How do you truly empower your customer success (CS) team to operate with a healthy level of autonomy and, in turn, make great decisions for the business? Apply techniques commonly used in the product world.

Great product teams build exceptional products through opportunity analysis, research and clear target user definition to prioritize the features and scope that unlock value for customers. They do this with a great deal of cross-functional collaboration and partnership. Borrowing lessons from this approach will also help you build an effective, flexible CS program that supports your diverse customer base both in the short and long term.

Let’s dive into some ways you can apply techniques and frameworks typically seen in the product world to build agile, empowered CS teams that continually become stronger.

1. Equip Teams to Own Their Roadmap

Not everyone on a CS team is familiar with a product roadmap or agile delivery cycle framework. Understanding and applying this approach can be especially helpful for team members in customer-facing roles where day-to-day responsibilities vary and are not in their full control. Ensuring that your team members are connected to collective goals will allow them to balance both reactive work with proactive, forward-striving progress. Through building an intentional roadmap that breaks larger problems into smaller, one- or two-week sprints, your team will be able to understand the immediate steps they can take to achieve a larger goal.

Think: build, ideate and prioritize. Let's break those down:

Build: Identify Business Objectives and Build Customer Roadmaps

Enable your CS teams to build collective and individual roadmaps by clearly prioritizing the opportunities and goals for your business. For example, do you want to reduce revenue loss? Increase adoption? Improve NPS or customer satisfaction? Once you’ve prioritized the goals, your teams can identify trends or themes across macro-segments. Using revenue, plan or subscription type, customer profile or use case, industry, purchase channel, and other types of segmentation data, identify the customer profiles that will drive the biggest impact in the shortest time frame.

Ideate: Gather Cross-Functional Customer Experience Stakeholders

If you’re working within a portfolio of customers, gather with your peers and creatively ideate on how you might address a particular opportunity together. At a segment level, bring together key cross-functional stakeholders to collectively brainstorm solutions. In situations where you need to move quickly, work within your CS team to quickly develop a tactical plan to positively influence those opportunities.

Prioritize: Grab Quick CX Wins and Go

Next, prioritize solutions based on level of effort or speed-to-launch and expected impact. It’s easy to get bogged down by analysis at this stage, but it’s best to focus wisely on one or two quick wins you can prioritize immediately. Meet with your group regularly to report on the outcomes of actions and evaluate what’s next. Repeat this process until you feel your attention is best focused elsewhere.

Related Article: Building the Best Customer Success Team

2. Operate With an Agile, Sprint-Oriented Approach

After your teams develop their roadmaps, it’s about delivery and continual learning. Use a two-week sprint cycle to set smaller goals and focus your team’s work on a specific scope.

Think: equip, escalate and review. Let's break those down:

Equip: Give Customer Support Teams Consistent Methods and Models

The most important element to empower your team in a sprint cycle framework is creating consistency. Equip your team with consistent methods for delivering information, reporting on status, blockers, risks and impact. As a leader, your role includes facilitating check-ins for measuring progress, unblocking your team when they’re stuck and providing coaching in a direct and actionable way — while giving them the space to problem-solve on their own.

Escalate: Encourage Customer Support Teams to Report Blockers

Empower your team to make decisions by creating a clear escalation and decision-making process. Regular check-ins can limit how long a team member ruminates on a blocker or challenge. Often, well-meaning team members will try too long to solve something on their own. An agile approach highlights blockers early for collective ideation and problem solving.

Review: Step Back, Look Forward for CX Success

You can also use a retrospective at the end of a sprint to understand what went well, what didn’t and to realign priorities going into the next two-week sprint.

Learning Opportunities

Related Article: What It Takes to Build the Best Customer Experience Team

3. Create a High-Trust, High-Safety Culture

As a leader, it can be tempting to control every decision to keep a CS program on track. However, making all the decisions doesn’t incentivize your team to think critically or instill a sense of ownership. Every team member should be empowered to make decisions within their work and challenge established processes. This is reflected in the fundamental agile leadership principle: Creativity can come from anywhere.

Think: validate, connect and discover. Let's break those down:

Validate: Help Find Connections to Customers

To create a safe space for teams to do this, a leader must first take the time to understand and validate each person’s “why” or core motivation for doing what they do. You must also help them find their connection to the customer. Why do they feel passionately about helping customers succeed? In 2022, 80% of employees reported wanting to work at an organization where they feel connected to the purpose and the people. While you won’t be able to connect every task to a deeper meaning, having a shared understanding of purpose will make connecting to each other, the customer and the work much easier.

Connect: How Is My Work Helping the Business, Customers?

To help your team access their “why,” first try to connect each person’s work directly to the business metrics they’re impacting. When the leadership team shares company performance reports, your team should clearly understand how its work is contributing to an overall goal. In this case for CS, that might mean improving revenue retention or improving customer satisfaction.

Discover: What Drives Each Customer Success Team Member?

Second, get to know each individual. While one person may be intrinsically motivated to help customers reach their KPIs, another may be inspired by teamwork and helping their peers collectively achieve goals. Discovering each team member’s motivation is the most important way to help build a complementary team that’s inspired to achieve.

Instilling Confidence With a Product Mindset

Applying product principles to how you lead your CS team can help team members make better, more empowered decisions and feel more confident and fulfilled in their work — ultimately leading to happier, more loyal customers. If your team’s charter is to drive improvements in revenue retention and product adoption, the only way you can make meaningful progress is by breaking down large, overarching objectives into more manageable phases of work.

Psychologists have observed a similar phenomenon in elite athletes. When professional long distance runners focus visually on a landmark ahead of them — like a nearby tree or a street sign — they can break down impossibly long distances into manageable steps.

Build a team of elite runners. Help them visualize and manage their own goals, and you’ll be well on your way to leading a highly motivated, empowered team.

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