Science + Systems:

There's More To High Touch Customer Success Than The Art Of Relationships

Just because High Touch CS involves more human capital, face-to-face interaction, on-the-fly decision making, and higher-level strategy doesn’t mean that process is less important. It’s exactly the opposite. Adhering to operational best practices and tactical processes is even more crucial for ensuring the success of your largest footprint customers.

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Why Gs Hero

Chapter One

High Touch: Art vs Science

How it Started:

  • “High-touch Customer Success is more art than science.”
  • “Our high-touch CSMs know their customers well. We don’t need a lot of process.”
  • “Our high-touch CSMs are really senior people. They don’t need a lot of process.”
Why Gs Section 2

How it’s going:


  1. You can’t afford to mess up. Investors expect renewal rates north of 95% in this segment. That means every single renewal needs to come in. If you lose a 6-figure or 7-figure account, it could ruin your quarter. And there isn’t much room for downsell. Every single at-risk account presents a major issue. And by the way: Your high-touch clients. Notice. Every. Detail.
  2. You’re dealing with lots of political complexity. You’ve got potentially dozens of senior stakeholders who tend not to see eye-to-eye. You’re herding cats. If you haven’t addressed stakeholder engagement in a methodical way, you’re lost in the jungle.
  3. Your single large client is actually many little clients internally. You’ve probably sold multiple products to them, across multiple business units, with some units engaged in services engagements and others not. This might seem like high-touch CSM at the surface, but your real-life “accounts to CSM” ratio is actually very high.
  4. You’re working through massive change management. It’s critical that you have a strong perspective on what specific activities need to be done and what specific milestones need to be achieved. Your methodology is your lifeblood.
  5. Losing a CSM could be disastrous. Big clients want the red carpet. They don’t like losing their CSM. They also don’t like having to get a brand new CSM up to speed. And you as the vendor could be in a terrible spot if your CSM leaves. You need to retain all the knowledge you can in institutional memory, not just your CSM’s head.
  6. Your large clients want you to own the outcome for their business. A senior exec’s job is on the hook. But, chances are, everyone at your company has forgotten what the client really wants. The objectives discussed in pre-sales are buried in a salesperson’s notepad. Your CSM is so tied up in standing meetings that it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture.A corollary: You will be on the hook for every issue—your issues AND the client’s issues. Large clients don’t often distinguish between them. So you need to own the entire outcome.
  7. Your senior CSMs don’t want to do repetitive stuff. They’re senior. Not worth their time. They want resources and a lot of air cover. They want the red carpet from their managers.
  8. If you’re not growing, you’re shrinking. In high-touch accounts, status quo is not sustainable. You need to constantly be planning how to get more strategic and larger in the account—or you will be engineered out.
  9. You need to herd cats within your company. You need to ensure your Services team is driving for value and not just project completion. You need your Product team to engage your clients in roadmap discussions. You need to get your Support team to prioritize certain cases. Your CSM’s head is spinning trying to manage all these departments, and s/he wants your help in paving the way.

Chapter Two

How does your Customer Success Team stack up? → Find out!

Here’s an example of how risk for a large client can get escalated to a CCO using Gainsight:

Step One

Every week, prior to their 1:1s with their Managers, individual contributor CSMs should methodically review their existing risks as well as CTAs if needed. Using the Timeline feature within the CTA, they “Log an Update” for all open Risk CTAs.

Figure 1: Timeline includes entire chronological history for visibility and alignment. Risk CTAs can be initiated to get the right people involved in addressing the issue.

Have CSMs do this weekly for all risks and provide three pieces of information in these weekly updates:

  1. Summary of the current situation including “temperature” and “direction” (i.e. is the client “warm” / doing well or “cold” / unresponsive or worse)?
  2. How s/he is “pulling out all the stops” to address the risk.
  3. Specific help needed from his/her Manager, if any.
Step Two

Prior to the weekly 1:1 with his/her Manager, the CSM should flag any risks for which he/she needs the Manager’s input.

Step Three

Managers should review all flagged risks together with their CSMs and discuss a plan for each. In most cases, the team is able to address the risk without any CCO input. But sometimes, the Manager wants to escalate it to the CCO because s/he (1) wants feedback from her on how to proceed or (2) wants to make sure the CCO is simply aware, in cases where the risk is quite severe.

Step Four

If the Manager wants to escalate, s/he should then log his/her own update via the same timeline feature. This way, the CCO can get the Manager’s perspective on the risk in addition to the CSM’s.


Step Five

The Manager can choose to escalate the Risk (or not) in the system.

Figure 3: Escalated Risks will appear in a users Cockpit interface to bring it to the surface as a priority in your high-touch operational workflow.
Step Six

The CCO can then review all of the Risk CTAs that have been escalated to him/her within his/her Cockpit. The CCO can click into each one and review the Timeline history of the risk and what the team has been doing most recently to address it. To share feedback for them, the CCO would log his/her own “Update” to the risk Timeline. To notify Managers of an action item or next step, the CCO can add them in a Task (this is a feature within the “Log an Update” in Timeline). They will then immediately be notified that the CCO has reviewed the risk and that a next step is waiting for them!

“CCO” in the above example can get replaced with any member of the Executive team. Or, you can include additional members of the team who should have visibility into the issue.

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There's More To High Touch Customer Success Than The Art Of Relationships