A Guide to Customer Success Across Europe

Introduction by Allison Pickens, VP of Customer Success & Business Operations at Gainsight

In November, we held our second annual Pulse Europe conference. A few of us at Gainsight led workshops on customer success, but I think I learned as much (if not more) from the attendees about how to manage Customer Success in Europe, as they learned from me. These conversations were particularly timely, since my Customer Success team is starting to recruit our first team members in London.

An important theme emerged across these conversations: The “right way” to do Customer Success varies significantly across countries in Europe. There are certainly commonalities – in particular, Customer Success tends to be higher-touch in Europe than in the U.S. – but it’s mission-critical for a CSM team to vary its approach by country.

Coming out of the conference, a group of leaders decided to get together to document their observations of the unique requirements of doing Customer Success in each European country. What emerged is the following blog post, which aims to educate U.S.-based companies on how to expand their CS programs in Europe, and also to help round out the knowledge of European companies.

I can’t claim credit for this post, but rather I’m indebted to several other, more knowledgeable folks for writing it – in alphabetical order by last name, they are:

  • David Apple, Director of Customer Success at Typeform
  • Vinnie Cholewa, VP Customer Operations at CareerBuilder
  • Jan Schlosser, former Director of Customer Success, Europe, Middle East, Africa, Russia (EMEAR) at Cisco

What follows is a thorough, candid insider’s guide to doing Customer Success in each country. While the guide includes some generalizations that may be helpful rules-of-thumb, they are based primarily on the writers’ firsthand experiences. The writers welcome you to add your learnings from your own experiences in the comments, so that we can continue to supplement this group’s perspectives.

United Kingdom

CSM style: Documentation and process are as sure as the sun rising and setting in the U.K. Customer Success workflow comes naturally because of the processes that CSMs tend to follow.

Where to locate: The U.K. has the most vibrant start-up scene in Europe for emerging XaaS companies (mainly in London, but also in Birmingham, Manchester, and Edinburgh). In addition, several large global enterprises that are introducing their own Customer Success teams in Europe now have their European headquarters in or around London.

How to hire: The market has a lot of early-in-career talent who have experience in their first roles as junior Customer Success Managers. There’s plenty of compensation information readily available on sites like Glassdoor.com to help inform decisions on salaries. Labor laws in the U.K., more than many other European countries, are similar to those in the U.S.

Market factors: There are concerns about the impact of “Brexit” on the current business momentum; U.K.-based companies may be more limited to the U.K. market, as expanding into non-U.K. European markets will become more expensive at some point. Forecasts for U.K.-based companies are very conservative right now.

If you’re expanding here: The U.K. is the first economy in Europe where we see Customer Success building a beachhead coming over as a “movement” from the U.S. It is an easy market for a U.S.-based company to enter, as it is English-speaking. For U.S. companies moving to Europe, cost may be a factor. While London is a natural option given its world presence, cities like Edinburgh have plenty of individuals with the skills in multiple languages that are vital to operating in Europe at a much more cost-effective rate.

Germany

CSM style: Expect customers to want a high-touch approach. Attention to detail is critical to success in Germany.

There is a more conservative approach to Customer Success and high sensitivity to privacy for usage data, when used for measuring and automating customer success. Data must be stored locally and handled securely, especially for public-sector customers.

To serve German customers with Customer Success resources, you need to have native German speakers (available in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria) and German collateral. Ideally, your subscriptions should be available in German to be broadly successful here.

Where to locate: There are two or three main hubs for Customer Success: Berlin (XaaS start-up scene), Munich (the “IT-hub” for global classical tech companies), and Frankfurt (financial center with booming adjacent industries).

How to hire: You should be thoughtful about hiring permanent employees in Germany, because there is a lot of union-related inflexibility in moving employees when needed in a fast-changing business environment: long notice periods, costs of benefits, and hurdles in letting people go if the company grows to a certain critical size. Consider local regulations and comparably high tax rates.

Market factors: Germany is one of the healthiest economies in Europe with a lot of appetite to “digitize” the economy (i.e. “Industry 4.0”). Hence, it probably has the biggest business potential for Customer Success once the subscription economy gains ground here. However, we’re still skeptical as Germany usually moves slowly and is not seen as a digital leader despite their industrial leadership and potential.

If you’re expanding here: For outsiders, you don’t just jump into Germany. You need to have a very specific market fit and fully understand the nuances around data protection, legality and employment law.

Possible strategies to be successful in Germany in the subscription economy include building a strong foothold in smaller and more flexible economies first (most often, Switzerland) and expand into Germany from there when opportunities arise.

Ireland

CSM style: Most companies look at Ireland as a potential candidate for housing a Virtual Customer Success Center, with locally employed agents who do not travel to see customers (hence the term “Virtual”). Local Irish companies are not yet very visible with Customer Success offers in the European market.

Where to locate: Many of the biggest names in tech have a large presence in Dublin, including Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, and Airbnb. This has attracted a lot of talent, but there is also a lot of competition for that talent. Intercom is the best known start-up founded in Ireland.

Market factors: Companies setting up in Ireland still enjoy some tangible tax benefits compared to other EU countries. Wages here are slightly lower compared to many Western and Central European countries (though not to Eastern and South European countries).

If you’re expanding here: Many companies look to Ireland to host their European data storage and servers. Don’t overlook the simplicity in the why, as the cool climate helps keep the giant processors happy.

Switzerland

Where to locate: Switzerland is a highly innovative and attractive location. It is a magnet for talent: e.g. Google’s European development center is based in Zürich.

How to hire: There is a very diverse and highly skilled talent pool available to drive Customer Success. You can leverage the country’s English skills in addition to its three main languages: German, French, and Italian. It has a fast-evolving talent pool for Customer Success emerging from local XaaS companies and global firms with a presence here.

Market factors: Significant tax benefits for enterprises and one of the most liberal sets of labor laws in Europe make it attractive for almost any industry to consider Switzerland as a major location and/or European headquarters. At the same time, it can be expensive to hire, particularly if you end up having to relocate folks to work there.

If you’re expanding here: Some call it “mini-Europe”, because if something is successful in the Swiss market, it is almost guaranteed success in all other European markets, especially Germany (with its sensitivity to data privacy and highly skilled workforce). Switzerland has the potential to emerge as a beachhead for Customer Success in Germany, due to language, geographical and cultural proximity and reputation in security.

Due to its geographic location in the center of Europe (easy to get from here to anywhere fast), multilingual talent pool, “Swiss” brand recognition, and a stable political environment for business (in spite of the highest labor costs in Europe), Swiss-based companies are among the most dynamic in Europe. They successfully serve European and global markets, in addition to the stable but comparably small local market.

France

CSM style: France has a highly regulated market that you cannot serve from outside France: it requires a local presence and the use of the local language for all customer interactions, shared materials, and organized communities. Servicing smaller customers to drive Customer Success can be done from outside France (as it has been done in Poland, Edinburgh, and other places), but requires French-speaking CSMs – often French nationals.

Relationships absolutely matter in France. The best sales models will utilize a hybrid approach between prospectors and closers in pre-sales, and CSMs (driving usage and value) and Account Managers (fostering the long-term relationship) in post-sales.

France lags in regards to leveraging non-French subscriptions in the market and hence is rarely a priority to drive significant incremental business from better ARR and Renewal Rate improvements.

How to hire: Labor laws in France are very much in favor of the employee, which makes it very difficult and costly to fire people. Furthermore, the expectations for work hours (35 hours / week) and for vacation days are quite high. You don’t get the “joie de vivre” for free. <img src="https://s.w.org/images/core/emoji/2.2.1/72×72/1f642.png&quot; alt="

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