This month we are continuing our Influential Women in CX series with a two-part feature on Silvia Veronese. She currently serves as SVP of Global Customer Success at Guavus, which she describes as “a big data real-time analytics company supporting the largest and most complex data infrastructures in the world.”
Among our interviewees, Silvia has a unique professional background that combines technology and business. In part one of our interview, she shares how each of these components is an asset to her role and explains how the Guavus customer success team works closely with engineering and product development to ensure the best outcomes for customers.
(Please note that the following interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
What is your professional background?
I started in a very technical field. The overarching theme was the management of big data and complex problems, which led me from an academic career into starting my first of several companies.
It was a typical startup: five people with Ikea desks in Silicon Valley. Given the small team, we were always in close contact with customers, knowing that either success or failure was only one step away. That’s when I first became passionate about customer success.
I continued to grow my career by serving in a number of different positions at large companies, including IBM and HP. One of the things I found really pleasurable in these roles was not only developing a technology product but also being able to see how the recipient used it in order to close the loop between idea and implementation.
I joined my current company, Guavus, approximately a year and a half ago. We are at the center of streaming analytics and machine learning models for a number of markets, primarily telco and digital services. Although we’re U.S.-based, we have equally large markets in countries like India and China.
Do you see yourself as blending technology and business?
Yes, that’s a good way to describe my professional interests.
I actually just presented at an AI conference recently, and I love to do things like that. After all, my background is in mathematics and data science. If I were asked to sit down and code a machine learning algorithm, I could still do that.
My technical background allows me to go deep without relying as much on other people. Of course, I enjoy collaborating with the various teams at Guavus. But it’s helpful to be able to build my own deck that talks about the technology behind the product, as well as the product vision and business strategy.
Here’s another way to think about it: The technical side gives me a depth of understanding of the problem we are solving, while the business side taught me how to formulate and present strategy and talk with customers.
My interest in business and entrepreneurship also extends outside of my role at Guavus. For example, I’m currently writing a book about first-generation Italian immigrants in Silicon Valley.
Were you the first VP of Customer Success at Guavus?
Yes, I was the company’s first VP of Customer Success and now serve as SVP of Global Customer Success. That’s nothing new for me — I actually started the customer success function at HP, as well.
Prior to the creation of this role, Guavus had a fairly traditional structure, with each department (e.g., engineering, marketing, etc.) attempting to prove its ROI independently. There was no single team responsible for customer outcomes, leading to confusion for both customers and employees.
In response, the executive leadership made the decision — just as HP had previously — that customer success needed to be a separate function that reported directly to the CEO. This was important because you don’t want to launch a new function and then weigh it down with dependencies that prevent success.
When I joined Guavus, I looked at the existing teams and reorganized them into different functions in order to better serve the customer. In my current role, I manage all customer success managers (CSMs), along with professional services (which we call “ideation services”). I also work closely with my colleague who runs our customer experience (CX), support, and developer operations teams.
Under this new organizational structure, there’s a heightened level of engagement with customers. In particular, when we begin or expand an account, we work closely with the customer to define the success criteria. Ultimately that’s the best way to ensure customer satisfaction, which in turn benefits the company and its bottom line.
Do your CSMs influence engineering and product development?
Absolutely. The customer success department defines the requirements and acceptance criteria for the product. There is no engineering release that doesn’t go through our team.
In fact, our global CSMs talk to engineering every single day. After all, they are the ones who interact directly with customers so they feel the pain most acutely if an aspect of the product fails. This gives the success team a strong sense of ownership in helping to make the product the best it can be.
Do CSMs need to have technical expertise?
I believe that a CSM’s success is based on the trust that he establishes with the customer, and that trust can really only be developed if he is credible and can stand behind the commitments he makes.
At Guavus, every single engagement is led by a CSM. These professionals work with customers to design and achieve success with next-generation architecture, which requires them to make a lot of commitments. Accordingly, they must have deep technical knowledge in order to make tough decisions on the spot that can lead to the success or failure of a project.
Let me give you an example: We’re working with a provider in India who has the largest data lake in the world. The company has grown tremendously in just three years, including going from zero to 80 million customers in the first month alone. Today the provider has 400 million customers and is continuing to expand extremely rapidly.
I have an entire ideation services team led by one of my CSMs working onsite with this customer. In this case, a large part of his role is orchestrating resources, as he has architects, services engineers, development engineers, delivery engineers, and a business analyst — someone who focuses solely on ROI — all working under him. Every day, the CSM must figure out new use cases and how to create additional value moving forward so the customer can see financial and market gains associated with the technology we’ve provided.
Do you have any advice for women looking to climb the customer success ladder?
I don’t want to over-generalize, but I do think it’s a great role for women because we tend to be collaborative by nature and customer success is very collaborative work. Also, because the function is still relatively early in its development, it’s a good fit for female professionals looking for an opportunity to really grow and mature within a company.
If I were to make one career recommendation to women, it’s to try to be flexible. Never say no.
Stay Tuned for Part Two
You can learn more by connecting with Silvia on LinkedIn or following Guavus on LinkedIn and Twitter. And please stay tuned for part two of our feature on Silvia, as well as future interviews with CX superstars.
Featured image and company logo courtesy of Guavus