Working with customers efficiently and purposely in the challenging business world is becoming necessary. That is because they can quickly and easily find an alternative brand that can provide outstanding service with similar or better business value if the current provider does not live up to and deliver on their promises.
In this interview, Avi Avital, Head of Customer Success at Aisera, talks about the philosophy behind customer success and why organizations should deliver success with a clear focus on value and growth.
How did you get to where you are today?
Back in the day, most of the IT infrastructure and applications were in-house. Every company or business has its own data center. Over time, organizations have started deploying or adopting the SaaS business model.
I always find myself at the intersection of this change and innovation. For instance, while leading the product management team at Paypal, we built monitoring and login solutions across the entire organization.
The adoption of the product was high, yet it is very boisterous. It generated a lot of redundant and sometimes false alerts. When looking to minimize and solve this perennial challenge, I came across a technology solution named, Anodot.
I really liked their product and technology and what it could do. When David Drai, Anodot’s CEO offered me to join them, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. It was my first time joining a startup company and my first time as a CS leader.
Obviously, there are risks and rewards to joining a startup, but for me, the opportunity outweighs the risk. One of the many appealing points is you get the freedom to try many things and test different ideas.
At Anodot, I built and scaled a global CS organization from scratch. It was an interesting experience since I had to learn it myself. I did that by surrounding myself with thought leaders and mentors who helped guide me to be a successful CS leader. I also spent more time reading books about CS to educate myself.
As a CS leader, you should know what it takes to achieve success from a customer perspective. Otherwise, we will only waste valuable time and resources doing things that have no impact or meaningful value on their long-term goals or objectives.
What is the importance of achieving the business outcome, and how does it change throughout the customer journey?
In the SaaS business model, a strong emphasis is on achieving the customer’s desired outcome or what they expect from the partnership. In other words, you need to implement and adopt technology to meet customer needs or achieve their success however they define it.
While we can all agree on the importance of building trusted relationships; however, for a long-term relationship to thrive, we must continue to fulfill or achieve customers’ business goals and desired outcomes. That means we must continue to facilitate and demonstrate that our product delivers the success they expect. Otherwise, we cannot guarantee renewal and continued loyalty.
Customers know the effort we put into the relationship based on the value we commit to delivering and achieving. We can’t have a trusted relationship without showing them that we care. In a crisis like COVID-19, customers had to justify the cost of their investment. The only way to assert that is to make sure we provide the maximum value of our solutions, otherwise, we are at risk of losing the customer.
Understanding how customer needs or challenges have changed or are changing empowers us to make a significant impact. Once we gain insight into what will make our customers successful, we can act decisively to deliver the success they want to achieve. Every CS organization, especially in the very early stage, should bridge the gap between customer expectations and the reality of their product and technology.
What is your business or success philosophy?
Customer-centricity is one of them. It is a commitment not only to engage or deliver successful outcomes but to successfully change. It happens when all employees are empowered to make the best decisions for both the customer and the company.
If businesses cannot communicate or demonstrate this mindset, they won’t create great experiences. Being customer-centric means putting customers at the center of everything we do and achieving what matters to them. Customer success doesn’t start after a deal is signed and is not finished after going live. It’s an ongoing effort that starts with the first interaction as a prospect and continues throughout the customer journey.
There is nothing like great brand values without being rewarded by customers’ loyalty. Why? Because customer success and business success correlate with brand loyalty and committed relationships. One cannot survive without the other.
In the grand scheme of things, we must do whatever it takes to make customers successful, happy, and well satisfied. It means how earnest and sincere we are in helping them succeed. It also includes that personal or professional success is achieved or fulfilled beyond their expectations.
These philosophies (customer-centricity and doing whatever it takes) allow us to maintain and provide timely and efficient service. If we give our customers outstanding service and great experience, we will convert those reluctant of our service.
As leaders, we are responsible for demonstrating or living the principles we think will benefit customers and our organizations. We can help propel the relationships forward by keeping our promises and staying true to our brand purpose and values. Through this, we encourage customers to stay with us and advocate on our behalf.
Why do you think that value trumps relationships?
Customer needs and business challenges are constantly changing or evolving. With these changes, their expectations are exceedingly hard to meet or achieve. Therefore, prioritizing business value should come first, but it does not mean that the value of the relationships holds no significance.
In the sales cycle, relationship building is paramount. The reason for that is simple. You want to have a meaningful start before you can show or demonstrate the business value. Hence, building healthy and trusted relationships is necessary. How can we do this on an ongoing and consistent basis?
Remember, customers do business with a company, not departments within a company. That means customers do not see us as an individual or separate entity. They expect consistent value from the people they work with and engage, regardless of the department in which it occurs.
Similarly, we also measure customer loyalty (not just the relationship value) based on the inherent value they provide. It can be in the form of renewal, expansion, retention, and referral. On the other hand, customers also evaluate our effectiveness and efficiency based on the service and business value we provide in return.
Whereas transactional relationships were acceptable in the past, customers now want consistent value from the business they choose to do business. We cannot prove that we have a healthy relationship without attributing the value we have achieved or delivered. It is about putting customers first and what matters to them.
How can we achieve a meaningful start in establishing business value or successful outcomes?
It is our responsibility to own the success of our customers and define the right metrics to prove it. As we do that, we need to identify gaps and how we can add value. Understanding the customer environment and success factors are keys to fulfilling it. The question businesses need to ask themselves is, where to start?
At Aisera, we start by ensuring the onboarding experience is consistent and religiously aligned with customer needs and challenges. We optimize it so that both the experience and value are well-positioned and meaningfully felt.
To enhance and reduce the time to value, we need to establish innovative and creative best practices when onboarding customers and as much as possible reduce unnecessary friction. It should guide and prepare them for the changes that will take place in their organization. Doing this right empowers us to talk more about their business growth, expansion, and meeting their long-term goals.
Any final thoughts you’d like to share on how to deliver success with a clear focus on value and growth?
When we come up with a business strategy, we want to know what we want to achieve. For sales, it is to increase revenue. We do that by positioning the product well, clearly understanding the market, the persona involved, and improving the sales process.
This process is not far from customer success. From an operational perspective, we use KPIs like CSAT, NPS, CES to measure the customer behavior and help us understand what works and what needs to be tweaked to ensure success.
These are important metrics and give us valuable insight, but the foundation of customer trust determines or supersedes how reliable and consistent we are in delivering or fulfilling their success. This should be measured by Net Dollar Retention (NDR), the most important metric to represent your company’s value to customers.
Delivering success is a big commitment. We must own and strive to achieve it. Otherwise, it will cost us customer loyalty and their trust. We must do whatever is necessary and constantly find new ways to raise the bar in terms of the value we provide (product, processes, engagement, thought leadership, etc.) to make them happy, satisfied, and successful.