CS Ops

Adapting to a strategic mindset for CS Ops: Gunjan Nichani

Gunjan shares tips on how CS Ops teams and professionals can adapt to a strategic mindset and uncover valuable insights for success.
November 30, 2023
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Mukundh Krishna

If you’re someone who likes to dive into systems and data to figure out how to be more efficient, CS Ops might be the role for you!

Our guest for the first episode of our CS Ops Deep Dives series is Gunjan Nichani, Senior Manager, Customer Success Systems at Amplitude. Gunjan is a seasoned CS Ops professional, who started her journey as a CSM, and transitioned to a role in CS Ops later. With several years of experience in CS and CS Ops, she now leads a team of CS Ops personnel who help Amplitude find its success with customers.

Gunjan talks about how CS Ops teams and professionals can adapt to a strategic mindset and uncover valuable insights for individual and team success.

Here’s how our conversation with her transpired.

What is CS Ops?

Customer Success Operations (CS Ops)  refers to the function within a company that focuses on optimizing and supporting the activities of the Customer Success (CS) team. It plays a crucial role in enabling and enhancing the effectiveness of CS initiatives, which aim to ensure that customers achieve their desired outcomes when using a product or service.

CS Ops professionals serve as the internal champions for an organization's success with customers. CS Ops teams streamline workflows, analyze customer data, and implement tools to help customer-facing teams within the organization provide value to customers.

Essentially, CS Ops serves as the backbone of a customer-centric approach, enabling the organization to engage with customers effectively. They work closely with internal teams, including customer success, professional services, and support, their stakeholders being C-level executives like the CCO.

Why is CS Ops important in an organization?

The core mission of a CS Ops function is to ensure that internal teams are set up for success by harnessing a suite of CS products. However, what truly stands out about CS Ops is its holistic approach. It doesn't exclusively cater to CS professionals; it extends its influence across the entire customer journey, spanning from pre-sales to post-churn phases. In doing so, it collaborates with various departments, including marketing and product, ensuring that the entire organization remains customer-centric and devoted to customer success.

The transition to a CS Ops role

When transitioning to a CS Ops role, it's essential to consider what the objective is. The process begins by understanding the current structures and operations within the organization. Start by immersing yourself in the world of customer success and gain insights into their day-to-day experiences, pain points, and how these align with the organization’s expectations. Identifying low-hanging fruit, such as simplifying cumbersome processes, can be an effective way to demonstrate the value of CS Ops. This initial assessment can lead to the creation of a roadmap that outlines the actions and improvements to be made over an extended timeframe. Notably, stakeholder management and community engagement play a significant role in establishing the importance of CS Ops, especially in organizations with varied functions and teams.

Shifting to a CS Ops role also involves a change in perspective and initiating various initiatives to gain trust and exhibit value within the organization. It's essential to focus on the handoff phase, where customer engagement transitions from sales or onboarding. This phase often requires streamlining the flow of information and ensuring that teams understand and correctly interpret customer use cases.

How does CS Ops balance the technical and business side of operations?

CS Ops comprises three essential components: 

  1. The business side
  2. The technical side
  3. Enablement

The business side is centered on comprehending the objectives and the reasoning behind decisions. It emphasizes on data-driven methodologies and industry best practices. The technical side delves into the pragmatic aspects of conceiving and implementing solutions. The confluence of these two dimensions is where the validation process unfolds, ensuring that solutions align seamlessly with intended goals and are readily embraced within the organization. Enablement is the pivotal link, ensuring that technical solutions seamlessly integrate into business processes. Striking a harmonious balance between the technical and business facets is paramount, fostering creative problem-solving and a holistic grasp of the processes. Cultivating a profound understanding of both the "why" and "how" is imperative for crafting effective solutions. Community engagement and the exchange of practical use cases play a pivotal role in amalgamating these facets, leading to the development of bespoke solutions tailored to specific needs.

How do you succeed in a CS Ops role?

To succeed in a CS Ops role, individuals must possess diverse skills and competencies. Some of these include:

  • Process mapping: A fundamental skill for CS Ops is the ability to map out and understand complex processes. It involves identifying the steps, stakeholders, and interactions that take place along the customer journey.
  • Edge case evaluation: In addition to mapping out processes, you must be able to identify and evaluate edge cases. These are scenarios that deviate from the typical "happy path." Understanding how to handle these edge cases, such as opt-outs, mid-journey changes, or other unforeseen situations, is crucial.
  • Impact assessment: You should be able to assess the impact of different scenarios and edge cases. For example, you should be able to know whether a particular edge case, like a customer becoming delinquent during a marketing journey, is significant enough to require process adjustments.
  • Stakeholder management: Effective stakeholder management is vital. You need to identify who needs to be informed, consulted, or taken approval from at various stages of a project. Clear communication and alignment with stakeholders are essential to successful CS Ops.
  • Documentation: Documenting processes, decisions, and outcomes is not a "fluffy" task but a critical one. Thorough documentation helps in both pre-design planning and post-implementation stages. It ensures that everyone involved understands the processes and decisions, and provides a reference point for future improvements.
  • Business acumen: Understanding the business side of operations is key. This involves comprehending the broader objectives, financial implications, and how CS Ops aligns with the organization's strategic goals.
  • Data-driven decision-making: The ability to leverage data to inform decisions is central to CS Ops. Being able to interpret data, analyze trends, and make informed choices based on insights is a vital skill.
  • Technical proficiency: While it's not just about technical details, you should be comfortable with the technical aspects of your organization's systems and tools. This includes understanding how data flows, how systems are integrated, and being aware of the technical constraints and possibilities.
  • Creativity and problem-solving: CS Ops often involves finding innovative solutions to enhance processes. Encourage a mindset that looks beyond the constraints of existing systems and explores creative ways to improve operations.
  • Collaboration: Effective collaboration with cross-functional teams is crucial in CS Ops. You'll need to work closely with different departments, such as sales, marketing, and product, to align success strategies and achieve common objectives.

CS Ops vs. CS

CS Ops professionals are not replacing the role of CSMs in managing the client lifecycle; instead, they're providing support in identifying the right people to communicate with, determining the appropriate timing, the reasons for engagement, and what topics to discuss. The role of a CS Ops manager revolves around equipping customer success managers (CSMs) with the knowledge and tools necessary to excel in their roles. This isn't about substitution, but rather about equipping them with the right information systems, and streamlined processes, enabling them to manage clients more effectively and efficiently. The objective is simple: to equip CSMs with the tools they need to do their jobs exceptionally well. A CS Ops professional functions like an internal CSM, empowering their teams to assist customers in reaching their objectives and finding success.

CS Ops team structures

The structure of your CS Ops team plays a pivotal role in its effectiveness. In larger organizations, it's common to have separate CS Ops and CS teams, each reporting to different leaders. This separation clarifies roles and responsibilities, with CS Ops focusing on the technical aspects, system ownership, and process operationalization, while CSMs take charge of the 'how' and building solutions. This structure might seem intricate, but it enhances problem-solving and innovation by fostering diverse perspectives.

One of the greatest advantages of a comprehensive CS Ops structure is the wealth of diverse thought and collaboration it fosters. With a broader team, you can tap into a range of perspectives and expertise, which can challenge your ideas and lead to improved solutions. It's this blend of experience and thought that makes this structured approach valuable in navigating complex challenges.

However, as your company grows, your team should grow in tandem. Recognize when your responsibilities become too much for one person to handle. Understand your team structure and be willing to adapt as your organization grows. Consider adding dedicated roles like enablement specialists, business systems analysts, or additional team members. Reflect on your activities, list your tasks, and collaborate with your teams to identify what can be delegated or streamlined. The ability to adapt to your team's growth and needs is crucial for maintaining efficiency and effectiveness in CS Ops management.

How do CS Ops professionals view customer lifecycles and handoffs?

A successful sales-to-customer success handoff begins with enabling the sales team to gather the right information from the outset. It's essential to shift the focus from merely closing deals to ensuring the right fit for the customer, understanding the Ideal Customer Profile (ICP), and avoiding getting caught up in quotas and targets.

The sales-to-CS handoff is akin to a relay race's baton exchange. It's not solely the responsibility of the person passing or receiving the baton. Both parties need to work together seamlessly, and the handoff isn't the end of the race; runners need to keep going for a while. Similarly, in the context of CS Ops, it's not just about blaming one another for handoff issues. It's a team effort that involves sales, sales ops, CSMs, and other stakeholders. The focus should be on identifying what information the CSM needs and ensuring that the sales team is equipped with the skills necessary to elicit this information effectively. It's a collaborative process that requires everyone's involvement to design an effective handoff process, linking product value to customer success goals, and helping customers achieve their objectives.

The handoff process may vary, with some companies introducing the CSM during customer onboarding, while others wait until after onboarding to do so. Regardless of the timing, it's crucial to identify the specific needs of the customer onboarding team to set them up for success. This includes tailoring onboarding playbooks based on the products purchased and understanding key timing decisions, project details, and customer motivation for choosing your solution over competitors.

How do CS Ops professionals look at data documentation and building relationships?

Documentation in CS Ops is not about recording every detail;  it's about summarizing essential information. The key to effective documentation is to begin by identifying the problem you aim to solve, understanding its business impact, and recognizing why the problem exists in its current state. This step sets the stage for comprehensive documentation.

Documentation also helps avoid future questions about decision-making. An essential aspect is documenting what you decided not to do and the reasons behind those choices. This forward-thinking approach ensures that you have a well-documented history of decisions when you revisit the topic later. Standardize documentation processes across your organization to ensure uniformity and relevance even years later. Effective documentation ensures clarity and accountability, while strong enablement practices ensure that your teams can effectively implement new processes and make the most of your systems. They are both integral to achieving success in CS Ops.

How can CS Ops help with customer enablement?

Customer enablement in CS Ops involves ensuring that stakeholders and CSMs have a deep understanding of new expectations, processes, and designs. The enablement team needs to know when and how to follow new processes effectively. It's not enough to introduce changes; it's crucial that your team comprehends why specific design decisions were made. Involving the enablement team early in the design process can be highly beneficial, as they can provide insights into what works and what might be too complex or cumbersome for CSMs to execute.

A key takeaway is that the customer enablement process should be a team effort. Whether it's related to handoffs, success planning, or other operational processes, enablement teams are an essential part of the equation. Document the 'why' behind design decisions to ensure practicality and avoid complexity in execution.

Strategies for building and scaling a CS Ops team

As businesses grow and priorities evolve, it becomes more difficult to build and scale CS Ops teams. Doing so requires adaptability, proactive strategies, and the use of technology to navigate the challenges posed by external factors and evolving business priorities. A few key aspects to consider include:

  • Impact of external factors: Teams must learn to deal with external factors like pandemics, economic shifts, and political changes, necessitating both the identification of at-risk customers and the implementation of internal processes to provide necessary relief.
  • Internal processes and compensation: The impact of external factors may require adjustments to be made to internal processes to safeguard employee compensation from being negatively affected by poor retention rates.
  • Leading indicators: While bottom-line metrics like net dollar retention are essential, it's crucial to identify leading indicators that can be influenced in the short term. This includes monitoring capacity, engagement, and the number of accounts per customer success manager.
  • Segmenting and customer focus: To adapt to changing circumstances, it might be necessary to consider shifting segmentation thresholds or methodologies, focusing more on enterprise customers or creating a longer tail of customers.
  • Post-layoff scenarios: In cases of layoffs or restructures, it's essential to strategize customer retention with the existing team and resources by leveraging systems and processes effectively.
  • Adapting to business growth: As businesses evolve due to new trends, competitors, features, and products, CS Ops teams must stay in tune with developments and be ready to implement new processes, systems, or enhance existing ones.
  • Mitigating churn risk: To enhance churn risk mitigation, it's important to shift from focusing on immediate risks to understanding historical data, risk factors, their significance, and the confidence of team members in resolving them. Utilizing technology to proactively identify and act on churn signals is crucial for scaling.
  • Emphasizing capacity and engagement: Beyond traditional metrics, it's essential to focus on capacity, engagement, and the concept of customer health to support more customers with fewer resources, as headcount may not increase at the same rate as the customer base or annual recurring revenue.
  • Attributing success to dollars directly: This is a tricky metric to track. It underscores the need for clear attribution of success related to the platforms, particularly in budget-conscious environments where financial scrutiny is high. The ability to demonstrate both user engagement (stickiness) and return on investment (ROI) is crucial, as the approval of key stakeholders, including the CFO, may hinge on this attribution.

How can organizations benchmark the maturity of their CS Ops teams?

Organizations usually employ a dual approach to measure the maturity of CS Ops teams, combining qualitative and quantitative assessments.

Qualitatively, teams evaluate their proactive handling of stakeholder inquiries and the extent to which they anticipate and prepare for questions during process or solution implementations.

Quantitatively, metrics are tracked through surveys measuring data, tools, reporting, engagement, and capacity, both before and after implementing changes. This benchmarking process reveals improvements and demonstrates the effectiveness of initiatives.

Maturity is an ongoing journey and organizations should remain open to stakeholder feedback; they should be adaptable to evolving market dynamics while connecting these enhancements to tangible business outcomes, such as net retention. Acknowledge that not all areas will improve equally, as goals may change with time.

|For more such exclusive content from some of the best minds in customer success, onboarding, professional services, and implementations, join the Preflight Community.

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Shuvedha Subramaniam
Content Marketer @ Rocketlane

Marketing analyst @ Rocketlane. An Advocate by choice and a penwoman for the love of it. When the world zips, I like to zoink. Also, being happy by being kind.

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