How Customer Success Teams Can Drive Cross-Functional Coordination

July 3, 2015

At the Chief Customer Officer Summit that we hosted several months ago, one of the group exercises was to imagine an ideal model for customer success, ignoring all practical constraints (and, of course, demonstrating the model through some kind of theatrical performance, in the spirit of Gainsight’s value of childlike joy). 

My group chose to depict the Customer – linking arms with the CS department – as the sun at the center of a solar system, with all other departments at the company revolving around the two.  Besides generating a lot of laughs, the model showcased the idea that the voice of the customer, as broadcast by the CS department, should help guide the activities of other departments. 

This Customer-centric (or CS-centric) model may be a far-off dream for many CS teams.  In every case, though, to fulfill their mandate, Customer Success teams need the help of other departments to drive customer health.  As one example, the Support team’s successful resolution of cases is critical for the CS team to achieve its own adoption and NPS goals.

Strong cross-functional coordination in resolving each type of customer challenge requires departments to align on 2 things:

  1. Division of labor

  2. Process for overcoming that challenge

Here’s how we tackle those 2 things at Gainsight:

1. Division of Labor

We designed a RACI framework to determine roles and responsibilities across functions, for different types of customer challenges that arise. RACI stands for:

“Responsible”: you do work to overcome the customer challenge

“Accountable”: your neck is on the line for resolving the customer challenge

“Consulted”: your opinion on how to resolve the challenge must be solicited

“Informed”: you’re kept in the loop about the resolution

We can’t take credit for coming up with the RACI framework, but we’re definitely benefitting from implementing it at Gainsight.  We’re working toward the following RACI. In the chart, each column indicates a particular type of challenge; each row shows the role of the given department in resolving that challenge.

(Note: As Gainsight grows, we’ll list additional departments on this chart, including a Renewals & Expansion team and an Education/Training team.)

This chart reflects the fact that Customer Success is Accountable for downstream challenges (driving adoption and NPS) that rely on the successful upstream contributions of other departments.  In general, whenever a department is Accountable, it needs to have an outlet for providing feedback to other contributing (Responsible) departments.  That’s why Customer Success is listed as Consulted for many challenges that the other departments are Accountable for resolving. 

In Customer Success, we need a process to ensure that we’re Consulted (or at least Informed) about contributions made by other departments to the goals of customer adoption and NPS.  Let’s turn to that process now.

2. Process for Overcoming the Challenge

For each of these customer challenges, we open a Call to Action (CTA) in Gainsight’s Cockpit to reflect the Risk.  In most cases, these CTAs are automatically triggered when a risk threshold is met.  The CSM can then exercise his/her judgment to decide whether to “flag” the CTA to the contributing department (using the Flag icon on the left-hand side of the CTA). 

As an example, I’ll describe our process for resolving the above challenge of “Resolving technical cases in a timely, effective way.” 

  1. We’ve configured a rule that automatically triggers a Support Risk CTA when a support case is marked high priority, has been outstanding for a certain amount of time, or is one of several other support cases.

  2. The CSM reviews the CTA to decide whether s/he wants to discuss it further with the Support team, either to escalate the risk as particularly important or to offer a perspective on how to resolve it; if so, the CSM flags the CTA. 

  3. Then, during our weekly 30-minute Support Risk meeting between the Support team and those CSMs that have Flagged Support Risk CTAs, we discuss the status and path to resolution of each one.

This process ensures that the CSM fulfills his/her role of being Consulted during the resolution of this type of customer challenge.

Like the Support team in this example, each department is Accountable for Flagged CTAs related to their domain.  Every Monday during our Executive Team meeting, we review new Flagged CTAs and Flagged CTAs that are overdue, by department, for customers with a certain minimum ARR threshold.

In this way, Cockpit has become our solution for managing cross-functional processes.

If you have questions about how to implement a RACI framework and associated processes, feel free to reach out to me at apickens@gainsight.com.  You can also follow my blog posts on Twitter at @PickensAllison.

The Value of Customer Success Operations

Customer Success executives are starting to recognize the need to hire a Customer Success Operations person. The question is, given the relative newness of this role in our industry, how do you explain its value to your CEO in order to secure budget for it?

ROI on Customer Success Operations is significant.

The return-on-investment (ROI) from hiring a Customer Success Operations person is the same as the ROI from hiring a Sales Operations person: the role increases the productivity of your customer-facing team members, so that you can hire fewer people.

Interestingly, most CEOs don’t ask VPs of Sales to justify hiring a Sales Ops lead; they simply assume that they’ll have to hire someone after the sales team reaches a certain size.  The question is “when” – not “whether” – the hire should be made.

By contrast, because of the newness of the Customer Success function, VPs of CS are still asked to justify the CS Ops role, even though the value of CS Ops is (at least) equal to the value of Sales Ops.

In fact, a CS Ops lead’s responsibilities parallel those in Sales Ops.

 Responsibility Sales OperationsCustomer Success Operations  Data1. ReportingReport to executives and the board on past results and sales forecasts, e.g. through dashboards and presentationsReport to executives and the board on past results  and renewals and upsell forecasts, e.g. through dashboards and presentations2. AnalysisTrack leading indicators of sales, and analyze them to understand what’s going well and what’s notTrack leading indicators of renewals and upsell, and analyze them to understand what’s going well and what’s not  Processes3. Customer Engagement ProcessDetermine the timing and content of meetings with prospects, to optimize conversion of pipeline to opportunities, close rates, and pricingDetermine the timing and content of touch points for CSMs along the customer journey, to drive optimal adoption and high net promoter score4. External CommunicationsCoordinate with Marketing on email nurture activities for prospectsCoordinate with 1:Many Communications lead (within CSM team) to synchronize email outreaches with CSM touch points5. Risk ManagementGive executives visibility into deals that are at riskDetect early signals of at-risk renewals, design playbooks for CSMs to address them, and provide path to escalation6. Opportunity IdentificationIdentify top accountsIdentify top candidates for upsell7. Cross-Functional CoordinationCoordinate cross-functional processes that help meet sales targets and deliver on prospects’ needsCoordinate cross-functional processes (with Product, Engineering, Support, Services, and Sales) that help meet renewal and upsell targets and deliver on customers’ needs  People8. Team StructureCreate segments of prospects,manage account executives’ territories, and forecast hiring needsTier existing customers, assign them to CSMs, re-distribute workload as needed, and forecast hiring needs9. CompensationDetermine commission structure and quotasDetermine the metrics on which bonuses are based, and define targets for those metrics10. EnablementSales enablement, including providing materials and data that help account executives work more effectivelyCSM enablement, including providing materials and data that help CSMs work more effectively  Systems11. SystemsImplement and manage software that facilitates Sales Ops activitiesImplement and manage software that facilitates CSM Ops activities

We take it for granted that these Sales Operations responsibilities are valuable; we should attribute equal value to those same responsibilities in the Customer Success realm.

Even so, it’s not surprising that many Customer Success teams don’t have CS Ops leads yet. Sales Operations is an older (and therefore more trusted) function, having originated when CRM software made it possible to design, manage, and report on processes. Still, given the recent development of Customer Success software, companies now can design, manage, and report on processes in post-sales as well, presenting an opportunity for an Ops lead to drive tremendous value for CS teams.

You should hire a CS ops lead when you have about 5 CSMs.

Now that we’ve answered “whether” you need a CS Ops lead, the question becomes “when”.

Once you have about 5 CSMs, you’ll need to start developing smart processes for running your team. That’s when you’ll want to make your first Ops hire.

Once you have about 10 CSMs, your CS Ops lead will want to hire a junior person, perhaps an intern or a recent college graduate. This will allow your Ops lead to spend more time on strategic activities, to thoughtfully manage the workings of a larger organization.

You’ll want to screen candidates based on the following attributes:

  • Passion for designing processes that scale

  • Ability to break down ambiguous problems into concrete, manageable components and think through optimal solutions

  • Enjoys “getting their hands dirty” by digging into complex operations

  • Takes high degree of ownership over their work

  • Clear communicator with professional presence

  • Strong listening skills; open to input from other team members and departments

  • Ability to lead through influence

Click here to see a sample CS Ops job description that you can use in your own recruiting.

Email me any questions at apickens@gainsight.com or follow me on Twitter @PickensAllison for more updates on this topic.

How Gainsight uses Scorecards and Calls to Action

Allison Pickens is VP of Customer Success & Business Operations at Gainsight

Note to Gainsight Customers: This post contains links to Vault Assets you can import directly into Gainsight.

We’re excited to unveil the latest innovation from our Customer Success incubator at Gainsight: a new framework for addressing risk, using a combination of Scorecards and Calls to Action. If you missed my talk at PulseCheck, or if you want to hear the more detailed version, you can read this post to get up to speed.

We had 4 objectives in mind when designing our Risk Management framework:

  1. Address early warning signs

  2. Incorporate the CSM’s judgment into the assessment of the risk level

  3. Establish a common view of risks across levels of the organization

  4. Hold other departments accountable for addressing risks

  1. Address early warning signs

What are the key signals that a customer is at risk? We’ve identified 8 categories:

We created CTAs for each of these risk areas, to help the CSM know when s/he should get involved. In most cases, the CTAs are automated according to the definitions above. In others, the CTAs are created manually by the CSM.

Note that some of these risk areas are “owned” by Customer Success; others are owned by other departments. I’ll come back to that distinction later in this post.

  1. Incorporate the CSM’s judgment in assessment of the risk level

Even after we invested a lot of thought into which CTAs to build, sometimes the CSM wouldn’t find a particular CTA to be super important. Maybe the CSM could handle the issue without escalating it, or s/he felt that no action was needed.

We decided that in those cases, the CSM should do one of two things:

  • Resolve the issue independently and then close out the CTA, or

  • Mark the CTA as “Closed – No Action,” indicating that the CTA wasn’t relevant enough to take action.

Our Customer Success Operations lead then tracks the trend of CTAs marked “Closed – No Action,” to figure out whether to adjust CTA thresholds to make them more relevant.

At other times, a CTA would be highly relevant and important, so that the CSM would want to highlight the issue to his/her manager or another department. In those situations, the CSM “flags” the CTA, by clicking on the Flag icon on the left-hand side of the CTA so that it turns orange. You can see the difference between flagged and non-flagged CTAs here:

A Flagged CTA tells me and the CSM’s direct manager that this is an issue that warrants more time and resources. Flagging also influences our Scorecards, as I’ll explain below.

  1. Establish a common view of risks across levels of the organization

Once we decided on our key risk categories and the CSMs began to follow up on those risks, I needed a bird’s eye view of risk in our customer base.

  • What are the most important outstanding risks this week?

  • Which risks does each of our top accounts have?

  • Which risk category has the largest volume of issues?

I also needed a way to:

  • Communicate these risks to our CEO and the rest of our leadership team

  • Make sure that our CSMs and team managers agreed with the list of accounts that I highlighted as at-risk

With these goals in mind, we created a Scorecard component for each of the 8 risk categories. We then linked those Scorecards to Risk CTAs – that is, the existence of a particular Risk CTA influences the color of the corresponding Scorecard. Here’s the structure of each Scorecard:

To illustrate the value of this framework, let’s take Support Risk as an example. Our Support Risk CTA triggers when there is one of 3 situations:

  1. High volume of support tickets

  2. A ticket has been open for a long period of time

  3. The priority level is High or Urgent

The color of our associated Support Risk Scorecard changes automatically in response to these CTAs:

  • Green: This is the default color. If there’s no Support Risk CTA, then the Support Risk Scorecard is green.

  • Yellow: A Support Risk CTA exists.

  • Red: The CSM has “flagged” the Support Risk CTA, indicating a belief that the issue requires greater attention.

There are enormous advantages to this methodology:

  • Whenever I see that a scorecard is red, I can feel reassured that someone is working on the underlying issue.

  • Conversely, whenever a CSM is taking action, I am aware of it and can help out as needed.

We now have a single source of truth for which customers are at risk.

To make this visual, the Scorecards that we review at our weekly leadership team meeting…

… reflect the same Flagged CTAs that are in Cockpit:

Now, let’s move on to the 4th objective of the risk framework.

  1. Your CEO is holding you accountable for a situation that isn’t in your hands

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the RACI framework that we implemented to ensure that each department was accountable for surmounting customer challenges that fell under their domain. We’ve embedded that RACI framework into our process for using Gainsight.

You might have noticed in the image of the 8 scorecard categories (copied again below) that a member of our executive team owns each category. For example, our VP of Sales makes sure that our account executives are selling to customers that are ready for Gainsight; our VP of Engineering oversees his team’s efforts to resolve any bugs that may arise.

You’ll see that Customer Success independently owns only 3 of these categories:

  • Company Risk: We can’t fully control what happens at our customers (e.g. a re-org), but we can take actions that mitigate the resultant risk to adoption and the renewal. For example, we can build relationships with any new executive sponsors and recommend necessary adaptations to the company’s implementation of Gainsight.

  • Sentiment Risk: We follow up on NPS ratings and track any other indications of a customer’s “emotional state,” or inclination to renew.

  • Habits Risk: Naturally, we want the customer to adopt the product in a way that (a) helps them derive maximal value and (b) is sticky. A CTA triggers when the customer isn’t using the product as we would hope.

At our weekly leadership team meeting, each executive discusses the risks in their category and the next steps.


*** Note that our Risk Management process may not be suitable for companies that are Tech Touch only, since they will not be using CTAs. In addition, this process may not be optimal for CSM teams that are very high-touch (e.g. with 5 accounts per CSM) and therefore don’t substantially benefit from using CTAs. But, if you have a classic team with CSMs who are managing a moderate number of accounts, this Risk Management process can be impactful


If you have questions about how to implement your own Risk Management process, feel free to reach out to your CSM or to Allison at apickens@gainsight.com. We’ll also be publishing more content about this topic in the future.

You can follow Allison’s blog posts on Twitter at @PickensAllison.

Vault Assets mentioned in this post

(for Gainsight customers only)

Here are ready-to-use versions of what you’ve seen in this post: