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Should customer success be represented at the C-Suite level? Let’s find out the answer in this write-up.
Customer success careers have become the buzzwords in the business environment.
The hot topic that is running around in the SaaS industry is the need for customer success to have a seat and a voice at the leadership table.
Thanks to their extensive experience coaching and interacting with customers, CS teams have an exclusive perspective as they are on the frontlines of the customer-company relationship.
Their job role includes working on behalf of the customers daily. It is their job to ensure customers are successful with their product and their company.
This very reason makes them the most powerful voice of the customer. And, if customer success is truly essential to your company, it becomes crucial that its voice is represented at the highest levels.
As we write, customer success is considered part of executive discussions all too rarely. This makes a case for customer success to have a seat at the leadership table.
This transition dates only a decade back since customer success as a domain has started to gain traction in the B2B industry.
So, what exactly has resulted in this change in the SaaS industry?
Let’s try to find that out in this write-up.
C-Suite, also known as C-level, is a word that is used to describe high-ranking executive titles working in an organization. The letter C, in this context, stands for “chief,” like a chief executive officer, chief, chief customer officer, and chief operating officer.
These are the people who primarily set the company’s strategy, make high-stakes decisions, and make certain mundane operations aligned with the fulfillment of the company’s strategic goals. This is the very reason that the people who hold the position at the C-Suite level are the highest-paid people in the company.
C-Suite executives need to have strong leadership and communication skills. They should also have team-building abilities.
As per the company requirement, there can be “N” number of CXO roles. But, in this write-up, I have narrowed it down to five for this particular topic. Here is a list of people who I believe are predominantly found in the C-Suite role:
Out of these, if you check all the successful SaaS companies, there is one common thing, which is they all have a CCO role which is working solely for customer success.
Have you ever come across a company that achieved its objective without taking into accounts the needs of the customers? The answer is hardly any! But since a company is divided into different departments and each department is concerned about doing its best, the company often fails to consider the customer’s needs.
This is where it becomes essential to have a CCO (Chief Customer Officer) who can show the way to the different departments in the company and make them work on a common objective – to make their customers succeed.
The CCO can create awareness amongst different departments about the importance of advocating the success of customers. Having a person who can speak with top executives in the organization to advocate this cause can become a crucial aspect that can make your company climb the stairs of success in the shortest possible time.
In the SaaS-based economy, subscriptions are like gold as they can help you generate revenue regularly. But it becomes difficult to manage the accounts after a point in time when your customer base increases. You are always looking for a person who can help you deal with renewals and expansion. This is where a CCO can help the finance department maintain these records.
The role of a Chief Customer Officer is to ensure that the number of subscribers is maintained over some time. The next task is to ensure a maximum number of renewals that result in business expansion. For this business, the CCO can get help from the customer success teams and the financial department to maximize the expansion opportunities.
Here is a mini podcast that highlights the subject in a discussion hosted by Pritwi Dasgupta:
Those departments in the company dealing directly with the customers need to have a strategy to ensure that they can create the best customer experience. This is where the role of a CCO becomes crucial.
The CCO can advise the departments to ensure that they put their best foot forward while communicating with the customers. Remember, while speaking with the customers, these customer-facing departments become the face of the company. Hence, being polite and having a smiling face is a must all the time.
The employees dealing with the customers need to be empathic and always keen to resolve their queries and doubts. A CCO can train the customer-facing departments with adequate soft skills to maintain a positive brand image in front of the customers.
Everyone knows that the customer journey can be divided into five distinct stages:
But, not everyone in the organization knows how to deliver the best customer experience across the customer journey stages. This is where the role of a CCO becomes crucial. He/she suggests the best channels to get to the customers and help provide the best customer experience.
Not every department in the organization is aligned with customer success. But, for the success of an organization, it is imperative to align them with customer success. This is where CCO can become a key figure.
He/she can align different departments like the product, sales, marketing, and finance with customer success. Although these departments do not show any correlation with each other, if we look closely, these departments can make your organization customer centric. CCO can help achieve this objective seamlessly. We have discussed more it in the last section of this write-up.
A customer-centric organization always thinks from the perspective of the customers. But visualizing this thing is very difficult. For successful execution, it becomes essential to have a head like CCO to build a customer-centric culture across the company.
He/she can imbibe customer-centric culture by keeping the customers’ needs at the forefront of the organization. This is irrespective of the department in the organization.
As the customer success department head, the CCO needs to build customer communities on professional networking sites like LinkedIn. Although one can argue that this is the role of the marketing head, a CCO is much better placed in representing ideas about the customers’ success and presenting them in communities.
It can even be an independent portal, a social media community or a mobile app. Alternatively, they can also create customer advocates who speaks for the product.
By creating a wider reach through the customer success teams, the CCOs can become the brand advocates of the company and its product by carefully planning and executing. This can prove to be quite lucrative for the long-term growth prospects of an organization.
A CCO is aware that customer success is a complex field that requires a proper understanding of customer sentiments and business growth.
Since there can be subjective judgment regarding customer sentiments, the CCO has hands-on experience utilizing NPS (Net Promoter Score), ARR, MRR, Customer Health score, Friction points, forecast of customers, revenue, brand-specific shares, social engagement trend shifts, tone of comments, tone & context of mentions, etc.
All these metrics help the customer success teams in accessing the customer sentiments. These metrics can then come in handy in measuring the overall business growth in an organization.
Here are some of the biggest challenges of the chief customer officer in any organization:
In an emerging industry, if your customer success team is a relatively new addition within a business, there is an enormous amount of grafting to be done to prove your team’s worth with the company.
This is the primary challenge that needs to be overcome while including C-Suite executives in the customer success field. Specifically for new disciplines like customer success, there is a need to change its internal perception as a business function because it can prove to be an obstacle in itself.
Remember, having a unified, customer-centric vision for the company can make an enormous difference.
Everyone is fully aware of the term “customer-centricity,” but are we practicing that in our organization? This is perhaps the biggest concern that needs to be addressed.
The third most difficult challenge is to ensure that you are working in an organization that values and is committed to the customers. Each and every sector of the organization, like the product, marketing, sales, and finance, needs to be focused on the customer journey.
It is imperative to enforce customer-centricity in the product stage by executing an infrastructure that provides roadmap transparency. When you do this, it outlines a process for the customers to submit improvement and track improvement requests.
Sales is unnecessarily being considered a mercenary field. Yes, sales is indeed driven by revenue, but the customer still guides it. One way to achieve this is by ensuring that they are positioning the product and/or the service properly, right out of the gate.
As far as marketing is concerned, it is important to provide a stable, consistent expectation that implies the success of an organization. And the best way to do that is by communicating with your customers.
Customer feedback is crucial. You need to ensure that your product team receives product feedback by setting up vehicles to accumulate the feedback they need. The worst crime you can do is start building a product in a vacuum without validating customer/market needs.
While finance is considered mostly behind the scenes compared to other departments, understanding customer experience is critical for the rest of the business. Once the profiling of the customers is done, it can share useful intel with the marketing, who, in turn, can adjust their campaigns to different target audiences.
In case the service is poor, or the customer gets a lackluster experience, it results in customer churn. Over here, the key to resolving the concern is by enquiring the finance team, “How do we collect money from the customers?” “Is our process streamlined or painful?”
This is where the CCO (Chief Customer Officer utilizes the executive influence by inquiring these questions to the top management. This is the primary step in influencing finance in customer value.
The ultimate objective is not just selling a product; a business also needs to strive for customer retention by making meaningful, long-lasting relationships.
The most vital question is whether companies can improve customer communication by replacing hindering internal structures?
The significance of how customer success can play a crucial role in the future cannot be undermined.
Over the last decade or so, we have already seen a drastic growth of the SaaS industry, especially during the lockdown period.
We will see more Chief Customer Officers coming up as organizations realize the need to execute a genuine customer focus in their business.57
It is still early days when we are seeing the position for CCOs, but we are sure people will get used to it in the near future!
Dattatraya Shetty is an IT Professional with 2 Decades of experience in areas of Product Development, Implementation & Service Delivery Management. As the Head of Implementations and SOC Compliance in Smartkarrot he is on a mission to provide relishing customer experience.
Published October 29, 2021, Updated February 28, 2023
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