Customer Success

6 Tips for Building a Customer-Obsessed Team

May 14, 2014

Editor’s note: This is the second post in a new series featuring Intronis VP Partner Success Jasmine Lombardi on establishing and optimizing a Customer Success function. Read the first post on “Transforming Customer Support into Customer Success.”
When it comes to offering customers support, more and more companies are setting aside reactive models in favor of a more proactive approach. For SaaS companies, specifically, that’s a transition that makes a lot of sense. After all, in many cases retention and renewal is just as important as new customer acquisition, and besides, the thought of being able to address implementation issues and churn factors ahead of time rather than frantically rushing to put out fires is appealing to just about anyone.
But just because the transition makes sense doesn’t mean it comes easy.

“You can have all the best intentions when you transition from reactive customer support to proactive customer success, but if you fail to organize that function properly — recruiting the right team members and supporting them with the right focus — then you’ll just end up spinning your wheels.”
— Jasmine Lombardi, VP of Partner Success at Intronis

“There are a lot of things that need to be in place before you make that move. You can’t just wake up one day, flip a switch, and all of a sudden be a customer-centric organization.”
When Lombardi joined Intronis last September as the Boston-based cloud backup and disaster recovery company’s head of Partner Success — a rebranded name for the business’s old “Partner Support” function — she was tasked with changing the way the organization approached customer service and support.
Instead of primarily responding to customer issues or product breakdowns, Lombardi said the goal was to proactively facilitate customer communication and snuff out problems that could potentially lead to customer churn down the road.
To do that, however, Lombardi said she needed to completely overhaul the way the team operated. That meant shuffling some team members around, recruiting new talent to fill changing roles, and re-focusing the team’s energy on the right goals, activities, metrics, and deliverables.
In the process, Lombardi learned six key lessons that she says will help other SaaS businesses more effectively build (and rebrand) their customer success teams.

6 Tips for Building a Customer-Obsessed Team

1. Hire the Right People

To truly evolve into a customer-centric business, your customer success team must be filled with people who are equipped with the skills necessary to deliver that value — specifically, the ability to think outside the box and come up with unique solutions for customer challenges.
To do that, Lombardi suggests hiring people who possess raw intelligence, a competitive spirit, and a penchant for thinking outside the box. “You can always teach skills,” Lombardi explains. “But you can’t teach smarts and creativity.”

2. Identify Strengths and Weaknesses — Then Develop Them

Whether you plan to hire an entirely new team or cultivate the skills of existing team members, it is critical to assess your strengths and pinpoint any talent gaps.
Lombardi says she looks for four key things from her team:

  • Raw skill (communication, technical problem solving, etc.)
  • Behaviors (leadership, creativity, agility, ethics, attitude, etc.)
  • Expertise (industry, product, customer, etc.)
  • Results (the ability of individuals to deliver against specific objectives)

3. Organize Everything Around Major Objectives and a Team Concept

If your business is struggling with churn or customer onboarding, it’s important that the entire team works cohesively to address those issues. Create a unified vision and mission for the team and ensure that everyone holds each other accountable to that objective. The goal is to acquire a deep understanding of customer needs and pains, and to work together proactively to deliver solutions that create value for the customer and the company.

4. Empower the Team to Do Its Job

Micromanagement doesn’t have a place in customer success environments, Lombardi says. To be successful, every team member should feel empowered to take actions to improve the customer experience. That includes having some leeway to work with product pricing and contract terms to prevent customers from churning.
For instance, in late 2013, Intronis noticed that one of the leading causes of its churn was its pricing. So Lombardi created price guidelines and scripts for her team that helped reps justify the value of Intronis’ product by shifting customers’ focus toward the technology, support, and services it offers. If customers still weren’t convinced, Lombardi’s team was also given some flexibility to work on terms that better fit each customer’s needs.

5. Focus on the Right Metrics & Utilize Them

In the SaaS world, metrics like retention and customer activity (leading indicators) can provide critical insight into the health of a business. Lombardi says customer success teams must constantly track those metrics and use that information to tailor team and individual goals.
One way Lombardi accomplishes this is through a dashboard posted in a common area of the office that provides visibility into performance issues or product errors. When customers churn, she uses sticky notes to write down that customer’s name and the reason for cancellation.
“It’s very visual and forces us to communicate,” Lombardi says. “Obviously, that won’t scale, so we’ve created an online dashboard, as well. But the goal is to give everyone visibility into what’s happening and why.”

6. Create Structured Processes and Choose the Right Tools

Doing this ensures that your team remains focused on activities that are measurable, repeatable, and trainable, and it allows the business to improve onboarding, retention, and case resolution in the process. As for technology, Lombardi recommends implementing call reporting tools and building out a knowledge base that allows customers — and reps — to self-serve minor issues.
“You really need systems that help your team more efficiently manage their work and measure their performance,” Lombardi says. “If they can see that what they’re doing is positively impacting customers’ lives and company health, then they’ll be motivated to do as much as they can to keep that going.”

Customer Success Managers: Don’t be Afraid to Get Your Hands Dirty

While each of the six tips above are important in their own right, Lombardi says customer success managers can’t forget their role in all of this — particularly in the early stages of their company’s transition away from more reactive customer service models.
Ultimately, that might mean jumping on customer calls with reps or collaborating with teams to address a particular customer issue, but the idea is to demonstrate your understanding of their challenges and your willingness to work with them to create customer value.
“Processes, technology, goals, structure, and a new rallying cry are great, but sometimes the biggest impact is felt when you get down into the trenches with reps and show them that you’re as committed to the mission as they are,” Lombardi says. “Doing that helped me quickly build trust with my team, but it also gave me ground-level insight into customers’ most pressing pains. That really allowed me to create a more focused plan for improving relationships with our partners.”
Stay tuned for the next post in the series, “Unlocking the Secrets to Better Customer Communication”.

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Photo by: brian hefele

VP of Partner Success

Jasmine is the VP, Partner Success at <a href="">Intronis</a>, where she manages all partner-facing functions for the company, leading Intronis’ new “Partner Success” team. Previously, Jasmine was the Senior Director, Product Operations at Aspen Technology.