The Customer Success Maturity Model Part 2: “Operationalize” Capabilities (Constructing Your CS System)

April 21, 2021

Marley Wagner

Category: Customer Experience, Customer Retention, Customer Success as a Service, Customer Success Maturity, Customer Success Strategy

Stop! If you’re wondering what the ESG Customer Success Maturity Model is and why we built it, go back and read the first installment of this three-part series. If you’ve already devoured that and are ready for more, read on!

Here in part two, I’ll talk about the second phase of Customer Success maturity – Operationalize. This phase of growth is all about erecting a structure on top of your CS foundation. Think of phase one like the bones of your CS body. Phase two is all the hardworking organs, tissue, and blood that form the overlaying system that allows the body to function.

The capabilities you need to operationalize your Customer Success practice

Scaling Customer Success requires operationalizing processes and procedures. You want more customers, and you want your new customers to be just as happy and supported as the rest of your customers. You aren’t going to be able to constantly expand your CS team at the same rate at which your business grows. This means taking everything that is working (or could be working) for your CS organization and building it into the processes and systems that allow you to support that potentially infinite number of customers with your finite resources. Constructing and evolving these processes is the second category of capabilities on the ESG Customer Success Maturity Model.

According to TSIA’s The State of Customer Success 2020, operationalizing the customer journey is one of the six key elements of scaling CS. “This practice combines three Customer Success capabilities, journey mapping, success plans, and playbooks, in order to orchestrate a meaningful scripted set of time, event, and value-based milestones as customers achieve outcomes over their life cycle with technology and services.”

Let’s break that down a bit.

TSIA has identified three critical capabilities for operationalizing Customer Success. In our experience, as you’ll see below, journey mapping, success plans, and playbooks, are absolutely fundamental to this process. But for our Maturity Model, we’ve broken these capabilities out a bit further. You’ll notice that we begin these capabilities at number six because they are a continuation of the five we covered in part one of this series.

6. Playbooks

Customer Success playbooks are the plans you have in place for CSMs to engage with your customers proactively with specific goals in mind. Playbooks should act as a guide for CSMs, letting them know that if x happens, do y. Success plans fall under this capability, and they are usually broken out by customer segments and lifecycle stages. Ideally, you’ll have some technology in place to assist your CSMs to automate some of these tasks, like an in-app engagement software that helps guide your customers through onboarding. Playbooks will allow you to build a consistent customer experience with fewer resources. As you mature, they will help drive predictable delivery and capacity models.

7. Operationalize Manual Processes

This capability is a tricky one because it’s all about your ability to measure and then scale existing manual processes. We love automation, but the reality is that you’ll never be able to automate everything (nor should you), so you need to have systems and standards in place to ensure that processes (even manual ones) are effective and driving results. We consider a process to be operationalized once it is both repeatable and measurable – could a new employee easily accomplish it, and can you measure its effectiveness? Speed is also a factor here because the faster you can develop and operationalize new processes as they’re created (without sacrificing quality, of course), the faster you can utilize those newly implemented processes to improve both your employee and customer experience. Oh, and I’m sure all this process-talk has you in standardization mode, but don’t forget to maintain flexibility as you continue to iterate and evolve.

8. CX (NPS, CSAT, etc.)

Metrics that track your customers’ experience are crucial to the stability and longevity of your CS organization. A 2020 report from Walker found that 86% of buyers will pay more for a better customer experience. Customers make their buying (and cough, renewing) decisions based on their experiences. In phase one of the ESG Customer Success Maturity Model, we talked about needing both lagging and leading indicators for your CS KPIs. In the Operationalize stage, you should be actively gathering customer feedback and closing that feedback loop, plus be measuring KPIs that specifically tackle customer experience, like NPS and CSAT.

9. CS Journey Map

It’s 10:30 on Monday morning, do you know where your customers are? If you have a journey map, you do! Developing a comprehensive customer journey map not only helps you understand exactly where your customers are in their journey and what they are (or should be) experiencing, but also allows you to prioritize the best junctures to step in and assist them. Your CS journey map provides you with opportunities to consistently demonstrate the value of your solution throughout the customer lifecycle. It is your vision for the ideal customer journey. These should be created collaboratively with other departments (think marketing, sales, product, support, etc.), and once it’s documented and customized by customer segment, you can all use it to create a company-wide vision that drives a consistent customer experience across the board.

10. Access to Data

It should come as no surprise that all this hard-earned data should be accessible to you, your CS team, and other groups like sales and marketing. Basic items like IT support tickets should be trackable and accessible, but also more advanced user data can (and should!) be collected and utilized for Customer Success operations. Unfortunately, this is often more difficult than it sounds – we often hear “well, I know we have that data somewhere, I’m just not sure how to access it.” But working through those silos to get the data you need will be worth it, as we’ve found that easy access to both quantitative and qualitative data, drilling down to each customer, is a key contributor to developing a data-driven and predictable CS organization.

11. Health Score Creation

Which brings us to customer health. You can’t know how to improve customer retention if you don’t know how healthy your customers are, to begin with. Customer health scores are more than just asking if a customer is happy – yes or no. Sophisticated health scores involve multiple data points collected throughout the end-to-end customer experience. This analysis can then be built into an interactive customer health score dashboard that allows CSMs to test and iterate as your knowledge about your customers grows over time.


This is part two of our three-part series on the ESG Customer Success Maturity Model. We’re exploring each category, Build, Operationalize, and Transform, to see what capabilities can help your CS organization become more predictive and proactive as you scale. Check out part one if you missed it, and part three here for the next installment.