In March, in celebration of Women’s History Month, we honored our co-founder and VP of Marketing Giorgina Gottlieb. But that got us thinking, why should the celebration of female leaders be confined to just one month? So, to ensure that we’re recognizing the impact of influential women all year long, we’re pleased to announce our new blog series featuring in-depth interviews of female superstars in the customer experience (CX) industry.
To kick things off, we sat down with a trailblazer who was part of the initial team that coined the phrase customer success and was instrumental in developing some of the early best practices behind it. Irit Eizips is the Founder and CEO of CSM Practice, a consulting firm focused on helping clients devise a customer success strategy with customer analytics.
Part one of this interview sheds light on Irit’s background and her instrumental role in customer success as a practice area and takes a deep dive into the importance of promoting customer success throughout the organization.
(Please note that the following interview has been edited slightly for clarity.)
Thanks for joining us, Irit. So how did you get started in customer success?
I got started in customer success by being part of the early management team at Gainsight. It was early 2013 when we were thinking about creating a new category called “customer success” and put a lot of resources into promoting this concept and mindset of maximizing customer value, having a customer-centric approach, and being proactive instead of just fire-fighting churn.
In 2014 when I left Gainsight, I wanted to continue taking part in defining best practices to help companies effectively increase net retention rate. Over the years, I started focusing on how do you achieve these results in a scalable manner. It’s just really exciting to help companies step into the light of having the control over churn, their customer roadmap, and their ability to be successful with them. That’s what really attracted me to customer success.
And this led to the founding of CSM Practice?
Yes. After leaving Gainsight, I went on a sabbatical for a year. During that year, I already had a few companies asking me to help them define and scale their customer success practice. I thought to myself, “Well, it was nice contributing to the customer success movement as part of a software company, but I could continue contributing to the movement as a thought leader and help companies with their customer success initiatives in a way that a software company can’t.”
And so I started CSM Practice as a more effective way to work with clients on developing their customer success playbooks, optimizing their account segmentation, and guiding them through the process of defining what their customer success program should be like.
You mentioned scalability earlier. Is that a pretty important factor for you?
Absolutely, though it depends on the client. Some companies have a handful of customers and scalability may not be as important for them. However, most of my clients come to CSM Practice when they are at a high-growth state or they have already reached a mid-market status. Quite often we find that they’re still trying to operate with the old processes from when they were a smaller startup, and it’s just not working for them. Their old “bootstrap” framework doesn’t provide the optimal experience for their customers, and they start seeing the effects of that.
To scale the operations of customer success teams, we sometimes recommend automated playbooks. We do so for mainly two reasons:
- Scaling the “high touch” client engagement model: In this scenario, automated playbooks are used to help the customer success team who is managing strategic accounts become more effective as well as proactive. This CSM team usually manages large accounts.
- Scaling the “low touch” / “tech touch” client engagement model: In this scenario, we recommend automated playbooks to create proactivity when you have a very large long-tail customer segment where accounts don’t usually have a dedicated CSM and you need to augment the customer experience using technology. Enabling the right automated playbooks helps the customer success team deliver the right experience at the right time by leveraging data.
How do you see customer success integrating or aligning with other key departments, say sales or customer support or product? Is this necessary for most companies?
Definitely — a customer success team should proactively aim to integrate data and align processes with all of those departments that you noted, as well as other departments such as training and education, professional services, implementation, or your billing team. At a minimum, customer success teams should be transparent about what’s going on with the clients so that we share the right information with the other departments when invoices are delayed or ensure we deliver the best customer experience when there’s a software outage, etc.
At CSM Practice, we approach fostering a better alignment with other teams in four key ways:
What we typically do, first and foremost, is recommend using a tool designed to align the cross-functional process that involves customer interactions. We work with the client to figure out who should do what in which department, and we make sure that there’s an alignment between the different teams to understand who’s doing what, using what technology, and how pertinent data is going to be shared in a timely manner so that we promote transparency as well as collaboration. We document all of that in a crystal clear RACI chart. When this is implemented we see a significant improvement in the customer experience, which impacts the NPS score, advocacy, and retention rates.
Data Integration Strategy
In addition to making the processes more efficient, we go through the system architecture and data flow analysis to ensure that the data is shored up in the right way at the right time for the right people (internally), so that there’s more transparency.
Cross-Functional Value KPIs
The third piece is to sit down with the customer success team and define their team’s key value metrics. Unfortunately, not a lot of customer success teams take the time to do that; I mean, really think through what do you, as a customer success team, contribute to your company’s overall strategic goal and how can you help other team members be more efficient so that the customer success experience is elevated across the company.
A few months ago, I did this exercise with one of my clients to help increase the perceived value of their customer success team internally and get an executive cross-functional buy in. We listed out all of the names of the customer-facing teams on a whiteboard and asked ourselves:
“Let’s say we’re going to have lunch with one of the team leaders on that list. When we talk to that specific team leader about what our customer success team is bringing to the table, what key metrics are important to that person? How does our customer success team help impact those metrics directly or indirectly? Can we keep track of those metrics to bring them up in those conversations as well as during management meetings?”
By the end of the exercise, we defined the value of what her CSM team brought to each of the cross-functional teams in her company in a very powerful and relevant way. For example, if she was talking about product to the product team, once a month/quarter, she talked about the different features that customers found most helpful, differentiating, or valuable. She then shared some of those experiences so that the product team could better understand what is most important for the clients and how they’re using the tool. Or, when she talked to sales executives, she kept track and shared how many opportunities for expansion or how many new reference-able customers her team helped uncover. And the list goes on and on.
Bottom line, I encourage every customer success executive to take a moment to truly think through, “How can I be helpful to other customer-facing teams and effectively promote customer success throughout my organization?”
Finally, a fourth thing is to incorporate feedback from customers throughout the organization. At CSM Practice, we recommend aligning your strategy with what your customers want and need. For this, we encourage every client to launch a powerful survey program (anyone can do an NPS survey, but a truly powerful survey program takes a bit more expertise than that).
As a follow up on the survey results, we recommend conducting in-depth client interviews on specific areas of customer success where improvement can drive a significant impact. It’s a great opportunity for our clients to gain an in-depth understanding of their customers, including their preferences, pain points, delightful experiences, etc.
These are four key points that help companies be proactive about promoting customer success throughout the organization.
Thanks so much for your time, Irit.
You can learn more about CSM Practice by visiting their website. Stay tuned for part two of our interview with Irit — in which we discuss trends in customer success and customer support 2.0 — as well as additional interviews with influential women in CX.