Customer expectations and business needs are evolving and changing. How can we ensure we address these concerns without pushing customers to the side? Or keeping our focus far removed from achieving what we promise or commit to delivering?

In this interview, Erika Tornice, Senior Director of Customer Success at RD Station, discusses the importance of understanding customer needs, changing perceptions, objections, business growth, and achieving success. Erika also shares practical strategies to overcome the challenges posed by the pandemic, which has led to great learnings beyond crisis management. 

How did you get started in CS?

I started in sales as an intern over 20 years ago at American Express Establishment Services Group, supporting key accounts management. When a new team was built or formed to manage small and medium businesses in a scalable format, I rolled into this group right away. It was called the Account Development Unit, known today as CS (customer success). 

This team is responsible for engaging customers and ensuring they are successful in their onboarding or getting ready to accept their American Express Cards. It also engages customers proactively at different moments of their journey to prevent risk or explore further business opportunities. I fell in love with this role ever since, and driving customer success has been the dominant focus of my career.

In 2005, I joined Microsoft as a consumer support manager and became a Global Program Manager in 2010 when I moved to Headquarters in Seattle, WA. During this period, I aligned my passion for driving customer impact with technology. I also had the privilege to have a customer experience role as part of Office 365 launch, introducing a new SaaS business model to the market.

When I returned to Brazil in 2015, I joined Intuit as the Head of CS. After three years, I joined RD Station, a SaaS marketing automation platform, as Senior Director of CS. In this role, I am responsible for orchestrating and designing the entire customer experience across their life cycle. I oversee and lead teams covering technical support, professional services, customer success, partner success, customer experience, and enablement.

How can a business focus on achieving the success of its customers? What do you think is the key to understanding this success?

When customers decide to buy something or commit to a subscription, they expect an outcome from that engagement. The journey begins when customers recognize a need, a problem, and start their search for a solution, way before they actually become a customer.

Some organizations only look at customer willingness or readiness when they are about to pay or sign up for the service. When customers reach out to us, they have a reason and basis. We should consider this very first step as part of their journey. We also need to understand what does it mean for them to work with us. 

What makes them believe we are the right provider or partner suitable for their needs or challenges? Do we have clarity on our role vs. the customer role in achieving that desired outcome? How do we set those expectations? How do we design service and touchpoints to facilitate those deliverables that will empower customers to achieve those outcomes? And how will we continue to assess their business needs or priorities using our people and technology?

We can provide timely and creative solutions if we capture all these nuances. Our goal is not only to deliver on the promises we made at the time of purchase but to ensure that their success is well-aligned with their overall short-term goals or long-term initiatives. 

The key is asking the right questions. It is also the key to successful relationships and business success. Without a clear understanding of customer reality, a business cannot provide success to its customers.

How have you helped customers adapt to the changing business landscape, particularly during this pandemic?

Everyone is worried, and there is a lot of uncertainty. How customers approach their business, measuring short and long-term goals, and the need for quick adjustments have become critical, as it differs according to the segment or industry of the customers.

From a relationship perspective, we have been hands-on and focused on customers’ predominant challenges. Here are the COVID-19 risk management strategies we take or have prepared to deliver customers and employees. 

  1. Team first. The team must have everything it needs to do its work from home. We have provided an environment where support systems are plug-and-play. To help alleviate the psychological impact of this pandemic, we have a ready and available psychologist for our employees to talk to as part of our “wise and well program.”
  2. Data to support and improve the action plan. We map the needs of our customers and the impact that a pandemic will have on them. We look at our customer base and see which of our customers have been most affected. Doing this allows us to set up short-term leading indicators to monitor and assess effectiveness and enable quick iteration. 
  3. Segmentation. What are the ways we will support customers who are severely affected versus those less affected? What support do they need from us? We set up a framework with guidelines to help customers under the scenario they were in. We also set up leading indicators and a monitoring or tracking system to continuously evaluate effectiveness and iterate.
  4. Coverage – Urgent AND Important. Providing some form of financial relief has been urgent to many customers who have experienced a significant drop in their revenue stream. We focused on balancing and addressing that by enabling customers access to our platform to sustain their digital marketing strategy during this pandemic — this is VERY important.
  5. Do not lose sight of opportunities. We should not stop looking for opportunities that may prove valuable. These opportunities may arise as customers look into consolidating providers (and there may be cross-selling opportunities) or leveraging customer success stories as a way to inspire customers who are struggling to approach their business differently.

How has the pandemic changed the role of CS to be more responsible and determined in providing the success that customers want?

The pandemic teaches us that the bond established during these difficult times can be more meaningful and lasting than ordinary times. Customers are part of everything we do. It will have a lasting impact if we know how to support them to achieve their goals, aspirations, and success.

CS at this time offers transcendent opportunities for companies to actively interact with their customers and live up to their brand mission and purpose. We can achieve this organizational excellence if we pivot to a more reliable, decisive, and authentic brand. 

During this time, the role of CS has evolved, as well as the business. Both see the benefits of driving significant outcomes and championing customers, their satisfaction, and loyalty. With these changes and changed focus, CS has become the foundation of the brand value, efficiency, effectiveness, commitment, and reliability.

Any last words or thoughts you would like to share? 

The pandemic puts CS in the spotlight. It becomes a more critical and decisive factor for achieving a delicate balance between profitability and service consistency. It also plays a deliberate role as it helps businesses pivot and delivers meaningful outcomes. 

At the core level, CS helps build a deeper connection to how customers should use the product to solve their business needs or challenges. When this value is known and realized, we earn the right to talk to customers about potential or new revenue opportunities.