Article | 8 min read

How to build the best customer success team in 11 steps

Customer success teams are responsible for connecting with customers and ensuring they have the information needed to effectively use a business’s offerings.

By Hannah Wren, Staff Writer

Last updated January 2, 2024

Without an emphasis on customer success, it’s difficult for businesses to achieve true greatness—especially in organizations that rely heavily on customer retention to meet revenue goals. To maximize customer loyalty and bolster sales, assemble a team of customer success champions to help buyers utilize your products effectively and achieve their goals.

Strong customer service teams consist of helpful and compassionate individuals with a comprehensive understanding of business offerings and customer needs—they’re ready to fly into action the moment a new customer comes on board and requires support.

In this guide to building a customer success (CS) team, we’ll share tips and strategies for forming a team equipped to battle customer confusion and set them up for long-term success with your offerings. Here are some key points we’ll cover:

  1. Define what a customer success team looks like for your business
  2. Identify the best time to start a customer success team
  3. Outline key roles in your customer success team structure
  4. Specify goals and KPIs for your customer success team
  5. Use customer data to inform strategy
  6. Determine the key responsibilities of your customer success team
  7. Create an org chart to divvy up and track tasks
  8. Determine the role self-service resources will play
  9. Nail down essential processes and workflows
  10. Create training aids for the team
  11. Set your agents up for success by listening to and acting on their feedback

1. Define what a customer success team looks like for your business

Customer success is the process of helping customers reach their goals using a business’s product or service. Customer success team members forge long-lasting relationships with customers throughout their life cycle with a company, from onboarding and implementation to proactive support and renewals.

Customer success team roles and responsibilities may vary between organizations based on business goals and key milestones. Customer success teams must proactively solve problems and nurture relationships to keep customers happy.

How are customer support and customer success teams different?

In short, customer support teams assist with product-related questions and problems. Meanwhile, customer success teams focus more on issue avoidance and helping customers achieve their desired outcome using the product they purchased.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the key responsibilities of each team:

  • Customer success responsibilities: Education, streamlined implementation and product adoption, customer experience, customer advocacy, customer retention, upselling, and cross-selling
  • Customer service responsibilities: Answer questions, resolve problems, provide resources, and connect customers with the most appropriate person to address their needs

Customer success operations teams often improve CS because consumer-facing teams form connections with the customer base and document information they receive, as well as provide details about the implementation process. A CS operations plan ultimately allows teams to provide faster, more relevant service.

What is the difference between sales teams and customer success teams?

Sales representatives are often the first to familiarize new customers with a business (although marketing teams also deserve credit for reeling in their fair share of inbound leads).

Sales reps introduce prospects to a business by pitching a business’s offerings, settling on amenable terms, and closing the deal. After doing this, they pass the baton to someone on the CS team.

The customer success team is there to help and educate new customers on using the company products and acts as a long-term resource.

2. Identify the best time to start a customer success team

It’s never too early to start building your customer success team.

The sooner you create a customer success team, the more likely you are to experience less customer churn and higher retention rates—this is especially true for SaaS (software as a service) companies because retention is typically more cost-effective than acquisition.

“The earlier you build a customer success team, the less time you’ll spend playing catch-up.”
Sam Chandler, director of startup success at Zendesk

Companies need teams whose sole focus is customer retention. Otherwise, it’s everyone’s job—which means it’s no one’s job. This group effort may be okay for a time, especially for small businesses and startups. Still, you shouldn’t put off customer success team development for long if you intend to scale your organization quickly.

3. Outline key roles in your customer success team structure

As you create your customer success team structure, you’ll likely notice that each team member has different skills, experience, and knowledge about the company’s products or services. Each person adds value to the team, but you need to ensure that they’re in the right seat and assign roles and responsibilities based on capabilities.

A few positions that contribute heavily to customer success teams include the chief customer officer, vice president, director, managers, and associates.

Here are a few key roles to consider when developing your customer success org chart:

  • Chief customer officer
  • Vice president
  • Director
  • Manager
  • Associate

Chief customer officer

The chief customer officer (CCO) of customer success is primarily responsible for solving long-standing customer issues and increasing customer retention by developing data-driven strategies. The CCO typically serves as the voice of the customer in boardroom meetings and helps make and implement company-wide decisions.

Responsibilities

  • Focus on improving customer outcomes using cross-functional collaboration.
  • Recruit and hire customer success team members.
  • Develop operational processes to increase efficiency, profitability, and customer satisfaction.
  • Leverage emerging technology, like AI and workflow automation, to modernize customer success initiatives.
  • Take the lead on high-level customer service management (CSM) matters.
  • Manage all customer care teams, including customer success, operations, and customer experience (CX).

Skills

  • Customer service skills
  • Strong leadership skills
  • Demonstrated history of meeting customer success goals
  • Industry and product knowledge
  • Expertise in launching CX programs and campaigns

Vice president

The VP of customer success plays an important role in reporting and strategizing. The VP operates similarly to a COO but specifically focuses on customer success.

In this role, the VP regularly assesses the customer journey, identifies areas for improvement, and gathers insights on processes and programs that are currently working well.

Key responsibilities

  • Prioritize team objectives to meet company goals.
  • Launch programs that align with approved strategies.
  • Advocate for customers to company leaders.
  • Develop customer success solutions for unique customer segments.
  • Collaborate with sales and support teams to streamline workflows.

Skills

  • Leadership skills
  • Data analysis
  • Experience mentoring junior employees
  • Ability to balance internal and external services

Director

The director of customer success rules the territory between customer success and business development. In addition to setting the customer success team up for positive outcomes, the director focuses heavily on business goals and internal data to guide the larger team.

Key responsibilities

  • Analyze customer engagement metrics.
  • Supervise CS team members, including managers.
  • Apprise leadership of updates, concerns, new product and process recommendations, and team wins.
  • Develop a customer success strategy to enhance customer growth, refine the education and onboarding process, and reduce customer churn.

Skills

  • Experience in leading a sales and/or support team
  • Project management and delegation skills
  • Business acumen
  • Data analysis and strategic planning

Manager

A customer success manager (CSM) provides ongoing support in hopes of building strong customer relationships and bridging the gap between sales and support. This role primarily oversees associates and ensures they have the necessary tools and knowledge to succeed.

Key responsibilities

Skills

  • Strong interpersonal communication skills
  • Computer literacy
  • Working product knowledge
  • Customer service experience
  • Leadership skills

Associate

Customer success associates typically answer general questions, teach customers how to use a product, and provide educational resources. They escalate issues to their manager when they are unable to find a solution or experience a long-term challenge that necessitates intervention.

Key responsibilities

  • Be the primary point of contact for customers.
  • Provide support and product training to customers.
  • Collect and record customer feedback.
  • Forge relationships with customers.

Skills

  • Communication
  • Customer service
  • Problem-solving
  • Conflict resolution

Top skills to look for in a customer success team

When hiring for your customer success team, look for strong customer service skills and possibly sales skills, which can be an asset if upselling opportunities arise. Ideally, the people you hire will have several hard and soft skills that enable them to meet performance expectations.

Hard skills often depend on your industry, but all customer service professionals should have and continually develop the following soft skills:

  • Empathy
  • Collaboration
  • Product knowledge
  • Communication and interpersonal skills
  • The ability to understand customer needs
  • Project management skills
  • Customer-first mindset
  • The ability to multitask without getting frazzled

Once you hire a team, offer ongoing training to help cultivate these skills. Read the guide below for more tips on building a customer success or service team.

Refine your service team structure for more successful outcomes

Build a winning customer success team using a proven framework. Download our free guide to get details on the most important service tiers, useful roles, and ways to tackle complex issues.

4. Specify goals and KPIs for your customer success team

You’ll want to determine your expectations for your customer success team upfront and ensure metrics match anticipated outcomes. Typically, CSM team performance is measured by CSAT and NPS scores, but you can choose other key performance indicators (KPIs) if they’re more applicable to company objectives.

Along with specifying which metrics you’ll monitor, you should also share goals for team members to strive for and share your reasoning behind the priorities you set. That way, they’ll put more energy into tasks with the highest payoff.

5. Use customer data to inform strategy

Another key step to building a customer success program is to identify your core customer groups so you can gain a better understanding of their needs. Some savvy ways to get to know your audience include:

  • Analytics from customer success software
  • Focus groups
  • Surveys

Using this information, you can segment customers and create customer personas to guide your team through future encounters.

Segmentation factors range from behavior and age to purchase histories and physical location. Customer segmentation allows you to tailor your success experiences to the needs of certain groups. This shows buyers that you care about and understand them, leading to increased satisfaction and engagement.

Customer journey mapping can also help you walk in your buyers’ shoes. The journey mapping process lets you visualize the stages a consumer goes through during their relationship with your business and helps you better understand their pain points. You experience everything customers experience along the way—including the roadblocks they meet.

A good map also highlights customers’ goals and how you can help them accomplish their objectives.

6. Determine the key responsibilities of your customer success team

The responsibilities of a customer success team are to improve customer retention, provide high-quality customer experiences, find sales opportunities, and pass along insights to other departments.

The responsibilities of your CS team will depend on the unique needs of your customers and business, but here are a few common responsibilities of customer success professionals.

  • Drive customer onboarding, adoption, retention, and growth.
  • Collaborate with colleagues in sales, product, and other parts of the organization to ensure customers get a good return on investment from your product or service.
  • Engage with customers in a way that thoughtfully changes their perception of what is possible from both a business and strategic perspective.
  • Perform issue identification, communication, and resolution.
  • Maintain product expertise.
  • Manage one-to-one customer engagements at different stages of the customer life cycle.
  • Conduct virtual and on-site meetings with customers.

You can also set customer success team goals based on company goals. For example, many businesses are striving to improve customer retention by providing conversational service, meeting customer expectations for personalization, treating customer-centric teams as revenue drivers, and closing data gaps between various departments.

With that in mind, CS team leaders can assign specific goals or tasks to the managers or associates best equipped to handle them.

Improve retention

Customer success team members are often valuable drivers of customer retention.

Most customers consider outstanding service, communication, and interpersonal connections to be major value-adds, so having a department dedicated to fulfilling their needs can keep them coming back.

Also, when an agent builds a good relationship with a customer, they can better anticipate their needs and impress with proactive customer service.

Provide personalized customer experiences

Customer success teams are in an ideal position to get to know customers and provide memorable experiences. Leveraging customer data garnered from past sales and service conversations, reps can easily personalize customer experiences through:

  • Content recommendations
  • Proactive support
  • Tailored training sessions
  • Refined messaging

Find opportunities to cross-sell and upsell

Customer success teams are often able to identify relevant upsell and cross-sell opportunities due to their proximity to the client, familiarity with your business’s product, access to customer data, and solution-first, educational approach to sales.

Once a relationship has been built on trust, and customers have received tailored or personalized recommendations, it’s often easier to push a cross-sell or upsell deal through.

Share insights within a feedback loop

To maximize team-wide success, customer success team members should regularly request, accept, follow up on, and share customer feedback internally.

At an associate level, this practice may yield insights that make their jobs easier and enable them to better meet customer expectations. Those who gather and pass along this information can also have an organizational impact, as customer success department leaders and strategists can use feedback from customer surveys to enhance processes and programs.

Sharing feedback from surveys and customer touchpoints also serves to eliminate data silos and improve cross-functional collaboration. This is essential for customer success because it allows sales, marketing, and support teams to align and provide the best messaging, products, and customer care possible.

7. Create an org chart to divvy up and track tasks

Create a customer success department structure that makes sense for your business. Getting the functional teams in place is vital, and determining who team members report to is part of the ongoing management and growth of your organization.

Once you have a customer success team in place, you can clearly outline who is responsible for each task and document the plan for assessing performance. By including these key components in your org chart, customer success team leaders can easily keep track of tasks and know who to contact when a question arises.

This is especially important because as complexity increases, everyone on the team won’t have in-depth knowledge about every part of the job.

8. Determine the role self-service resources will play

When creating a customer success team, consider the tools at your disposal. Between automated customer service and self-service support, you can easily direct customers to help center resources that add convenience to their experience without compromising fast resolutions.

Rather than focusing on hiring an associate who can answer simple questions, look into hiring an individual(s) who can document recurring customer issues, can use data to recommend additional customer self-service resources, and is comfortable accessing and leveraging content to speed up customer service.

9. Nail down essential processes and workflows

Another important part of building a customer success team is understanding essential job duties, automating repetitive tasks, and regularly assessing processes.

Businesses should set up predefined responses to common customer queries and use automations to take menial tasks off team members’ plates. This helps free up time so they can focus on training customers, solving problems, and nurturing connections.

10. Create training aids for the team

Business leaders can utilize customer feedback insights, product demos, sales enablement materials, training manuals, and trend reports to effectively train customer success teams.

Equip your customer success team with the information they need to fully understand business offerings so they can clearly communicate that knowledge to customers.

Aside from onboarding, businesses can also provide:

  • Insights from customer feedback
  • Spec sheets that outline product features and capabilities
  • Recorded demos and training sessions
  • Webinars
  • Access to sales enablement materials
  • Training and implementation guides
  • Process docs explaining the best ways to navigate common customer interactions
  • Industry trends and details about competitors

These assets can help prepare agents to manage and retain customer accounts.

Team members should also be able to easily access help center articles and utilize AI recommendations within a contextual agent workspace. This can increase resolution times and help agents maintain customer trust by providing accurate details about company offerings. Overall, this improves the agent experience as well as the customer experience.

11. Set your agents up for success by listening to and acting on their feedback

Finally, to continuously drive innovation and adequately prepare your customer success team to carry out essential services, you should equip them with industry-leading CX software like Zendesk.

As customer-facing teams familiarize themselves with the software and their customers, business leaders can use Zendesk to collect internal feedback. Using the information agents provide, they can gather insights and brainstorm ideas for additional tools, training, and processes that can improve the employee experience and customer success outcomes.

Net Promoter, Net Promoter Score, and NPS are trademarks of NICE Satmetrix, Inc., Bain & Company, Inc., and Fred Reichheld.

Refine your service team structure for more successful outcomes

Build a winning customer success team using a proven framework. Download our free guide to get details on the most important service tiers, useful roles, and ways to tackle complex issues.

Refine your service team structure for more successful outcomes

Build a winning customer success team using a proven framework. Download our free guide to get details on the most important service tiers, useful roles, and ways to tackle complex issues.

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