When people talk about scaling Customer Success, they usually mean adding digital capabilities into the mix. While you probably know by now that I’m a huge fan of Digital Customer Success, I think it’s important to acknowledge that this is not the only path to optimizing engagement as your customer base grows. If we think about scale from a one-to-many perspective, it’s not difficult to see that automation is just one option in that category. Another path you might also consider is that of implementing a pooled CSM model. Pooled CSM models work well with product(s) that are simple and user friendly, especially if customers can try it on their own with a free trial or freemium pricing tier. This kind of product-led growth often leads to high-volume, low-dollar segments, or even entire customer bases, that do require guidance but perhaps less so than more complicated product suites would demand.
With a pooled model, you can extend your valuable people resources to a larger number of accounts without dramatically expanding your team size and without having to provide each customer with a dedicated CSM. Especially for Customer Success organizations under a tight budget (which we know applies to many in today’s economic climate), scaling in this way can benefit both your team and your customers. But before you go rearranging your CSM roles tomorrow, take a few minutes to consider the pros and cons of a pooled model.
How a pooled CSM model works
In a traditional Customer Success model, we most commonly see individual CSMs, each assigned and dedicated to their own book of business. They manage and foster the growth of a specific number of accounts, steadily developing and strengthening their relationships with that set of customers over the course of their journey. In a pooled CSM model, you don’t assign accounts to an individual CSM. The pool of CSMs shares accounts between them. Any available CSM within the pool can work with a given customer at any time. This certainly isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. Many teams have a group of CSMs assigned to specific enterprise accounts, where others are pooled and share the responsibility of assisting your lower touch, long-tail customers.
The potential upsides of this model are pretty straightforward. Pooling your CSMs removes a bottleneck between CSMs and their customers. When your ratio of customers per CSM is high, it’s harder for CSMs to keep up one-to-one interactions (especially without the right technologies in place). When they’re overloaded, your Customer Success dynamic slips from proactive into reactive mode, and inevitably, customer engagement suffers. With a pooled model, CSMs can share the burden amongst their peers. Communication with customers is much faster. And CS leaders can maximize their engagement strategies for their volume customers without the constraint of balancing each CSM’s individual book of business.
One downside of this model is that your CSMs likely won’t be able to form ultra-close bonds with their customers. They might not get to know them on a personal level as well as they would if they owned their own accounts. You may also want to consider whether renewals and expansion are part of your Customer Success charter (or if you want them to be in the future). A pooled CSM model can certainly complicate the way you pay your CSMs if you intend to assign them individual revenue goals. Lastly, if your customer segments are complicated (even if your product is not), pooling CSMs may get tricky. For example, you might run into trouble if your customers are in different geographies and speak different languages. Many of these challenges create small enough roadblocks that they likely won’t throw your entire path to a pooled model off course, but they are worth considering before you make the move.
Building trust with your customers
83% of customers expect to interact with someone the moment they contact a company, according to Salesforce’s State of the Connected Customer, 5th Edition. That tells us that customers want faster communication, but we also know from our own experiences that they want consistent, trust-building engagement over time. Pooling your CSMs can mean much faster engagement, but that trusted advisor status might take a hit. You have to decide the right balance for your team.
If your hypothesis is that a pooled CSM model will help your team communicate with customers faster while keeping that critical trust intact, my other advice would be to evaluate your CSMs before making this kind of shift. They may already have special connections with their customers or a unique approach that’s particularly effective, and pooling accounts could interfere with what they’ve built. These factors are certainly worth considering when evaluating which CSMs and which accounts make the most sense to utilize this model with.
And I’ll leave you with a final list of other factors to consider if you’re unsure if a pooled CSM model is right for you:
- How fast is my customer base growing?
- How many CSMs do I plan to hire in the next year?
- What are my current CS Ops capabilities?
- How much interaction are my current customers receiving?
- How might my team benefit from pooling accounts?