In part one of our interview, Silvia shared how her professional background combines technology and business and explained how each of these components is an asset to her current role.
In part two below, she discusses the fundamentals of customer success, including how to build strong success teams, typical pain points, and how the field has evolved over time.
(Please note that the following interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
What are the fundamentals of a strong customer success team?
To create an impactful customer success department, you need to change the way that team members think about the customer. Specifically, you must implement a philosophy in which the customer sits at the center and plays a role in the development of your customer experience (CX) journey from the very beginning.
One way of doing this is to take the customers with whom you’ve established a strong relationship and try to integrate them into all of your processes. So let’s say you have a customer partner who is keen to work with you. You should bring them into the early stages of software development, including having them sit with you to define the requirements and acceptance criteria of the product.
By injecting this new view into the organization, you cause a shift where your customer is not at the end of the chain but at the beginning. As a result, you start transitioning to a true customer-centric organization, which is different than being sales-centric.
Sales is about selling; it’s about revenue; it’s about bookings. In contrast, customer success managers (CSMs) are ambassadors of the company and its technology and vision. They are strong customer advocates — sometimes to the point of becoming controversial within the organization because they’re defending the customer as opposed to defending the product.
In addition to this change in perspective, creating a powerful customer success team requires you to carefully select the individual team members who bring the right set of skills for your particular organization and product(s).
At Guavus, this includes the typical relationship-building and communication skills, along with business strategy and technical understanding. That last bit is something that diverges from the common notion of a CSM, but it’s what’s required for my particular team. That’s why we’ve hired people who were previously CTOs or field CTOs; they can articulate the technology well but also love to be in front of the customer.
Are customers really willing to sit down with CSMs like that?
Absolutely. When I ran customer success at HP, I had CSMs that were regularly sitting down with CIOs in very large companies.
The reason that senior-level people are willing to do so is that, at the end of the day, CSMs are strategists. They are strategists that know how to execute, and they have an organization behind them that is operating and delivering.
What separates CSMs from program managers are the essential questions for long-term customer success that they must dissect and execute on, such as: What is the ultimate goal? What is the vision of the company? How many more subscribers do they want to get? How do I get this company from 50M to 100M subscribers without impacting the customer experience?
How is customer success evolving?
When I started in the field years ago, I had to constantly explain what customer success was. Now I see much broader adoption. But there still isn’t a single definition of a CSM; every company has its own interpretation. Some are very sales-oriented, some are more support-oriented — I don’t know if that will ever stabilize. It’s definitely a growing field, though.
If you look at the timeline from your pre-sales activity to the point of sale to the installation and delivery, CSMs were previously brought in at the end of this life cycle. As in, “The sale has closed, now it’s time for customer success to take over.” Now you see more and more companies becoming aware that they need a CSM on day one.
I’ll give you an example: We all know the difference between a pipeline and prospects that have actually been qualified. The reason why the unqualified pipeline does not turn into a qualified pipeline is because quite often we don’t really understand the success criteria — we don’t truly understand what the customer wants and how they would use the technology.
So that’s why more companies, including Guavus, are now including CSMs at the beginning of the sales cycle. For instance, part of my team is responsible for ideation services. These are basically phase zero projects, where we establish the value of the solution and do early discovery analysis, and our CSMs are an important part of that process.
What are the biggest pain points for companies when starting or improving a customer success program?
The biggest sticking point for most companies when implementing or overhauling a customer success program is buy-in. That’s why it’s critical that the CEO and leadership team set the proper tone, conveying that customer success management is not a lateral function — it’s a central function.
Furthermore, the leadership team must ensure that customer success is aligned across the company. There must be a feeling throughout the organization that, regardless of which team you belong to, we have a shared goal when it comes to making the customer successful.
The attitude must be collaborative because CSMs don’t truly own anything. Instead, they are reliant on many other components of the business and thus are only as strong as the company as a whole.
What other teams does customer success work with most closely?
At Guavus, the customer success department has a very strong relationship with the marketing team. After all, we know the customer stories, so we serve as a content provider to marketing.
We also closely align with sales, as I have an operational responsibility where I’m integrated into the entire sales process. In fact, I review every proposal that goes out to a customer to make sure that it’s realistic and executable.
Beyond marketing and sales, we work closely with project management. I like to think that we have a brotherly relationship — meaning that we kind of think and operate in a similar way when it comes to creating a successful outcome. For them it’s about the product itself; for us it’s the customer.
In addition, part of my job involves PR and analyst relations. I also own the company transformation — so the entire transformation is under our organization.
Thank you, Silvia!
You can connect with Silvia by following her on LinkedIn. And we hope you’ll continue reading our Influential Women in CX series to learn about other customer support and success superstars!
Featured image credit: Regalix