The median amount of customers for a customer success manager (CSM) working for a mid-market company is between 100 and 250.
It’s the same for small-to-medium businesses (SMBs).
The account list drops considerably when you get to an enterprise company—think Shopify, HubSpot, and Salesforce.
According to Gainsight, CSMs at enterprise companies manage between 10-50 accounts. Still, the accounts are almost certainly big, meaning CSMs are managing millions of annual recurring revenue (ARR).
Whichever lens you look through, the image is the same: CSMs have a lot on their plates and are tasked with some pretty monumental responsibilities.
- Customer expansion and upsells
- Long-term relationships
- Product adoption
Obviously, your CSMs aren’t solely responsible for renewals, expansion, and satisfaction, but by golly, do they play a big role.
Asking them to drive all of that for dozens, potentially hundreds of customers, seems unfair and almost criminal. But for better or worse, it’s the norm, and no one’s really at fault. That’s just how things have always been done.
What’s the solution?
Add more accounts to your CSMs’ plates or scale your team.
I’d suggest the latter, but not in the way you might expect.
Scaling your team doesn’t mean hiring more CSMs. At an average salary of CSM well into the six figures, that’s thousands of dollars you may not have (or want to spend).
I’m talking about scale via digital customer education.
How? By helping your CSMs do more (provide the same level of value to more customers) with less (without asking them to work late into the night).
What’s Digital Customer Education?
Digital customer education refers to using a learning management system (LMS) and a digital customer academy to increase the reach, impact, and efficiency of training.
Unlike traditional customer education, which is the discipline of training customers manually via ad-hoc sessions, PDFs, webinars, and 1:1 calls with CSMs, digital customer education delivers high-quality, interactive, and on-demand resources to customers at scale.
Digital customer education also creates operational efficiencies and elevates the customer experience by moving beyond ineffective, labor-intensive, and expensive training processes, giving customer-facing teams more time to focus on retention, revenue, and managing more accounts.
What Digital Customer Education Is NOT
Digital customer education is NOT delivering training via help desks, support articles, and how-to documents that focus on “how” to use a product. True digital customer education focuses on “why” customers should make the choice to use a product or feature.
How Digital Customer Education Can Help You Scale Your Customer Success Team
With that said, how can digital customer education and a digital academy help you scale your customer success team?
Let’s dive in.
…at least part of it.
Onboarding is, far and away, the most important step in the customer journey. These first few days, weeks, and months when your customers are expecting value will directly influence not only early product adoption, but renewal talks down the road. A poor onboarding experience can even put the lid on the likelihood of a renewal before the conversations even start.
Key Customer Onboarding Stats
- 63% of customers consider the company's onboarding program when making a purchasing decision.
- 70% of customers say understanding how they use products and services is very important to winning their business.
- Over 90% of customers think that companies could do better when it comes to onboarding new customers.
Companies know onboarding is important. According to Precursive’s Customer Onboarding Benchmark Report, 74% of enterprise organizations have a customer onboarding team.
But asking these teams—or individual CSMs and implementation managers—to do it all manually will spread them too thin.
Remember: The average CSM at a mid-market company has 100-250 customer accounts. At one point, each of them went through the onboarding process.
What happens when you acquire a new customer and they’re ready for onboarding?
You assign them a CSM.
Great. Your CSM—let’s call him Nick—now has 251 accounts.
He’s already strapped for time. Asking him to onboard a new customer does two things:
- He can’t truly dedicate significant resources to the new customer because he has 250 other customers who need him.
- He spends significant resources onboarding the new customer but leaves the other 250 somewhat hanging.
Either way, it’s a poor customer experience, which is a detriment to the relationship with your customers.
Avoid this all-to-common challenge with digital customer education.
With digital customer education, you can automate many of these early moments—moments that have historically been the sole responsibility of your CSM (to do manually). For example, you can automate an email to go to every new customer with links to relevant courses that can get them up and running quickly.
By doing this, you can help new customers get up to speed quickly while reducing amount of time and effort required by your CSMs. It’s a win-win.
It also allows you to deliver consistent training and messaging, ensuring each of your customers receives the same information presented in the same way.
Use Insights to Deliver Proactive Training
Ask any CSM what arcade game best describes their day-to-day and I bet most of them would say whack-a-mole.
A customer can’t figure out how to use a new feature—or they broke something.
Their boss is breathing down their neck about how the product isn’t “returning value.”
They just stop using the product altogether.
“Reacting” is a huge part of customer success, but asking your CSMs to hit up the arcade every morning, noon, and night is no way to build a well-oiled customer success engine. It’s definitely no way to scale one, either.
Your CSMs shouldn’t be firefighting. They should be thinking ahead and putting out any spark before it has an inkling of becoming a fire.
One of the ways they can do that is by gleaning into the insights offered by a digital customer education program. These insights—think course enrollment, course progress, quiz scores, learning path progress, and ILT registration—can all give CSMs insight into how a customer is behaving and their sentiment around the product.
Have they failed a quiz a few times?
Have they stopped a learning path at a certain course for a certain amount of days?
Are they not enrolling in new courses?
All of these insights and analytics can help CSMs understand what’s going through the customer’s head—and they can reach out accordingly.
For example, if someone continues to fail a quiz, the CSM can reach out with related content ot help them get over the hump. Even better—time permitting—they can schedule a call to to discuss it live.
Remember: 1:1 meetings aren’t the enemy. The enemy is what’s being discussed during them and getting customers to come to the table with as little frustration as possible.
If Nick didn’t know these insights, he wouldn’t know to reach out. Instead, the customers would grow frustrated and potentially stop using the product (or related feature).
Worst case scenario, the customer messages Nick, but because 50 of his other customers are struggling as well, Nick doesn’t have time to get back to the customer for a few days.
Again, the customer is frustrated and is getting a poor customer experience. They’ll eventually churn because of it—if not this one, another one.
Here’s the ultimate way to scale your customer success team without increasing headcount: create power users who are self-sufficient and rarely—if ever—rely on their CSMs to unlock product value.
Certifications—think those offered via the HubSpot Academy—provide a relatively low-lift way to help your average customer take their product knowledge to the next level. A customer who understands the ins and outs of a product is inherently less likely to reach out to their CSM and submit a ticket to customer service (or message the chatbot).
Because these customers are essentially “off leash,” CSMs and support reps can dedicate most, if not all, of their time to aiding customers who are struggling, at risk of churn, or may not be realizing product value the way they should.
On top of that, creating power users via certifications gives your customers a means to which sign your praises. Just scroll through LinkedIn and count the number of people who’re posting about a recent certification.
They’re doing this to level up their career, sure, but they’re also exposing your brand—and academy—to their networks, giving you the potential to win more business.
Why Does This All Matter?
It comes down to two things: efficiency and performance.
The goal of digital customer education is to create self-sufficient customers via on-demand and relevant learning. Your customers should be able to access related resources as easily as they can go to YouTube and learn how to cook their family a meal.
Doing so directly impacts product adoption, onboarding impact, and customer satisfaction, but it also frees up your CSMs to do more with less.
That means you can scale your customer success team without increasing headcount. In a down economy, when budgets are tight and retention should be top of mind, that should be music to your ears (and the ears of your leadership team).