How to Scale a Customer Success Team for a Hardware Company

Note: This was supposed to be released in March 2016 as a blog for another site, but that fell through. I’m posting it now to hopefully help some growing teams out.

Growing can be painful at times, but it is usually a sign of good fortune for your company.

If you’re at a successfully funded startup this means that you can start to reduce the technical debt you may have accumulated during the bootstrapping phase of your company. You’re probably funded into a Series A round and quickly growing towards that Series B we all hope for.

You probably have a team of engineers (not the founders anymore), a sales person or two, a marketing director, a designer, and someone running your books for finance (maybe a CFO, if you’re lucky).

However, there is one missing key — customer success. If your company size is over 10 people, then you need at least 1 person in customer success. Note, the size of your customer success team is not a linear function multiplied by the size of your company.

In the cases that I have seen it is an undefined, company by company function that is focused around how many units you are shipping out at a product’s launch. This is assuming you have a physical product for sell and a platform to build upon.

Customer success can take care of customer onboarding, customer retention, churn reduction, brand equity, brand promotion, and reducing your company’s burn rate. But the task they actually focus on depends on the current needs of your company.

If you have a customer success process that is nearly fail-proof then you can probably handle around 5,000 products per CS team member.

Here at Particle, within the first 20 days of launching any new product we ship out about 15,000–20,000 units and have, at a minimum, 4 people dedicated to the CS team at all times of the year. It is important to note, products shipped does not directly correlate to the amount of client traffic you will receive, but it definitely gives you a good baseline to build a team around.

Oh, and we’re shipping out a new product today — link.

Over the past 3 years our company, Particle, has grown in size and we’ve learned some very important things that have allowed us to run a little bit faster with each product launch.

1) Close gaps in the product or platform that may have been unforeseen at product launch and reduce the variables of uncertainty, early.

This may incur product reviews, product testing, and debugging from within the CS team. Make sure you are tracking metrics on repeatable issues taken from the first wave of customers, so you know the pain points of your product.

It is possible to make the product significantly better with a small tweak to the system before the next 5000 customers open the product — trust me, we’ve done it.

2) During the fulfillment and shipping process, always use trackable courier services for all orders.

Know the difference between shipping a product from SF to NYC versus SF to Bangladesh. There are always different shipping options and methods that are unique to various regions of the world. Work with USPS, UPS, and DHL for shipping deals if you are shipping at scale. They are usually willing to work out contract deals with your company given a promise on export volumes.

3) Depending on the product, you should strongly consider hiring a technical person into your CS team.

Try to hire a former engineer, former product manager, or developer evangelist. If you can’t afford to hire this person I’ve seen companies rotate engineers bi-weekly into the CS team. This allows the engineering team to keep building an awesome product all while having a technical liaison that can talk business and engineering in the same conversation.

4) Define your CS team processes early and refine them often.

Have your email macros in place to reduce the time it takes to respond to customers. Have a clear process and policy defined for product replacements and stick to it, this will save you money. Make your processes streamlined and repeatable as this will allow you to scale the CS team, on a moment’s notice.

5) Allow the Business team’s KPIs/goals to drive the KPIs/goals of the CS team.

If your business team and customer success team are aligned on business objectives then you will be able to sell more product, efficiently. It also helps your CS team prioritize resources to certain customer groups, client segments, and product lines.

Realizing your CS team is one of the fastest moving departments in your business is a major key to your company’s continued success. If your customer success team cannot move fast, then ultimately as a company, you cannot move fast.

If it doesn’t involve building, selling, or marketing your product it definitely rests in the hands of customer success. Understanding this concept is integral to the growth of your company and even more important when scaling your customer success team.

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