Why (and how) we manage 5,000 clients with only 15 Customer Success Agents

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Last month, at the 2017 edition of the Customer Success Summit, we received two awards: one was a well deserved individual award for my colleague Sofie Dewyn (for being “reliable, kind and process driven”). The other was for our entire CS team, because we managed to successfully evolve in the face of exponential growth: from 1500 to 5000 customers in the course of a year. We thought other European scale ups might get some useful insights on how to manage growth, so we’re happy to share our customer success approach with you.

Let’s start with this true or false question. Do you agree with Jason Lemkin that you can only scale properly if your clients are large enterprise customers?

According to Lemkin, upping your ARPA (average revenue per account) is essential for scaling. Lemkin states that: “to really scale your business, you have to go enterprise. As in: sell six- or seven-figure deals to large enterprises.”

At Teamleader, we had two reasons why we felt we simply couldn’t follow Jason’s advice (and also why we’ve subsequently had to look at our customer success strategy differently).

  1. Teamleader is a European company that caters to the administrative needs of SMEs. SMEs represent 99% of all businesses in Europe (and there are 23 million of them!)
  2. SMEs don’t need and can’t afford an elaborate and expensive tool. What they need is a flexible subscription model that is affordable.

So we don’t have enterprise sales, which means our ARPA is lower than a typical enterprise SaaS, which in turn has implications on how we manage customer success.

Ditch classic account management  

 

In big enterprise deals, you might need a dedicated account manager to take care of the needs of big clients. With 5,000 SME customers, that approach is out of the question. In fact, we only have 15 Customer Success Agents for our entire client base.

We realized quite early on that we wouldn’t be able to scale our customer success team if we used the classical approach in which every one of our agents would be responsible for the customer success of part of the customer base.

In our case, with about 15 customer success agents, that would mean that our agents would need to handle about 300 accounts each. That didn’t seem feasible, especially since we onboard about 500 new customers per month.

Thinking about this problem, we realized that we already solved a similar problem in the sales department. One of the learnings that we took back from last year’s visit to the Totango Customer Success Summit in San Francisco last year was that in our sales team we should “divide and conquer”: split up sales tasks over different people. (We blogged about it at The Next Web last year).

The idea is that it’s important to let people focus on their strengths. A sales guy getting a rush from closing a deal will not be getting the same rush from onboarding a client, or from helping a client with finding the best modules.

And if that goes for the sales team, why wouldn’t it apply to customer success?

Mapping the customer success journey

 

When we mapped out the customer success lifecycle, it was apparent that the needs of a customer also change significantly throughout the relationship with a SaaS company. The clearest distinction is between getting a client to use the software (onboarding) and keeping the client (retention).

In onboarding, our main goal should be to get our customer operational in the shortest time possible. We know that this is crucial to combat churn: we have to get the onboarding right – early – or risk losing clients.

After this first phase comes the retention phase, where we focus on helping customers get the most value out of our platform.

So a happy customer relationship for a SaaS looks a bit like this:

  1. Customer gets onboarded
  2. Customer is up and running
  3. Customer is getting the hang of things and using the tool more and more (“usage optimization”)
  4. The software becomes a crucial tool for the customer (which we called the “Happily ever after” phase)

Just like we did for the sales process, we then created separate roles for experts.

An onboarder should be more process oriented, thinking along with the customer while setting up their Teamleader account. Retention managers on the other hand need to be able to see where, why and how a customer can improve his usage. The further clients go into the lifecycle, the more needs or expectations a customer will have. It is the job of the retention agent to fulfill these needs.

For every phase in our model, we find people with the perfect skill set who can help our clients. By dividing our customer’s lifecycle into different parts, we hope to keep our existing customers ‘happily ever after’.

This model offers two big advantages: it caters to the needs of all our clients as they go through the customer lifecycle, and it has the added benefit of allowing us to compartmentalize internally (an “expert” employee with a specific skill set for every phase in our model).

Don’t take your customer by the hand (but don’t set them free either)

 

This doesn’t mean we set our customers free and never look back: if they have any specific questions, our Customer Success Team is there to help.

We also like to keep our customers alert: we continue to feed them information, share useful tips on how to use our platform, and keep them informed on updates and changes.But we’re careful not to do everything for them. A bit counterintuitively, we think it’s a good idea to give SaaS customers homework.

Our model doesn’t allow us to take them by the hand every step of the way, so we let them do a bit of homework as well. This way, they will emotionally invest in the product and in the success of the tool.

By giving them a sequence of tasks that are easy, we create a string of “small wins” that boost their confidence and satisfaction. This results in a high engagement and involvement as well as self-sufficient, confident and independent clients.

 

If you have any questions about our customer success approach, feel free to ask me in the comments or via Twitter: @teamleaderBE

Alexia Coppens is Head of Customer Success at Teamleader, a SaaS service that helps European SMEs with CRM, sales, invoicing and project management. It streamlines the entire process from lead to cash.

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1 comment

  1. Andy @Userlane

    Inspiring! Thanks for sharing Alexia. This post gives a truly great insight on Customer Success at Teamleader, I’d be curious to know even more, since customer success is a very complex topic linked to always new requirements…Therefore, I will be looking forward to reading more posts here or on teamleader 😀

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