How To Structure A Customer Success Team (For Every Business Model)

Article by

Roi Kiouri

Head of Success & Support @ Perceptual Robotics

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March 20, 2023

How do you implement a customer success team into your org?

Who should you hire at different stages of growth? Which roles are needed, what are they called, and who reports to who?

In this post, I’ll:

  • Walk you through how I set up my own customer success teams and how each member contributes to the company’s growth.
  • Illustrate what the set-up may look like depending on the company’s stage and size.
  • Finally, besides providing insights into how each role fits into the organization, I'll also talk about how they are different from one another so that everyone knows their area of responsibility and what they’re expected to deliver.

It's important to note that there isn't a one-size-fits-all structure. You'll need to adjust the roles and responsibilities based on your company, your needs, and the type of business model.

First, the groundwork: your customer success strategy

Achieving customer success takes a lot of time, effort and resources. To ensure you're doing it right, you need to know what your Customer Success Strategy is.

The structure for your success team will depend on your customer success strategy. You want to determine how you’re going to deliver value to your customer base.

Moreover, your strategy should be clearly defined so that everyone in your team knows what they're working towards and how their role contributes to achieving it. You can use it as your compass if you will!

4 things to include in your customer success strategy

In my opinion, a customer success strategy should include:

A customer success manifesto. CS is all about ensuring that customers are happy with their experience with you. This should be a simple one-page document that outlines your company’s commitment to customer success. Your manifesto should include the following:- Your mission statement and vision for customer success.- The values that guide you in achieving your mission and vision.- What makes your customers successful? This is different from what makes them happy; it’s about helping them accomplish their goals with the services or products you provide.

Clear objectives for each member of your team. These objectives should be aligned with those set by the organisation as a whole and in line with achieving customer success goals. What are we trying to achieve? What metrics matter most? How do we measure success?

How we achieve these objectives. Who does what, and who is responsible for each part of the strategy? Who owns what? Where do we find resources and support? How do we ensure success? How do we prioritize our work? How will we get buy-in from stakeholders across all teams within the organization, including sales, marketing and product development?

Your North Star (aka what matters most) — which aspect of our business or customers should be the top priority at any given time (for example, onboarding or retention).

This can be done through a variety of methods, including:

  • A simple one-page document that describes your strategy and vision for the future of your business.
  • An infographic that visually depicts how you want to be perceived by customers, prospects and partners.
  • A presentation deck that walks through each component of your strategy, including key initiatives, milestones and metrics.
  • A detailed document that describes the specific tactics your team will use to achieve its goals. This document should outline your strategy and how it will be implemented in practice.

Depending on the type of business, you can structure your Customer Success Team in several ways.

Low-touch startup

When you're a startup, you may not have the resources to hire a full team of CSMs. That's OK! However, it’s important to start on the right foot; building a CS team at this stage, however small, will no doubt help your business generate a steady revenue stream.

If this is a low-touch, high-volume business model that is focused on acquiring new customers and growing rapidly then the CS team will be responsible for onboarding new users, providing support via email and phone (or chat), and generally making sure all of the customers are being catered for in a timely manner.

Here are some roles that can help structure your customer success efforts:

  • Customer Success Lead
  • Customer Success Manager
  • Customer Support Manager
  • Customer Success Engineer (optional)

High-touch startup

High-touch startups have an increased focus on customer support. This means that they need to know more about their customers and their needs, which means they need more people working on customer support. The Customer Success Team needs to be close to their customers, as well as have an overall understanding of the product they're building and selling.

The key difference between a high and a low-touch startup is that for the latter customer, success is still very important but not quite as crucial to the company's success because the product itself does most of the work for the customer. The product does not require much education or training in order to use it.

For example: A SaaS company that sells CRM software has a very different customer journey than a company that sells SEO services. The customer who buys SEO services will need more support from your team because they have more questions about how SEO works and what they should do next to improve their website rankings.

The most common CS setup is as follows:

  • VP of Customer Success
  • Customer Success Team Lead
  • Customer Success Manager
  • Customer Support Manager
  • Customer Success Engineer
  • Customer Success Analyst

Scaling, low-touch business

Here we're talking about companies whose products require less handholding over time because most people already know how everything works once they've started using it regularly (like Slack).

The focus here should shift away from onboarding new customers towards scaling existing ones by improving retention rates through higher engagement levels across all channels used by existing users.

The type and size of the team depend on your needs, but most companies have some combination of these roles:

  • VP of Customer Success
  • Customer Success Managers
  • Customer Success Engineer
  • Customer Success Analyst

Scaling, high-touch business

In a business that's growing rapidly, it's easy to lose sight of customer success. You're busy scaling your product, hiring more employees and figuring out how to keep up with demand. But if you don't have a customer success team in place--and one that is structured properly--you can find yourself suffering from low retention rates and high churn rates as customers leave for greener pastures.

Customer success teams operate differently in these types of companies, compared to low-touch businesses. High-touch businesses have complex products and services, which may require multiple steps to deploy and implement.

They also have a wide range of customers, who all have different needs and ways of working. Success for one customer might be having a brief conversation with their account manager once in six months, while another might need weekly calls and monthly check-ins.

The Customer Success function in scaling, high-touch businesses is responsible for ensuring each customer has an outstanding experience with the company and is successful using its product or service.

How does customer success look like in that case? Well, I believe this structure will cover you:

  • Customer Success Director
  • VP of Customer Success
  • Customer Success Team Lead
  • Customer Success Managers
  • Customer Support Manager
  • Customer Success Ops Manager
  • Customer Success Analyst
  • Customer Success Engineer

Product-led growth company

Product-led growth companies are a bit different from startups. They tend to be more mature, with larger teams and more established processes. Another difference between the two models is that in a product-led growth company, your customer success team isn't just about getting more money out of your customers; it's also about helping them get more value out of your product. This means they want to grow by increasing customer retention and adoption, as well as increasing customer lifetime value.

The Customer Success Team at a product-led growth company is typically a combination of business and technical resources, but it’s important to note that the team will look different depending on how the product is used.

These companies will have a high-touch Customer Success team that can help you get the most out of your tool or service.

  • Chief Customer Officer
  • Customer Success Director
  • VP of Customer Success
  • Customer Success Team Lead
  • Customer Success Managers
  • Customer Support Manager
  • Customer Success Ops Manager
  • Customer Success Analyst
  • Customer Success Engineer

Customer Success Roles & Responsibilities

Chief Customer Officer

The Chief Customer Officer is the person responsible for making sure that the company's customer-centric strategy is translated into action and that it aligns with the customer experience.

The CCO should be a member of your executive team, reporting directly to the CEO or COO. They should have a broad view of how customers interact with your product and service offerings, but also be able to get down in the weeds when necessary--after all, they need to understand what it feels like from inside their own shoes as well!

When does it makes sense to have a [role], and also clearly highlight the differences

You should consider adding them to your team when your company has reached a point beyond burning cash for customer acquisition and shifted towards retention and profitability.

Roles and responsibilities of Chief Customer Officer

The role of the Chief Customer Officer is to lead and oversee all customer-facing functions. This includes overseeing the development of a strategic plan to ensure that your company's goals are aligned with those of your customers, as well as setting up processes and systems to help you gather data on how well you're meeting these goals. The CCO should also be involved in any major decisions about how your company interacts with its customers--for example if there's going to be an outage or new product launch, who should make that call?

The responsibilities of this position include:

  • Ensuring that customer needs are being met at all times;
  • ensuring that support teams have access to enough resources (such as people) so they can do their jobs effectively;
  • leading internal communications efforts around new initiatives like onboarding campaigns;
  • providing input into hiring decisions related specifically towards recruiting CSMs

VP of Customer Success

The VP of Customer Success is the most senior executive in a customer success team. They are responsible for the strategy, execution, and growth of the customer success organization as a whole.

The VP is accountable for ensuring that the organization delivers on its objectives by creating an environment where everyone--from executives to frontline employees--can do their best work every day.

Roles and responsibilities of the VP of Customer Success

The VP of Customer Success is the most senior executive in the customer success function, responsible for setting its vision, strategy and priorities. A VP of CS is typically responsible for managing a portfolio of customers across different geographies or verticals within an organization.

A VP of CS adds strategic thinking to these responsibilities and often leads initiatives such as product strategy and roadmap development, pricing strategy or channel management.

The main difference between this role and the CCO is that the latter views the customer journey in a more macroscopic way.

This makes more sense if you put it under geographical terms, for example. The CCO owns the global Renewals / Retention / ACV / ARR revenue number at the C-level. The VP of Customer Success has ownership of a portion of this revenue usually segmented by a geographical region. Hence, you can have more than one VPs in case your business has rolled out in more than one geography.

The Customer Success Director

The Customer Success Director is the person who reports to the VP, and is responsible for the overall strategy and implementation of a customer success program. The Customer Success Director also has oversight over setting the vision and strategy for the entire team, as well as providing coaching, mentoring and guidance when needed.

The best candidates for this role are those with experience working in either sales or marketing (ideally both), but most importantly they should have some background in developing processes that drive positive outcomes from their company's customers.

Roles and responsibilities of the Customer Success Director

The Director is mainly responsible for making sure that the CS team is aligned and focused on the right things. The customer success strategy is a big part of this--you need to make sure that you have a clear vision for how you want your team to operate so that everyone can be pulling in the same direction.

The responsibilities of this role include:

  • Building and leading the customer success team
  • Defining roles and responsibilities for each member of the customer success org so they know what's expected of them at all times
  • Monitoring KPIs that reflect their performance against key activities like onboarding new customers or closing old ones off
  • Acting as the liaison between the CS team and the rest of the company functions/squads, aiming to align them on the importance of CS and how they contribute to it.

Customer Success Team Lead

The Customer Success Team Lead is the leader of your CS team. They’re the link between the senior members of the CS function and your CS minions that do the “heavy-lifting”; actually interacting with your end customer/user that is.

They'll need to be able to communicate effectively with all levels of an organization--from executive leadership down through sales teams-- and have strong organizational skills so that they can manage multiple projects at once while keeping track of what needs to be done when it needs to be done.

Roles and responsibilities of the Customer Success Team Lead

A Customer Success Team Lead is in charge of managing the CS team. They do this by ensuring that everyone on their team is aligned and working towards the same goal: making sure your customers are happy.

They're responsible for:

  • setting the pace and tone
  • communicating the company's vision and mission
  • creating a culture of high performance, leading by example
  • reporting on the performance of individual CSMs on key CS KPIs. They report these directly to the Director of Customer Success most of the time or the CEO if it's a startup.

Customer Success Managers

Customer Success Managers (CSMs) are the people who manage the relationship between your customers and your product.

They’re at the center of all things related to customer relationships, so they're crucial in making sure that everyone else knows what they need to do. They should also have some experience as a salesperson or account manager so they can understand how the company works from multiple angles and be able to translate those perspectives into actionable advice for other members of your team when needed.

Roles and responsibilities of the Customer Success Manager

The CSM is responsible for ensuring that all customers are meeting their goals and objectives. They have deep knowledge of your product or service and can answer any questions about it, as well as recommend solutions for any problems that arise.

They are responsible for managing the customer experience, from onboarding to ongoing support. A CSM's job is to ensure that each customer has a smooth journey through their product and into their business.

Since they are the ones responsible for the day-to-day interactions with customers, they are tasked with keeping your customers happy and getting substantial value from the product or service.

Customer Support Manager

The Customer Support team is an active part of the customer success team. Their main goal is to provide support to customers in order to ensure they’re getting what they need from your product or service. Their job is more on the reactive side whereas customer success is mostly proactive.

Roles and responsibilities of Customer Support Managers

Customer support managers are responsible for managing all aspects of customer support, including answering emails and phone calls from customers with questions or complaints, escalating issues to specialists when necessary, and reporting on the overall health of your business.

The primary responsibilities of your customer support manager are:

  • Monitoring social media channels such as Twitter and Facebook to respond to customer queries
  • Providing technical assistance by connecting people with appropriate resources so they can resolve issues themselves
  • Answering emails from customers who have questions or concerns about products or services
  • Resolving billing queries
  • Handling complaints
  • Escalating customer feedback internally

In addition to these duties, you may also want to assign your customer support team members other tasks such as creating content (such as blog posts or white papers), gathering customer feedback, or participating in product development meetings.

The main difference between a Customer Support versus a Success manager is the stage of your customer’s journey they’re tasked to address. Customer Support interacts with your customer whenever the latter has a question or is facing an issue before or after they have converted. In contrast, Customer Success managers typically handle customers after they have converted by proactively helping them get value from your product or service.

Customer Success Ops Agents

Customer Success Ops Agents are the ones who work behind the scenes to make sure that your CS Team have everything they need to do their job effectively. Whether it is creating internal guides, training material or automating workflows; they’re the cape-less heroes if you will!

Roles and responsibilities of Ops Agents

The Ops team is responsible for making sure that your Customer Success process runs smoothly. This means they'll have to analyze customer insights and data, provide support when necessary, and create processes that make it easier for the rest of your team to do their jobs.

They are also responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations of the customer success team. They work with the customer success team to develop and execute strategic initiatives to ensure that customers are getting what they need from their company's product or service.

Customer Success Analyst and/or Customer Data Analyst (CDA).

Customer Success Analyst is a role that requires a lot of data analysis and customer insights. Analysts use data to drive business decisions, helping the customer success team understand the customer journey and experience.

The Analyst uses their understanding of the market, industry trends and competitive landscape to share insights with other members of the team. They also help define KPIs (key performance indicators) for each stage in your company's sales funnel so you can measure your progress towards achieving goals like increased revenue or reduced churn rate.

This role can be combined with a CSA or split into two separate roles: one for data analysis, and the other for reporting and analytics. A CDA will often have more business acumen than a CSA because they will be involved in strategy discussions and presentations; however, both require strong analytical skills that allow them to understand what data means for the business.

Roles and responsibilities of the Customer Success Analyst

The Customer Success Analyst is the heart of your customer data management. They are responsible for analyzing and visualizing customer data, including:

  • Customer Data Analysis: The analyst uses their knowledge of customers to identify patterns in their behavior that might indicate new opportunities or areas of improvement. They then create reports based on this analysis, which can be used by other members of your team to make strategic decisions about how best to serve your customers.
  • Customer Data Management: As part of this role, analysts also ensure that all customer information is kept up-to-date and accurate by managing both internal systems (such as CRM) and external sources (like social media).

Customer Success Engineers (aka Customer Success Technicians or Technical Account Managers)

The customer success engineer's role is to help customers get the most out of your product. They're the technical experts, so they can answer questions about how to use it and troubleshoot any issues that arise. In some companies, these roles are combined with sales support roles; in others, they stand on their own as part of an internal customer support team.

Roles and responsibilities of the Customer Success Engineer

They'll be providing technical support, identifying and resolving customer issues, providing technical guidance to help them get the most out of their software, and developing relationships with them that last beyond just an initial purchase.

For example, you cannot be offering a tech product without making sure your team has at least one customer success engineer because who’s going to address the technical side of the queries or resolve 1st-level tech tickets?

They also work closely with other functions of the company (such as product managers) in order to improve the product itself. Finally--and perhaps most importantly--they’ll be working with salespeople in order to identify new opportunities for growth within existing accounts or find new ones altogether.

Final thoughts

While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, there are some best practices you can follow to build a solid Customer Success Department. You should consider the size and complexity of your company as well as your goals for customer engagement and retention when deciding how to create a team that works best for you.

In order for everyone on your team to have clear goals they're working towards (and know how they contribute towards those goals), it's important that every role has its own responsibilities outlined clearly in an Employee Handbook, for example. This way no one gets confused about what they should be doing day-to-day or feel like their role isn't important enough.

Remember! Customer Success is not just a department within your company. It’s an approach and mindset that needs to be embedded into every employee at every level of the organization. This is what separates a customer-focused company from one that is not.

If you take the time to create a solid foundation for your Customer Success team and make sure everyone understands their role in its success, you will see an increase in sales, happier customers, and more money in the bank!