Bora Lee is the Manager of Customer Enablement at ChurnZero. She is passionate about helping customer success teams succeed by crafting big-picture strategies executed through automated, streamlined processes that put the right data in front of the right customer at exactly the right time. She works hand in hand with customer success leaders to create fruitful, long-term relationships and to maximize customer satisfaction. In her free time, you will find her scuba diving and traveling.
Since customer success (CS) is still an emerging field, it’s not uncommon to find CS leaders who are founding their company’s first CS team or creating CS processes from scratch. Being the new department on the block, you may have had to find workarounds to other team’s more established processes. Or you might have encountered the common workplace scenario of inheriting your predecessor’s way of working.
No matter how your processes came to be, I can tell you one thing: they’re not perfect.
You can’t put your processes on a pedestal or become complacent with their adherence. Your market, solutions, and customers are constantly evolving. Your processes must adapt to the people and to the context – not the other way around.
Especially when you’re implementing CS processes for the very first time, it’s impossible to account for the multiple variances that will occur when you put concept into practice.
Instead of striving for process perfection, a goal more worthy of your efforts is the continuous improvement of your processes – routinely assessing their design, usage, output, and effectiveness.
And that’s where audits come in. By auditing your processes, you can uncover if dips in your performance metrics are merely a fluke or perhaps the cause of an undiagnosed bottleneck. Or if outwardly unrelated customer complaints actually stem from the same source.
As you audit over time, your small incremental efficiency gains add up. Consistent and measured refinement is the key to sustainable growth.
When auditing, it’s all about asking the right questions to uncover both the visible and underlying issues in your processes. To keep your customer success operations running smoothly, in this Process Street article, we’ve detailed a few simple, yet commonly overlooked questions to ask during your next process audit:
- Does your process align with your team’s responsibilities?
- What parts of your process generate the most feedback?
- Outside of the process, what other work does your team perform?
- Where do you have process bottlenecks?
- Where’s your team spending too much time?
- How should the process ideally work?
- Are you getting the data you need?
1. Does your process align with your team’s responsibilities?
Identify what parts of the customer lifecycle your customer success team owns (think: implementation, onboarding, adoption, renewals, expansion, and so on). Distinguishing the responsibilities and the roles of each stage will help you clarify your processes.
When customer success isn’t involved in the customer lifecycle from beginning to end, process becomes even more imperative. Every customer handoff is a point of potential friction for both your customer and for your internal operations. For example, if customer success only owns adoption and the renewal and expansion sits with Sales, then there’s much more back-and-forth coordination that needs to happen. Frequent exchanges in responsibility and ownership open you up to miscommunications and mistakes. When auditing, find these points of friction within your team and outside of your team.
You also want to identify any process silos that exist, which are another common source of friction. With a lack of visibility, silos can harbor hidden process breakdowns, such as when internal or customer requests get lost in a blackhole or take longer than expected to fulfill. Make sure your processes not only include the right stakeholders, but that they also hold stakeholders accountable to following the process.
Process is a team effort through and through.
2. What parts of your process generate the most feedback?
Sometimes, it can be easy to write off seemingly aimless complaints – whether from your customer or from your team – as being a result of the person’s combative disposition, a one-off instance, or only marginally related recurrences.
But feedback, no matter how large or small, can help you spot process issues. For this reason, it’s incredibly important to keep a log of feedback, both good and bad, so you can figure out what’s working, what’s causing mild inconveniences, and what’s putting your customer retention at risk.
When auditing, you want to review all feedback and issues, including those clearly related to your processes and those not. When assessing a specific piece of feedback, you can employ the “5 whys” method, which says to ask “why” five times to get to the root cause of any problem.
For example, let’s say a customer success Manager (CSM) is behind on scheduling their customer renewal meetings.
- Why? Because the CSM’s calendar is always full, leaving them with insufficient time to complete daily tasks.
- Why? Because the CSM is having recurring calls with the same subset of customers.
- Why? Because this subset of customers constantly complains about the provided workarounds for their product use case.
- Why? Because the workarounds are inconvenient and only make up for roughly 40% of the product’s full functionality.
- Why? Because these customers are a below-average product fit and should have never been sold the product.
At first blush, you might think this case of chronic lateness is due to the CSM’s poor time management or procrastination. But when you ask “why” to peel back the layers of the issue, you discover that the problem originated in the sales process.
Listen to your customer and team feedback, but don’t always take it at face value. Dig deeper to find the true meaning behind the words.
3. Outside of the process, what other work does your team perform?
Looking outside of your current processes, what other activities and events does your team handle on a routine basis? As your team diversifies, matures, and takes on new responsibilities, you should reevaluate if activities once considered informal or ad-hoc would benefit from a defined process with more structure and stability.
Activities and events that can have process built around them, but are commonly less structured, include:
- Internal meetings
- Onboarding new team members
- Introduction of new processes
- Continuing education
- Support escalation
4. Where do you have process bottlenecks?
A bottleneck occurs when there’s a point in your processes that slows or stops a given workflow. Bottlenecks happen for many reasons but identifying and remedying these slowdowns is vital to the success of your process.
What are the signs of a bottleneck?
To get to the root cause of your bottleneck, you first need to identify its symptoms. Bottleneck symptoms often include:
- Long wait times
- Backlogged work
- High stress levels
- Consistently missed deadlines
- Recurring process delays
Just like with most medical ailments, you need to treat the source, not just the symptoms if you want a permanent solution.
What are the types of bottlenecks?
To determine the best course of action to remedy your bottleneck, you want to identify its type. Most bottlenecks can be categorized into the following buckets:
- Long-term bottlenecks (issues that occur often). For example, a regular report is always late because creation of the report is highly manual and time consuming.
- Short-term bottlenecks (issues that are temporary in nature). For example, a team member is out sick but is the only person who can complete the work and is now a holdup to the entire process.
- People bottlenecks (time it takes to perform an action). For example, a person takes longer than they should to perform a given action.
- System bottlenecks (process-related slowdowns). For example, a system-generated report that’s required to move to the next step has a process error.
How should you treat your bottlenecks?
To treat short- and long-term bottlenecks, look at what’s causing a delay in the process: people or systems?
For people-related bottlenecks, you’ll likely be able to resolve them by providing additional training, increasing your team size, or automating more processes.
5. Where’s your team spending too much time?
Process inefficiencies are directly related to bottlenecks, complaints, and metrics – all of which we tackle in different questions throughout this article. Each serves as an indicator of a process improvement area. By tracking points of workflow congestion, repeated grievances, and poor performance, you can get to the problem’s source.
To track down your bottlenecks and other process inefficiencies, run a time audit of how your team typically spends their days. Are they fighting fires all day long? What items are manual and repetitive?
Find areas where you can decrease your team’s administrative work. For example, if a CSM spends three hours a day copying, pasting, and sending routine customer emails, and they have six or eight customer calls in a day, then they’re already three hours behind in work. By comparing how long a given task takes to complete against its average or ideal completion time, you can start to quantify your team’s productivity and where processes fall short. Once you capture solid baselines for task completion, you can define specific, measurable goals for how you want to increase efficiency.
To conduct a time audit, follow these steps:
- Using the eight-hour workday as your basis, breakdown tasks by the percentage of the day they consume. For example, 10% of time is spent on scheduling business review meetings.
- Write a list of your team’s daily tasks. For example, send welcome emails to new clients. Mark the items where your team is taking reactive action. For instance, a reactive action is when your customer emails you about a problem and then you resolve it and let them know it’s been fixed.
- Sort the actions your team takes over the course of a day into one of these three categories: manual, semi-automated, or automated.
- Describe how you would want your team to ideally spend their time. Breakdown tasks by the percentage of the day.
After completing the time audit, look at the reactive tasks that take up the most of your team’s time. Ideally, you want these tasks to be focused on driving the customer’s strategy and value as opposed to managing internal operations and processing paperwork.
Figure out what tasks you can move from manual to semi-automated, and then from semi-automated to automated. Automation doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing endeavor. You can start by automating your most standard processes, such as customer onboarding, where the customer typically has an idea of what to expect.
6. How should the process ideally work?
You need to have quality assurance (QA) processes set up to alert you if your process doesn’t work as intended or is not being followed. For example, let’s say you create a renewal workflow but not all customers go through it. If you have an alert that notifies you when a customer is renewing in X number of days but doesn’t have a renewal opportunity created, you can catch the oversight before it’s too late.
Another example is if you require your CSMs to manually fill out information, such as an onboarding checklist or meeting notes. What processes do you have in place to ensure these actions are taken? To make sure the process is being upheld, you could generate a report every week of empty form fields.
7. Are you getting the data you need?
The basis of measuring change and ensuring you’re on track is having a place to start. You know your company best. You must be able to look at your product and set goals that you can accurately measure. Determine what you want to achieve and ensure your goal has a quantifiable output that you can track over time. Then, create new processes or adjust your existing ones to help get you to that end goal. If a process isn’t aiding in your achievement of a goal, reevaluate its purpose.
Take inventory of your accessible data sources and data points and ask yourself:
- What metrics and KPIs am I currently tracking?
- Am I getting the information I need to measure the KPIs I want?
- Do I need more customer visibility?
- Am I trending in the right direction from my baseline metrics?
- Am I proving ROI to justify my staffing and budget?
All these questions come back to the importance of not just having data but having the right data.
If you’re evaluating your process based on positive leading indicators that have negative effects downstream, that’s a problem. If your new onboarding process speeds up your implementation time but it’s at the cost of overloading CSMs with new customers, you’ve only moved problems around. Track the entire process from end to end to make sure you’re not overlooking unintended consequences.
And don’t assume that consistently missed targets are solely a result of your team’s poor performance. Dig into the activities driving that metric. Is there a process step that’s hindering their production? Failure to meet goals, especially when spread across the team, could indicate a need for process improvement.
Similarly, you also want to make sure the metrics you measure against entice the behavior you want. If you have a process that requires CSMs to follow a specific customer engagement cadence, such as QBRs, you’re valuing the quantity of interactions over their quality. Focus on the outcome of the engagement (new learning, reset priorities, positive connection) rather than the sheer number of completed meetings.
Your metrics should directly demonstrate that your team’s performance has a positive or negative affect on your company’s outcomes, and you should see that reflected in your processes.
While what you choose to measure will depend on your specific goals, common customer success metrics include:
- Churn Rate
- Client-to-CSM Ratio
- Renewal Rate
- Time to Onboard
- Time to First Value
- Total Days to Minimum Adoption
- Saturation of New Feature Engagement
Get into the auditing routine and keep your data clean
Successful processes are all about iteration and maintenance. With constant and regular attention, processes can be easy to manage. With little to no attention, processes break down and add fuel to fires.
Ultimately, the core of all processes is data. Clean and timely data gives you the best foundation for building effective processes.
What important questions do you ask when auditing your customer success process that we might have missed? Let us know in the comments below! 👇