Meet the Scale Expert:

Stevie Bickford

Say no to silos, say yes to customer centricity. Customer Success expert and Scalewise Coach Stevie Bickford talks us through her top tips.
Hi I’m Stevie and I’m a Scalewise Coach. Ever since I started out as a management consultant at PwC, I’ve had a passion for understanding and improving customer experience. From building out the Customer Success team as GoCardless moved from Series C to D to resetting the Customer Success function with new structures and processes at a Series B fintech scale-up, I’ve specialised in managing the customer journey at many stages along the funding pipeline. Here’s my 3×3.

3 tips to embrace

● Tip 1 - Balance customer experience with commercial growth

Scaling companies tend to focus on sales and pre-sales, investing in teams, tools and outcomes. Yet once the customer has signed on the dotted line, that focus often gets put elsewhere. The success of customers and businesses are inextricably linked – especially for SaaS companies operating a recurring revenue model – so the post-sale customer experience (CX) should be a key consideration too. Companies should set a commercial strategy that establishes CX standards through the full customer lifecycle, embed a customer-centric approach across all teams, and build out a Customer Success (CS) function to identify gaps, manage relationships and monitor areas for improvement.

Note within this that contrary to the old adage, the customer is not always right! Just as customers should not play second fiddle to growth, growth shouldn’t always be the understudy to customers. There needs to be a balance between the needs of the customer and the business for true long-term success.

● Tip 2 - Bring in people with the right experience at the right time

Start-up culture is very important. While it can be derided for bean bags and brainstorms, the jack-of-all-trades juggling of responsibilities is not just an engine for innovation, but also a major draw for talented generalists that like the challenge. They join a company for its particular culture. But they can also become wedded to and protective of that culture; sometimes to detrimental levels.

As start-ups shift from Series A to B, members of the Series A team can get concerned that hiring an experienced specialist will detract from the culture and that expensive new hires might limit the opportunities for people already there to progress. In fact, it should be the opposite. A specialist can not only implement key processes and structure to free up generalists’ time, but also work with them to improve their skill sets. This increases productivity and morale as staff feel engaged and valued, and reduces the risk of burnout as tasks take less time and effort.

● Tip 3 - Avoid building silos

Customer Success is a super cross-functional team requiring close and productive working relationships with multiple other teams, including Product, Sales, and Marketing. The same can be said for most departments; they can only achieve so much alone. Overall company success relies on everyone working together towards a clear goal, and successfully raising investment relies on quantifying a clear, holistic vision.

For CS, understanding the pain points customers are feeling from Sales means we can work on these with customers and feedback helpful learnings and insights for Sales to use in their future deals. When it comes to product development, CS needs to speak with the Product team to understand the detail they need from customers – i.e. not just what customers want, but why. The same continuous feedback loop is needed with Marketing so we can ensure customer information is fed into campaigns and collateral created to fill customer knowledge gaps. Inter-departmental collaboration is key. Avoid the siloes.

3 mistakes to avoid

● Mistake 1 - Not investing in data from the beginning

It’s common for companies to build up a tech team to develop their product and hire a sales team to sell it, but completely forget about or deprioritise capturing the data that will help them understand how they’re doing and what improvements to make and when.

If data isn’t proactively managed from the start, it’s very difficult and disruptive to try and address retrospectively and impedes team success whilst it’s absent. Customer Success, for instance, should be a very data driven function. But without customer data on revenue, churn and customer health metrics, it’s impossible to really apply best practice, optimise the team and track continuous improvements. Metrics are also key to attracting investors, so companies should consider data as a function from as early a stage as possible. Think about what data you need, how to capture, manage and present it, and then build out the people, processes and tools required to make this a reality.

● Mistake 2 - Waiting too long to build a Customer Success team

It can be easy for customer retention to be an afterthought, but it’s key for longevity and successful funding rounds. Customer acquisition cost (CAC) is much higher than growing existing business, so committing resources to a CS team from an early stage is crucial to optimise this. Additionally, the earlier you start tracking and improving customer metrics, the more impressive the narrative when selling the company to Series B investors. For SaaS companies, it’s not just about showing LTV, CAC and churn rates, but showing what you do with that data. Are you spotting the trends and acting on them? Are you plugging gaps? How many monthly support tickets are you getting and how many of them satisfy the customer request?

This is what Customer Success is for: to understand customer health and work cross-functionally to build that company-wide positive story around customer retention, advocacy and growth.

● Mistake 3 - Avoiding processes for fear of losing culture

It’s like a football club considering a new signing, but the players aren’t keen as it might change their formation with no thought to the potential benefits. People are often uncomfortable with change and whilst a positive culture offering psychological safety is imperative, it can often be used as an excuse to avoid hierarchy and process. At Series B, there needs to be a balance.

Processes shouldn’t be imposed on companies for the sake of it, but instead be tailored to the company’s unique contours to make life easier for all involved. They are the foundations that help people deal with the repeatable, scalable elements of their function more effectively whilst being trusted and empowered to manage the nuances. They should encourage decision-making, accountability, productivity and engagement, while also cultivating a learning mindset. To simply reject structure on the premise of culture is at best naive and at worst downright damaging.

BUT…the good news is that all the above mistakes can be avoided, or if necessary, fixed. A lot of it comes from experience and planning. In high-growth environments, it’s easy to push planning from one day’s to-do list to the next, but carving out time to develop a clear strategy and keep revisiting how this evolves, enables you to continuously identify what you need, when and from whom.

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