Dear Insider: How Do You Get Started as a Startup’s First Customer Success Hire?

Dear Insider: How Do You Get Started as a Startup’s First Customer Success Hire?

Have a burning question for Kristi? We're here to ask. Ask all here and we'll answer your question in our next installment of Dear Insider.

How to operate as a Customer Success army of one

Q: I just started working at a startup as a CS specialist. This is the first time they have had this role, and it's also the first time I have faced this challenge. No one else is doing the same job, and no one has done it before. If I have no benchmark or a person to compare my results with, how can I measure my success and track improvement?

A: Congratulations to you and your company for taking the first step towards creating a customer-centric organization. I know stepping into a new role with minimal experience and no clearly defined success metrics can be a challenge but the good news is that whatever you decide to do can be modified in the future, so don’t be afraid of getting it “wrong”. That said, here’s what I would recommend you do.

  • Obviously, you were hired for a reason, so there is someone in the business who has an idea of the impact they would like for you to have on the business. So I recommend you consult with your manager or whoever gave the green light to hire you and ask them what they brought you onboard to achieve. This will ensure you are not only figuring out how to measure your work but also meeting the expectations of your leader.
  • Depending on what they tell you, you will need to determine how to accomplish those objectives. For example, if I was hired to increase retention I would focus on the tasks and activities that result in a customer renewing. If we know customers who are properly onboarded renew and grow, I am going to focus on ensuring that all of my customers are properly onboarded onto my product.
  • Remember that some companies are fine measuring success using the MBO (Management by Objective) approach, while others might be more focused on KPIs, it’s critical to understand what your leaders need to see.

Since you are just getting started focus of driving actions that will improve customer behaviors.

For example, do your customers need more training and enablement to improve usage? If so, focus on unique customers who have participated in a training session or who have regular engagement.

Think about what your customers need from you in order to be successful with the partnership and how you can support that.

You go this!

How to structure and scale customer success

Q: I'm tasked with owning implementation, onboarding, and success (expansion, growth, churn) but we have no team or resources, and I've been mostly in support (queues, content management, leadership). What's the best way to structure and scale "success" as a player-coach of one? This is only one of my responsibilities.

A: It’s not uncommon for early-stage companies to have roles that take on a bit of “everything” but it’s definitely up to you to carve out the priorities. Unfortunately given your scope you are going to have to be very intentional about the work you do and what you are holding yourself accountable to. You will not be able to do everything and depending on the number of customers each person is supporting this will impact your decision.

For example, you may decide that all you have the bandwidth to support are:

  • Bi-weekly or monthly engagement
  • Quarterly training and enablement
  • Annual renewal conversations

You’ll need to think of the few partnership activities that will drive the most value for your customers - if you can only do 3-4 things, make sure they are the most impactful things in the eyes of your customer. Over time you can determine what additional activities will continue to add value.

It’s all about balance and prioritization, but make sure to be focused and not try to take on more than is possible at this time. Something is better than nothing.

How to build customer health scores at a startup

Q: Help! I've just wrapped up my 2nd week at a startup. What I'm trying to do right now as a next step is figure out how to properly assess an account's health with a health score. More specifically I'm thinking of ways to scale down already existing health scores used in larger corporations and adapt them to the flexibility of a startup. Any advice?

A: Trying to nail customer health is no easy feat, but if you can get it right it could be critical in supporting your ability to navigate risk and amplify success.

The best advice I can offer is to start by designing your health score based on the behaviors of your most successful customers and then use those key factors to design levers to measure.

For example, you might identify that your “healthy” or successful customers have the following behaviors:

  • Strong usage and adoption of the product
  • Highly engaged with your company
  • Submit product features ideas
  • Strong and positive sentiment
  • Open support tickets

Once you know what this looks like you can design your health score to mirror this and make it as sophisticated or simple as you need to make it work for you. Lastly, remember that this is not a set-it-and-forget-it strategy and you may need to make modifications as you learn more and collect more data over time.

Ask Kristi your CS questions anonymously. We're here to help if you need to vent or share a difficult story.

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