A Chat with Jon Harris: Part One

Jon has had an extensive career in the Customer Success sector and is considered a key influencer within the CS industry. We sat down to chat to Jon about his take on the important role a Customer Success Manager (CSM) plays in a modern day business, and how their role compliments the customer support journey. 

This interview is split into two parts, so look out on our social media channels for the second part next month! 

Could you tell us what you believe are the core responsibilities of a successful CSM, and what support is required to allow them to deliver on these responsibilities?

So I’ll have to split this into two. There are core responsibilities that a business needs a Customer Success Manager (CSM) to fulfill, and then there are core responsibilities for the customers that the CSM has to fill. But these have to go hand in hand. 

For a business, traditionally but depending on your model of customer success, a CSM is responsible for creating platform evangelists - getting people passionate about your product. They are responsible for retention - identifying upsell opportunities - and relaying the voice of the customer to the broader business. 

If you flip these onto the customer they want to see as much value from their investment as possible with you as a business, and they should see the CSM as the conduit to achieve that. They are a trusted advisor, they are a product specialist. At Ably, the CSMs aim to be a product expert, but with such a technical product we do need technical specialists to help with this.. 

So it's these core things: repeat value from the customers perspective, timely responses to all enquiries and create produce evangelists through excellent customer experience. 

Why, in your experience, are customer success managers so crucial to both the business they work within and the customers they work with?

I will try and keep this as light as possible, but it does go back to a significant shift in the buying process.  We’ve gone from an on-premise, large upfront payment sale, to a subscription based model which could even be on a month by month basis.

What that means is that as a business you now have to constantly provide the value, and product to ensure your customers are happy to renew with your business. You haven't seen all of the potential revenue upfront, and each renewed contract could generate revenue many times the value of the initial deal, potentially on an annual basis!

The buying dynamic has now shifted towards the customer, and it is easier than ever for them to decide that they no longer wish to invest in you and your product. This is why you need someone to take ownership of that journey, and essentially brings us to why customer success was born and to why it is such a crucial role.

A sale isn't fully realised on day one, nowadays the point of sale is every touchpoint, every interaction. You are always renewing that contract, always validating it. Therefore a Customer Success Manager is crucial. They will be the strategist, the constant point of contact to your customers, and that's been a huge shift in the market. 

In a perfect world, what do you believe the relationship between the customer support team and the customer success manager looks like?

The success of the customer support team is vital to the customer success organisation. They work very closely together whilst having very separately defined roles and responsibilities.

An interesting thing that can happen, and that I have had to do at Ably, which did not have a customer success function when I joined, is to advise  your own business on what support is and does compared to Customer Success. Success and support get easily confused, with people expecting CS to be an extension of the latter and therefore a reactive function whereas in reality it should be primarily proactive. 

If you are reactive in CS, it's likely too late.

The two departments work so closely together, and it's so important that they do because the pain points that the support team experience are going to have a direct impact on the account and therefore the relationship the CSM has with the customer. But, building a relationship of transparency between support and Customer Success, where depending on the tools you have, support can tag a CSM in on a problem, will ensure the CSM is aware and can proactively create a solution. 

One important thing to consider is that a CSM (especially at an enterprise level) will have a 1:1 relationship with their accounts.  This is not the case with the support team.

The support team may not necessarily know the nuances of individual accounts and need to speak with the CSM to ensure they have the correct context around a certain situation or problem. This shows how hand in hand the relationship between the two organisations is, with the main goal always being to provide the best levels of service to the customer.

How often do you believe this to be the case?

From my experience it is not uncommon for the support team to be in near daily contact with the CS org, saying that there is no best practice as it varies from product to product and business to business.  Ideally, a CSM would set up a regular cadence to review support enquiries with a support manager. I also feel it's best to do this in advance of any significant meetings (such as a QBR) to ensure you have analysed any recent support cases, ensuring you can raise any issues, such as an SLA breach, you can discuss that with a support manager to establish a root cause. The contact should be regular - daily, weekly, monthly - depending on your business and how much support your customers need. 

As we build out the CS organisation at Ably, it will be imperative that our CSM team liaises with the support team several times a week to ensure they are up to speed on any ongoing issues and can prevent unnecessary escalations.

If businesses aren’t doing this, they absolutely should be and that comes down to CS leadership rather than relying on support to do that as default.

Do you think customer support teams can play a role in the retention and success of a customer?

Without question.  Support aren't necessarily involved in the day to day management of an account, so it is primarily a passive relationship, but if the customer is having a poor experience with support, their issues aren't being resolved or they aren't receiving timely responses, then that is going to have a huge impact on their success and ultimately the likelihood of renewal.

Looking at overall customer health, in CS we utilise health checks and health scoring to ensure we are proactively working towards the success of the customer. Common metrics used to measure this include the volume of support cases raised, SLA adherence,  support ticket response times, incidents and escalations, licence utilisation, etc. These are all extremely important as a change in any combination of the above can have huge (and possibly detrimental) impact on the account health, the trust the customer has in your business, the renewal - everything.  So support can and does  play a significant role.

Another interesting point to look at is the organisational structure and relationship between support and CS: who do the heads of customer success and support report into, and are they peers on the same level?

In an ideal world your support and customer success leadership report into the same person. This means that there is one person above the two that can own the overall strategy for both teams and ensure they are working together in harmony.


Part two will be available later this month.

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