Scaled Customer Success: The new high-growth approach to CS

The Dock Team
Published
November 1, 2023
Updated
February 12, 2024
TABLE OF CONTENTs
TABLE OF CONTENT

Your company’s growth is starting to take off. Customers are signing up in droves. 

Good news?

It should be. But if you’re leading a typical Customer Success department, the high-growth stage can actually be incredibly stressful.

That’s because every customer success leader knows providing a good experience is a requirement, and it becomes significantly harder to achieve that goal when you’re growing quickly. 

But there’s also a limit to how much money, time, and effort you can spend on CS. When your business growth takes off, you don’t magically get an infinite budget for additional headcount.

As your customer base grows, you’ve got to find ways your customer success team can make an impact without it costing an arm and a leg—especially when you’ve got a long tail of customers who spend relatively low amounts individually, but make up a good portion of your company’s revenue in aggregate. 

Scaled customer success is the answer. 

What is scaled customer success?

Scaled customer success is a way to create what feels like high-touch customer experiences—those usually associated with Customer Success teams—through low-touch means.

Enabled by technology, the goal of a scaled customer success program is to provide an incredible experience that helps customers be more successful, without needing to dramatically increase the number of customer success managers (CSMs) on your team.

The customer success movement grew out of the traditional “account management” approach used by businesses for decades. 

In this old-school approach, customers were typically matched up with a human account manager, who was responsible for things like customer onboarding, account reviews, and renewals

This one-on-one, high-touch model still exists today, but it’s expensive and time-consuming. It only makes good business sense for high-ticket customers.

Scaled customer success bridges the gap between the experience you provide to those high-value customers and the experience of mid-market or SMB customers, who can be equally valuable for your business.

It involves leveraging the right technology, intelligent data analytics, educational content, and smart automation to efficiently support a growing customer base.

The ultimate goal of scaled customer success is to balance efficient growth with great customer experiences.

9 ways to implement an impactful scaled customer success strategy

Scaled customer success requires a specific approach—one that involves the right customer success tools and a focus on creating resources and processes that increase the effectiveness of each CSM on your team. 

There are nine steps to implementing scaled customer success today:

  1. Create a CS enablement function.
  2. Use data effectively.
  3. Have a north star metric.
  4. Develop a great base of content.
  5. Segment your customers.
  6. Overinvest in the onboarding process.
  7. Turn your customers into champions.
  8. Make your processes asynchronous.
  9. Leverage tools and automation.

Let’s go through each step.

1. Create a CS enablement function

Customer success enablement is an internal-facing function that supports your customer success team. 

Where your customer success team is directly in contact with customers, customer success enablement is about developing the tools, processes, and knowledge that CSMs can use to help customers. 

If your CSMs are in the trenches, your customer success enablement team are the logistics managers who make sure they’re supplied with what they need to be effective.  

A customer success enablement function means having people responsible for developing onboarding programs and creating educational materials that help both your CS team and your customers.

There are two parts to customer success enablement, both of which are critical for scaled customer success:

  1. Customer enablement, which involves helping customers help themselves
  2. CS team enablement, which is about helping your success team become more effective at their jobs

So when’s the right time to create a CS enablement function? 

There’s no right or wrong answer, but most companies stand to benefit from a CS enablement function once they have 10 CSMs or more.

By that point, it’s virtually guaranteed having someone solely focused on improving workflows and operations for the team makes sense. 

Effective customer success enablement—combined with a scaled customer success strategy—can eliminate the need to hire dozens of CSMs. Building out an enablement function early puts you a step ahead, giving you the space to implement smart tooling and strategies before you start spending tons of money on payroll.

2. Use data effectively

Data plays a pivotal role in scaled customer success. 

Gartner’s research shows that organizations that demonstrate how customer satisfaction is associated with growth, margin, and profitability are more likely to report customer experience success. They’re also 29% more likely to secure more CX budgets. 

On top of that, data also makes it far easier to see what works and replicate it.

Gillian Heltai, Chief Customer Officer at Lattice, says their scaled success program is only made possible by good data. Here’s how she put it:

“How do you operationalize the natural individual CSM intuition that creates a really good experience for customers? How do you automate some of it so you aren’t relying on a single person to observe that risk or see that opportunity? You need the right level of intelligence and triggers. Data helps you funnel that info to the team and enables them to act on it.”

To build out your scaled customer success program, you need to start by identifying the initiatives that lead to real impact on revenue, then try to create scalable processes around them.

If you have an existing customer success team, a good way to achieve this is to audit your team’s activity for a few weeks. A scaled customer success program can’t get bogged down with low-value, un-scalable tasks, and an audit like this can uncover many opportunities to automate work, improve tooling, and create resources. 

3. Have one measurable North Star metric

Working with reliable data is one part of using data effectively. 

Another part is choosing the right metrics. 

There’s a huge number of customer success metrics out there. While there’s value in all of them, picking the one or two most important ones for your success team makes it significantly easier to identify the initiatives that will have the largest impact. 

These will then become the foundation of your scaled customer success program.

Most Customer Success teams in SaaS measure:

  1. allocation (how many of a customer’s purchased seats have been assigned); and 
  2. activation (how many seats are being used)

While the way companies define these metrics can vary, they’re almost always core targets for CSMs. 

Brittany Soinski, Manager of Onboarding at Loom, combines these two metrics into a utilization score, which shows you how these metrics change over the course of the customer’s contract (you can hear her describe Loom’s approach in this recent podcast episode).

📺 Watch: Here's an explanation of utilization rate from Brittany on our show, Grow & Tell.

Here’s what that looks like in practice: 

  • If you were at 60% of seats allocated, and 70% of the way into your contract, that’s a utilization rate of 0.86 or 86%.
  • The ultimate goal is above 100%, which means you’ve succeeded at upselling that customer into additional seats. 
  • You need to create a benchmark within your organization to determine if 86% is good. 
  • If a customer is tracking behind your benchmark, you can then proactively work towards improving it.

That single North Star utilization metric gives one quick way of measuring customer health. 

A good way to fold this into a scaled customer success program is to automatically identify unhealthy customers. Indicators of unhealthy customers—like a lack of product engagement—can then become triggers that automatically begin to re-engage those customers.

4. Develop a great base of content

Help center content and self-service channels are essential to scaled customer success.

Diversifying the content you provide for your customers makes it easier for them to engage with your company in whatever way works best for them. 

That could mean:

  • Having a robust knowledge base that covers as many potential questions as possible. 
  • Offering regular webinars to your customers around different features or use cases (webinars are great because they facilitate human connections while being one-to-many. They can also be recorded and reused at later dates). 
  • Creating amazing onboarding content, so your customers can get started as quickly and easily as possible.

91% of customers say they would use an online knowledge base if it was available and suitable for their needs. It’s easy to underestimate the impact of this because creating great help content just takes so much time—but it directly benefits your customer success team (and other teams).

Source: Zendesk.com

This is especially effective for startups with smaller budgets.

Derrick Hathaway, Sales Director at VEM Medical, put it this way, “A mix of proactive outreach and self-service resources works wonders. We've invested heavily in creating an extensive knowledge base, video tutorials, and on-demand webinars that empower customers to find answers independently.”

CMECorp is another company that’s invested heavily in YouTube videos as part of their scaled customer success program. 

“These videos minimize the need for extensive customer support,” explains Normand Chevrette, their CEO. “They enhance our brand's credibility in the healthcare industry. It's a win-win as we strengthen customer relationships while maintaining operational efficiency.”

That’s what scaled customer success is all about.

5. Segment your customers

Personalization is one of the most effective ways to drive sales and retention. 

That’s a major part of why a (truly) high-touch experience can work so well for so many customers—they learn how to tailor a product to their unique needs, and they therefore get more value from it. 

So what’s the best way to give the impression of a high-touch experience, even when you’re using a scaled customer success approach? 

Personalize every interaction with that customer.

There’s only one way to do that at scale: great customer segmentation. 

Here are a few ways to use segmentation in customer success:

  • Based on company size. Tailor your onboarding process or communication strategy based on your customer’s company size. For example, larger companies on Slack tend to use channels very differently from smaller ones, so they would benefit from more specific advice.
  • Based on vertical. Similarly, different industries or verticals might use your product in very different ways. Basecamp’s Customer Success team has created separate webinars for their different customer verticals, like event planners or web designers. 
  • Based on geographic or demographic factors. You can tailor your experience based on specific regional events, like Thanksgiving, or address a more specific need. 
  • Based on product usage patterns. A highly engaged power user of your product might get more value from learning about your more complex features or how to contribute to your broader system. An example could be Miro, where they nudge experienced customers to upload their templates to Miroverse
  • Based on customer health. Proactively reaching out to customers at a higher risk of churn or just before the risk of churn gets high is a great way to retain them.

Smart data collection also plays a part in personalization and segmentation. By collecting simple data points early on in the customer journey—like a customer’s first name—you’ll enable simple forms of personalization later in their lifecycle. 

6. Overinvest in the onboarding process

Brittany’s experience at Loom shows that getting people on the adoption curve during the onboarding period—within the first 30 or 60 days—was essential to seeing long-term success. “It’s really hard to reactivate or re-onboard somebody down the line,” she said. 

A great customer onboarding experience is a massive lever for your company’s long-term growth. It’s almost impossible to invest too much in the onboarding process. 

“Onboarding is unarguably the most important moment in the customer lifecycle,” said Gillian from Lattice.

Some companies see a big impact in separating onboarding from the broader customer success function. At Lattice, their onboarding team handles the first 90-120 days of the customer journey, and then customer success steps in to maintain responsibility for customer adoption and value realization. 

Some of the factors that led to that decision were:

  • Customer growth. Customers often require much more attention early on in their journey. At Lattice, having CSMs torn between investing in new customers or trying to help existing ones always resulted in one of the two suffering.
  • Differences in skill set. Lattice’s product required a slightly different skill set during onboarding, including knowledge of how to set up integrations and transform data. Many regular CSMs didn’t have this knowledge, and it made sense to have them focus elsewhere. 

Not all companies need to separate the two functions. 

The goal is to develop a personalized onboarding experience that works for as many of your customers as possible. Depending on the customer segment, that might involve a mixture between high-touch and low-touch.

Dock has a free customer onboarding template that will help you kick off your customer relationship as easily and quickly as possible. 

7. Turn your customers into champions

Focusing on customer enablement and making your customers successful at using your product is (obviously) the purpose of customer success. 

But you can take that one step further.

Find one potential customer and turn them into an advocate for your product. Make sure they have the fastest possible time to value and try to help them experience that “aha” moment as early as you can.

Matt Little, founder of Festoon House, says the most important thing to remember is that “authenticity is the watchword. When customers feel like they’re being coerced or manipulated, they’re less likely to engage, so always aim for authentic connections.”

You only get one chance to make a first impression, so make yours count during the sales and onboarding process. Nailing those first few interactions should convert your customer into a champion. A champion is:

  • enthusiastic about your product.
  • influential with decision-makers.
  • personally invested in your solution.
  • experienced at buying a tool like yours.

Brittany’s team at Loom used Dock to achieve this. She knows that “it has to be really easy for our admins and champions to tell our story. It's much more effective coming from them than it is from us.”

If you control the process and support your customers in leading change at their organization, you’ll naturally see much higher adoption rates of your product. When you have one, or two, or even three regular users of your product in a company, you can start working on multithreading in that organization. 

8. Make your process asynchronous

Relying on real-time communication makes it impossible to scale customer success. 

It naturally lends itself to requiring more headcount, simply because one person only has so much time. Any process that immediately requires more people when you need to replicate it is an opportunity for improvement. 

Meetings also slow down onboarding and implementation for the customer—restricting progress to whenever both sides can meet.

That said, there’s a legitimate fear that asynchronous tools lead to less engagement. If prospects or customers aren’t dedicating time in a meeting to your product, you might fear you don’t have their attention.

The trick is to invest in tools that improve asynchronous engagement.

For example, Brittany from Loom worked on making their onboarding process as asynchronous as possible.

“We started with this question of how might we onboard our customers faster, get them on this activation curve, and to value quicker?”

“What we did was we laid out all the steps of onboarding. We looked at how we were currently doing them—‘Okay, this one is a 60-minute meeting. It takes us about 30 minutes to prepare.’—And we started asking, ‘Could we move any of these to async?’ 

Loom transformed many of their onboarding meetings into asynchronous resources like Loom videos and onboarding checklists in Dock. 

As a result, Loom now saves about 2 hours per customer during the onboarding period.

Loom has also found that customers who engage with their Dock workspaces during onboarding have 20% higher seat allocation and 10% higher active users compared to those that don’t. 

9. Leverage tools and automation

Tools and automation aren’t there to replace the human touch. They’re there to make more room for it.

Customer success involves so many time-consuming tasks. Logging activities. Taking notes. Writing recaps. 

While there’s some value in these tasks—they force you to synthesize learnings from each interaction with a customer—automation can free up time for more essential tasks. 

Gillian noted that AI can help us figure out “how to leverage the people we have for work that actually requires critical thinking and judgment.”

Automation can and should play a key role in scaled customer success programs. Anywhere your team is spending tons of time on low-value processes, you should explore opportunities to leverage tools like chatbots and generative AI to speed up or eliminate those tasks.

Then you can leverage your team for the tasks that can’t be handled by anyone (or anything) else. 

Find the right tools to scale your customer success function

The journey to scaled customer success isn’t a one-size-fits-all story. 

It’s a dynamic process that has to evolve with your company’s growth and your customers’ needs. Figuring out what those needs are and adapting your processes to your context is essential to seeing an impact in the long run. 

That’s where tools like Dock come in. 

Dock is a versatile platform designed to help companies scale their customer success relationships, particularly during the critical onboarding phase. With Dock, you can seamlessly create a client portal for your customers, share valuable resources like a customer success plan, and ensure a smooth transition into their customer journey.

Because you can use a template and personalize it for your customers, you can provide a high-touch experience in just a few seconds for each customer. Sign up for free here today!

The Dock Team