What is Customer Success Operations and why do you need this department

Zoe Stewart
August 10, 2021

All that glitters is not Gold, and if I read one more article about onboarding I’m going to explode. Okay, maybe not explode, but I wanted to get your attention. Hi, I’m Zoe. I’m a CS nerd who chartered a flagship CS Operations function during a global pandemic.

If there were a “Dummy’s Guide to Customer Success Operations”, this article would be the preface. Not to say you’re a dummy - after all, it’s your excellent taste that brought you to this post in the first place. I say it’s a dummy’s guide because I can’t imagine authoring a topic related to Customer Success without a nod to expectations.


What this article isn’t: The end-all-be-all guide or ROI analysis related to defining, building, and running a Customer Success Operations team. 


What it is: A passionately-cheeky narrative defining Customer Success Operations and it’s immense value. 


One last sentiment before we define Customer Success Operations. It took me plenty of trial and error before I realized the only thing that fulfills me, both personally and professionally, is designing relationships. Designing relationships is about breaking down barriers and creating solutions which directly or indirectly, empower others to value and cultivate meaningful relationships. If there is one thing that I’d like for you to take away from this article is this: Every single aspect of Customer Success Operations is about designing relationships. 

The charter of a Customer Success Operations team is to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of working to exceed customer outcomes.  


If you’re reading this, it’s very likely you’ve seen or heard horror stories about organizations that “value” Customer Success until it comes to committing funds and/or tactical support to CS growth.

Qualities of an Operations Culture: 

  • Ability to navigate complex business problems and simplify topics into tactical elements 
  • Consistently demonstrates a high degree of ownership over work, willing to go beyond a job description to ensure customers are #1
  • Persuasive communicator both internally and externally; particularly powerful to demonstrate confidence operating as a consultant for leadership 
  • Highly collaborative with a tendency to over-communicate/prioritize relationships 
  • Ability to work independently and ask questions 


Whether or not a Customer Success Operations team has the ability to make an impact has little to do with the formal description of their function and everything to do with their enablement. Without comprehensive support from all parties in an organization, a CS Ops professional runs the risk of finding themselves on a deserted island. 

Yes, your organization needs Customer Success Operations.

Customer Success is constantly evolving. Evolution is messy. An Operations hire will help filter the noise cluttering your team members from supporting, teaching, and selling to customers. Here are a few signs your team could be ready to evaluate an Operations team:  


  1. Wasted Time - CSMs spend >20% of their week on internal activities than working with customers
  2. Strategic Ability - An organization spending majority of its time in reactive mode is an organization who’s going to always be paces behind.Your day is absorbed with maintaining the CS engine rather than strategic projects 
  3. Data integrity - Data either has greater than medium-risk gaps or inaccuracies that ultimately prevent strategic resources from confidently using data 
  4. CS Seat at the table - Customer Success isn't recognized as strategic consultants but rather as customer support


Effective teams are built to scale. 


There are four functional areas of a CS team: 

Data Integrity & Analysis -  Report to executives through dashboards and presentations; track leading indicators of retention and expansion; create and manage Customer health scores as leading indicators for retention & expansion; analyze data to vocalize what’s going well and what’s preventing customers from success. 

Enablement, Processes & Technology - Organizing the Customer Lifecycle; documenting workflows and processes as well as internal best practices; administer CS tech stack and troubleshooting. 

Risk Management - Work cross-functionally to identify, collaborate, and resolve matters carrying a potential risk to retention/expansion. 

Collaboration: Orchestrate cross-functional collaboration to create processes or make improvements that ultimately have a direct impact on customers achieving success. 


I can’t tell you which functions you need. What I can tell you is that assessing where a CS Ops professional maintains their focus will stifle their ability to provide solutions. 




Mistakes I Made So You Don’t Have to 


I didn’t know what Customer Success Operations was, or that I was part of defining the function for GoCanvas, until about a year ago. By the time I realized it, my leadership team and I had launched and implemented customer escalation strategies, operationalized fully integrated engagement campaigns to drive product adoption and mitigate risk, and even implemented a few models of our customer health score.  


After we realized the extent of which we had solved problems, we were kicking ourselves for being too focused on outcomes for our Customer Success Managers. Once we shifted our mindset to focus on supporting our organization, the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and now 8th (honestly I’ve lost count) iterations of various initiatives have been increasingly successful.  


Mistake #1: Working Top-Down 


If you work from the top-down, your decisions are likely to be heavily biased towards driving results for the business rather than approaching solutions equally supportive of individual contributors and leadership. The same warning goes for working bottom up. 


Mistake #2: Being Overly Reactive  


We’ve all made decisions in fire-fighting mode. I’ll dig into this more in a bit, but constant fire-fighting or maintenance rather than proactive or strategic approaches are an important indicator that an organization may excel with a CS Operations team.  


Mistake #3: Rallying Engagement 


Engaged employees deliver results. Defining customer success objectives, strategy, and processes that produce results isn’t possible without buy-in from the entirety of the CS Org. Yes, there are always objectives best discussed across a leadership function. What I’m saying is that it’s important to be selective of objectives housed in a leadership silo, and take every opportunity to encourage ICs into taking ownership of their part in the success organization.


Mistake #4: Solving problems with technology first 


Customer Success boils down to building relationships. We’re a ways off from technology exclusively being able to make customers feel as cared for as a CSM can. Therefore, rather than replacing human interaction with technology as a solution to CS problems, use technology to equip CSMs to successfully engage with their customers. 


Mistake #5: Hoarding Legos 


No, I’m not referring to the domestic landmines responsible for pain & suffering in the playrooms of children around the globe. I AM referring to the “I need to own this to be the owner” mentality that results in burnout, frustration, etc. 


Customer Success Operations teams destroy blockers and drive strategies that lead to results.   


Even the most customer-centric organizations will struggle striking the balance between business and customer outcomes. This becomes a chronic issue when the struggle to drive internal and external objectives creates a wedge between the individuals working day-to-day with customers and the leadership guiding them. 


The solution? Filling the gap with Customer Success Operations. CS Leaders and team members deserve dedicated resources to filter out the noise and focus on customers. 


This post is dedicated to Brady James and Devon Drennan - thank you for your encouragement and patience. You two are beyond talented at everything you do, and I’m incredibly lucky to have learned from the best. 

About the writer

Shameless customer success nerd running a flagship CS Operations role. Fueled by empathy, a passion for radical candor, a bit of ADD/Type A personality, I'm seeking to be the ultimate hype woman for Customer Success Operations. The message? That Customer Success Operations is the future of achieving long-term revenue growth and customer advocacy. Come along for the ride by connecting with me on Linkedin.


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