goals or a longer time frame—realistically, new CS teams take up to two years to fully onboard (though you can expect some benefits in three to six months).

Step 3: DO hire deliberately

CS employees are asked to wear many hats. They should be:

  • Good leaders.
  • Team players.
  • Empathetic towards customers.
  • People-oriented and task-oriented with strong organizational skills.
  • Skillful communicators and presenters.
  • Knowledgeable in your industry.

In addition, they’ll have many responsibilities, including:

  • Onboarding new customers.
  • Educating/training customers.
  • Proactively supporting clients through their journeys.
  • Building relationships to boost satisfaction.
  • Looking for upselling and cross-selling opportunities.
  • Working with Sales for smooth client hand-off.
  • Documenting and sharing customer insights across multiple departments.

When hiring, look for candidates with a mix of technical and soft skills. If hiring from within, customer service and technical employees typically make good candidates. During interviews, present candidates with a real-world customer challenge and see how they would solve it.

DON’T rush the hiring process

Regardless of the talent market, the right person might be hard to find—that’s ok. You may not find a candidate with the skills and experience you are looking for immediately. A great employee may be worth waiting a little longer.

DON’T confuse customer service with customer success

Think of your business as a football team in which the “best defense is a good offense.” Customer success is your offense. It’s the proactive way to ensure your customers have the best experience possible. Customer service, on the other hand, is reactive defense. Customers reach this department when they have questions and concerns.

Customer success is aimed at preventing them from getting to that point. Combining these two departments would create a scenario in which your success team spends too much time putting out fires and not enough time preventing them in the first place.

DON’T set up a CS team without a dedicated leader

Hire a manager of CSMs to lead the CS team under you as the leader, if you have the resources for it. While it’s tempting to have the customer service team report to an existing manager, the time commitment and responsibilities of this role are so vast that it needs its own leader whose time and attention aren’t constrained or divided.

If you don’t yet have resources to hire a CSM manager, lead the team yourself to start. But make sure hiring this role is in the plan as soon as possible.

Step 4: DO invest in customer success management tools

Those lists of traits and responsibilities from earlier? Those are just some of the things required for the job. And that’s just for one customer. Now, multiply that list by 10, 20, or 30.

Imagine one CSM trying to manage all of that without the help of specialized tools. It would get out of hand in no time.

Invest in automation and customer success software built to help CSMs and their teams work optimally. They can train, connect with customers, research, understand, cross-sell and upsell more successfully.

DON’T set up a CS team without dedicated CS tools

The CS team can’t go far without knowing key insights into customer behavior. Without CS tools, they won’t have those critical components that unify different pieces of the pie into easy-to-see data.

Step 5: DO establish progress reports and check-ins

Your CS department needs to know where they’re going and where they stand on getting there. Compile quantitative and qualitative data on performance and strategies. Utilize qualitative data like customer narratives, and quantitative data like customer success satisfaction (CSAT) and Net Promoter Scores (NPS) on a weekly or bi-weekly basis so that the team can learn from past performance to strengthen or revise their strategies. Your CSM tools will help you collect this data.

In addition, meet periodically with the team so that they can keep track of changes and updates. For example, regularly discuss product changes and process updates.

Step 6: DO give your CS team freedom

Micromanaging your new team deflates their creativity and satisfaction while piling more work onto your own plate. Allow them the freedom and experimentation to bond with customers while adhering to company guidelines. Their innovative solutions might surprise you.

CS solutions are ever-evolving

Improving customer success is no easy feat. Neither is it a one-and-done deal. Consumer behavior evolves, and your products and services should change to meet and surpass demands.
The cycle of research, experimentation, and collecting data goes on. Just make sure your CS team and tools are up for the task.

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