How to Build a Data-Driven Customer Success Team

August 21, 2020

When customer success managers call their clients for a check-in, they probably already have a pretty good idea of how the relationship is faring.

The answers are in the data.

By measuring product usage, log-in activity, feature adoption and more, CS teams get a solid picture of the health of their customer relationships. This insight not only informs CSMs when customers are at risk of churning, but also highlights healthy relationships and champions of the organization. When CSMs are empowered to analyze this data themselves, they’re more likely to be proactive in making changes to save at-risk relationships, as well as share positive experiences with their teammates.

Customer success leaders across New York City are using a variety of training techniques to ensure their teams know how to best utilize customer data. To start, they employ training in SQL, Tableau and other data visualization tools to help increase the data literacy of employees. From there, dashboard training and customer roleplay help employees prepare for different client-facing situations and come up with their own actionable insights and solutions. 

 

James Fisher
Manager, Customer Success SMB Team

At data company Sisense, CSMs strengthen their data literacy through SQL training and an integrated customer drill-down dashboard. James Fisher, a manager of the customer success SMB team, said that strong data literacy means his team can understand a customer profile in just 15 minutes of research.  

 

How do you ensure your CSMs have access to the data they need, when they need it? What tools or technologies are you using to collect or analyze this data?

One of the biggest benefits of working here is the readily available data regarding our customers and their usage of our product. In the past, I have spent hours digging around to uncover product usage data to then massage it into a spreadsheet to then drop a chart into a presentation. 

We take customer usage data from the Sisense application and blend it with data from Salesforce, Marketo, LinkedIn, Zendesk and our billing system to create a powerful customer drill-down dashboard. In 15 minutes of research, a CSM can gain a solid understanding of a customer’s historical usage and current health. This helps when CSMs have more than 100 customers. We can also present this data live to our customers, or even use a pre-built executive business review dashboard where the CSM can just input their customer name and immediately get a clean dashboard to present to the customer. 

Before a new CSM joins the team, I have them go through the free SQL and data course online.

 

How do you train your CSMs to improve their data literacy and ensure they feel empowered to leverage the data they have access to? 

Before a new CSM joins the team, I have them go through the free SQL and data course online. Codecademy has free courses that work as a great crash course to better understand data. My belief is that if someone understands how the data came to be in front of them, they can take better action on the insights provided and can start to answer the “why” questions. We have built a number of incredibly powerful and insightful dashboards that all revolve around the customer. 

When a new CSM joins, we spend almost a full week diving into each of the dashboards so that they know exactly how to interpret the data and take action on the insights provided. The data provided helps our CSMs prioritize their day, week, quarter and even their year. You can look at your entire book of business in one dashboard and identify customers that are seeing usage growth, as well as those who may see declining usage or limited feature adoption. These insights fuel how we approach the customer, either with excitement about growth or with caution. In the best cases, we get ahead of these issues and right a potentially sinking ship.

By role-playing and giving new CSMs fictitious situations, they learn how to prepare for a customer interaction using the available data. This builds confidence ahead of a live meeting. At the end of the day, however, nothing beats experience. 

 

What specific steps have you taken to bake data into your culture and the conversations you have with members of your team?

Being a data company, we surround ourselves with data. Before everyone started to work remotely due to COVID-19, we had dashboards up all over the office tracking our targets, which was a great way to keep everyone accountable and motivated to keep pushing toward our goals. We intimately track our renewals and forecast churn as far ahead as we can. Once we have a few quarters of data, it will be really interesting to track those changes.

We also like to differentiate between opinion and evidence. If CS employees are seeing issues across their book of business, we make sure the CSMs bring data to support what they feel they are seeing. If they have multiple customers that are impacted by the lack of a feature, they can come to the product team with the account at risk, expansion opportunities stalled and a general idea of how to solve the issue. We don’t ask the CSMs to fix what’s broken; we ask them to provide some data behind what they are seeing so that at a leadership level, we can see where the biggest risks and opportunities might be.

 

Jennifer Ruth
Chief Customer Success Officer

Chief Customer Success Officer Jennifer Ruth said edtech company Newsela recently hired a revenue analyst to organize and interpret customer data. The CSM team then uses that information to develop client-specific strategies and personalized solutions.

 

How do you ensure your CSMs have access to the data they need, when they need it? 

Data is the north star of our customer success team. It informs our strategies, priorities, goals and everyday actions. To ensure our team has ready access to the data they need, our data optimization and visualization teams have built dashboards using inputs from Salesforce, Marketo and our data warehouse, all to provide a “one-stop-shop” for our customer success managers. 

These dashboards show information that spans from sales to marketing to engagement, so our team can see the full picture and connect the dots in real time on calls with customers. To better support the CSMs, we recently hired a revenue analyst assigned solely to owning, collecting, and analyzing customer success data. Having a dedicated data expert means we are able to proactively highlight important trends in customer experience and quickly distill massive amounts of information into digestible, actionable insights that allow CSMs to efficiently get to the root of how to make our users most successful. We can use this data to assess each customer against benchmarks of the thousands of users we work with and position ourselves as trusted advisors. Making customers successful is what CSMs are most passionate about, and that success as a company means that our product is helping millions of K-12 students meaningfully engage with content, sparking their passion for learning and improving learning outcomes.

Data is the north star of our customer success team.

 

How do you train your CSMs to improve their data literacy?

We’re currently in the process of scaling our customer success organization, and using this stage as an opportunity to align our team around leveraging data effectively. While our dashboards provide the metrics we need, our team meetings focus on exploring what’s behind that data to answer the question, “What decisions or behavior drove the results we’re seeing?” 

For example, we saw an influx of our top-tier, high-touch customers needing support, so we delved into the data as a team to explore the various customer experience inputs from the sales funnel to the marketing activities to our product messaging. In doing so, we realized that we had increased our up-funnel investments in specific states and large school districts due to COVID-19 and that was leading to the increase in support needs. In response, we designed a strategic CSM program to deliver on the unique needs of these large customers, which will reduce some of the tactical support needs while ultimately resulting in increased usage, higher renewal and faster growth. Working through this type of analysis in group meetings helps our team contextualize the data, and share trends, ideas and insights that enhance our collective ability to read and use that data most strategically. These team discussions also break down information silos so we can easily see the full scope of day-to-day work.

 

What specific steps have you taken to bake data into your culture?

As a start, we’ve created a common language and shared process for leveraging data. With that foundation, we utilize our one-on-ones, customer success all-hands meetings and small team meetings to reinforce this data-centered approach as a way to build data-based decision-making into everything we do. 

This consistency aligns us all around the same top-line metrics we examine at the executive level, while empowering each team member to customize dashboards and reporting based on their customers’ unique needs and be strategic across their books of business to drive engagement and long-term impact for their customers. 

 

 

Chris King
Director of Customer Success

Director of Customer Success Chris King said his team at data services company Vericred leverages internal reporting tools to measure and report KPIs. This information helps CSMs build out their customer dashboards and update the data operation team on processing statuses.

 

How do you ensure your CSMs have access to the data they need, when they need it?

Internally we use a variety of reporting tools depending on the need. The CS department leverages Zendesk’s internal reporting tool, Zendesk Explore, to quickly measure and report on our KPIs. This allows us to define metrics and apply any changes rapidly without having to change any underlying infrastructure to get value.  

This tool allows any member of the CS team to build any dashboard that helps them analyze the efficiency of their own or the department’s operations. CS also has a hand in reporting back to our data operations team concerning the status of our processing. CS works directly with our analytics team to leverage Tableau in order to build automatically updating data visualizations that are shared internally and externally.

In CS at Vericred, everything starts with the data we are able to track.

 

How do you train your CSMs to improve their data literacy? 

In CS at Vericred, everything starts with the data we are able to track. As an API product, we strive to understand the customer perspective: where and when different kinds of issues are happening and what influences the way we collect and process data. Specific to the CS department, we continually strive to identify new KPIs that we can track against in order to improve the customer experience. Whenever identifying a new KPI, we ask about its importance, how actionable it is and whether it is measurable. 

Going through this practice is helpful for CSMs who want to drive and understand how to function in a data-driven environment. As for the actionability, we use these metrics to evaluate performance while continuously improving the metrics that we create.

 

What specific steps have you taken to bake data into your culture?

Meetings owned by the CS department typically start off with reviewing the relevant dashboards associated with the meeting. We discuss any interesting insights that the dashboard brings to light while also logging any improvements that we can make to the dashboard. Data storytelling is deeply ingrained from the start of the meeting, whether through updating account managers on the status of their accounts, looking at team efficiency metrics, or understanding which portions of the system need attention.

 

Danielle Kim
Manager of Customer Success

Manager of Customer Success Danielle Kim said she tries to cater to each team member’s individual learning skills as it applies to data visualization tool training. An open door policy at retail martech company BlueCore allows for different avenues of communication. 

 

How do you ensure your CSMs have access to the data they need, when they need it? 

As a data-centric company, Bluecore has access to a wealth of data and we’re always finding new ways to harness that information to be accessible to customer success and tailored to the needs of the business. We saw a great opportunity to utilize the raw data from customer-logged Jira tickets to see trends in risk over time. By customizing these reports per account and segmenting the issues by tags (i.e. enablement, bugs, product enhancements, etc.), we were able to give CSMs the tools they needed to act. We are also working on revamping our Net Promoter Score surveys so that we can also use customer sentiment as another key indicator of account health. 

Baking data into the day to day starts with sparking curiosity.

 

How do you train your CSMs to improve their data literacy? 

We crafted a CSM risk playbook that addresses four major client challenges and steps to take to mitigate issues before they occur. It essentially utilizes internal data to guide and empower CSMs to proactively take action when trends are spotted. We’ve been able to utilize this for a number of accounts to understand the root cause and drive solutions, whether it be speaking to product feature releases on status calls or providing further enablement. 

 

What specific steps have you taken to bake data into your culture? 

Baking data into the day to day starts with sparking curiosity. I have an open-door policy with my team and have tried to create different avenues of communication that are conducive to different learning styles, allowing them to dig into the data that's available and create solutions on their own. In our meetings and one-on-ones, I try to ask questions that help drive critical thinking, creative solutions and discovery. I’ve always found that asking the right questions versus giving specific directives helps customer success managers think through and weigh options, ultimately allowing them to make more informed decisions. 

In practice, I do this by asking account-specific questions on a client’s KPIs as this varies from account to account. It becomes much easier for a customer success manager to see the story in the data once they know what metrics to look at. 

 

Stephanie Waldner
Director, Customer Success — Enterprise

At BetterCloud, a SaaS operations management platform, the customer success team has direct access to the data team through Slack channels. Stephanie Waldner, director of customer success, said usage data helps CS teams better understand how customers are utilizing their product and identify opportunities.

 

How do you ensure your CSMs have access to the data they need, when they need it?

At BetterCloud, we have a phenomenal data team that gives our success team open access to any and all data we need to be effective with our customers. Our primary business insights tool is Tableau, where we have created dashboards that surface customer usage data and provide an overview of adoption and opportunity. Within Salesforce, we’ve incorporated data from DataFox and LinkedIn to give our teams a holistic view of their customers. We also pull data into Gainsight to create CTAs for the team.

 

How do you train your CSMs to improve their data literacy?

As part of our onboarding curriculum, we have the team complete a virtual lesson on the data tools available at BetterCloud. At the completion of the course, the team takes a knowledge-check assessment. We use real customer data to have the team produce an overview of usage, identify opportunities and tie the usage data back to the solutions our product supports.

 

What specific steps have you taken to bake data into your culture?

We make data accessible by empowering the team to submit requests directly to our data team and having a direct line of access to them through a dedicated Slack channel. The entire organization has access to Ally, the tool we use to track the attainment of our OKRs, so we’re open and transparent on the data that drives our business forward. We’ve even begun encouraging directors to take full-day meeting sabbaticals so they can focus on analyzing trends in their respective customer segments.

 

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