Strangers of Consequence: Why Human Interactions Matter in Customer Success

Human connection often gets lost in the scaling process. Intentional automation can help.

Written by Jenny Lyons-Cunha
Published on Sep. 14, 2022
Strangers of Consequence: Why Human Interactions Matter in Customer Success
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Think of the humans you encounter throughout your day: The fellow gym-goer who offers an encouraging nod, the barista who knows your double-espresso-with-a-splash-of-coconut-milk order by heart, the neighbor who slips wayward mail under your doormat. 

Over time, these ordinary connections have an immense impact on well-being. 

“Consequential strangers,” as psychologists Melinda Blau and Karen L. Fingerman write in their book of the same name, “anchor us in the world and give us a sense of being plugged into something larger.” 

Consequential strangers also show up in our professional lives, and can have a similarly immense impact on well-being in business. For instance, the personal touch and human connection provided by a customer success manager (CSM) can lift up client relations at every turn.

Yet as each organization scales, CS teams face the difficult task of maintaining the magic in their customer relationships — and adding automation where necessary for support. In many cases, placing automation in the customer journey is a complex science.

“You cannot scale the human side of customer success linearly with revenue,” said Paro VP of Experience Matt Kamhi. “You need to automate without disrupting the existing customer experience. We found some opportunities to automate touchpoints that were low customer value, high CSM effort and low automation complexity.”

Built In Chicago sat down with CS leaders from Paro and C.A. Fortune to find out how they walk the delicate line between maximizing bandwidth and preserving the human touch in customer success, capitalizing on increased well-being for everyone involved.

 

Matt Kamhi
VP, Experience • Paro.ai

 

Paro aims to empower businesses to achieve sustainable growth by providing flexible finance and accounting solutions via a community of experts. Paro’s AI-powered platform matches clients with subject matter experts who provide services from basic bookkeeping and accounting to highly specialized strategic support. When it comes to growing organizations, VP of Experience Matt Kamhi highlights the importance of ongoing education for the CS team. “The product often evolves as your company grows,” Kamhi said. “As you release adjacent functionality or entirely new product lines, the complexity of a CSM’s job increases too.”

 

What are the most important considerations when scaling your customer success team?

We’ve significantly scaled Paro’s CS team over the past year. When thinking about scaling CS, I have one metric in mind — LTV:CAC. LTV:CAC captures both the long-term lifetime value (LTV) and the overarching cost to acquire (CAC) for every customer. 

Unpacking the drivers of LTV shapes our decision making. Across the three companies where I’ve led CS functions, I’ve seen consistent LTV drivers: retention, account expansion and CSM capacity. 

Retention measures the output of how well you help customers address their immediate needs. Once you’ve proven you can help customers with an immediate need, you earn the right to discuss other needs — leading to account expansion. 

Lastly, it’s important to understand how many customers one CSM can effectively support and how that can evolve with operational improvements. There is usually a point of diminishing returns, where the complex trade-off decisions happen. You need to find the right balance between customer-benefitting activities and your metrics without driving your customer success costs through the roof.

 

How are you striking the right balance of automation and human touch?

Automation is essential for scaling the customer experience. The first step is to map out the customer journey by persona or segment. We went through an in-depth process of documenting, understanding and assessing every touchpoint to identify the key moments that matter: Touchpoints that have a disproportionate impact on our customer outcomes. 

We then added an element of effort: It enabled us to understand the customer impact and level of CSM effort underlying every touchpoint. Lastly, we considered the automation complexity. 

We found some opportunities to automate touchpoints that were low customer value, high CSM effort and low automation complexity. We also automated touchpoints that required significant technical work. Each of those required an ROI consideration based on CSM time saved versus developer time to build the automation. 

You cannot scale the human side of customer success linearly with revenue.”

 

What are the main challenges you’ve faced as your customer success team has scaled? 

The hardest challenge is understanding the right CSM-coverage model while the broader company evolves. Many scaling companies tend to continuously sell upstream into larger and larger accounts. That shifts both the customer expectation and average deal size. Those changes can drastically impact your CSM coverage model, forcing you to consider going from around 100 accounts per CSM down to roughly 50 accounts. 

My biggest suggestion is to be in lock-step with go-to-market leadership — like marketing and sales — to understand the future segmentation and selling strategy. Connect with product leadership to understand the evolving complexity of your core product. 

Scaling the team and CSM coverage models are never-ending puzzles. Proactively considering cross-functional strategies will help you evolve the CSM coverage model and scale to meet customer expectations.

 

 

 

Ali Shouman
Chief Growth Officer • C.A. Fortune

 

C.A. Fortune is a vertically integrated consumer brands agency that seeks to strengthen brands of all sizes from incubation to market leader. When scaling existing CS operations, Chief Growth Officer Ali Shouman lauds the importance of collecting quality customer feedback. “We often seek out the feedback of our partners externally, as much as we do our own employees, when considering scaling or changing our teams or operating models,” he said. 

 

What are the most important considerations when scaling your customer success team?

We are aiming to build one of the most unique, vertically integrated service models in the CPG sales and marketing agency space. We are also the only national privately-held agency — because of that, we are always focused on the long-term scalability of our decisions. 

Our culture and our people are incredibly important to us. Most people at C.A. Fortune have heard me say, “Our people are our packaging” As a high growth company, it is critical that we balance our growth against the way it impacts the culture. Being nimble, solutions-oriented and boutique-minded as a team is a priority as we scale.

 

How are you striking the right balance of automation and human touch?

It all comes down to the best thing for our people, clients and customers. Our intention is to design the work and technology investments around the idea that our employees work at their highest level. We often think about how we can create the most efficient ecosystem possible for our employee base, which will be of maximum benefit to our clients and our customers. 

Our leadership team must make decisions that are uplifting and challenging — without making our team feel like hamsters on a wheel.”

 

What are the main challenges you’ve faced as your customer success team has scaled? 

We’ve scaled our business incredibly quickly over the last ten years. There is no doubt that we are in a vastly better operating model today than we were five years ago, and I have no doubt we will be vastly better than we are today five years from now. 

That level of constant growth and adaptation can certainly cause “change fatigue” amongst our employees. As our employees encounter so many new challenges and pressures from the outside world, our leadership team must make decisions that are uplifting and challenging — without making our team feel like hamsters on a wheel. 

We’ve got an amazing group of gritty, resilient, creative, super smart professionals. When it is time to act, we do a remarkable job of embracing the growth journey we are on together. 

 

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images via listed companies and Shutterstock.

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