5 How to build your best-in-class customer success team
Think about the goals and responsibilities of a customer success team:
- Increase customer retention
- Manage customer support
- Drive growth through upsells
- Increase customer lifetime value
- Collect user feedback
- Track success metrics
- Monitor product usage
And that’s just a partial list. How do you handle it all? You build an all-star team.
To give you some inspiration, let’s take a peek inside the Customer Success Team at Typeform.
Structuring for success: An inside
look at Typeform’s 5 pillars
Like most companies, Typeform started with support. This basically meant answering loads of emails full of feedback, suggestions, complaints, and praise. Cofounders Robert and David took it all to heart, and used this info to iterate the product and prioritize features.
Then a new buzzword caught their ear: customer success. And soon that buzz became a bang–because success for their customers was what they wanted from the start.
Enter today’s Typeform Customer Success Team, built on five pillars:
Each pillar has its own mission and metrics. And each of these feeds into the overarching mission and metrics of the Customer Success Team. That mission:
We’ll get into the metrics later. What’s important is that every part of the team has a clear objective. And everyone in the team knows their why—the reason for their role, and how it contributes to the overall business.
So what do these teams do? Let’s take a look at each of the pillars.
Support customers through
The mission of Customer Support:
Remember: You’re not just looking for a friendly voice with a beautiful avatar. You need people who can solve your customer’s problems.
These are people who understand every angle of how the product works. They can visualize the customer journey, adapt to different types of queries and customer profiles, and learn new product updates, tools, and metrics—extremely fast.
Does your product have any technical components that need simple explanations? Better have someone who can do that too.
Some helpful tips to keep in mind:
Respond to customers ASAP.
They always expect an answer 10 minutes ago.
Organize people into shifts.
Typeform has advocates working from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. (CET) on two continents.
Engage people in projects, not only tickets.
Avoid burnout by diversifying your support team’s work day. You’ve hired smart people, don’t kill them with monotony.
Pick channels that make sense.
Do you really need Twitter if you don’t plan to expand your social media strategy?
Get the right technology.
And start automating tasks as soon as possible.
Tag all customer interactions.
“Feature request”, “UX issue”, “bug report,” and “billing issue” are good tags to start with. It will help you filter, analyze, and prioritize down the line.
Some thoughts from Eva Casado de Amezua, director of Customer Support at Typeform:
Remember that expression “The customer is always right?”
I’ve got news for you: The user is not always right. (Sorry Marshall Field)
Well, you can find truth even in the most confusing or polemic user communication. But this doesn’t mean you’re obliged to act on it as the user expects you to.
Customers are your clients, not your boss.
You’ve heard that the most successful people know when to say “no.” This applies to your business too. You have to put limits on how far you’re willing to go for each customer.
When you’ve got hundreds of thousands or millions of users, you can’t prioritize every request. And you can’t please everyone. Just because a feature might be useful to a few, doesn’t mean you need to redraw your product and services roadmap to please an angry voice. Trying to do so is a good way to drive your business into the ground.
“Think in volumes, not individuals. Be empathetic, listen deeply, care genuinely. But put on your statistical hat and focus on the numbers.”
One exception: high lifetime value customers. These are the people you need to cater to with extra care.
Remember: There’s no universal remedy to cure all user pains. But with the right mindset, you can mix up a medicine cabinet of antidotes, ready to apply to different user challenges.
“Anticipate customers’ questions, and have clear, actionable answers waiting before they ask.”
Typeform’s Education pillar is proactive and aimed at all users–free plans and paying.
And they do this in two big ways:
1. Provide self-service resources through our help center
Seth Godin reminds us what you’re aiming for:
How do you get started?
By looking at the questions coming through your help desk. Got any frequently asked questions? That’s where you start building your knowledge base.
A lot of help desk software gives you space to do this. But we were looking for more control over the look and feel, so we built the Typeform Help Center.
It’s a constant work in progress, a bit like our neighbor down the street, the Sagrada Familia.
2. Inspire users to achieve more than they anticipated
Customers might hire you to do one thing, but do they know about all those other great things you do too? Would be a shame not to tell them.
Education also checks this box. They work closely with the content team to produce inspiring use cases. These stories can live on the blog, help center, webinars, whatever. The goal: to provide new ideas and solutions that make people’s lives easier. It also helps reduce churn due to “I no longer need your product.”
Another tip: ask users to rate their experience after each interaction. Things like: “Did this article help you?” or after a chat: “How satisfied are you with how your problem was addressed?”
Design customer experience
Customer experience is a proactive pillar. It’s aimed at driving value through one-to-many engagement with customers.
How’s it done? By taking action based on user feedback. Let’s break it down:
- Gather feedback from support requests, comments on help center articles, and information collected through customer satisfaction, NPS, and exit surveys.
- Work with the Data Team to aggregate user behavior on the the platform, and identify trends in the customer experience.
Now you’re inside your customer’s mind. And you’ve got a better understanding of what they think and feel about your product and brand.
Next step? Take action:
- Prepare a report for your product team. We call ours “Customer Voice,” and they use it to prioritize the product roadmap.
- Design a proactive outreach plan, including targeted and segmented emails based on events.
Here’s an example from Typeform:
We know that users who apply custom design are more likely to stick around. So if a user’s collecting responses via a typeform with no design (an event we track in our platform), we automatically send them an email. We let them know that applying custom colors, fonts, images, and GIFs helps boost completion rates. And we give tips on how to do it. A communications platform like Intercom helps a lot here. (more on this in the software section)
This type of one-to-many communication is a big challenge. How do you stay personal with so many users? Especially when hundreds or thousands of them are on a freemium plan, not paying a dime?
The trick is to aim for low-touch that feels high-touch. What not to do: blast tons of unsolicited generic emails to all users every 20 minutes. That’s a fast road to disengagement.
The express lane to great customer experience? Understanding what customers need, think, and feel. Where do you get this? Through feedback, curated into actionable takeaways.
Drive growth through
Account managers, customer success managers, call them what you want. The mission is this:
This is high-touch, one-to-one engagement. A bit like a personal trainer who listens to your goals, helps you create your workout plan, and then jogs along with you throughout the entire customer journey.
It starts at “Hello.” With a personal call, we find out exactly what the customer wants to accomplish, and what measurable goals we can set to track their success. Here’s one of Typeform’s welcome packs for higher value customers:
During onboarding, we make sure customers get that first project off the ground. Any stumbles along the way? There’s a direct line to the account rep.
Once the customer is up and running, our priority is providing continuous value at every step.
Sure, one aim is growth. But this isn’t sneaky sales stuff. The approach? Being constantly on the lookout for ways customers can get more value.
Okay, confession: it took us too long to realize you can’t do this right without the right tech.
And make sure you’ve got enough people for the job too. How many account managers should you have? The answer will vary based on how intuitive your platform is, the size of your customers, and the tools you use to manage those customers.
As a rule of thumb, Jason Lemkin, VC at Storm Ventures and head of SaaStr, recommends one customer success manager for every $2 million in annual revenue.
This is our newest addition. This pillar looks after inbound interest at Typeform, which a Sales team is better suited to deal with than a Support team.
Does it strike you as strange that Sales sits with Customer Success, not Marketing? Often, the roles are reversed: Customer Success falls under Sales. At Typeform the reason’s simple. We don’t run sales by cold calling, collecting tons of leads, and hoping for a 5% conversion rate.
We strive to understand what customers want and how we can provide them with that value. And what better way to achieve this than by having them onboard and sit with the customer success team?
Managing the Customer Success Team
Are you a new customer success manager? Building your customer success team and don’t know where to start? Or maybe you feel like a headless chicken, running to put out fires across your department?
Well, welcome to customer success. Where every day is a stretch in three directions:
- Managing the team.
- Interacting with customers.
- Reporting to execs and other departments.
Here are some tips from David Apple, director of customer success at Typeform:
Hire really amazing people.
Never hire someone you’re not sure about. If you have any doubts, it should be a no. Good people will make a good team, but great people will make a great team.
Focus on communication.
As your team grows, it gets harder and harder for everyone to be aware of what is going on with projects, product releases, bugs, etc. Create processes and hold people accountable for communication within your team.
Motivate by giving people ownership over projects and metrics.
It’s also good for professional development, and gives insight into who might be suited to future promotions.
Share strategic decisions with everyone.
People are more engaged when they know the direction the team and company are going.
Listen to your team.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in your own plans and ideas.
A fresh voice can provide invaluable feedback you may have overlooked.
Bring people together through team building.
Schedule time outside of work for people to relax and get to know each other. It builds trust, the foundation of any team. Here’s something we did on a recent outing (click OOOOOOH to see more):
Get buy-in from the top.
Without support from the CEOs, it’s tough to build the team you want.
If a customer asks for something you know you can’t deliver, don’t make up a story or promise that “it’s coming soon.”
Work your ass off.
TLDR? Then direct your attention here:
Focus on data.
To solve a problem, you have to understand it. That understanding doesn’t come from intuition. It comes from data.
Focus on delivering value.
Your customers come first, revenue follows.
Oh, and don’t forget to save time for strategy—at least an hour a week.
What should you do during this time? First know this: it’s impossible to forecast everything with a timeline. Things just change too darn quickly.
Instead run hypotheticals: “What would happen ifs.” Things like: “What would we do if tomorrow our support ticket load doubled?” or “What project would we kill if we needed to dedicate more resources to building out this new feature?”
It’s a lot of info, I know. Need a mentor? Here’s 41 customer success managers you should follow.
Grow a successful team
Your team is your ticket to success. So make sure you’ve got the right people, and make sure you train them properly.
Hiring success: how to
grow your customer team
Customer success begins at hiring. And hiring is hard. Even more so in a fast-growth company where new people are needed yesterday.
Two main challenges: hiring quality, quickly, and hiring the right number of people.
You’re trying to hit that happy middle between having a team of over-worked stress cases, and a team sitting around with their hands in their pants until the next ticket comes in.
More advice from David Apple:
“Hire people with good communication skills, empathy for the customer, intellectual curiosity, self-motivation, ability to learn, and the desire to be challenged.”
And Stephen Noone O’Connor, Global Director of Customer Experience at Vend, adds some details for the early hires:
Hiring for support? Here’s an idea: present the candidate real scenarios from support tickets you’ve received.
Check out how we present real scenarios from support tickets at Typeform.
Observe: How do they react? How well do they communicate their response? You’ll get tons of insight from this.
Remember: the point isn’t that their answer is perfect, or even right. You’re looking for thought process and communication skills.
Cover more ground
with remote advocates
Does your whole team really need to be seated in the same ZIP code?
The old view: if I can’t see my employees, how do I know they’re actually working?
The real view: even if you can see your employees, you likely have little idea of what they’re doing with their time.
Our view: if you hired good people from the get-go, and you give them a sense of purpose, mastery, and autonomy, then it makes little difference where they rest their buttocks one day or the next.
We recently made the move to remote advocates out of necessity. We’re based in Barcelona, and most of our customers are in the US. So now we’ve got three amazing people handling support in our customers’ main time zones.
Onboarding success: how to
prepare your team for success
You put a lot of time into finding the right people. Now give them time to find their feet.
We put an obscene amount of time into training each and every person who comes on board. Even if they have years of customer experience, they still go through the same program:
- Three days of general Typeform onboarding, and then
- A full month of customer success training.
WTF!? 😳 Yeah, and we’ve just added shorter 2-day and 1-week customer success onboarding programs for people who join other teams at Typeform. (and we get their feedback through this typeform)
Because after all, everyone’s in customer success, right?
Here’s what all new hires
should know inside-out:
Help them understand user personas and jobs-to-be-done. Walk them through the customer journey: touchpoints, frequent pains, reasons for churn. Also dream projects—how to make user’s creative ideas fly. And everyone handles tickets—it’s a goldmine in there.
Make everyone a product expert. They should know more about the product than the devs who built it. This also develops empathy for the customer journey. Makes them better nurturers.
Teach them all the pillars of success, not just their own. Your software, tone and voice, method for dealing with rabid customers. And make them familiar with all internal policies and processes.
Make sure they’re familiar with the business goals, metrics, and trends.
People should come out of onboarding confident that they know what’s going on.
And most importantly:
“Always give a why. People should know why their job matters and how it contributes to the bigger picture.”
In fact, it’s the same whenever you make any change in structure, policy, roles, even seating arrangements. Don’t just order a change. Tell them why. Given them a reason.