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Sonciary Honnoll

Sonciary Honnoll

Critical Lessons from Customer Success Leaders

For Customer Success leaders, the first 90 days on the job are critical. For more entrenched execs, every day is a new opportunity to improve, too. This community hour brought together some amazing CS leaders, including Justin Veri of Cardiologs, Nadya Collins of ThankView, and Todd Ilberg of Stensul. We’re excited to share with you their industry insights on:

  • Building trust among colleagues when interactions are virtual
  • The importance of defining your “true north” in CS
  • Why you should not only expect failure, but embrace it
  • What it really means to have a customer-centric culture

Watch the recording here! You can also read the full transcript below.

Interested in joining our next community hour?

Humans of Customer Success is a group dedicated to championing the personal, human experiences that drive customer growth and retention. We’d love to see you there. Check it out!

Sonciary Honnoll (00:00):

But we’re going to jump in a little bit about Humans of Customer Success. How many of us are here for the first time? Just a show of hands. Nice. Mike, Jared, Justin. Awesome. Good to see you guys. Welcome. Our goal with Humans of Customer Success is really just to connect, support, and amplify the voices of those of us in Customer Success. We do that mostly through our monthly – sometimes it’s monthly, sometimes it’s every other month – it’s a lot of volunteer-led and Quala-led, but we do that mostly through our community meetings. We also have resources available for everyone. We have an online forum. We have leader interviews on YouTube and a lot more. So please get involved as you see fit.

Sonciary Honnoll (00:44):

The community, as mentioned, is supported by Quala.io. We are an all-in-one platform for Customer Success teams. We’ll share a little bit more about that later. And today’s topic – Lessons from Customer Success Leaders, Critical Lessons. For us, we have here a fantastic group of battle-tested Customer Success leaders that are new-ish to their current role, meaning they’ve been at their current company for 12 months or less. And we thought this being November, it’s towards the end of the year, it’s a great way to reflect on everything that we’ve accomplished and learned over 2020 thus far. So let’s get started with introductions.

Sonciary Honnoll (01:26):

We have Nadya Collins, who is the Chief Customer Officer at ThankView. I know we have several ThankViewers on the call today. Wave hello? I see Kevin, I know you’re on my first page, and then we have Todd Ilberg, who’s the VP of Customer Success at Stensul. Hey Todd. We also have Justin Veri, who’s the Head of Customer Success at Cardiologs. Hello! Okay, cool.

Sonciary Honnoll (01:52):

Let’s kick it off. Todd, if you could please share 30 seconds, a little bit about yourself, about Stensul. Feel free to tell us where you’re Zooming in from today. Go ahead.

Todd Ilberg (02:02):

Sure. Hey everyone! Todd Ilberg, as Sonci said, VP of Customer Success, but also known as “Promise Keeping.” Zooming in from White Plains, New York. I lead the Customer Success practice at Stensul and we’re an agile content creation platform supporting marketers, specifically in email, and it’s great to be here today with you all.

Sonciary Honnoll (02:26):

Awesome. Hey, thanks for being with us. Love that you’re a part of this call today. It’s your first time leading or being part of the panelists, as well as Justin and Nadya. So that’s amazing. Justin, how about you? Why don’t you intro yourself?

Justin Veri (02:39):

Sure. Hi everyone. Justin Veri, Head of Client Services at Cardiologs. Cardiologs is an AI SaaS platform for cardiac diagnostics. Mainly used by cardiologists or technicians of cardiologists to analyze heart rhythm. I’m Zooming in from the Boston area. We decided to do a really interesting and smart thing and buy a house during the lockdown, so I am coming straight to you from my new basement office, which I love. So, excited to be here.

Sonciary Honnoll (03:15):

Congrats on that. Thanks for being here, Justin. Nadya – last, but certainly not least.

Nadya Collins (03:20):

Thanks Sonci. Nadya Collins, Chief Customer Officer at ThankView. ThankView is a video outreach platform focused on stewardship, and our customers reside primarily in the education and nonprofit space. A little bit about me: I was born in the Netherlands, and then I studied in Bangkok, Thailand. And since then, I lived in London, LA, Boston, and now I am Zooming out of New York City. Nice to see everyone.

Sonciary Honnoll (03:55):

Nice, welcome. Awesome. I got so distracted by looking at the other Zoom pagers, Vishnu, Marcus, Jackie, it’s so good to see everyone, Chaz. Okay. Focus Sonciary. I’m Sonci, I’m Co-Founder here at Quala.io. We are a new way to build customer health scores, operationalize workflows and manage team productivity, right from one workspace, all for Customer Success teams. It’s a pleasure to be here today.

Sonciary Honnoll (04:23):

Let us jump right in. I’m going to tee up the first few questions and I’m guessing that we’ll have a lot of chats from everyone here today around additional questions or advice that you’d like to add around the topic. No matter how many years that you have in Customer Success, our field is relatively new. It still has that new wild and exciting vibe to it. Most of us say it’s been around for about ten-ish years. So I do love to ask leaders what’s one of the most surprising things they’ve learned while building or revamping their Customer Success teams, or even being a CSM, a practitioner.

Sonciary Honnoll (05:01):

Let me go ahead and kick it to you, Justin. What’s something that you’ve learned recently or at your last several months at Cardiologs? How has that new knowledge altered or updated your approach to Customer Success?

Justin Veri (05:15):

Yeah, I would say… I’ll pat myself on the back with this comment, but it really strengthened my non-committal approach to a lot of things. I have a series of kind of ideals or pillars of Customer Success that I’ve always kept in my mind, but when faced at different companies with different issues, I try my hardest to not apply that blanket logic to a solution, even though it looks and smells like the same one from a previous role. And that kind of “it depends” answer has kind of rung true in my first year or so at Cardiologs.

Justin Veri (05:59):

I’m blessed to have been with Cardiologs and have them give me the opportunity to kind of fail a little bit and not just attack things with some interest and curiosity and take different approaches to things. That’s been really interesting to see that evolve and see how my answer at one company to a very similar issue is a complete 180 to my answer here at Cardiologs for a similar issue.

Sonciary Honnoll (06:30):

I love that. I think something I’ve learned from you, Justin, is that, number one, you have your phrase “always be gauging,” which I’ve actually put in some of our Quala onboarding materials. And then the other thing is you like to answer a lot of questions with “it depends,” which can be so frustrating, but so true, and then you sort of go through why it depends. I love that. I appreciate that.

Sonciary Honnoll (06:53):

Let’s kick it over to you, Todd, something that you’ve learned that’s maybe changed or updated your approach to CS.

Todd Ilberg (07:00):

Yeah, no, thanks for the question and great to be here again. For me, just to set the background, I’ve been at Stensul just about seven and a half months – started just as the pandemic got underway, so I haven’t actually been in our office or met any of my team members or peers in person. I would say that the thing that is top of mind as I reflect back on the last seven months is I’ve spent a lot of time making sure that I’m building those really, really strong relationships internally, as well as with the customers, because it’s hard to get anything done in Customer Success without bringing along people for the journey.

Todd Ilberg (07:39):

If you come in as an outsider with your playbooks and your recipe cards, and you’re saying, “Hey, here’s what we’re going to do.” You’re going to get people that are going to jump on board with you, and you’re going to get people that are like, “Ah, I don’t know if I’m on board with this. I don’t know who this person is.” And so for me, the last seven months have been establishing the foundation, but really focusing on earning a lot of trust and being genuine and authentic in the role that I’m playing and what journey we’re going on in the next 12 to 18 months.

Sonciary Honnoll (08:09):

Yeah. Good thoughts. Just a show of hands, how many of us are new in our roles, we have a year or less at our current companies? Cool. Okay. Yeah, there’s a lot of us moving around. I mean, we talk about what’s going on with the pandemic, it’s opened up a ton of opportunities. We’re seeing a ton of movement in CS, and it’s becoming quite a competitive market because any of us for the most part can work from anywhere. So lots of movement.

Sonciary Honnoll (08:39):

Nadya, what about you? Please share a little bit about what you’ve learned recently.

Nadya Collins (08:43):

Yeah, to be honest, I have the same point as Todd. I joined ThankView in March. I was in the office for three whole days, actually, before we all worked from our lovely abodes, and especially when you’re coming into a new role – but also with regards to client success – it is a very new practice. And not a lot of people have actually formed opinions about it. So there’s a lot of educating that you do as you come on board, especially if you are one of the first leaders that join in Customer Success.

Nadya Collins (09:25):

I mean, any change is hard, but especially having to do it remotely. It requires conviction, it requires trust. And trying to build that trust while people don’t even know what your legs look like, I think is tough. Definitely something that I… My biggest takeaway is just the power of face-to-face interaction and being in a room with somebody. And as you’re working through change, looking each other in the eyes and working through it together, I think that’s something that I really, really missed in the past year.

Sonciary Honnoll (10:08):

I love that, I just wrote that down. Building trust when no one knows what your legs look like or anything below here. It’s so true. So many of us are new in our roles and trust, I think, is going to be a theme of the community hour today, we’re going to talk a lot about it. Todd, you and I talked a lot about trust when we were sort of doing a pre-call before this community hour. We’re definitely going to get into that.

Sonciary Honnoll (10:34):

Each of you, we’ve mentioned, you’ve stepped into a new role within the past 12 months. Yes, you’re all seasoned Customer Success practitioners and leaders. But how did you structure your first few months, 30, 60, 90 in your new role? I’m curious to know what worked for you well – it’s probably going to work for others who are new in their role. Nadya, I know you spoke last, but I’d love to have you share first here. Just to mention, Nadya’s relationship with the founders at ThankView is amazing. JD, I think I see you here on the call. It’s so amazing that you’re here to support her, and I’ve always noticed that that trust is strong. That relationship is strong. So I would love to hear your thoughts first on this question.

Nadya Collins (11:20):

Yeah. Again, I think it was interesting starting, because like most people, I imagine, I had my “First 90 Days” book right next to me, and it had all these great plans and I was like, “Okay, I’m going to go in, I’m going to observe, I’m going to identify what our key area is, et cetera.” And then I feel like when the pandemic hit, it sideswiped most of us, and I felt for a good two weeks that we were suspended in mid-air and not really knowing whether the momentum was going to take us up or down. That was an interesting period, I think, to start.

Nadya Collins (12:07):

But when the momentum actually ended up taking us up, just going back to what I had originally set out, which was – like what Todd said as well – talk to people, build relationships, understand what is important to the people that are working with ThankView now, our clients, and then set the benchmarks, set where we are now and where we want to go.

Nadya Collins (12:39):

And I think that was also one of the key takeaways I have, that sometimes, especially when things are kind of chaotic and you’re trying to make change, and you’re trying to make an impact fast, sometimes you forget to set the benchmarks. So you don’t know exactly where you started from, and then worse, you don’t actually know where you’re heading, so you don’t necessarily know what the targets are.

Nadya Collins (13:07):

I think in the past year, we’ve come up with how many new partnerships and new products, JD? It’s quite a few. Although I think it’s been great coming out with those new products and pivoting based on the renewed and increased business we saw on the ThankView side, also just taking a moment to be like, “Okay, hold on a second. What is our target? What do we want to achieve?” And then after you’ve actually accomplished something, going back to that and measuring what you’ve actually done. I think that was probably one of the biggest lessons there for us.

Sonciary Honnoll (13:56):

Yeah, that’s a good one. I was recently introduced to the Golden Circle. I hadn’t heard of the concept before, it makes total sense. But basically at the center is the Why. And then is it… You guys help me out. Is it What, or How next? Someone chat in? I’m sure someone knows it. I think it’s Why, What, and How, and it reminds us to always go back to, when we’re developing initiatives and our 30, 60, 90 plans and whatever we’re trying to do, sometimes we can get really caught up in the… Thank you, Andrea! Sometimes we can get really caught up in the What. I know I do. A lot of times I’ll think of the How or What first and then I have to go back to the Why, and those of us in early-stage… Thank you, Justin! You guys are amazing.

Sonciary Honnoll (14:45):

It’s important. Go back to that reason that you have. And a lot of times I find that if I spend too much time working on the What, by the time I remember to go to the Why, the initiative actually isn’t necessarily as important or crucial anymore. Things are changing so quickly. So going back to that piece is always helpful for me.

Sonciary Honnoll (15:03):

But we’re not here to talk about me. Justin, how about you? Can you tell me a little bit about… For you, you stepped into a relatively new role. I love that you operated as a practitioner before you started to build your team. It was so important for you to understand the ins and outs of the CSM role. I would love to know, did that work well for you? Would you advise other leaders do something like that as well? Just tell us your thoughts around what you learned as a part of that experience.

Justin Veri (15:31):

Yeah. You have to remember I’m in healthcare. You call me a practitioner I’m like, does she think I’m a doctor? I am not a doctor.

Sonciary Honnoll (15:39):

(Laughs) My fault.

Justin Veri (15:42):

Yeah. Quick background on entering Cardiologs. Cardiologs, we’re a very young company. When I started, I was client services, customer success, implementation support, there was nothing. I started from complete scratch, so if that helps frame whatever I say after this, hopefully it does, but my first 90 days was basically… The plan was sponge. Sponge, sponge, sponge. Just take everything in before I start to formulate any opinions or take any actions or push back on any feedback or requests either internally or externally. I really tried to stay in the background and get my feet under me and really understand what is Cardiologs? What do we value? What do our customers value? What is the short-term, long-term vision for the product?

Justin Veri (16:42):

Like you said, my plan after that was do the job. I was tasked with standing up a function, but the function needed to also just operate to begin with. It’s not like I was coming in and being able to build something first. I had to do the job to figure out what to build off of or how to build. Being a sponge was just really what I did at first and then once I felt comfortable, then number two was get out and meet all of our customers. That was beginning of last year. I was able to make my rounds before the lockdown hit and go out and meet a bunch of our customers, get in front of them and start establishing those relationships with my feet under me.

Justin Veri (17:27):

I’ve been in healthcare for about a decade now, but I was new to the cardiac diagnostic space. Part of that sponge was actually stepping up my clinical knowledge as well, so that I could be somewhat competent, not fall on my face when talking to our customers. I’d say that was my approach, to be behind the scenes and be a sponge for the first 90 days, start to understand how things operate, get out, meet some customers, see how they operate and start doing the job. Then about, I’d say seven months in, I started to really build some formal processes, some formal points of views on things, which was great timing because just a few months after that, luckily we had a really good sales cycle and Q1 and Q2, and I hired two new members of the team. I think I see at least one here. What’s going on Evan? That was great. It was perfect timing to have some ideas and processes half stood up and then be able to hand off some of the vision and the ideas to my team, to also help build what client services is at Cardiologs.

Sonciary Honnoll (18:50):

Awesome. I love that. Just a quick show of hands. Is anyone else taking this approach where they started as a CSM before they build out the team? Just a quick. Okay. Oh, I see some. Oh, Matthew of course. Matt. Yeah. Okay. I did something similar at Promoboxx, so it definitely resonates with me. Todd, what about you?

Todd Ilberg (19:15):

Yeah. 90 days. It’s been a whirlwind. A lot of different themes that we’re talking about here and I want to level the playing field, right? From a leadership perspective and from an executive sponsor in customer success, I will never not be a practitioner. You got to be out there touching the frontline, understanding, be in the product, understand how it works, understand how your customers are using it. That’s something that in the first 90 days is a must-have.

Todd Ilberg (19:44):

For me, in the first 90 days, in addition to building those relationships and meeting customers, it was really about being honest with where the business was at. At Stensul, we’re almost $10 million, about 70 customers, and when I got to Stensul, post-sales was considered CS. When I say post-sales, CSMs were handling onboarding, implementation, activation, the commercial account management function, and yes, day-to-day product frontline support. It was an absolute, every day, on the floor, wrestling with everything in the weeds, and so in the first 90 days, it was really important to understand it and spend a lot of time actively listening to the team on where the pain points were, but then also lay that foundation for the swim lanes of like, hey, who’s going to do what?

Todd Ilberg (20:36):

In the first 90 days, we identified who is going to be responsible for onboarding implementation, who’s going to be responsible for the customer and the customer relationship, and then we recently also stood up our first hire in support. The transition that we’re going through right now is like, I firmly believe that CSMs have to get out of being the fire department. They are the absolute fire alarm for the business, and if your CSMs are spending all of their time in the day-to-day weeds, they’re not focused on being proactive and engaging strategically. We had to really identify those hard and fast lines and make sure that the jobs that people signed up for are the jobs that they are doing and not everything just falling post-sales onto the CS plate because that’s where we are.

Todd Ilberg (21:29):

The first 90 days was about establishing that foundation, talking with the team, identifying the right swim lanes, and making sure the people that were signed up to do the job were actually doing it. We’re still making that transition, and I feel like it’s like a battleship moving from the right-hand side slowly to the left and we’re making progress, but we will never be able to get the critical mass and scale if we are stuck in the day-to-day weeds from a CSM perspective. That’s what the first 90 days was all about at Stensul.

Sonciary Honnoll (21:58):

Smart. I definitely feel the fire fighting mentality, I think a lot of us are in that or have experienced that. I want to call attention to just some of the chat around Celine’s comments. Celine Kimberley. Hello. Good to see you here. Actually what inspired a lot of this conversation was a conversation that Celine and I had around her first 90 days at HubSpot, where she focused on some really interesting tactics. Celine, if that’s the book you read, I would definitely recommend it for everyone here too. I’m definitely going to give it a read.

Sonciary Honnoll (22:39):

Going back to you guys here. You’ve had some major wins over the past several months. We’ve talked about a lot of those wins. Justin, you’re adding to the team. Nadia, you’ve led some major churn reduction results. Todd, you’re onboarding new customers every single day. You’re about to crest over that 10 million. That’s huge. I remember that at Promoboxx. Let’s put that aside for a second. I mean, celebrate every accomplishment, yes, but also each of us have had our bad days and what we learn from those moments I feel is what turns okay leaders into fantastic, amazing, growing leaders. I’m curious to know when things go sideways – and it’s very common that this happens – I’m going to throw this to you, Todd. When things go sideways, we have product hiccups, we have onboarding mishaps, we have licensed utilization dips, we maybe didn’t get the best customer for our product from a sales team. Do you have a go-to process, or if things don’t go your way, do you have a high-level strategy that you implement? Any thoughts around that? We’re always, I feel like in the crux of, oh I have a win, oh I had a failure.

Todd Ilberg (23:51):

I mean, it’s a great question. It’s part of the cycle of the day-to-day, I think, in customer success, right? You have your highs and your lows and they all could happen in the same day. It could happen in the same week. For me, when I think of the lows and the way that we operate, for us, it’s really about setting that layer of trust within the organization. The things that we see in the business today are a direct result of what we did or did not do six to nine months ago. It is not what we did last week that changes the week coming forward. For us, and the way that I talk with the team is like, everything isn’t going to be perfect. We don’t have all of the answers, but we have to be honest, and we embrace this idea of… People talk about push your comfort zone. When I hear that term, push your comfort zone, I instantly curl my fingers a little bit because you’re asking me to do something that I don’t want to do. What we’ve taken is we’ve adopted that terminology and we’ve moved it into expand our comfort zone and to take risk.

Todd Ilberg (24:53):

The idea there is we want to fail fast and learn. We’re not going to fix everything. We can’t dive and save every customer that says I’m not going to renew, but what we can do is make sure that transition is the smoothest possible. That anything that we can learn from that is important. When I think of learnings, right, when things don’t go well, customer success sits at that very, very critical intersection between sales and product. If you have unhappy customers, you have customers that are waiting for product commitments, our job in customer success is to be the CEO of the customer. We know everything that’s going on and so for me, it’s about making sure that we’re not just doing things in customer success, in a vacuum, but we’re bringing those wins and those learnings out to the rest of the company because at the end of the day, companies talk about being a customer-first organization. That means customer first has to be your true north. That means in your sales team, in your marketing team, in all facets of your business, you have to have a customer lens.

Todd Ilberg (25:55):

At Stensul we are spending a lot of time bringing forward all of our learnings. The upsides and the things that are not going well, so that way we can be really transparent with the rest of the business, why we’re going about it and where people can help us. It’s not a single one person, one department. This is a team effort and everything that we have to do has to be open and transparent, exposed to the rest of the company because if we hold it all, we’re never going to have enough hours in the day. We’re never going to have enough people and there’s always going to be plenty of customer escalations, and we want to make sure that we’re really sharing that out with the rest of the business.

Sonciary Honnoll (26:37):

Yeah. That’s amazing. I wrote down true north. Having a true north, which I think goes to that, your why. So important to always be referencing back to that. Also, ask for help. Two things I’ve learned, it’s been a hard lesson to learn, one of them is asking for help and then the other one is celebrating accomplishment because as we know, we have 50 plus things that we want to accomplish every day, every week, every quarter, whatever that is and as you check off those boxes, I feel like it’s so important to recognize that, celebrate it and then quickly move on. Sometimes we move on and don’t even celebrate the fact that we had a win, but I love that. True north. Asking for help. That’s awesome.

Sonciary Honnoll (27:19):

Justin, how about you? You want to share a little bit about, maybe something that didn’t go exactly your way, mishap or what you’re learning from these experiences of not winning and growing from some of the missteps?

Justin Veri (27:33):

Yeah. I didn’t know when it would happen, but it’s this question where I get to say always be gauging. This is probably some quick side advice too for people who are looking for new opportunities. I came to Cardiologs partly because of the opportunity to fail and be nimble about it. I have progressively moved from smaller, to smaller, to smaller companies because I like the idea of having the openness and willingness to fail and have those experiences and then having the ability to be nimble and put in corrective actions and change. That’s certainly happened at Cardiologs. Right out of the gate it happened and just recently it happened. I think recently a cool post-mortem that we had was based on some recent learnings we implemented, along with sales, great relationship we’re fostering. That’s another great thing I love about Cardiologs.

Justin Veri (28:42):

We implemented some new pricing structures for new customers. We already realized that we didn’t build in some ramps for this performance-based pricing. We have already altered our next terms for our next couple of prospects. It’s just great to be able to make these changes, have post-mortems. I love post-mortems. We have them at our quarterly leadership meetings, we have them at our annual retreats, and then we have smaller ones when little things happen. There’s always somebody that’s quick to say post-mortem on this one, post-mortem on that, whatever it is. We’re always hungry to look back at what we did and not just say, oh, chalk that one up as a loss. Move forward. It’s always what happened here? Where did we drop the ball? We’re all confident in what we did, but something here missed the mark, and let’s talk about it.

Justin Veri (29:43):

That’s another great value at Cardiologs. I think one cool way to position the fact that we embrace failure is we just spun up this side project team called the Fail Force and it was all with the intent of a group of individuals who were interested in a particular project going and just giving it a shot. And it was a percentage of their time and fully ready to fail. And that’s awesome. I love failure. Is this like, a weird thing that I’m going to say out loud? But it’s so important to do that and learn from it. And that’s why that’s one of the reasons why I love Cardiologs and a little bit of a smaller company. It gives us that opportunity.

Sonciary Honnoll (30:34):

That’s amazing. Thank you so much for sharing that. I love your comment about being nimble, embracing failure, your Fail Force. I feel like we’re going to have a lot of people that maybe launch some sort of version of their own Fail Force. I have to say before we move to you, Nadya, and ask you to answer the same question, I did learn something from my co-founder, Jonathan. We’re releasing a Give First series of how Customer Success leaders – Nadya was interviewed – engineering leaders, marketing leaders, sales leaders, how they go about a Give First mentality, give before get sort of thing. Anyways, long story short, Jonathan shared a lot about how when something goes wrong, when there’s a failure on the team, that it’s never about the one engineer that maybe missed the bug that caused the issue. It’s about how do we as a team address that this thing happened, and then how do we make it right together? It’s never any pointing fingers. I’ve learned that from him. And I’ve really appreciated that. Blaming one person is likely not going to help the overall tenor or culture.

Sonciary Honnoll (31:41):

So, Justin, I think that’s awesome. You’ve embraced it. You don’t call out people. You solve it together. That’s the sort of oomph that makes amazing companies. So well done. Nadya, what about you? I know you never fail.

Nadya Collins (31:58):

That’s definitely not true. No, I think one of the things that I really strive for is innovation. And I like to improve things, and I like to make things better. That also means that sometimes you don’t, to be honest. I love ThankView for so many reasons, but I think one of the reasons is just we have in our values honesty and respect. We have that we own our successes and our failures. So I think that’s just something that is ingrained in our culture. And it’s something that, again, going back to what Todd has said and what Justin has said, this goes back to can I learn from it and can I change the outcome going forward because sometimes, sorry to say, S happens. And there is nothing that you can actually change going forward because maybe someone is having a bad day or else happens that is out of your control and something that you can’t really plan for going forward. And I think it’s okay. I think it’s also just to be able to say to your team, “Hey, that really sucked, but you know what? We’re going to get past this point.”

Nadya Collins (33:19):

The other thing that I guess I wanted to maybe dive into a little bit that Justin started talking about, and Todd as well, is just the collaboration aspect of CS with sales and with other parts of the company. I think it’s definitely something that needs constant attention and constant building. But I do feel that CS is an extremely underutilized aspect, to be honest, within most organizations. I think there was a lot of talk earlier about firefighting and CS sometimes, I guess, making up for some gaps in the product or in the process. But if you think of Customer Success as part of the product, I think you can utilize CS way more, even in the sales cycle, in the new business sales cycle, to be honest, because, again, Sonciary, this goes back to what you and I have talked about before. It’s like they don’t just buy the product. It’s the whole experience that people opt in to. And I think it’s just highlighting that aspect a little bit more, I think people can get more value out of that.

Sonciary Honnoll (34:45):

Great. Yeah. Well said, well said. I also want to mention, so let’s see, Chelsea in the chat, hey, Chelsea. You said something that really resonated with me, some small culture shifts where you said that you have a rule, no DMs. You ask the question in a public space so everyone has the opportunity to learn. So just a small, subtle thing that I feel embraces the type of culture that Nadya is talking about. And then earlier, Erica at Privy, you mentioned leading versus lagging indicators in the chat. I spied it there. We’re getting to that. So the next question is around specifically… Let’s see, where are we going? I lost my notes. Yes, growth and retention roadblocks, so obviously as this pertains to customers. So want to chat about how you all go about identifying what makes customers successful. Are there key product usage indicators? Are there key relationship indicators that drive success for you? How do you uncover those? How do you identify them? How do you put them into practice?

Sonciary Honnoll (36:00):

So I asked the question because earlier we talked about firefighting. And firefighting, when we mention always being in the red, always be reactive, we’re really talking about focusing on those lagging indicators. Sometimes we don’t focus on our leading indicators because maybe we don’t know them. I know everyone that I’m chatting with today, Todd, Justin, Nadya, you’ve done a lot of work around leading indicators and what are the key pieces to success with your group, with your customer. So I would love to know a little bit more. Todd, maybe we’ll flip it to you. So how have you identified or uncovered in the past what makes your customers successful, and then how do you replicate that across other customer segments?

Todd Ilberg (36:44):

Yeah. So it’s certainly top of mind and very much the focus of what we’re doing right now and what we need to deliver in Q4. To be really clear with this group, and I want to be honest and transparent, at Stensul, we are flying completely blind. Part of the first seven months was being honest with the organization as to where we were in harvesting our data. And of course, the board wants to know where’s our customer health score, where’s NPS, where are all of these CSAT scores. And we simply don’t have that data. And so we’re doing some manual ad hoc things to harvest that today. What I would caution this group is as you get that motion of collecting data underway, know that you need statistically relevant populations of the data set. When I got to Stensul, we launched an ad hoc NPS program, and we’ve collected it twice, Q2 and Q3. It threw off all sorts of false negatives in the things that were going on. And then we started to look at the data set. We sliced and diced it 100 different ways. And the answer was there was nothing really actionable out of that data. There were some fire alarm moments, and then there were some other things that were like, ah, well. And so what we’re in the process of doing is making sure that we can harvest that data and really use data to drive our actions.

Todd Ilberg (38:04):

But in absence of that, we’re using a subjective health score, and it really leaves me feeling uncomfortable because it’s a red, yellow, green from the CSM inputting it into Salesforce on a monthly basis. And as we all know, that red, yellow, green probably changes three or four times in any given day, more or less, a moment in time when you record it in Salesforce at some point in the month. So for us, it’s really about making sure that we’re honest with where we are in collecting data, what our path forward is. We’re going to automate NPS. We’re having product outreaches. We’re also doing loss review to really make sure that we think about why we lost customers.

Todd Ilberg (38:44):

And listen, Customer Success for Stensul and I think for a lot of us is about creating predictability in the business. And predictability for me doesn’t mean that they’re going to renew. But it means that if they don’t meet the ICP or they were not a good fit for our customer profile, it gives us some leading indication as to where do we want to hedge our bets on the resources to make our customers really successful. And if we’ve got some outlying situation with a legacy deal or one of those lopsided sales deals that comes across the finish line, identify who they are for what they are early on, and then figure out how do you want to make them successful or are you not going to. There’s nothing worse than devoting a ton of resources to a customer that shows up dead at the end of that process. And I talked to a lot of Customer Success leaders and practitioners, and there is not one holy grail KPI. Just like Justin said, it depends.

Todd Ilberg (39:46):

But I’ve been in roles in other companies where we’ve had well-oiled machines and were harvesting customer health scores. And guess what? The green customers show up dead too. Not a lot of them, but there are reasons that green customers show up dead. It could be your engagement model. It could be product features. It could be competitive price. And those are areas that we all want to be working towards, but I would be lying to this group if I said that there was one leading indicator or one trailing indicator that says this customer is going to renew or they’re going to grow because you’ve got to be constantly touching and looking at the data and having your finger on the pulse. And know that there are outliers to all of the different KPIs that you may be harvesting.

Sonciary Honnoll (40:28):

Mm-hmm. Powerful. Yeah, there is no one ring to rule them all.

Todd Ilberg (40:36):

I wish there was right. It would be amazing. Okay, they’re green or they’re silver or diamond, and they’re never going to go anywhere. But that’s just not the real case.

Sonciary Honnoll (40:43):

Yeah. Yeah. Customer health scoring and identifying these key pieces is not easy. I feel like everyone could raise their hand, but how many of us are struggling on leading versus lagging, trying to truly understand what’s leading. I know we’re constantly going through that exercise. Awesome. All right. Nadya, let’s go to you, actually. Can you talk to us a little bit about how you have done the hard work? I know when we started working together, I loved this about Nadya. JD another plug. Kevin, you’re already experiencing this with Nadya. But she came to the table and she was like, “Here are the things that I know customers have to do. Here’s what I don’t understand. Here’s what I do understand.” So I’m curious to know as you’ve developed those leading indicators, that recipe for success, I guess, how did you do that? How are you evolving that over time?

Nadya Collins (41:37):

Yeah.

Sonciary Honnoll (41:39):

Just a small question.

Nadya Collins (41:41):

Yeah. Well, thanks. I think we’re only just starting. And like Todd was saying earlier, I think we were flying blind for a long time. And I’m not saying that we are seeing things clearly now. I think we’re seeing more at this point, obviously with some help with Quala. Thank you. But we have over a thousand clients, and that’s a lot to go through if you’re trying to analyze if they’re doing well or if they’re not doing well. We only just built out. Actually, funny. As you’re talking Todd, there’s so much said, I hear that you’re saying that we actually did. Thank you as well. So we actually started with five Customer Success managers who were doing onboarding. They were doing support. They were also responsible for renewals and for upsells. And then we actually now have three teams. We have a dedicated support team. We have a dedicated onboarding team. And then we have actually client success.

Nadya Collins (42:44):

So yeah. So actually now having a team that can focus on our clients proactively, to be honest, we’re still in reactive mode. We’re trying to get to proactive, but we’re at this point in time still somewhat in reactive mode. I think going back to what you said with regards to identifying what is a healthy customer, I think it comes down to value perception. And here’s the tricky part. Value perception is different depending on the product that you’re selling and the customer that you’re selling to. So it is quite a personal thing that you have to identify with your team and with your clients with regards to how you measure that.

Nadya Collins (43:35):

I know that’s probably not super helpful, but…

Sonciary Honnoll (43:39):

That’s very helpful.

Nadya Collins (43:40):

It comes down to not just the utilization part, are they using a product, because we’ve had, like what Todd said, we’ve had green customers that have been using the platform a lot. And they even love us and said, “We really love you guys. Sorry we won’t be renewing this year.” We’re like, “Whoa. Okay.” So it’s just identifying from those stories, okay, so then if we hit these nine points, what was that one point that then actually pushed them over to not renew. So I think you always have to just keep being curious about why customers are staying and why they’re leaving and keep adjusting what you measure value perception with.

Sonciary Honnoll (44:34):

Yeah. I’m hearing a lot of themes here, always be gauging, it depends, get curious, all important things. Yeah. Justin, what about you? Talk to us a little bit about how you understand the activities of your most successful customers or your journey along that?

Justin Veri (44:53):

Yeah. So many things. Nadya and Todd got the gears really moving. I want to mention a little bit from everything they’ve said, but we had a similar… So we are considered a medical device, so we actually, by regulatory standards, have to have an NPS, have to have a survey implemented of some sort. It’s a legality. So we implemented one, and scores were off the charts. And so I was like, “Temper expectations,” to everybody, because a lot of people at the company were not familiar with NPS and stuff. And so we kind of had an opposite effect, which is everybody’s like, “Oh, this is the best, this is the best.” And I was like, “This is one indicator. This is one input into the health or the satisfaction or loyalty of a customer. And we’ve seen them come down since we’ve signed more customers.” And it’s like, yeah, you’re bound to have some degradation from that.

Justin Veri (45:58):

But I think the main thing I’ll probably put out there, because Nadya and Todd said all of the things already, which is great, that I would have said, is you put a plan in place. You have all of your inputs, like your NPS and maybe your comments from the NPS and some data-driven insights into customer activity and what that’s telling you. And you come out of that with somewhat of a decision tree or an idea for: How can we now get proactive, or in a sense reactive, to these trends?

Justin Veri (46:43):

The thing that I like to see, and I’ll bump Quala on this, is the qualitative nature of things and trusting your team. So what I’m trying to embrace is I’ve hired some great CSMs. I trust them. So I think what we will do is with each of our books of business, and we’re kind of in the throes of what we’re calling performance coaching right now, which is a growth initiative, is here’s all of the things that the numbers are telling us, all the inputs, the NPS, the activities, the user performance. Here’s what these calls to action could be for those. Why does this call to action apply to your customer, and why does this call to action apply to your customer or not, or vice versa? And so I’m trusting the relationships that I’ve built with my customers and that my CSMs have built with their customers, in their book of business, to apply the right lens or to use their lens and apply the right call to action.

Justin Veri (47:43):

So I think my takeaway from this would be: Come up with a basic plan, a basic strategy. Give your team and your company options for how to attack that, and then make the decisions based on those customer-to-customer relationships. It’s probably easy for us to say that at Cardiologs, because I think Nadya, you said you have 1,000 customers or something like that. We don’t have 1,000 customers. I won’t say how many we have. We’re doing great, but we’re just so young. And so we right now are lucky to have the ability to stay really, really high touch with all of our customers. So my anxiety will change, and my answers will change, as we start to have to move to a lower touch model. But for now, that’s what we’re doing.

Sonciary Honnoll (48:31):

Yeah, awesome. Yeah, I definitely noticed that working with you guys day in and day out, you mentioned trust again, you put a lot of trust in your team, and you are constantly looking at what the data comes back with and trying to build a group of CSMs that have that inner compass that can understand from a relationship perspective, and also a data perspective, what equals customer health. And I absolutely love that. It definitely resonates.

Sonciary Honnoll (49:08):

Okay, we have a few minutes left, so this will be our last question for today, and guys, feel free, if there were questions that you had that we didn’t answer, or if there are questions that you felt like that you want to dig into or topics you want to dig into, go ahead and chat those. Feel free to email us after, as well. We take all of the things that we see in the chat, and we use that for fodder for future community hours. I think our next one is going to be about CS at Scale, just a plug, if any of you are interested in that topic. Got that from our friends, Erica at Privy, and Jackie.

Sonciary Honnoll (49:45):

Anyways, I digress. So let’s get to the last question, and I’ll just leave it open. You guys can answer as you feel inspired to. So it’s about customer-centric cultures. And I know that a lot of us sometimes pay a little bit of lip service to this. It’s a buzzword thing. It’s sort of like, we all want to be innovative, right? We all want to be customer-centric. And I feel like you all are actually working at customer-centric organizations. So I’m curious to know, how has that culture developed and what is the CS role in helping to push forward the idea of a customer-centric culture? How does it manifest with your company? So again, you know we don’t ask any easy questions here at community hours. We’re always like into the deep end. So feel free, Easter egg, not Easter egg style, just whoever wants to go first to tell us a little bit about how that culture has been evolving at your company and maybe any tips or thoughts you have around CS’s role in that.

Justin Veri (50:49):

I’ll go. So I think that one thing that makes us… Customer-centric makes it sound, right, when people say that, it makes it sound like we need to have these awesome relationships with our customers, these deep social relationships, and we hug them when we see them and they love to see us. And I don’t really think that that’s what customer-centric means to me, anyways. Customer-centric means listening to what they’re telling you, either literally or figuratively, and respecting that and reacting to that.

Justin Veri (51:23):

So one example for us is we definitely need to have some type of cadence or touchpoint with our customers or something predictable or whatever, but some of our customers just want to be left alone, and unless they are looking like they’re going to turn or they’re performing terribly or something like that, generally we’re going to more or less listen to that vibe. We haven’t had anyone literally tell us to leave them alone, which is nice. But there’s no need to throw a weekly meeting on the books, and a quarterly governance review, and email them twice a week to check in if that’s not the type of customer that they are. If that’s not the type of relationship that they’re trying to foster with you, you shouldn’t try to.

Justin Veri (52:17):

So maybe mirroring is a tactic that people might use here with that. So we try to respect the vibe that we get. So we have customers, I think we have very few customers that are on the same kind of cadence as any other ones. I mean, we have some customers we talk to quarterly, monthly, weekly, biweekly, not even quarterly. And so we’re interacting with them through support cases and things of that nature. But as far as just like faking a relationship to make ourselves as a company feel better, we don’t need to do that. So we have some customers, they’ll let us know how they feel through our NPS surveys. And they’ll maybe throw a comment in there that we can react to. And we don’t talk to them a lot, but thanks for that comment, and we’ll reach out, and everything’s great. And they appreciated that, and then we let them be in. And so that’s how I see customer-centric as not necessarily meaning you’ve got to be best friends with every customer and yell it from the mountaintops. You actually want to respect what they want from the relationship, not just what you think is best.

Sonciary Honnoll (53:33):

I like that. Listen. Let’s sort of boil it down to your point about listening and responding. It sounds like there are simple ways. We don’t have to make it super complicated. Customer centricity can be really easy for us to implement on a day-to-day basis, with just those two different things, listening and responding. That’s awesome. Okay. We have three minutes. Todd, Nadya, any good nuggets to share here?

Nadya Collins (53:56):

I just want to maybe share a small thing that I’ve noticed, and that I actually need to do more with, to be honest. So the ThankView team is still here. We’ll be doing more with this. But something that I noticed as we were going through building processes or structures, corporate goals, et cetera, that are more customer-centric, I think at the end, though, where I’ve seen the true manifestation of actual customer-centric culture is where every employee feels empowered to care about a customer and feels empowered to take action on that.

Nadya Collins (54:46):

And so that can express itself in a support employee that just kind of goes above and says, hey, you know what? You can, like even if it’s this feature or whatever that typically costs money, “You know what? We’re going to do that for free, because we just want to make sure that you can succeed in what you’re trying to succeed with right now.” Or a client success person working with a special discount value and not having to go to their manager or having to go to wherever, and feeling like, hey, if I can make this customer happy right now, I feel like the company will support me in this action. And I know that’s kind of simple, but that really brings home that customer-centric culture.

Sonciary Honnoll (55:40):

I like it. Todd, Todd, sorry to give you a few seconds. Go ahead.

Todd Ilberg (55:45):

A couple of seconds. The things that I would share on customer-centricity for Stensul is we’re in the process of standing up our own internal customer reviews. And we invite everyone to come participate. We set out an agenda that lists what customers we’re going to talk through at what time periods, and then anyone and everyone can come hear what our plan is for that particular customer. And we do a little bit of a SWOT analysis. We do a little bit of a look at where the engagement is with that customer. And we share out all of the information and what we’re looking to do, so that way, when there are roadblocks or customer requests for feature enhancements, it’s not like it came from left field. It’s not like this is the first time we’re talking about it.

Todd Ilberg (56:27):

Again, our job is to minimize surprises in the business and create predictability. And that motion of sharing uber transparency between support cases, configuration utilization, NPS score is a company-wide thing. And so we have Slack channels that share that across the board, and the more information we can share out with the organization, the more we can bring them along in our journey for creating success with our customers.

Sonciary Honnoll (56:54):

Amazing. That is the perfect way to end. Thank you so much. It was so good to see all of your faces. Thank you to Nadya, Justin, Todd. Thank you for joining us, leading, and to all the amazing questions. So have a fantastic rest of your Tuesday, rest of your week, and we’ll see you later.

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