Building Community alongside Customer Success in 4 easy steps

May 3, 2023

Community Manager, Product at Mews

Before joining the world of Community Management, I was in Customer Success (CS). Little did I know that I was already a Community builder.

I look back to those times and admire the intersectionality between both professions; there is so much potential synergy between the two teams. Not only are there similar relationships that CS and Community have with customers, but also similar goals that can be worked on together and initiatives that can be collaborated on. As such, in this article, I’ll be giving recommendations on how to befriend your Customer Success Manager (CSM) colleagues and show them the wonders the community can do for their customers.

But what is Customer Success?

Let's briefly begin with defining what Customer Success is. 

Seven years ago, Customer Success was "the new kid on the block" regarding Go-To-Market strategy and processes, quite similar to what Community-Led Growth is doing right now for B2B & B2C alike. 

When I started as a CSM, colleagues and the CS community kept referring to this book written by Nick Mehta (CEO of Gainsight), Lincoln Murphy (Customer Success Growth Expert at Sixteen Ventures) and Dan Steinman (Chief Evangelist at Gainsight) called Customer Success: How Innovative Companies Are Reducing Churn and Growing Recurring Revenue or as it is also known, “The Blue Book.” I’d recommend giving it a read if you’re interested in learning more. 

Also, this recent Forbes article defines CS here:

For subscription businesses, the focus is clear: retaining customers. Older research from Fred Reichheld of Bain & Company showed that, in financial services, "a 5% increase in customer retention produces more than a 25% increase in profit." When times are challenging, and the sales pipeline slows, the disparity between the cost to acquire and retain customers tends to grow. Who drives retention? It's a company-wide goal, but the team in the spotlight is customer success (CS).”

Now, that is A LOT of pressure. CS Teams get asked by Sales, Product, and Marketing to provide "lists" of customers willing to be references for prospective customers, to take part in interviews for new feature releases, and to do case studies or to join beta programs.

Are these items starting to resonate with you, fellow CM? Community platforms (most leading incumbents in different segments, at least) can cater to all of the above. Additionally, CS is sometimes in charge of the following:

  • Surveys
  • Net Promoter Score (NPS)
  • Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR) & Net Recurring Revenue (NRR)
  • Hosting Quarterly Business Reviews (QBRs)

Finding that synergy

Let’s say you’ve launched your community - internal announcements sent, mission, vision, guidelines, purpose explained. All boxes have been ticked. You’ve done the work, but one thing that would improve this process is to have sidekicks. Your Customer Success org is one partner you want to bring along for the ride. CS should be your partner in crime, your BFF, your Joey to your Chandler (for you Friends fans out there). As is the case with any successful collaboration, clear communication, defined goals, and access to data will be essential. This is a very crucial element you should take into account for your Community strategy. Let's prepare before powering up your partnership.

1. Speak their language

As you plan to meet up with your CS team, consider their priorities and find common ground. 

My suggestions:

  • Research what metrics they are currently tracking with customers 
  • Look into their tools and platforms - can you sync up or integrate tools?
  • Be ready to educate on the purpose of the community and how it ties together with CS

As a side note, Gainsight, a customer success platform that recently acquired the community platform inSided, hosts an excellent CS and Community centered conference called Pulse that I’d highly recommend attending. They hold Pulse conferences in San Francisco (coming up in May 2023) and London (later in the year, date TBD). It’s a remarkable intermingling of Customer Success and Community folks; there is much to learn there.

2. Align goals 

Both teams should have similar goals, including those centered around customer satisfaction, retention, renewals, and above all, growth. Our Head of Customer Community at Mews, Sarah Masterton-Brown, tracks success by, “... Driving product adoption by inspiring our customers, enabling self-sufficient customers, resulting in support case deflection and generating Mews advocates from our customer base.”

Here are some initial questions to consider as you work together towards collaborative alignment: 

  • What are their customers' outcomes? 
  • Are there identified trends with customers that have churned in the last 12 months? 
  • Is the CS team currently hosting webinars or any recurring events?

Think back to when you started the community. You had to demonstrate ROI to leadership and lay out a mission and vision for your community. I'm sure you asked for input from different internal stakeholders, but what better opportunity to talk with your Chief Customer Officer or VP of Customer Success about these goals?

Once you do, please share how it went with the Talkbase community - join us there.


3. Share insights

Find a correlation between retention trends and optimizing the customer's lifecycle, leading to a more focused approach to building a solid community. Data, as usual, is also your friend here. As I mentioned previously, show the benefits!

Here are a few recommendations:

  • Host a “Show & Tell” for the CS team: do a platform walkthrough and highlight at least two metrics you have identified that would resonate with them. 
  • Gather feedback and insights from your CS team to find out what their priorities are and how community can plug in and support.
  • If your community just recently launched, identify aspirational customer communities in your space and build alongside your CS org. 
  • Brainstorm together: I like setting up a Miro or Mural board for this, particularly for asynchronous work. 

If you want to nerd out (like me) on templates and brainstorming, Emily Webber, organizational, agile and delivery consultant, created a Community of Practice Kick-off Canvas if you want to check it out.


4. Build empathy

Sometimes, you may encounter difficulty getting buy-in from CS. A CSM might be reluctant to participate in the community because they may feel their expertise, knowledge, and yes, even time, could be better spent building one-on-one relationships and giving advice via Zoom or Teams rather than in a "forum" setting. Enterprise, and even some mid-market segments, refer to this as a "white glove" approach. They may also be concerned about their workload increasing due to the additional requests through the community. However, the benefits could outweigh these concerns, and this is part of incorporating community as part of the CS strategy and vice versa.

Let's consider a more empathetic approach to Customer Support, sharing opportunities with your Product team and experiences with your Design and Marketing team. Community is fully cross-functional, and a mutually beneficial relationship and partnership can lead to all around success, not only for the organization, but for the customers as well. 

In conclusion

CSMs and CMs can create a customer community that fosters engagement, support, and advocacy by working together. Customers will feel more engaged and invested in your company, and this can lead to increased loyalty and advocacy. This partnership can prove to be extremely rewarding and valuable at both ends, and can provide a space where your customers can shine and be the most successful they can be within your organization’s ecosystem. 

Isabel Ruiz
Community Manager, Product at Mews

May 3, 2023

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