Last week we hosted a panel discussion with four leaders on what they’ve learned from running CS Ops teams. The discussion featured the panelists: Jeff Justice Williams, Enterprise Lead of Customer Success at Box, Marco Innocenti, Senior Leader of Customer Success Operations at Zoom, Beth Yehaskel, Revenue Optimization and Customer Success Architect at Winning by Design, and Seth Wylie, Head of Customer Success Operations at Gainsight. 


Below you’ll find a (lightly edited) excerpt from one of the highlights of the discussion, when the group each shared one tactic every CS Ops team should consider doing. 



JEFF: I'm lucky to have seen CS Ops within two different companies in the past year. What I’ve noticed is that CS Ops tends to get hit with different trajectories of asks: the long range, heat-seeking asks from up high and the short range, incremental asks from below. The sidewinders from by blind spots. And all of those requests stack on top of a CS Ops leader’s self-defined program for the team. 


Shout out to an amazing partner I've already started working with at Box, Nora Soza. She and her team manage the process of prioritization extremely well by matching and justifying requests next to business end goals.


I may be dating myself here, but the CS Ops team reminds me of the Nas song from the nineties, “I Gave You Power.” CS Ops can set you on a really solid track if you work well with them, but you don't want to underestimate or undervalue their impact. They're not there to jump when you say “jump.” That's a common misconception. So one thing that I've recognized with CS Ops is their ability to power the team’s effectiveness towards a business goal.


If you align on business goals and strategically plan with the CS Ops team, your path will be clearer. You don’t just toss ideas over and say, “Figure it out, Ops.” You won't like what comes back to you if you do and whether you admit it or now, it will be your fault when goals aren’t met.

— Jeff Justice Williams, Enterprise Lead - CS at Box

JEFF: A CS Ops team will succeed if they have solid partnerships around the org and when their tasks are aligned with high-arching business goals.


CHRIS:  You shared a lot of tips there. The one I personally liked the most is tying all CS Ops requests to a business outcome to help Ops prioritize. 


MARCO: I would echo almost everything Jeff said and add a focus on getting Ops to that place of streamlined prioritization of requests sooner rather than later. Whatever tool you choose to track the inputs coming into your Ops team, make sure there is a direct link to show what the expected outcomes are from the person making the request, and then design how that ties off to either your operational Customer Success or global goals.


But tactically, having that tool in place to track asks is essential to show workload and balance. You need data around the amount of requests coming in to fuel headcount planning conversations. You need to be able to show important measurable outcomes and how your team of one or two will not be able to meet those goals in a specific timeframe.


That's one that I wish we had gotten to sooner. We're there now, and it's helped to tell the story of why our team needs to grow continually.


BETH: Jeff and Marco are spot on. What's worked well for me is to have the head of CS Ops right by my side as the Customer Success leader. CS Ops can easily become a dumping ground for a bazillion different fire drill requests all the time.


But when CS and CS Ops work in tandem, we’re able to provide air cover and guidance on request prioritization. CS Ops needs to be in a position to bring all the requests they receive to the executive table and say, “Here's the top five requests we’ve identified. We can realistically do three. Which three are the most important to the business?” Then CS and CS Ops can work together to address each request.


But when CS Ops is left on its own and isn’t a part of the CS senior leadership conversation, it's drastically more difficult for them to do their jobs efficiently. They miss out on the strategic conversation that would allow them to understand their role and the business as a whole. 

— Beth Yehaskel, Customer Success Architect at Winning by Design

BETH: Ops needs to be empowered to say “no” while also preserving critical relationships with other departments. They have to say “no” in a way that doesn't upset anyone, but also they can't do everything. And I certainly don't want somebody working 80 hour weeks.


CHRIS: So CS Ops is essentially the hand of the queen?

BETH: Exactly.

CHRIS: Seth, you're going to top us off. So, what are some tactical wins?—something that your team does that everyone else should consider doing. 


SETH: I have one answer that's internal to CS Ops and one that is a CS Ops outward-facing responsibility.

Internally, one of the first things I did when taking over leadership of CS Ops is still one of my crowning achievements. I put my team on an actual production cadence. We use Scrum to organize all our work and requests. Given Jeff's point, with all the heat-seeking missiles and the sidewinders, it can get real chaotic, real fast, especially if other departments are going directly to CS Ops team members with asks.


Having a production system like Scrum/Agile empowers those in Ops to use a language to respond to those requests. Finally, they are able to say, “Yes, but...” or “We can help, but there's a sprint structure” and so on. It has been hugely helpful to give CS Ops a sense of clarity, calm, and purpose, which all add up to help team members to stay focused.


Within this system, we recently added a fast lane for small requests. We dedicate a few hours a week for people on the Ops team to execute on tasks outside of the sprint because we realize a CS leader shouldn't have to wait two sprints for something like a simple report to be created. This is a nice parallel structure to have within CS Ops. 


There are many things I could say about outward facing tactical wins for CS Ops teams, but one area I'm really happy our CS Ops team focuses on is taking charge of use cases. My team helps CSMs share and utilize use cases with each other. We also distribute blog posts and resources internally, so CSMs have access to this information.

At Gainsight, the Ops team also helps run our 1:many model including having ownership in our admin newsletter, our executive newsletter, in-app engagements, sharing use cases with customers, and more. 



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