As we continue our series exploring Influential Women in CX, we had the pleasure of sitting down with Mary Poppen, Chief Customer Officer at Glint and 2018 Top Customer Success Influencer. Given the instrumental role Mary has played in the customer success industry from the very beginning, we were excited to hear her thoughts on its evolution and the impact success can have throughout the organization.
(Please note that the following interview has been edited slightly for clarity.)
You’re a pioneer in customer success. Can you tell us about its evolution and how you got into the space?
With the rise of SaaS, we began to really see the need for customer success. I think when you look historically, software providers had something similar to the current world of success. But it was really focused on implementation and support. As in, how do we deploy our products and how do we keep customers successful with them?
From an on-premise mindset, it’s like you’re building a house for customers, and you know that, with a commitment that large, they’ll be around for a long time. But when you’re in the cloud, it’s more like people are renting apartments. They regularly have to renew, and they can easily move to the apartment building down the street if they’re not happy. So it’s a different mindset in terms of how you provide value and ensure that engagement, partnership, and value continue. And that was really the rise of customer success as we know it today.
I got into the SaaS world with Success Factors in 2000. It was one of the first products I was aware of that was built using the SaaS model. There, I had the opportunity to build teams and functions that rounded out the total customer experience as it related to being in that renting apartments-type of mindset.
Looking more broadly at the evolution of the function, it became clear that implementation and support weren’t enough. You also needed to make sure you had a strong commercial team who understood customer value, which makes up the renewal organization. There’s a whole debate on whether that should be part of sales or success. That’s the million dollar question, by the way.
Then the missing link was that the implementation team sort of jumps in and out. They don’t stay on to recognize value with the customer. Continuing that line of thought, support tends to be more reactive. When a customer needs something, they go to support. And when it comes time for the renewal, someone reaches out and says, “Let’s review your account and here’s what it costs to renew.” But there wasn’t a role that helped thread throughout all of these interactions. So that was really the impetus for the customer success manager (CSM).
Most people originally thought of the role as more of an account manager or relationship manager in the sense that you’re much more reactive and just making sure that a customer has what they need from a relationship perspective. Since then, CSMs have become more strategic. Success is now responsible for both adoption and ongoing value. It’s a huge role, and it has a huge impact on whether a customer renews, whether they buy more, whether they give references, and whether you’re their long-term partner.
What is Glint, and who are the customers you serve?
Glint is an employee experience platform. For those familiar with the customer experience world, Glint is like the internal or employee side of what you would see on a CX platform.
From the time they onboard through the exit process, Glint measures employee satisfaction to determine if the culture is strong and a good fit and if people have what they need to be successful. Glint is able to run insights around employee experience that provide the company with relevant action plans for how to either fix things that are broken or really transform and evolve the company through their people.
Anyone who has employees can use Glint. We’re not a niche provider. We have a platform and a global mission to help employees be happier and more successful at work.
What does your role as Chief Customer Officer entail?
I’m responsible for all of the post-sales experience. That includes onboarding, implementing, supporting, and, ultimately, renewing our customers. So, the entire journey really — from the time they become a customer — sits with my team. We are responsible for the community and the customer empowerment work that we do, as well.
Why does Glint put such an emphasis on customer success?
Our product is not a once-a-year thing, and it’s not a one-and-done type of deployment. It requires merging with organizational transformation and gaining traction in the business outcomes that relate to our customers’ employees. It’s a continuous listening and action platform that requires the partnership of someone who understands the customers and what they need better than anyone else. It’s what I call customer intimacy.
To provide the full optimization and value of our platform to transform their business, we need to be working with our customers to understand what their goals and outcomes are, when and how we should launch the program, and how to make sure it has enough adoption internally to achieve the end results that they’re seeking.
That requires us to be dedicated, insightful, proactive, and predictive when it comes to our customers. Our team needs to know where they are, how to guide them, what’s the next step, and how to pull in the right resources at whatever point in time the customer needs in order to gain additional traction.
For us, the best practice is to form a partnership to increase results, not just adoption of the platform. It’s really about the insights that are generated. Our customer success team is relied upon to make sure the customer is leveraging them in the right way and moving forward.
What is the relationship between employee experience and customer experience?
There is absolutely a link. When you think about companies with low employee engagement, you start to see customer satisfaction, results, and NPS scores drop. If you’re starting to lose a lot of customers, take a look at your employee engagement. Sometimes it’s because the employees aren’t empowered or they’re not in the right role. Or there just aren’t the right structure or resources to support them.
This is actually my most passionate area. Within an amazing customer experience is what I call contagious enthusiasm. When employees are engaged and believe in the mission and are excited about what they do, that spreads to their customers. And pretty soon, there’s this spiral of energy that happens — what I call the all-in zone — which means you’ve got high customer satisfaction, high employee engagement, and the world is perfect.
What are some of the big changes you’ve seen in customer success? What’s next?
We’ve come a really long way in the last 10 years. For companies that have a customer-first mindset and for leaders that now understand the importance of customer satisfaction, it’s no longer pushing a boulder up a hill. You might have some rocks that you still need to push up the hill, but it’s no longer about fighting to get the resources that you need to drive a good customer experience.
There’s also more alignment with marketing, product, and sales related to driving an amazing customer experience. Each function now has greater insight into its role in the customer journey and how they contribute to customer success and ongoing value.
I would also say that people understand more holistically what a CSM is as it’s become more of a household term. Even though what they do can vary greatly across companies, people understand the role and overall premise of CSM itself.
I’ve said for a couple of years that I think we’re still moving in the direction of being even more proactive and predictive. I think we can start to play the predictive role of what customers need or what customers are going to want, and that can have a huge impact on product, on the services that are created, and on the innovation within a company. Instead of being the delivery arm for the business, we can actually be the customer voice that becomes more predictive and proactive about where the company needs to go.
Do you see the success function continuing to get more of a seat at the table?
Customer success being its own function with the visibility of the types of outcomes that we can drive, especially with a customer-first mindset, is being recognized much more broadly. We’re seeing strong growth in roles like Chief Customer Officer, Global Customer Operations Chief, etc. These roles are now reporting directly to the president or CEO. To me, that’s really exciting.
If you’re responsible for a function like sales or marketing, and customer success is only one piece, it’s never going to get the attention and full organizational visibility of that customer voice. People aren’t going to take accountability like they would if you were able to directly share that information and the impact. And I think that’s being more widely recognized.
At Glint, we run our NPS survey twice a year, share the feedback with every function, and talk about what they’re going to do. If leadership isn’t held accountable or doesn’t hold their team accountable to take action, then that customer voice is essentially wasted.
The operational piece is a big part of it, too. If customers don’t know you’re taking action or they don’t see the progress, then they’re less likely to give you feedback, just like employees with employee engagement surveys.
Can you tell us about your experience with mentoring customer success professionals and female leaders?
I’ve had opportunities, both internally and externally, to mentor female upcoming leaders, as well as CX professionals. And I love that. My favorite mentor-mentee relationships are those where there is a clear intent to learn and hunger for information. They see you as one piece of a big puzzle of how they could grow their career. To see them actually grow and be empowered to step into roles or programs that they didn’t think they could do is super rewarding.
Any final thoughts?
I ask my team to think of one thing every day that they could do that isn’t an expectation by a customer. Kind of like one extra push up, if you will, that they could do that would make a difference. I know some of them have a post-it with one “wow” thing written on it to serve as a daily reminder.
I think ways of keeping the customer top of mind all day is so important. Otherwise, it’s easy to get bogged down into tasks and the day-to-day operational stuff.