SF Executive Fireside Chat

Strikedeck recently hosted a Customer Success Executive Roundtable at the Autodesk Galleria in San Francisco. Two CEOs were called upon to share their philosophies, experiences, and insights. Irene Lefton, the VP of CS at Lastline moderated the discussion with Shani Shoham, the President & COO of Testim.io, and Hatim Shafique, the Chief Customer Officer of Databricks, and explored a couple of different approaches to setting up CS organizations.

Customer Success Philosophy

While both of the CS experts believe in a customer-centric culture, driven largely by customer engagements, upsells and renewals, they have distinct approaches towards implementing Customer Success in an organization.

> Shani’s Philosophy

As the President and Co-Founder of Testim.io, a machine learning based software that helps build and run tests, Shani believes that initiating Customer Success in an organization with an internal mindset/focus is the wrong way to go about it. His CS philosophy revolves around value generation – simply put, enabling the customer to derive value from your product and processes. So much so, when he laid down the foundation of his company, the first thing he did was hire a Customer Success Engineer (read: Customer Success Practitioner). Instead of hiring engineers and CS practitioners separately, he believes in hiring engineers with a flair for Customer Success. These “subject matter experts”, an engineer and CS practitioner rolled into one, can help customers in a more efficient way, leveraging both their experience and their product knowledge.

> Hatim’s Philosophy

In comparison, Hatim looks at Customer Success through an entirely different lens. As a CEO with an Engineering background, he is a huge proponent of automating the entire CS process. He further streamlines his approach by laying down three essential questions to ask before implementing CS in any organization.

I. What does the CS cycle look like? How complex is your problem?

II. What are the key milestones in the journey, and what are the various value propositions? What is the business value assessment in the sales cycle, and how is the product going to deliver business outcomes?

III. Quantify your KPIs.

For the first question, he suggests that Customer Success practitioners analyze the CS cycle and map out the journey.

“The first three months are crucial, the longer it takes for the customer to onboard, the more time they are away from the actual product. This increases the chances for churn.”

For the second question, he agrees with Shani and emphasizes creating, quantifying, and delivering the value proposition. He suggests locking down KPIs so that a CS centric business is not looked at as a cost center, but rather as a revenue generator. This varies from organization to organization – what may apply to a company with 50 people, may not necessarily apply to a company with 1000 people.

Scaling Customer Success

From a scaling point-of-view, both Shani and Hatim have very interesting insights to share. This was even more relevant because both of their companies are rapidly growing, and have had to face the inevitable problem of scalability.

> Hatim’s Scaling Model

According to Hatim, in order to scale a Customer Success team, you need three crucial things:

1. A person who will take the baton from the Sales team and have a CS plan in place

Perhaps the most challenging task for any CS leader is to hire the right kind of people – the kind that have leadership DNA and are able to take ownership of the CS process. The struggle does not end here – after spotting the perfect candidate, comes the question of justifying the hire to senior management. Hatim shared a method he practices at his work place – either configure a growth metric or treat CS as a separate entity, with its own P & L.

The first method enables one to derive a formula – for example, every new hire is going to drive X amount. Justifying the cost of a CSM to senior management becomes easier with numbers, when one can illustrate the cost/benefit analysis of the new hire. Maintaining a P & L that operates independently of the organization and is specific to the Customer Success department is another method Hatim uses to finance some of his hires. Selling trainings and support packages helps maintain the CS ledger.

2. Training and Enablement

For Customer Success to guarantee any returns, it is imperative that proper training is provided to CS practitioners. At Databricks, semi-annual trainings are conducted that aim at providing product training, Customer Success training, group interviews, and so on. These trainings help CS practitioners communicate effectively with customers and solve their problems in a more efficient manner. Shadow engagements are followed by a robust round of trainings – this helps new hires watch and learn from senior CS leaders in the field.

3. Support Team

The most important part of scaling CS revolves around having an efficient Support team – one that is constantly developing and updating help documents to aid troubled customers. Hatim believes that content generation should be separate, and not part of Customer Success. He stresses the importance of creating valuable content that goes a long way in training, onboarding, and customer troubleshooting.

> Shani’s Scaling Model

As established earlier, Shani prefers to hire Customer Success Engineers. Scaling, then, becomes a more difficult job. Why is this the case?

According to Shani, it is very difficult to find the right people for CS, and finding the right CS engineers who have a knack for both the product and customer know-how, is even harder! Shani further emphasizes this fact by sub-categorizing Customer Success practitioners into three main profiles. There are the orchestrators, subject-matter experts, and then the behind-the-scenes content creators. Since Shani doesn’t believe in hiring one person for each profile, the real challenge lies in finding the right balance between the three.

Similar to the challenges faced by Hatim, Shani also feels that training CS employees is crucial to the success of the organization. How he does it at Testim.io is by conducting weekly webinars, to educate and train the workers on basic stuff. While he agrees that training is vital, he is not an advocate of wasting time teaching employees theoretical concepts. He believes in putting them in front of the customers, as soon as possible, so that they can learn from first-hand experience.

Closing Thoughts

Having discussed both Customer Success perspectives, it is safe to say that the implementation of CS is an extremely subjective matter. The “one size fits all” approach doesn’t exist – depending on one’s company size, structure, and philosophy, what might work for one, might not work for the other. CS requires strategic implementation based on the business goals and perspectives of the leadership!

Zahra Iqbal

Marketing Manager, Strikedeck