Philipp Wolf – CEO Custify, Customer Success Software for SaaS
CSPL: What, in your opinion, is the most exciting about Customer Success Management?
PW: I think it’s the entire picture! We are really in the center of the company. We help new clients with their onboarding. We have existing clients understanding the product more and more, and we also help – even when you think about sales – with expansion and renewals. So we have a central role in the renewal part of the company meaning retention, reduction of churn, and up-sell and cross-sell opportunities. I think this makes it very unique and makes it a central position in a company.
CSPL: And also it’s very interdisciplinary at the same time.
PW: Absolutely! Yes, the people working in our department need to understand the sales parts, the product parts, they need to understand what support is doing. They have to have all the knowledge not just about their own organization but about other organizations, about the customers themselves.
CSPL: So, on the other hand, what’s the biggest challenge in the Customer Success industry?
PW: This is a good question. Typically, what we see is that judging on data is very important, it’s helping the CSM team to have the data that they need in order to drive correct decisions. That means:
- Is someone using my product to the full extent?
- Are they completely onboarded?
- Do they eventually qualify for an up-sell or cross-sell?
- Can they be based on the usage, based on the settlement that they’ve reached, etc.?
Many of the things are related to data, at least in SaaS companies typically. Getting this data right and getting this data into the Customer Success platform or into a platform – typically a Customer Success platform, like Custify – is a bit of a challenge in the beginning. They don’t know exactly: what data do I need, how do I judge whether the customer is “healthy” or not, and those are all the questions that all new customers have that we typically work with.
Getting the data in place to be able to drive these decisions is a challenge and of course, the position itself is challenging because you have to unite several positions of a company: sales, support, being cooperative with the customer, understanding your product, talking back to the product team if a customer tells you in the meeting: hey, we’d also like to have this button green and this button here and there. You have to go back to the product team at that moment and say: hey guys I looked at it, it makes sense to change the product, what do you think? It’s an interdisciplinary position that typically requires quite some knowledge about the company and the product and that’s also a challenge to find great people that can work in that.
CSPL: This is very interesting because if it’s so, we can say that what makes this job most exciting, it also makes it most challenging at the same time…
PW: Exactly, I would exactly say so.
CSPL: OK, and what would you change or improve in the Customer Success industry in general? What would make it even better in your opinion?
PW: While you say Customer Success industry I would rather say what I would like to change in companies that do have a Customer Success department. Really getting proactively to your client is a key and I’m talking here also about companies that have a larger amount of customers with a smaller revenue. You know, big companies with enterprise customers are proactive since ever! Let’s say you have five customers and all of them are huge customers. Of course, you have account managers and ideas on how to manage these accounts very tightly. However, what I would like to see is that all the other companies out there get really proactive with the client. Not just reactive, and not just during the onboarding but also constantly being with a client. It doesn’t require much effort if you have the right tools installed correctly that tell you “Hey, this customer needs your help”.
As being a user myself of many SaaS products in our company and seeing what these companies do, I think there’s a lot of room to improve to be more proactive with customers. To make them feel cared for. Show there’s someone that cares, checks my account, and realizes that I have a problem, or suggest some things that I haven’t discovered in the product yet.
This proactiveness to bring this to the masses is kind of a key. And I think companies will realize that because customers really appreciate that. That means, those companies that do this kind of things, are proactive and practice really good Customer Success, I think in the long term – it’s a long-term game and I have to add it – but they will be much more successful than the others. And as a customer, if I have this feeling I’m going tell this to my friends, I’m going to tell this to my colleagues: hey, these guys are really top-notch! They’re proactive, they took super care of me. Not just when I had a problem, they even recommended me some stuff upfront. This makes a difference in the perception of a user, I would say.
CSPL: So we can actually go smoothly to a discussion about companies. In Poland, Customer Success is still a new and developing field. Because of that when some Chief Customers Officers have to establish a CS department from scratches, they may encounter some problems because their company may use a very traditional approach. If you were in the place of such a CCO person and you were to start a CS department from scratch in a skeptical company, where would you recommend starting?
PW: There’s great content about Customer Success these days, it’s no longer such a niche than it was 10 years ago. There’s great content out there, check our blog for example. We have plenty of content there exactly for that purpose. However, these persons probably know much of that so where I would start:
First of all, definitely hire the right people.
That’s a general thing, you want to have the right people on the bus before the bus leaves the station. That is a key thing. And as I’ve mentioned before, it’s a challenging position so it’s not that easy to find a good fit. You cannot work with too junior people here.
So building your team is the first thing and at the same time, I would highly recommend looking into the data. Get your data right – this is one of the learnings that I definitely can share. You need to be able to judge based on data. Your Customer Success department needs data, easily accessible, ideally in a Customer Success tool, but for sure easily accessible without wasting time.
I cannot afford to have Customer Success Managers going into some databases, creating some queries, asking the product team, looking into CRM, looking into support tickets every time I need to know something and as a result, I’m losing five hours just to get the data.
This is not OK, so you need to find a way that the data is centered so that your Customer Success team can really work with a customer and not with the database queries. Get the data right and get the team right. I think those are the two most important things I would say.
And of course, then your strategy, what’s your strategy. Is it a high-touch or a low-touch? Can you afford to put assigned CSMs to companies or is it more like a mass kind of structure? All these strategic questions how to set up a team, what are your responsibilities? In some companies that we work with, a Customer Success team has a responsibility for the revenue (that means there are renewal, cross-sell and up-sell opportunities that they are responsible for), and in some it falls into the sales department while the Customer Success team is just, let’s say, supportive and they would support the Sales team but the final responsibility relies on Sales. So: what are the responsibilities in the company. Get those clearly ironed out because it’s not always that clear. And the trend is that the Customer Success team gets those responsibilities more and more, and that’s a clear trend so eventually fight for those. That’s kind of my recommendation.
CSPL: And what about more traditionally-minded C-level people in the company? How to convince them to invest more in Customer Success?
PW: To me, it’s a no-brainer not to invest there because as I’ve mentioned, it’s a revenue-driving position. That means that if you do Customer Success right, you reduce your churn. Everybody in the C-level position should understand that, especially in the environment of the subscription business model. As soon as you have a subscription, the sales start. That means, as soon as you make your first month with a customer, that’s where the sales actually starts! It’s no longer like: I’ve made this five-year deal and now I can lay back and leave this customer for five years. The moment this customer subscribes with you – that’s when the sales actually starts. This is the mindset that you should have there. And with this mindset, it’s a no-brainer to say: I want to make sure I reduce my churn and I make my customers as happy as I possibly can. Not just with great support which is reactive, but also with some proactiveness, helping them to get started, having them understand the full value of the product, and then expanding into the organization and so on.
There are many articles and books out there, but the simple message is: if you are subscription-based, sales start with the [initial] sale and that means you have to deliver the best possible proactiveness and best service possible once they have started with you.
CSPL: Let’s move to the last question and take a look at the other level. Let’s say, the team is already there. What’s your advice for early Customer Success Managers in Poland knowing that this is still a developing field?
PW: It depends where these companies have their customers. If it’s a Polish company that has international customers, the expectations of those customers are that you have a proper Customer Success department, specifically if you have those customers in the US or the UK. And I’m assuming that it’s true for quite some of your companies in Poland.
Get yourself up to speed about the best practices and about the data. Be sure that you don’t waste time in spreadsheets and in all the systems. Make sure you fight for proper data that you can rely on. Be proactive with your customers, help them whenever you can. Just make them feel like this is a very good purchase decision that they have made with your product.