Here is an interview I did with Wootric’s amazing team about customer success. Aside from watching me eat, it’s a great discussion about how to roll out a successful CS program.
1. Tell us about yourself?
My background is in running support teams for IT managed services for the people that would come out and fix your server. Khakis and Microsoft logo shirts and I came to San Francisco to start in customer success about five years ago and I was working in pantheon and their customers access team their big platform as a service for word and durable and to build their team which was mainly to help developers figure out how to use our platform and in the meantime I also was really interested in the fundamentals of customer success and how I can make my company better by using them. So I got involved in the customer success me up and was an organizer there for a few years until last year when I moved back to Tokyo Japan which is a country that I just fell in love with and I was one I left there in 2007 and decided to move back. And so I’m starting up a customer success consulting business there as well. So I were in San Francisco and Japan.
2. How did you build the Customer Success team at Pantheon Systems?
When I started there it was very small and customers cost basically the whole support. So I was wondering the same there was no real differentiation because customer success was even newer back then. So there were a lot of different ideas about it. So the first thing we had to kind of look at was our support structure and our support service delivery. And once we kind of got that under control we had to look at how to get customers and users on to the platform more smoothly. And that’s a pretty typical scenario where onboarding is the first customer journey that needs you know where you want to make sure that they emerge successful. So we built an onboarding team.
You don’t want the first experience to be a struggle you know. And so I built an onboarding team and I did it kind of myself by doing it over and over and hiring other people who are now much better at it than me and I sort of backed out the door and took a managerial role there and then I realized pretty quickly that having documentation on our team makes sense for us because it’s a pretty complex product and there’s a lot of developers who are pushing it to the edge in working with the API and things like that. So we hire an internal documentation team that reported to me and branched out into training training customers on the platform. So we built that out.
And then the last thing we added were actually customer success managers to kind of oversee the you know the high volume customers that were on the elite level and needed kind of a hand holding process past just onboarding. So we built that out.
3. What advice would you have for scaling a customer success team for a high growth start-up?
I think the most important thing is making sure the customer success is a is a philosophy that’s held in all the different departments and if you rename support into customer success and don’t give them tools to help them succeed and give them ways to bring their feedback, like they’re doing more customer interacting than anyone else using your product. So what they have to say is pretty important inside the customer success team. If they don’t have a way to get that product effectively, if they don’t have a way to give sales feedback about maybe any differences in how the product is being sold versus what it actually is like without that kind of clear kind of process. It can be a very frustrating job in customer success so I think making sure everyone understands what customer success is that it’s not just support and making sure that everyone buys into the fact that customer success people themselves may become product experts but that’s not the only tool that they need in their arsenal. They need to be able to get feedback to make the product better, to where ideally support and customer success’ role gets easier and easier because more challenging customers are going to come in larger amounts of customers are going to come and there’s going; there’s always going to be new problems. So being able to solve problems as you go with the feedback you get from customer success is super important.
4. How do share Customer Insights across the organization?
I think that like, in customer success, expectations are a common theme, about setting good expectations with the customer. I think a lot of that has to happen at the managerial level making sure that that information is disseminated and actually heard and listened to. So I think it’s it’s a good practice for an incoming customer success manager to make that clear that in order to be in a position to win and for the company to be in a position to win that that we need to have these clear feedback loops. And I think things like, having an equal seat at the table with product and engineering is super important. And I think also from from my own perspective being able to make a clear case for how customer success affects retention and what retention really means because in the daily thick of things and as you grow sales is always going to be there talking about the potential sales. That is a new feature or something we can have. And if customer success doesn’t have a similar way to kind of quantify the changes that they want to make it becomes a harder battle. So I think customers success people can be so gut driven like they have to be able to back up their sentiments with with actual data.
5. How do you measure Customer Success?
I’m a big fan of balance scorecards. I think that having a few important metrics from various different different locations is pretty valuable so I think that. You want to have more than just customer surveys. You want to have accurate usage data but you don’t want to just rely on data that doesn’t give you the whole picture either. So I think there’s you know you want to get categorical info that fits in there somewhere. You know people’s survey responses: NPS, customer effort. whatever you find your users I think the users vary according to the product of course so whatever engages your users and where you feel you get a real heartfelt info and not just click to get passed through a survey or something like that you should use. But in addition to that having the active use data and being able to relate that to when customers came on you know when you’re when/if they’re using features and how they’re using them because that feature requests are going to come up all the time. And usually in the early stages it’s pretty obvious when there’s you know the next right thing to do is but gradually the next right thing becomes less and less clear. And to avoid becoming just a feature factory you want to see how features are being used. So I think that should all kind of tie in, I think that’s a pretty role for customer success as they can look at all different perspectives and be the aggregator and translator of that into like a real voice of the customer not just kind of again like what my gut tells me.
6. What technology would you equip your customer success team with?
We’re talking about human interactions. So I don’t think it has to be 100 percent data driven. I think that understanding your customers and building out the initial customer personas which was a pretty useful experiment that we did in conjunction with marketing because marketing had experience with that and you know a lot of times you think about personas at the top of the funnel but those that go all the way through to the other side of the funnel.
So I think building personas that have the characteristics of the people who use your products is a good start and then building out journeys and I think onboarding like I mentioned earlier is a pretty common journey like could start there. But then there’s also moving from freemium to like a paid version or moving from one plan to another or using a product the second or third time or do we are first API integration or something like that. There are other journeys and you begin to form a matrix of your journeys by user persona and you begin to figure out like who is doing well and who’s struggling and how to build out better processes or documentation or whatever is the right tool for that specific group that you care about. And I think as you grow you’ll see new personas come on and you’ll see others that sort of lean and stop using the product. And you also can make hard decisions about who might not be the right persona for your product.
7. What are the technology trends in customer success?
There are a lot of good products out there that are taking different kinds of data and helping build an overall customer success score.
And that’s integrating with marketing automation and sales automation and that’s helping unify all aspects — before and after the sale — over the lifetime of the customer. I’ve seen it all slowly what companies are doing with machine learning is pretty impressive. Journeys — I talk about that a lot because — I think those are super important and I believe the journeys are going to be more widely adopted that there are milestones and those are haha moments that people want along the way and sort of it’s becoming unified. Like what customer success want what products wants and ultimately what kind of the entire organization wants. I’m seeing how that’s develop over time and that’s getting better and better.
8. How do you instrument customer journeys?
you can look at you can look at sales as a model you know and you can look at marketing and how people discover the product as and start to use it and become paid customers as a model for that because it’s a similar kind of journey. After the sale to it like the sale is to some users it’s irrelevant it’s like it’s an arbitrary mark where they decided that they want to. So they’re starting to pay for it. If it’s a freemium thing they may have been using it for months or years prior. So you look at it just like I look at it is a very organic process. And so I think that you know there’s a couple of different ways to look at it. You can look at the natural places that support spends their time with customer success spend their time. And that’s why like onboarding often comes with the top. You could look at where your customers seem to have the most pain and what they’re complaining about. Like I can’t use it or I’m trying to do this and I can’t and making you know an honest assessment about whether it’s something that the product needs or something that this particular persona just seems like a better doc or something like a drip campaign that reminds them of how to do something. And so I think that you have to just be close to the product close to the product and the customers using it and you’ll kind of be able to start to see patterns in those patterns or kind of your customer journeys are a good place to start.
9. How to keep up to date with what’s new in Customer Success?
I use Twitter almost solely for that for keeping up with what people are doing. I think LinkedIn is super helpful there are a lot of readers there and there’s a pretty steady stream of content that’s always good to keep you thinking.
I started getting involved in the community. San Francisco’s a great place to learn something because it’s acceptable to not know what you’re talking about and just go and ask questions. And I got involved in the meet up for solely selfish reasons like how do I do this new title that I just accepted. And so getting involved there and talking to people and asking for help is not the most novel approach but it is it’s maybe not natural to some people to to ask for help but asking for help has been very beneficial to me.