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Customer success in services

How Customer Success Teams Accelerate Value Realization in Services


Peter Fitzpatrick, Chief Adoption Officer at Kimble Mavenlink, joined TSIA for a virtual summit to discuss the relationship between professional services and customer success. The conversation explores some of the ways customer success teams accelerate value realization at services organizations. We’ve distilled some of the highlights and key takeaways from the 2-hour summit into the blog below.

The role of customer success teams in professional services organizations

Professional services organizations measure much of their success on the ability to deliver value to customers. Today, simply delivering the service or implementing a product is not enough to keep customers coming back. To ensure the customer is successful from the outset of working with your services organization, you must actually establish and nurture a relationship with them. This is where customer success teams play a key role.

Customer success teams are made up of Customer Success Managers (CSMs) and are pivotal in building and maintaining long-term relationships with customers. CSMs are often the customer’s main point of contact at a services organization. They are the bridge between the delivery team and the client, overseeing the interactions across both organizations. Having a CSM in place makes it more likely customers will renew their contracts and reduces the possibility of churn.

How customer success managers (CSMs) accelerate value by prioritizing client needs

The customer success manager (CSM) is a little like a general practitioner in medicine — offering continuity of care — keeping a tab on the overall health of the customer. They take measurements of all needs and pain points, and when necessary, will refer you to a specialist. They are closest to the customer and likely the first to know if the customer is unhappy.

Customer success managers are responsible for keeping an eye on the bigger picture. They ensure that the focus remains on the initial (and evolving) outcomes the customer is trying to drive. An effective CSM will keep in mind three questions: why did the customer buy the product or service, why did they buy it at this particular time, and, what are the key benefits they need to realize?

CSMs are the bridge between the professional services business and its customers, and are essential to both the short and long-term health of the client. In the short term, CS teams accelerate value realization, delivering the outcomes most critical and beneficial to the customer. The CS team is also critical in the long-term, responsible for nurturing and maintaining trusting and long-lasting relationships with each customer.

Current industry trends reveal significant emphasis on customer success teams and strategy

A recent TSIA study reveals customer success teams are critical to compete in services today. CS teams build and foster the key component of delivering valuable services — customer relationships. The research shows the main focus of CS teams today are: adoption (84%), retention (67%), and expansion (47%). Almost three quarters of PS businesses in the technology services industry will have a CSM reach out to new clients before or immediately after contracts are signed.

A live poll of the virtual summit audience showed that two-thirds of respondents report that a CSM is either “an active participant” in or “has visibility of” the entire implementation process with a new customer. It’s key to get the CSM involved with the customer as early as possible in the life cycle as it will reduce any friction during on-boarding and implementation. It will also set the tone for an active and engaged relationship from day one.

The research found that many PS organizations have a mature CS strategy, with 4 in 10 organizations reporting a methodology for developing PS offerings that are intended to increase adoption of products by existing customers. A similar number now have chargeable offers from the CS team, which make up 7% of revenue, a number which has grown from zero just five years ago. CSMs play a key role in selling new offers to existing customers because they have a deep understanding of their needs and what could benefit them in both the short and long term.

Three ways PSA empowers customer success teams to deliver exceptional value

The right tools can actually support, enable, and empower the customer success team. Below are just three ways professional services automation (PSA) simultaneously benefits the customer success team as well as the client.

1. Provides complete visibility into project & customer data

Customer success teams often struggle with visibility into project and customer data. With tools like PSA, comprehensive project information — starting at the proposal phase —is visible across teams. PSA acts as the source of truth for all customer data, empowering customer success teams to accelerate value realization. With visibility into comprehensive, accurate, and up-to-date customer data, CSMs can be sure they are completely in sync with their client’s needs, pain points, and expectations.

As a customer flows through the life cycle, there are a number of handoffs on both the customer and delivery sides of the equation. An effective CSM establishes a strong connection with the customer at the start and serves as the consistent point of contact through all handoffs between individuals, teams, and even departments.

For example, having the CSM connect with the procurement team at the sales stage allows them to get a clearer picture of what’s needed and also to start to form a relationship with stakeholders in this business. Without a PSA, it’s a challenge for the CS team to have access to customer data during the sales cycle.

Tools like PSA — which automatically and accurately move customer data down the lifecycle — make it possible for the CSM to establish a relationship with the customer immediately. PSA ensures complete visibility of the customer expectations — both those that were set at the start, and the progress that is being made towards them.

There are likely to be other hand-offs and handovers involving the different stages of each customer’s projects. A PSA acts as a support system for the CSM as the customer relationship evolves. CSMs can depend on PSA to have comprehensive and up-to-date customer data including what has been done, what needs to be done, and the initial and evolving goals and objectives are. With PSA, CSMs can be confident that they have a good pulse on the current health of their customer. Customer data is automatically updated with PSA, allowing teams to draw on the information they need to help make improvements and accelerate the value realization for their customers.

2. Streamlines communication & collaboration with the customer

In order to compete in services today, you must not only understand and prioritize the outcomes most valuable to the customer but you must also deliver these outcomes quickly and effectively. This requires a clear, comprehensive, and agreed-upon project plan.

The project plan should include the customer expectations, including quantified benefits and clear objectives, set out over a period such as three or six months. The CSM is responsible at a high level for ensuring that this plan is clearly communicated to the customer, that deliverables are being shipped, that milestones are being met, and time is being allocated against progress.

With PSA, information can be automatically shared with the customer — so they have immediate access to status updates, progress, or potential roadblocks. This increased visibility improves customers’ trust and confidence that their expectations are in line with what is being delivered.

PSA improves communication across teams and ensures the CSM is alerted of any changes in expectations that may require a shift in the project plan. A dashboard showing the progress of different projects with the same client can help a CSM who is juggling many different customers with potentially complex needs to prioritize and focus on taking the steps required to accelerate value realization.

3. Highlights opportunities for revenue generation & additional value

Historically, professional services businesses have been designed so that the sales team is focused primarily on bringing in new customers. Sales had typically been focused on finding new customers that could benefit from the products or services they have available. However, there has been a shift — many services businesses today are focused on building deep and long-lasting relationships with existing customers. They are likely to be launching new offerings and services designed with these clients in mind. Successful services businesses evolve alongside the needs and demands of their customers.

The CSM is firstly a trusted advisor to the client company. They can also operate as an advocate for their customer — explaining their perspective to the wider organization and relevant stakeholders. The CSM is uniquely able to communicate candidly with the customer, asking them about not only their needs today, but in the future. They can discuss what improvements would be beneficial and really understand how to deliver the greatest value through updates or customization.

Successful CSMs build on their ability to understand the customer and gain their trust as their relationship evolves. A long-term CSM and customer relationship is likely built on a solid foundation of trust and communication. This puts CSMs in a unique position to bring in revenue from their existing relationships and client base through upgrades, customizations, or add-on products or services.

With PSA, the CSM can work directly with the sales team across up-sells or upgrades, ensuring that the account execs have a nuanced understanding of the customers’ needs and state of mind. A PSA on the Salesforce platform makes it possible for CSMs to quickly and easily spot opportunities for additional revenue. With PSA, CSMs have a complete view of customer data across the entire project lifecycle. CSMs depend on PSA as the source of truth for customer data and leverage this information to maximize the value of the product or service being sold. A successful CSM knows when there is an opportunity to generate revenue and deliver more value to the customer. PSA allows the CSM to confidently recommend any additional proposals or upsells as they have immediate access to historical, current, and predictive data to support such offerings.

Final Thoughts

Customer relationships will always be the primary focus of the services industry, and today’s trends reveal that successful, long-term, and profitable relationships with customers start with a good CSM and customer success team. With an increasing focus on accelerating value realization, customer success teams are likely to become even more central. Standing out in services today requires a strategic, repeatable, and scalable approach to customer success. To learn more about the role of customer success in services today, watch the entire 2-hour session or download the slides here.

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