How to operationalize customer success

Updated: Apr 30

The following is adapted from The Seven Pillars of Customer Success.


When they first start out, most SaaS (software-as-a-service) companies approach customer success in a rather haphazard way. They hire a couple of people in customer success and say, “Go make the customers happy! Do whatever it takes!”


Their customer success professionals don’t know what to focus on, so they roll up their sleeves and handle every unique challenge that comes up. This works at first because having someone focus on customer success is better than no one.


Over time, though, as the company gets more and more successful and adds more and more customers, its customer success approach (or lack thereof) becomes less efficient. If this is the stage your company is at, there’s a way to make your operations more efficient.

How? By operationalizing customer success, which means scaling your operations, hiring more people, and putting processes in place to make sure your operations are consistent for all customers. Let’s take a look at what’s involved in doing that.

As we do, keep in mind that this is a process. You can’t do everything all at once, nor should you try. It’s more important to build towards your end goal of operationalizing customer success, instead of trying to hit all of these things at once.


Define Customer Success

The first step in operationalizing customer success is defining what your customer success professionals should focus on. This sets them up to deliver a consistent customer experience. You also need to provide common words and language that everyone will use so there’s no confusion.

There are a lot of different definitions and interpretations of operationalizing customer success because the function has yet to be standardized. People struggle to understand customer success in general, and there are many different opinions about what it means to operationalize customer success.


Therefore, I’ve created my own definition, based on many years of experience in the field: The customer success team delivers proven best practices at scale, in a repeatable way and with efficiency, to drive the desired outcome of your customer and your company, wrapped in an exceptional customer experience.


Deliver Proven Best Practices to Grow and Scale

Once everyone is on the same page about what operationalizing customer success means, the next step is to apply a systematic approach to automating tasks and orchestrating specific operational processes. Once you’ve done that, you can then define and measure goals that align with the business priorities of both the customer and your company.


You need to deliver proven best practices in order to grow and scale. Remember, repeated results and increased efficiency are what allow you to provide both your customers and your company their desired outcomes.


Learning how to properly and efficiently scale customer success isn’t easy. However, it’s vital, because as a company grows, profitability declines, so you have to find ways to become more efficient.


This is a challenge every company encounters as they scale. It’s the job of your customer success organization to find the best practices you discovered when building your company and make them repeatable and efficient.


Get to Know Your Customer Well

Operationalizing customer success is about taking the highly intelligent programs and processes, strategies and ideas, and using them to create actionable, useful, and impactful value for your customers. It’s also about capturing momentum and inspiring your customer’s motivation to expand the products they use and advocate for your company.


Finally, it means knowing when you, as a customer success leader, and/or other company leader needs to get involved to avoid a horrific crash, like stopping your customers from hurting themselves by making bad decisions or doing the wrong thing. When you operationalize customer success, you know when to get involved, how to get involved, and just how involved you should be.

Doing these things successfully requires that, first and foremost, you understand your customer, what the customer success criteria are, and the processes established to deliver on the promise made to the customer. Next, you need to understand how to repeatedly execute our best practices and consistently handle exceptions. Finally, you need to ensure everyone on your customer success team knows how and when to get involved.


Lead Them Home

Ultimately, operationalizing customer success is about teaching your customer success team the skills they need to be self-sufficient and add value to your customers. It’s about figuring out what’s working, what isn’t, and then taking the best of what’s working and defining it as a repeatable process.


Once you can do that, you’ve operationalized customer success. At that point, you’ll be well on your way to catapulting your company to massive success.




For more advice on how to operationalize customer success in your organization, you can find The Seven Pillars of Customer Success on Amazon.


One of the world’s leading customer success experts and a Top 100 Customer Success Strategist, Wayne McCulloch works with Google Cloud’s entire SaaS portfolio as the Customer Success Leader. He’s a keynote speaker and the recipient of multiple industry awards with more than twenty-five years of experience in customer-focused roles. Wayne began his software career at PeopleSoft and Vignette before becoming an SVP at Salesforce, the Chief Customer Officer at Kony, Inc., and the VP of the Customer Success Group at Looker. For more information about The Seven Pillars, including downloadable templates and training and certification materials, visit www.cspillars.com.

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