Tier It Up: A Winning Strategy For Customer Success Management Programs
When my B2B clients on Forrester’s Customer Experience (CX) Council first start considering a customer success management (CSM) program to boost their retention and enrichment, I often hear that initial flash of concern: How do I scale the same CSM practices across my entire book of business? The answer is that the most successful CSM programs use tiered structures that balance people and technology. Most senior leaders I speak with share how they put their harder-to-scale efforts into personal outreach and silo-busting while the digital resources automate reporting, enable self-service, and provide some measure of activity analysis. It’s not uncommon for companies to have three primary tiers — with the lowest level mostly automated (e.g., online self-service) and the highest level involving more “white glove” service or consultative outreach from customer success managers. Here are four pieces of tiering advice from the experience of CX Council members:
- Use what you know to build your tiering model. One professional services firm’s tiering methodology evaluates annual spend, number of products and services, overall account complexity, and strategic importance of the account; more complex accounts are automatically assigned to higher tiers. The firm has found that the more silos its customers need to traverse, the more work it needs to put into smoothing over those seams to make the customer experience effortless.
- Validate your tiers with key stakeholders. Another professional services firm reviews its tiering at least semiannually, working with key partners in sales and account management to confirm its tier seeding. The company believes that tiering should never be “set it and forget it.” Instead, it believes that one must be open to moving accounts to different tiers in response to feedback from internal partners and clients that warrants change. In this way, tiering methodologies are both art and science.
- Balance automation and touches to ensure that you’re delivering value. Leverage automation, such as alerts, reporting, and workflows, to reduce manual effort on the part of customer success managers — freeing up their time to focus on more high-value touches. One financial software-as-a-service (SaaS) firm I spoke with uses automated reporting to identify when customers aren’t taking advantage of industry-specific features. The firm performs targeted outreach to ensure that end users understand why and how to use these features. The company is currently evaluating whether there’s a correlation between deeper levels of product utilization and renewal rates.
- Consider whether CSM will be a product and a service. As my colleague TJ Keitt noted in his report, “How To Build A Customer Success Program,” CSM can be a revenue stream all on its own. I’ve seen a leading platform SaaS firm divide its CSM into three tiers, with the highest level being a paid service. All its customers get at least the lowest CSM level, which is primarily automated and self-service, and higher-value accounts also receive moderate touch from customer success managers. This structure focuses the company’s costliest and hardest-to-scale efforts on the most important clients while still enabling all customers to have some measure of CSM in their experience.
Most importantly, compare notes with other companies to ensure that your CSM program adapts to meet your customers’ evolving needs. Whether you’re attending an industry conference for a one-time download or participating in a large, global peer network, such as Forrester’s CX Council, make sure that you find peers to speak to who will help you boost the “success” of your customer success management program. Your approach should be multidimensional. Consider both internal champions within your own company who will help you pilot, socialize, and expand CSM practices, as well as external peers who will share their experiences and guidance to broaden your thinking and be an empathetic sounding board.
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