Tuesday, January 27, 2015

7 Lessons learned as Head of Customer Success in a Startup

Introducing Customer Success (CS) into a (SaaS) startup is challenging.  The software is still evolving (and not to stable), Customers want new features (yesterday), employees have 3 different jobs, field staff is limited (to non-existent), and the ones that are onboard are spread around the country away from the core development team.  Lots of fun, but challenging.  

Based on my experience in this environment, I have listed the top 7 lessons learned with the hope that it will help others.  Some of these points may be skewed by the nature of the startups where I have worked: companies that deliver a complex product/service (e.g., a data analytics platform) to Fortune 500 customers (demanding),  requiring significant integration with other technical products, all of which are also experiencing significant change and rapid evolution.  

Here are the 7 points in roughly the importance as I see it: 

 1. As head of Customer Success,  you must ensure you and the other senior leaders agree on what Customer Success is and how it will be rolled out in the company.  No matter how it is rolled out, The CEO must be on board and must make it very clear to all that this is a key initiative in the company since much of the revenue and growth of this SaaS company depends on it... because it does. 
2. Sales and Customer Success must know how they are working together with the customer.  Definition should be based on the functions that are performed with the customer such as quarterly reviews, Escalation contact, etc. (Note: the Sales person may not be the top dog in the account after the sale is complete.) 
3. All customer facing teams (e.g., CS, sales, Support) must balance the needs and wants of the customer with the skills and availability of the supporting teams (e.g., engineering, prof. services, etc.)  We can’t say yes to everything the customer asks for.  (This is probably more about the nature of a startup vs. Customer Success.)
4. You as the Senior CS executive must spend time with the internal teams to ensure alignment and buyin.  Ideally face to face, or if not, significant time on the phone. And, to be respected and accepted, you may need to be more technical than you had expected.  
5. In startups there are a lot of feature requests that come from customers.  There must be a way to track these requests, ensure the development team is applying the proper weight to these requests,  and regular communication with the customer on the status of their requests. 
6. Executive Metrics must be appropriate for the maturity of the product and the company, e.g., Early stage companies will typically need to focus on Adoption and Retention, where as a more stable product or companies that offer multiple offerings will focus more on Expansion. 
7. Keep the customer processes as simple as possible - they can be scaled up in complexity when the situation warrants it.   Get a process out there early, get feedback from the customers and adjust as quickly as possible. Improvement will help the customer stick with you as a vendor and keep them happy(er). 

Do you have other lessons to share as one of the first CS people in the company? 

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