Zeina Marcotte, Director of SaaS Customer Success Strategy and Operations at LinkedIn, leads a highly sophisticated CS Ops team—her team alone has almost 25 people, and proactively manages a CSM team of over 700. 


We recently sat down with Zeina to learn how her team works at LinkedIn. She explained how CS Ops teams can mature over time, along with: 


  • The benefits of having a centralized CS Ops team,
  • Why CS Ops is in the best position to ensure CS is prioritized across the business, 
  • Skillsets she looks for when hiring for CS Ops, and
  • How to approach 2022 CS Ops headcount conversations.


If you’d prefer to listen rather than read, tune into Zeina’s full interview here on the Nuffsaid podcast



Why a centralized CS Ops team works at scale

CHRIS: Your team rolls up to a centralized Ops function, not up to Customer Success. We’ve heard from many CS leaders who say that they would never work for a company where CS Ops doesn’t report to them. What do you think are the benefits of having a CS Ops team that does not report into CS?


ZEINA: I've thought a lot about this, especially after the CS Ops article you posted because that sparked a lot of conversation around this topic. As you know, I’m a proponent of having CS Ops roll into a dedicated Ops leader and not the CS leader.


I’ll go through some of the benefits. One of the things I want to call out upfront is that even if CS Ops rolls into a separate leader, it's important that the priorities of CS Ops are aligned with the priorities of the CS leader. From my experience, over 90% of the time my priorities are aligned with the CS leader that I'm supporting. So what are some of the benefits of being in that Ops organization? 


For one, this structure gives the CS Ops team a nice, broad picture of everything happening at the company. At LinkedIn, our global Ops function works with essentially every team from every corner of the business—Support, Sales team, Central teams, Enablement, Systems, Data Science, etc. This allows us to see the big picture of what’s going on across the company.

Sitting within Ops, I can make sure that CS is plugged into the right places. I can make sure CS is being prioritized by other teams. I can make sure CS has a seat at the table when a CS leader is not in the room. Overall, by being plugged into that Ops function, my team is exposed to more and able to help more than if my function sat within CS alone. There’s a lot of leverage to be had there, I believe that’s especially true in large complex organizations like LinkedIn. That benefit may not be as obvious at a smaller company. 


Another piece here is that this reporting structure creates more of an arm's length relationship with the CS Ops and CS leader. I think that's a good thing. It's important to feel comfortable pushing back because every idea may not be a great idea, right? Again, because of what I’m exposed to from my seat in global Ops, I have the ability to see overlaps or conflicts between CS and other departments that the CS leader might not be aware of. 


The Head of CS <> CS Ops leader partnership

CHRIS: Two things I've heard from CS leaders who are nervous about CS Ops reporting into a centralized function: 1) They fear losing control over what the CS Ops team works on, and 2) if there are misaligned priorities then CS leaders are unsure of how to keep the CS Ops team accountable if the team isn’t being effective. How would you respond to someone with those concerns? 


ZEINA: They’re valid concerns. But it goes back to that up-front prioritization. The CS Ops leader should be the right hand to the CS leader. It doesn't matter where they sit, supporting CS is their core focus. At LinkedIn, our CS leader sits down with me and looks ahead at the coming year and aligns on the goals we want to accomplish together. That way my priorities are almost identical to the CS leaders' priorities.

We break it down from there. We look at quarterly goals, what each team commits to doing for the other, and we write down those tangible, documented OKRs. Then we follow up and hold each other accountable for those commitments. 


I meet with my CS stakeholder once or twice a week to go through how things are progressing. We don't just set it and forget it. If things aren't going well for whatever reason, we escalate. At LinkedIn, we have what we call a “clean escalation” where two people will go to their leaders together and talk about the conflict to try to get it resolved. That way, it should never feel like you're not on the same team.

CS Ops ensures Customer Success is prioritized across the business 

CHRIS: You said something interesting, which is that when CS Ops is part of a centralized function, you can ensure CS is plugged into other teams and prioritized by other teams. Can you share some examples of where you can do that for CS?

ZEINA: There are three main teams at LinkedIn that CS Ops needs to have a strong relationship with to ensure the CS team is prioritized: 1) Data science, 2) Systems, and 3) Sales Enablement (or sales readiness). 


Any decision you make these days relies on having the right data at your fingertips to run analysis. For us, the team that owns that data infrastructure and protects all that amazing, magical data is Data Science. I need to make sure that this team prioritizes CS, so CS can make changes, can get access to new data, etc. I also act as the voice of CS at the Systems table. Our Systems team owns things like our CRM and our CS platforms. Finally, CS needs to be a focus of the Sales Enablement team. This is the team that helps us push change, not just within CS, but also with Sales. 


Ultimately, my job is to make the business case super solid with these teams so that they understand why the work that they're going to do for CS is going to have such an impact for LinkedIn and why our requests need to be prioritized.



Required skillsets within CS Ops

CHRIS: For smaller, less mature companies that are still developing their CS Ops function, what skill sets would you recommend focusing on when hiring?

ZEINA: There are several skill sets that can help you be successful in a CS Ops role. Ideally, you’d have a team of diverse individuals who each bring something unique, if I had to pick my top three skills for a smaller team it would be:


  1. Analytical ability. Can they pull data, analyze it, and derive insights to help the business make better decisions?
  2. Technical ability. Are they savvy with systems and tools? Do they understand how to leverage technology to improve the productivity of the CS org? Can they help you make decisions on the best tools to onboard?
  3. Program management skills. If you don’t have a dedicated program management team, it is helpful to have this skillset in CS Ops. This person is a good project manager and excels at enablement and change management. 


The intersection of Ops and strategy

CHRIS: Your title reflects that you own both Ops and Strategy, which I think is very much the direction this function is headed long-term. Can you talk about the strategic parts of your role and, given the roles you just shared, how you take action on strategic campaigns within the team. 

ZEINA: It’s funny, strategy can mean so many different things, but to me, I think about it in terms of being a trusted partner and ally with the CS leader. You need to be prepared to help when your CS partner comes to you with big, open-ended questions about the direction of the business like: 


  • How should we be holding CSMs accountable? 
  • What should we be doing with our service tiers or service cards with customers this year?
  • What do we do about this new product rollout? 


You’re there to help lead them through that change. To break it down further, I typically start by:

  1. Stepping away to pull together historical data and metrics to inform my decision,
  2. Putting together a recommendation for my CS partner to react to,
  3. Socializing that recommendation with a few other teams, and
  4. Eventually getting a program manager assigned to help me roll it out and project manage during the end-to-end implementation.

2022 CS Ops budgeting and headcount conversations

CHRIS: A lot of us are headed into 2022 budgeting conversations. How do you go about justifying additional headcount for your CS Ops org? 


 ZEINA: First and foremost you need to be delivering value and be a trusted partner to the business. Our former CEO used to say, “Trust comes with consistency over time.” Your ability to deliver for the business is the first thing that is going to come up when you ask for additional headcount. Beyond that, there are requirements for that business case. 


Most importantly, you must understand the growth of the business. If your business is growing at 20-40%, you're probably going to need help, right? You shouldn't be growing your team as quickly as the business is growing. 


This is where it helps to look at productivity metrics. How many CS Ops folks do we have for the business we support? Sometimes that's looking at bookings or ARR per CS Ops headcount. We also look at the individuals we support. We spend most of our time with CS leaders (the manager+ community in CS), so how many of them do we have to support with the amount of headcount we have? What do those ratios look like? How do they compare it to our Sales Ops partners? How do they compare to other organizations that support Sales or other teams at the company?

Productivity metrics are really helpful to paint the picture of scale because you don't want to overinvest, but you definitely don't want to under-invest either. 


The other piece is understanding the priorities for the business for the coming year. Are there product launches happening? Is there a new part of the company that your team is going to help with? Is there a data migration happening? Or a new system being rolled out? If there's another post-sales team that CS Ops is told to help with, you can’t just take that on for free. It comes at a cost. You need the headcount to support that.

These are things that you have to take into consideration when you're making that business case. Sometimes it makes sense to ask for full-time headcount. Sometimes it makes sense to ask for contractors if you're not going to need the help long-term.


So yes, in CS Ops at LinkedIn, we work very closely with our finance partners to build those business cases.


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