customer-success-at-scale
Sonciary Perez

Sonciary Perez

Customer Success Leaders Share the Secrets to Scaling

You can be efficient but not effective, and you can be effective but not efficient. Scaling customer success requires both—but how can customer success leaders make this magical match? 

At our January 2021 Humans of Customer Success Community Hour, we gathered a handful of CS leaders to share their insights on this very topic. Our discussion leaders included:

Watch the full session here or read on to learn all about running CS teams at scale – whether you are just starting out, fully-fledged, or somewhere in between – there are insights for everyone.

What Is Customer Success at Scale?

Here’s how CS leaders think about using systems and processes to handle volume—while bringing more value to the customer relationship.

Erica: Because we have tens of thousands of customers, we have to be really judicious about how we spend our internal resources. For us, customer success at scale is about using intelligence and automation to identify and engage with customers who we consider best fits for a one-to-one engagement. Sometimes that takes into consideration the size of the account—how much money they’re spending with us—and sometimes we’re looking at things like whether the customer is making an effort within the product before we engage them.

Celine: Scale is about efficiency and effectiveness. We’ve started floating the idea that there has to be a 360-degree view of a customer. A customer might not want to talk to a CSM—they might actually get more value from a webinar setting or the community or a knowledge base article—and this isn’t the right time to have that one-on-one. So how do you create those mechanisms to gain productivity for your own team, but also to make the customer’s experience more valuable and more personalized to them?

JB: Anything at scale is about handling volume, so you’re looking at the systems and processes required to manage that volume. That’s where segmentation and your approach for those segments makes a really, really big deal.

Early on in the process, sometimes the skill sets that equal great customer success are different from the skill sets that are going to build highly efficient systems and processes. Some of the things you may do at scale are going to require a different operational skill set than some of the things you do to manage accounts.

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Setting the Groundwork for Scale

Before you can create an incredible customer experience at scale, you need to take care of the basics—from reducing repetitive tasks to creating useful self-serve resources.

Celine: When I first joined HubSpot, they were really focused on the one-to-one relationships. When they created the one-to-many team, it was created as a reactive way to figure out scale. And it was a good effort, but there were some missing pieces.

The team felt really burned out, but there was no data that really explained where that burnout was coming from. So we spent quite a lot of time analyzing the data and understanding what customers were emailing about, and then we also did a lot of time studies.

That was how we started understanding where we were the least efficient and doing the most repetitive tasks. We actually found that 40% of our incoming email volume was related to billing and contracts…really simple questions that should be solved in-app or in knowledge base articles.

So that was the first piece of building a data framework so we could influence our bigger stakeholders to reduce their repetitive tasks—before we moved on to the more proactive question of “How do we build an amazing customer experience?”

Erica: We started with the customer experience—making sure that we were providing the most value to our customers first. Once we had that motion down and understood what made engagement valuable for our customers, then we could scale.

The thing that made that all possible for us was having an unbelievable support team that was able to take all of the folks who were self-serve or needed technical support. The fact that we could rely on that team to handle that enabled us to do all the great work that we did in customer success at scale. And the other part of that was having great self-serve resources.

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How CS and Marketing Work Together to Scale Customer Communications

Customer success needs to partner with other teams to achieve wins. Here’s how customer success leaders share the responsibility of customer communications with the marketing team to make scaling possible.

Celine: In our case, customer success owns the one-on-one engagement with customers. But then it’s a question of partnering with enterprise systems teams, product teams, and marketing teams to put in place the right automation, the right processes, the right technology, and even the right messaging. 

One of our role models for tech touch is Starbucks, because they send 400 personalized versions of the same email every day, and they’ve segmented their customer base to develop that messaging effectively. So if you’re going to be doing customer experience at scale, you’ve got to have messaging that goes with it. 

JB: One of the things that’s always encouraging to hear, as a customer success leader, is that you should just be age appropriate. How many customers you have, and what your revenue is, and how many employees you have…that’s a gauge of where you should be from a process maturity standpoint for customer success.

Ultimately, you’ll reach a point where your marketing team is running the tools that you need to be able to send communications at scale to your customer base. And so they will own the metrics and the performance. But customer success should still be very involved in the messaging. We actually have a customer success writer who owns the voice of BombBomb to the customer.

Erica: At Privy, the communication responsibilities are shared between the customer success team and the marketing team. There are some things, like general product marketing communications, that our marketing team will share. If it is customer-specific, we will often own that communication, regardless of what channel or software it comes out of…that could be our marketing automation tools, it could be the inbox automation tools that we use, or just one-to-one emails. 

I love the idea of having specific writers, because we have noticed there’s often a big difference between a marketing voice that’s trying to convert a prospect and a voice that’s trying to speak to a customer in their experience. There might not seem to be a lot of difference there to the untrained eye…but there’s a huge difference between the customer voice and the prospect voice.

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The Knowledge Base Advantage

Your knowledge base doesn’t just help customers succeed—it can also help the customer success team, the product team, and even the marketing team be better at what they do.

Erica: Having a strong knowledge base really undergirds all of our operations—and not just customer facing. It’s a resource that all of us internally use heavily as well.

But one thing I would say is to hire someone who really knows what they’re doing. We hired someone last year, and I wish we’d done it sooner, because having someone who has the knowledge and the skill set specifically for KB is really important. They know how to structure information on a page in a way that is teachable, and how to pull out certain notes or callout boxes and say, “Hey, this is a sticking point here.” They understand both the technical piece and the customer perspective on it.

Also make sure your knowledge base is not just words on a page, but that you have GIFs or video examples. Some folks just learn differently.

Celine: If you’re thinking about scale, have all the right articles—develop that experience—but don’t block the human. Make sure that at the end, you still have a way for your customer to get to an actual support rep if they haven’t got their answer. 

Also, crowdsource from your customer success managers and support specialists every quarter. We do an analysis of our support tickets to understand what are the most common questions that we could solve in the knowledge base articles. Our support reps and CSMs can also submit questions, plus a little blurb or video to explain them. So they’re helping us fill out extra parts of the knowledge base that we might not have had time for writers to write up.

JB: There are also some basic things you can look at in your knowledge base, like your volumes and who’s clicking on what articles. If you start to get repeat articles, that could be a good indication that your product team or product engineer needs to be aware of it so they can see if they can solve those problems from their end.

One of the interesting knowledge base metrics we’re looking at this year is a simple one: what is the knowledge base visit-to-ticket ratio? We measure that we are quickly providing the answers our customers want without the customers needing to pick up the phone and talk to a support rep.

Erica: I love how JB mentioned knowledge base metrics as a source of intelligence for the business…that is huge. If we’ve just had a product launch, and there’s a collection of articles related to a new product feature, we’ll actually use that as a marker of success: it means our customers are searching for information about that new feature or about that new launch.

We also look at the search terms customers or prospects are using within our knowledge base. That’s intelligence for our marketing team to be able to use in their SEO and search engine marketing.

Metrics That Matter

Go beyond NPS and CSAT to get a true view of your customer success team’s efficiency—and to humanize your data for non-customer-facing teams.

JB: Whoever you’re using to host your knowledge base could probably give you some intelligence on your knowledge base metrics.

Here’s an example. We were really proud of our ticket-to-close ratio, which is how many touches to close. The bulk of our tickets were closing the first time, and our CSM at Zendesk said, “If you’re able to solve that in one touch, then it’s possible that you’re either not getting them to the answer quick enough, or you have something from a product standpoint that you can fix.” I was so proud of that metric, and they said that, believe it or not, it’s actually not a great metric.

These are all kinds of standard support metrics that you might look at, like CSAT and NPS. You may have other metrics that you prefer, but it’s more about the comments that come out of the verbatims. I literally go and copy/paste verbatims out of NPS and put them in front of the executive leadership team every week.

Erica: One of the things we have found really effective, when it comes to verbatims, is using call recording software to pull out snippets. This really humanizes some of the data we’re putting in front of, say, our product team.

Sometimes we can forget the power of hearing it directly from the customer’s mouth, and of illustrating the data that they’re seeing with an actual customer in their own voice. It lands like nothing else.

So whenever we’re having trouble getting something across, that one-two punch of data—whether it’s knowledge base or CSAT or health scoring—combined with the snippets works out really, really well.

Celine: We’re launching a big initiative this year called the tech touch team. It’s about taking a segment of our customers and applying only one-to-many methods like automation and personalization via email.

One of the metrics we’re using there is incident rate: how many of those customers are still finding their way to the customer success side of the house via a different mechanism, like support escalation or the community? It’s about reducing the need to escalate and to have them find their answer with us. It’s an efficiency metric. We also ask if it is impacting our retention of those customers, because the key is that we need to increase efficiency without decreasing effectiveness.

There was so much more to this conversation, including the biggest mistakes our panelists have made while scaling and their vision for 2021 and beyond; you can watch the whole thing on YouTube and read the transcript below.

Interested in being a part of these in-depth discussions yourself? Join our Humans of Customer Success Community for free.

Sonci Honnoll:

Happy new year everyone. It’s fantastic to see your faces. Hello, hello? Thank you for hanging with us on this beautiful Tuesday. I’m just outside of Boston and it’s sunny and cold, but it’s just sunny. Let’s see, we’re all on mute, or most of us are on mute just for the time being. If this is your first community hour, please feel free to jump in on the chat, share a little bit about yourself, name, rank, all that good stuff, and then let us know if it’s your first time. Actually, maybe just a show of hands too on video, how many of us it’s our first time in the community hour… Awesome. Abby, Matt, double Matt. Great. Hey! Tom, hey! Darrell. I’m just flipping through the pages. Hey, Nadia!

Sonci Honnoll:

Awesome. Awesome. Awesome. So good to see everyone. Great. We’re going to give people just a few minutes. I know we’re two minutes after the hour right now. We’re going to give a few minutes for people to come in. Really excited about the chat that we have for today. Reminder, everyone’s on mute, but go ahead and chat a little bit about yourself if it’s your first community hour or maybe your community hour vet, you can add that in there too. As the community hour… As we move forward in discussions, feel free to float questions in the chat as well. Any ideas, advice, thoughts that you have, we’re going to be reading that. I’m going to try to look into the chat and see if there are any really amazing questions, which obviously they will be, and I’ll promote them up to our panelists today. Hey Nicole?

Sonci Honnoll:

A little bit about humans of customer success, for those of us that are experiencing a community hour for the first time, this is a chance for us to get together. We learn from each other, we share our experiences, all about managing customer success teams and also about, for those in the field, being a CSM, working through that experience as well. We have Erica, Celine, and JB leading our community hour today. Hi guys, if you want to wave. It’s going to be a lively discussion. Let’s see, if you have any thoughts on upcoming topics that we can have for community hours coming up, we typically meet every other month, you can go ahead and DM those to Jenna Kluger or myself. We like to get a sense of what’s most interesting for you guys to talk about. Our next one will be on, I think March, the second Tuesday in March. So if you’re interested, we’ll have that information up soon.

Sonci Honnoll:

Awesome. The community is supported by quala.io. I’m one of Quala’s co-founders, and Jonathan Tushman, if you want to wave again, is our CEO. Our mission is to make customer success visible and actionable across the entire organization, and we are privileged to be able to support community efforts. We are four minutes after and it looks we have a good group here. Hey, Brooke! Welcome. Let’s go ahead and dive in with intros, Erica Celine, JB, if you guys are ready. Erica, let’s start with you as the VP of customer success at Privy. Can you take 90 seconds and share a little bit about yourself, about Privy and about your team?

Erica Ayotte:

Yeah, sure. First of all, I just want to say thanks for inviting me here today. I’ve been part of the community for a little while now and these discussions are always a ton of fun, so I’m excited for everyone to join us. Like Sonci said, my name is Eric Ayotte. I’m the VP of customer success at Privy. And if you’re not familiar with Privy, Privy helps small merchants sell more online through text marketing, through email marketing and through website conversion. I’ve been in SaaS and in software for about 17 years now. It sounds creepy to say that, but it’s been a long time. For the first 10 years or so of my career, I was a marketer. And that was really my entree into the customer success realm when I started working for a software company as a CSM when I made that leap from marketing to CS.

Erica Ayotte:

Thank you, Dan. Over at Privy, I’ve been there, I’ve had my three-year anniversary. When I started, I was lucky number 13 on the team and now we’re a mighty team of about 60 overall. On my team, which is customer success, onboarding and support, we have about 23 folks. So it’s a good proportion of the company. Excited to be here and thanks again. Excited to get into the conversation.

Sonci Honnoll:

Thank you. I realized I failed to mention our topic today is customer success at scale. Hello everyone. And Erica is actually the one that mentioned this idea… I know CS at scale is not necessarily new, but this idea of running any customer success team, no matter the size and the type of customers you work with and the maturity of the organization, you can have CS at scale. I love the idea, I stole it, I latched on, and then here we are today. Thank you so much, Erica, for joining us. Let’s move to Celine. You are the director of customer success at HubSpot. Can you tell us a little bit about you, your role at HubSpot, and HubSpot in general for anyone that’s not familiar?

Celine Kimberly:

Yeah. Hi everyone, HubSpot is a CRM platform company. We have sales service and marketing software. We started off in the martech space and have really grown the CRM piece of it over the last few years. We’re based in the Boston area. It’s a public company. We’re about 4,000 employees at this point, so definitely big, but once upon a time we were a teeny tiny startup too. I have been at HubSpot coming up to three years. I was at Salesforce for five years before that. And I have a bit of an unusual background that I come from strategy. I was a strategy consultant and then came over with a strategy in Salesforce and moved over to customer success when I moved to HubSpot, so I have a slightly different background than most CS folks.

Celine Kimberly:

In terms of what I actually lead at HubSpot, it’s you can imagine the CS org is relatively large for a 4,000-person company. Two of us co-lead the North America organization. My focus is I straddle the one-to-few and one-to-many worlds as we call them. I own a small business team where our CSMs have a dedicated book of business of small biz customers, and then I also own what we call one-to-many or scale team where as a team, we manage over 30,000 customers. So the ratio is more like one CSM to 1200 customers. That’s definitely the scale side of the house.

Sonci Honnoll:

That’s quite the number that they’re supporting, so looking forward to learning a little bit more about your experiences on this call. Great. JB, last but not least, you are the chief customer officer at BombBomb. Please share a little bit about you and BombBomb and your work.

JB Bolton:

Hi professionals, great to be with you. Happy new year. Just to give you a little context, I’m the chief customer officer at BombBomb. We’re a human-centered communication company. Specifically, what we’re most known for is our asynchronous video tools, so sending videos and email or Salesforce, or through your marketing tools like HubSpot, et cetera. Just to give you context, from my perspective, I have been at BombBomb for eight years. I was employee number nine answering the support phones. We are at about 150 employees, 160 employees now. We serve about 60,000 customers worldwide. I’ve had the privilege of being part of that journey through that whole span of eight years.

JB Bolton:

The other unique thing about our journey is that we are, for all intents and purposes, really bootstrapped, pretty friends and family-funded, which offers a unique perspective on scale, obviously when you’re resource constrained. One of the things that I love about working with customer success professionals is that we are the group that understands there is no silver bullet, it is all about the hard work that we do. So hopefully our conversations today really just help us prioritize, think strategically, and take the next right step, because that is how we are going to win 2021.

Sonci Honnoll:

I love it. I love it. Thank you so much. I think on that point on this call as our panelists share, we’re going to hear a little bit of how they have done things, what’s worked for them, what hasn’t worked, maybe some pot holes you can avoid and areas that they’ve been able to win. Of course, all of our expertise and feedback is also taken as a grain of salt too, because you likely are in your own unique situation. We’re giving you helpful feedback and thoughts, but ultimately it’s for you to decide what’s best for you and your role at your company as you look to achieve this idea of CS at scale. Myself, my name is Sonciary, many people call me Sonci. It’s great to meet all of you today.

Sonci Honnoll:

I mentioned I’m a co-founder of a startup called quala.io. We’re based in Boston. We are a platform for customer success teams and we make capturing customer usage and authentic sentiment from your customers that much easier so you can build more impactful health scores. We’re going to dive in. Again, don’t forget about the chat, please go ahead… I have a list of 20 questions, but you probably have some more important questions than I do, so chat those in, I’ll make sure that we answer them. Let’s first actually define CS at scale. What does it mean to you when we talk about running customer success teams at scale? Erica, let’s go ahead and throw it to you because you coined the term. I just, like I said, stole it, so let’s go ahead and talk about what that means to you.

Erica Ayotte:

Sure. For us, it’s all about using intelligence and automation to identify and engage with customers who we consider best fits for a one-to-one engagement. So unlike it sounds like on Celine’s team where she’s responsible for the one-to-many, at Privy, our product marketing team is actually responsible for the one-to-many product training. So for us, it’s all about defining that one-to-one. And so sometimes that takes into account the size of the account, how much money are they spending with us? Sometimes because we have to do this at scale, we’re looking at things like, is the customer making an effort within the product first before we engage them? Because we have tens of thousands of customers, we have to be really judicious about how we spend our internal resources.

Erica Ayotte:

There’s lots of different ways that we can define what a best fit customer is to us, but it’s really all about identifying those folks, often using automation to make that first contact, and then when those customers raise their hand and show and prove to us actually that they’re going to be engaged, then we can dive in and start to devote those one-to-one resources there.

Sonci Honnoll:

Interesting. We’re going to dive a little bit into segmentation and how you guys think about segmenting your customer base and how you match customer success managers and team members to those segments. But before we do that, Celine, JB, anything different from the definition or the way that Erica thinks about customer success that should be mentioned?

Celine Kimberly:

I think for us it’s definitely similar, the idea of automation efficiency. I think when we look at CS at scale, it’s about efficiency and effectiveness. So how do you become more efficient whilst also potentially augmenting your customer experience and giving your customers the options they want? We’ve really started floating this idea of there has to be a 360 degree view of a customer. A customer might not want to talk to a CSM. They might actually get more value from a webinar, something like this, or the community or a knowledge base article, and that this isn’t the right time to have that one-on-one. And so how do you create those mechanisms to actually gain productivity for your own team, but also make that customer’s experience more valuable to them and more personalized to them.

JB Bolton:

I love the perspective from both these women. My thinking is very similar. When you’re talking about scale, you’re just talking about volume. So anything at scale is talking about volume and you’re looking at the systems and processes required to manage that volume. So anything at scale is about handling the volume and that’s where segmentation and your approach for those segments, I think, makes a really, really big deal. One thing that’s interesting in customer success specific to scale is that, especially depending on what phase your company is in, I’ve found that early on in the process, sometimes the skill sets that equal great customer experience or great customer success or great customer relationship building are different than the skill sets that are going to build highly efficient systems and processes. And so it’s interesting to think about those roles being different. So some of the things that you may do at scale are going to require a different operational skillset than some of the things that you do to manage accounts or to be a relationship manager for accounts.

Erica Ayotte:

JB, that really resonates with me, and I’m glad that both you and Celine picked up on or mentioned the customer experience piece, because one thing that I would say is that we didn’t start there. We actually started with the customer experience piece, making sure that we were providing the most value, we’re making customers successful first. And so once we had that motion down and understood what worked for our customers, what made that engagement really valuable, then we could scale. And so I just wanted to point that out, that’s not where we started. We started with customer experience and then scaled from there.

Sonci Honnoll:

When you look at customer experience in your bones and you start there, how do you translate that relationship that’s built as you’re working closely with customers and that certain skill set that that group might have? How does that translate as the organization grows and begins to scale? JB, or Celine, Erica, did you put programs in place to help current talent scale or did you actually allow them, “You know what, let’s keep them and be one-to-one working directly with customers and then grow a new team that focuses on those operational efficiency?”

JB Bolton:

That’s a great question. For us, it’s very adaptive and evolutionary. I think we all have to be as we’re building processes. It is not binary. As you start to segment, I think you are going to slip back and forth between how you are segmenting and the approach. Even now still as we learn about customers, we’re adjusting the segments and changing the verticals and changing the thresholds to move into these different segments. So some level of flexibility I think is definitely required to do that well. But your question started off at an interesting point around customer experience, which is, how do we take… Many times when we start small, we have the luxury of being able to do everything personally, and then as your business is growing, it starts to slip away from you. You can’t do that quite to the degree that you want.

JB Bolton:

And I think it’s very important for us in the customer success field, in tandem with customer experience and with product and with marketing, to realize that we have a huge responsibility as we built systems and processes to figure out how to continue to humanize our approach with the communication and the touch points. You’ve got great tools represented here, even in Privy and HubSpot. You’re going to use tools like this, or you’re already are using tools like this to grow your business. And every communication that comes out to our customers, our customer-facing communication, is training your customers to either ignore you or to listen to you and pay attention to you. So are you building trust or are you breaking it?

JB Bolton:

And I think that’s the challenge when we get to high volume is we start to train people to ignore us or to distrust us as opposed to training them to really engage with our company. So I think that’s a really big challenge for us as we grow, Sonci, and I’m curious what Erica and Celine would have to say about this, but you’re going to have to start to look for some key moments to really humanize, I think, your approach as you have all of this volume going out so that you can continue to maintain a high level of customer experience as you scale up.

Sonci Honnoll:

I hear you. Celine, let’s take it back just one step before maybe we think about answering that question, because I think it’s a really good one JB, but when you joined HubSpot, you talked about the process that you went through before you decided what to do. You took stock of the environment at HubSpot, took stock of the team, asked a lot of questions around time management, key initiatives, et cetera, et cetera, and then moved forward with a go-forward plan, which I think is a part of this customer experience discussion we’re having. Can you talk just a little bit about what those, I don’t know, big initiatives were that helped you understand where to spend your time at HubSpot as you first joined the team?

Celine Kimberly:

First, you have an amazing memory. I think you and I talked about this months ago, I can’t believe you still remember this. When I first joined HubSpot, HubSpot did not start with CS at scale, they really focused on the one-to-one relationships. That was the first thing they did. And so when we created the one-to-mainly before my time, it was created as a bit of a reactive, knee-jerk reaction, we need to figure at scale. And it was a good effort to get it off the ground, but there was some missing pieces.

Celine Kimberly:

So when I first joined, team felt really burnt out and we didn’t really know why, but they could all tell me they felt burnt out, but there was no data that really explained where that burnout was coming from. We spent quite a lot of time analyzing just data, so understanding what customers were emailing about. We’re lucky in that we had a team-based model. So we had a shared inbox. It’s a lot easier to do that when you have a shared inbox and when you have CSMs owning individual inboxes, but there are ways you can finagle it.

Celine Kimberly:

So we did a lot of research trying to understand, what are customers emailing us about? What’s the biggest inflows? And then we also did a lot of time studies. There’s nothing quite like a director coming in and asking CSMs to lock that time spent on the activities, that was a great way of building trust. But really trying to understand where they spent that time. And the team themselves weren’t used to even thinking about this. For example, we were onboarding half the team was new and the multi-end CSMs didn’t fit the need to put their mentoring time in the time study when they were spending probably five or six hours a week just helping mental new highest, because there was so many new hires.

Celine Kimberly:

That was really a lot of where we started understanding, where are we least efficient? And before we think about all the most amazing personalization proactive nudges, where are we least efficient in doing the most repetitive tasks, and also where our customers are emailing us requestively for really simple things. We actually found that 40% of our incoming volume was related to billing and contracts. So CSMs weren’t even spending time on strategy, they were spending time on, can I change my credit card number? Or I don’t understand my bill, can you help me understand it? Really simple questions that really should be solved in-app or knowledge-based articles like places where, frankly, the customer experience will be much better served.

Celine Kimberly:

That was really the first piece, it’s diagnosis and building a data framework so then we can put together proposals, get budget against it, influence our biggest stakeholders to reduce their repetitive tasks before we move to the more proactive, how do we build an amazing customer experience?

Sonci Honnoll:

Any points to add there?

Erica Ayotte:

Yeah, I think both JB and Celine touched on this, but trying to boil the ocean is probably not the best approach and taking it piece by piece. Just a little background on the way that we did that in our journey at Privy is we started from a CS perspective just working with the highest value customers when we had a team of two people and thousands and thousands of customers, we really had to focus our efforts there. And once we figured out what were the things that made customers successful and we cued in on those, then what we could do is… Then it just became a question of execution at those lower tiers.

Erica Ayotte:

I will pause here and say that the thing that made that all possible for us to be able to do was A, having an unbelievable support team, which we’re able to take all of the folks who were self-served or if they need a technical support, the fact that we could rely on that team to be able to handle that enabled us to do all the great work that we didn’t see. The other part of that was having great self-serve resources. So a really full KB, for example, that was both descriptive and easy to digest, but having those two resources, I think really undergirds all of the other pieces.

Erica Ayotte:

Once we were able to take care of and understand what makes customers successful at those higher tiers, then we can say, “Hey, why don’t we create a team that has not an engagement in perpetuity, like the typical CSM relationship where you’re one-to-one and you have your meetings, but what if we created the team taking those same principles that we developed on the straight CSM side and created a tier for customers who maybe are paying us a little bit less, but they get a limited time engagement during the most critical part of their customer journey, which is the onboarding phase. So I think taking and understanding what makes customers successful and experimenting with one group, you can then take those learnings and figure out the execution part below that.

Sonci Honnoll:

That’s a really helpful thought. I’m noticing in the chat we’re getting a fair amount of questions around how you and your teams and customer success partner with other teams to achieve some of the wins, document some of the processes and operationalize workflows. Let’s first start with marketing and support, because it seems like a lot of the questions focus around your relationship with the marketing team and with the support teams. As it pertains to one-to-many communications, is the CS team actually creating that workflow or do you partner with the marketing team to do that? And then we’ll ask about the support side after. I’ll throw that out to anyone.

Celine Kimberly:

I can kick this off. I guess no, it’s a bigger company at HubSpot, so we do have more resources, although it didn’t start that way. It’s definitely a team sport. CS at scale, if I had to say what’s my definition about CS at scale, you can’t do it by yourself, you have to work with a lot of other teams. In our case, I’d say our biggest partners, CS really owns the one-on-one engagements with customers. We really own the strategy, to Erica’s point, what is that customer experience? Where do we think we add value as CSMs? But then it’s a question of partnering with our enterprise systems teams, our product teams, our marketing teams to redevelop the right automation in place, the right processes, the right technology, and also have the right messaging.

Celine Kimberly:

My peer in custom marketing and I always say that one of our role models in tech touch is Starbucks because they send 400 personalized version of the same email every day, and they’ve really cemented that customer base to really develop that messaging effectively. That’s a key part in there because if you’re doing that, having that customer experience at scale, you’ve got to have messaging that goes with it. So if it was just us working on CS at scale, I don’t think we’d get very far. It really is a close partnership with tech, systems, marketing, at the very least I could probably think of five others, sales as well. So it has to know what’s going on.

Celine Kimberly:

And that’s how we’ve developing those relationships, developing the projects that are going to be highest impact for all the teams that makes them want to be involved, has been how we’ve seen success at this scale.

Sonci Honnoll:

JB, I’ll offer it to you next because you’ve been at BombBomb for what, just over eight, almost nine years now, so you’ve seen the company go through an entire evolution. What did partnerships look like in the beginning versus what do they look now and how did that play out?

JB Bolton:

That’s a great question. I think one of the things that’s always encouraging to hear as you’re talking about customer success strategy that I would just remind you of as you kick off 2021 is that your objective as a customer success leader is just to be age-appropriate. So depending on how many customers you have and what your revenue is and how many employees you have, that’s some gauge of where you should be from a process maturity standpoint from customer success. If you’re a 10-person company, don’t look at a 50-person company and say, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe we’re doing this.”

JB Bolton:

Of course you’re not doing it. You don’t have the resources, you don’t have the positions to do that, you don’t have the time. It’s probably not your top priority. So when you talk about what those relationships should look like and who should be sending the messages from a marketing standpoint, don’t beat yourself up, just look at where you’re at from the maturity of the company and be like, “Am I at the right stage for this level of growth with the company?” If that makes sense.

JB Bolton:

Because the answer to who’s sending emails and who owns the communications at BombBomb has been just marketing, just CS, some of both, oops, a little too much here, oops, we said now we have too many communications going out and JB hitting the “Send” button out of his marketing software as well. And everything in between. Then ultimately, you’ll reach a point where your marketing team is running the tools that you need at scale to be able to send communications in mass to your customer base. And so they will own really the tooling of that and the metrics and the performance of that, but customer success should still be very involved in the messaging.

JB Bolton:

At our organization, we actually have a customer success writer who owns the voice of BombBomb to the customer. And that writer will regularly meet on a weekly basis with marketing and the folks on our team who are doing the customer marketing and they get together and they agree on what this voice needs to look and sound like, but marketing is ultimately hitting the “Send” button on those things as well. If you’re working for a SaaS company, it’s only a matter of time before your executive team or your board or your leadership or your peers realize that the whole revenue engine is in customer success in a SaaS business. If you’re new, maybe sales is making more revenue than CS is recurring, but you will eventually get to a place where the numbers on the board will be bigger in the recurring revenue than they are on the new revenue as you scale a business. And so that should give you the horsepower that you need to build the relationships you do with the other members of the team.

JB Bolton:

My marketing team cares about high performing content, so they want to partner with us. And the whole business cares about decreasing churn and recurring revenue, and so that gives us the seat at the table that we need to partner with our other business units like sales and marketing, et cetera. Also, the question on support, BombBomb considered support part of the customer success function. My CSMs are going to be my proactive arm and support is going to be my reactive arm, but when I get together for customer success leadership meetings, I’ve got leaders from support and CS and CS ops all sitting in the same meeting, talking about, what are we hearing? What are the trends? What do volumes look like? What are the key initiatives? And we’re all focused on the same rock, so that’s how we look at it.

Erica Ayotte:

Jay, I just want to chime in and say that’s exactly how we’re structured as well in terms of thinking about CS and support. It’s all the customer team for us. But I did want to pick up on something else that you said about scaling, because scaling is hard. It’s the hardest thing to do in SaaS. In general, there’s so many business books written about this, so I think understanding where you are, I think, would you say age-appropriate, which I thought was great in the evolution of your company and figuring out what role you should play in that, I think is super important. And just to give a sense of where Privy is with the responsibilities between communication of the CS and the marketing team, for us it’s shared. And there are some things that are more general, like product marketing, communications that our marketing team will share.

Erica Ayotte:

If it is segment-specific, we will often own that communication regardless of what channel or software it comes out of. That could be on-site, it could be our marketing automation tools, it could be the inbox automation tools that we use or just one-to-one email. So for us right now, it is shared. And I do love the idea of having that CS-specific. There’s lots of folks in the chat picked up on that because… We work very closely with our marketing team on those types of communications because we have noticed that there’s often a difference between a marketing voice that is trying to convert a prospect and a voice that is trying to speak to a customer and their experience. And it seems like there might not be a lot of difference there to maybe the untrained eye or the uninitiated, but there’s a huge difference between the customer voice and the prospect voice, which we’ve done.

Sonci Honnoll:

Good point, good point. I have to share a learning that was mentioned to me by the head of marketing at Alice. And it was that before you hit “Send” on a message, think about, “Is this something that is for me or for this other person?” And I think about that so often, about I have something that I want to say, but is this actually to the benefit of the person that I’m talking to, or is the outcome just beneficial to me? And I try to put my decisions through that filter to make sure that here at Quala we have a give-first mentality, that we’re always looking to that give-first and knowing that we’re doing something that’s good for them and not just for us. Hopefully, if that happens, then in the end, it is good for us.

Sonci Honnoll:

Let’s go back to knowledge-base. That was a theme, just a few moments ago that we were talking about in… On our last community hour, we talked a lot about knowledge base. It actually was one of the most important things that teams were saying that they were investing in in 2021. Of course, that desire was to help them scale. So any methods, applications, this is a question from Whitney Harris, thanks for putting this in the chat. By the way, if you have an answer to a question in the chat, you can go ahead and I know where we have lots of thoughts here in this group. You can comment on those as well, if we don’t necessarily get to every question, but can you talk about on the KB side, methods or applications that you just can’t live without, that have been transformational as you document questions and answers to support?

Erica Ayotte:

I can start off with that one.

Sonci Honnoll:

Yeah.

Erica Ayotte:

I think I had mentioned having a strong KB, it just really undergirds all of our operations and not just customer-facing, it’s a resource that all of us internally use heavily as well, so I also think there’s an employee or an internal education piece there. But one thing I would say is hire someone who really knows what they’re doing from a KB perspective. We hired someone last year and I wish I had done it sooner, to be honest with you, because having someone who has the knowledge and the skillset specifically for KB, I think is really important. So knowing how to structure information on a page in a way that is teachable, I think is really important. Being able to pull out certain notes or call out boxes about like, “Hey, this is a sticky point here.” So understanding both the technical piece and the customer perspective on it.

Erica Ayotte:

And the last thing I’d say there too, is making sure it’s not just words on a page, but you have a GIF or a video example that shows you, “This is the thing to click right here. I’m showing you how to do it,” is really important as well, because for some folks they just learn differently. Some folks like to read and that helps them understand, but having that example I think is really important as well.

Sonci Honnoll:

Look, I love that point. We also talk a lot about… HubSpot has Service Hub. One of our products is knowledge base, and we talk a lot about knowledge bases, but we talk a lot about, if you think about scale, have all the right articles, develop that experience but don’t block the human, so making sure that at the end, you still have a way for your customer to get to an actual support rep if they haven’t got their answer is something that we talk a lot about in terms of yes, have the one-to-many methods there, but let them access the human if they still haven’t gotten their answer.

Sonci Honnoll:

I would say to add to that, on top of having a dedicated resource that can really help you structure the experience and knowledge base, crowdsourcing from your CS reps and support reps, every quarter we do an analysis of what our support tickets to understand what are the most common questions that we could solve the knowledge base articles, and actually our support reps from CSMs can submit questions and their own little blurb of how to explain it on they’re in video. So that actually they’re the ones who are helping us fill out extra parts of the knowledge base that we might not have had time for our writers to write up.

JB Bolton:

I totally agree. The other thing is, there’s some basic things you can look at out of your knowledge base, obviously your volumes and who’s clicking on what articles. If you start to get repeat articles, that could be a good indication that your product team needs to be aware of it, or your engineer, depending on your age-appropriate size of your company. Frequently asked questions could be something that product might want to be aware of to see if they can solve those problems from their end, which I think is important. One of the interesting metrics that we’re looking at this year regarding knowledge base, it’s a simple one, but it’s, what is the knowledge base visit to ticket ratio? Can we measure that we are providing quickly the answers that our customers want without needing to pick up the phone? And so we want to go move that metric this year. We want to find that folks can easily get to the answers that they need without needing to pick up the phone and talk to a support rep to get the help that they’re looking for.

Erica Ayotte:

JB, I love how you mentioned KB metrics as a source of intelligence for the business. I think that is huge. We look at things like if we had just had a product launch and there’s an article or a collection of articles that are to a new product feature, we’ll actually use that as a marker of success, our customers researching, searching for information about that new feature or about that new launch. And so some of the data that we share every month around our KB are those rising and falling not just articles, but also the search terms that customers and prospects will use within our KB. And that is also intelligence for our marketing team to be able to use in their SEO or an SEM in depth.

Sonci Honnoll:

Great thoughts. And I am really distracted by the chats and the [inaudible 00:38:15] that are coming in too. Let’s talk a little bit about metrics, because I feel like… You mentioned, one, JB that maybe not all teams are tracking towards. I like that, a good one, I hadn’t heard of that one before. Any other metrics that you feel like you began to employ when you started to focus on scale or maybe they didn’t really change? Anything that you’d like to submit to the group for them to think about tracking? Celine.

Celine Kimberly:

We are launching a big initiative this year, we’re calling it Tech Touch Team. So really, how do you take a segment of our customers and apply no humans to them, only automation and personalization via email and other one-to-many methods? One of the metrics we’re using there is incident rate. So literally, how many of those customers are still finding their way to us via different mechanisms and support escalation for example, through the community, they might find this how many times did they manage to get through to the customer success side of the house? And really it’s about reducing the need to escalate and to have them find their answer with us. That’s why we’re trying to measure that incident rates.

Celine Kimberly:

It’s purely an efficiency metric. It’s definitely coupled with, is it impacting our retention of those customers? For us, the key is we need to increase efficiency without decreasing effectiveness. In fact, it means my Asia team, they’ll be like, “We want to increase efficiency and increase effectiveness.” Those are the key metrics we’re looking at, is incident rate on customer success and retention, impact on retention.

Sonci Honnoll:

That’s helpful. I needed the thoughts.

JB Bolton:

I saw we had some questions on that knowledge base visit to ticket ratio. Whoever you’re using to host your knowledge base could probably give you some intelligence on this. We use Zendesk. We sat down with our Zendesk CSM and they’re like, “Here’s the benchmark and here’s where you’re at and here’s where I think you could be.” So if you just need somewhere to start, even if you just start watching that metric, it could provide you with some intelligence. Is it moving up? Is it moving down? Do you know why it’s moving up or down? So just start measuring and trend lining that so that you can take a look at that.

JB Bolton:

There’s several other things that you can look at. We were really proud of our ticket to close, our ratio, how many touches to close. And we’re like, “Oh my gosh, we’re closing the bulk of our tickets. We’re closing the first time, look at this. It doesn’t take four touches to get it solved. And our CSM and Zendesk is like, “If you’re able to solve that in one touch, then it’s possible that you’re not either getting them to the answer quick enough, or you have something that from a product standpoint that you could fix something.”

JB Bolton:

“Dang it! I was so proud of that metric though.” And they’re like, “That’s actually not a great metric, believe it or not.” That’s another one that I think is interesting. You can always look at time to resolution. These are all standard support metrics that you might look at. CSAT and MPS, it’s not necessarily whether or not you believe in those metrics, do you have other metrics that you prefer? It’s more about the comments that come, the verbatims that come as a result of that. Every week for the executive leadership team, I literally go and just copy and paste verbatims out of MPS and I grab a selection of them and I put them in front of the executive leadership team every week and say, “These are verbatims of what people are saying.” So looking at those kinds of metrics I think is helpful too.

Celine Kimberly:

Well, actually to add to that, JB, the CSAT metric can be… We’ve started debating, do we keep it, do we not? For us, it’s become an element of, we can potentially address a poor customer experience with a low CSAT. It’s also actually become a really good coaching metric for our CSM, especially in the first year becoming a CSM, I’m like, “I want to make a team tends to be people who are younger in their career in CS,” and so that instant feedback with CSAT is a really good way of having them understand their impact on the customer, of the conversations they’re having. So there’s that business side of the metrics, but also coaching and people management side. Go ahead Erica.

Erica Ayotte:

On that front, on the coaching side and also the verbatim side, and I think this might speak to Jack’s question in the chat as well, is one of the things that we have found really effective to go along with those verbatims is actually using call recording software like a Gong to be able to pull out those snippets and really humanize some of the data that we’re putting in front of say, our product team as well. So having both the data portion of it, and then I think being able to get in front of teams who aren’t typically customer facing, because I think sometimes we in CS can forget the power of hearing it directly from the customer’s mouth and being able to illustrate the data that they’re seeing with an actual customer in their voice and oftentimes you can see their face as well, lands like nothing else. So whenever we’re having trouble getting something across that one, two punch of, “Here’s the data, whether it’s KB or CSAT, or in product or health scoring,” or whatever it is combined with that just works out really, really well for us to be able to highlight.

Sonci Honnoll:

I think also on the subject of qualitative metrics or sentiment, voice of the customer, I think there’s another channel of data that’s important to measure, and we call that voice of the field or voice of the CSM and that’s to get a good read of how they perceive the customer as a technical fit, are they truly ICP? Do you have a champion that believes in your mission and vision? There are some key assessment questions that you can ask your expert voice, the person that is spending 80% of their time on the phone with customers to get a better understanding of what do the wins look like and how do we then be a bullhorn for those positive things that are happening with customers to the rest of the organization? Or of course the other side of that is things that really need to be done from a product, messaging, CS perspective, how do we be a bullhorn for that across the organization?

Sonci Honnoll:

I know that we’re getting questions around, what do we do with all the insights that we’re garnering? Because again, being on calls with customers or with customers for 80% of our work week, or more, depending on the stage of company that you might be in, it’s like, “Great, I just had this great impactful call, or I go to the end of the week and I’m thinking I learned so much, how do I actually get all of those learnings, the ones that are important, across the organization?” And of course using tools can be a part of that, the success there.

Sonci Honnoll:

Let’s actually go back to a few questions that we had around the things that you wish you would’ve done differently. I find that the community really likes to learn from failure as well. Of course I do too. We want to sidestep some of those potholes. Anything that you did on your journey while you were scaling the team or building operationalized workflows and not sacrificing quality, anything that you did on your journey or you were scaling the team or building operationalized workflows and not sacrificing quality, anything that you did that you felt like, “I probably wouldn’t do XYZ again,” that you would to pay forward to people on the call?

Erica Ayotte:

Sure. There’s a lot. I have a whole list that I could go through, but I think that the number one thing for me, and I think it might be very common to do, is to almost hyper focus too much on your highest paying customers and use that as the singular data point, which we did at first, for qualifying some of our customers for that one-to-one engagement. And now we’re using other factors as well. And I think the reason why we did that at first is of course when you’re young and growing and you have just more anxiety around those larger accounts, but I think what we realized over time was that that just wasn’t the only indicator of what would make a good engagement. And we ended up, I think, in some cases expending a lot of resources for not a lot of great incremental gains.

Erica Ayotte:

That would be the wisdom that I would share, is not just about the account size, even though it may feel very anxiety-producing to have it not be that. I think there are other things. It has to be a two-way street with the customer, because at the end of the day, customer success can amplify, it can build a bridge, but at the end of the day, if you’re working at a software company, they’re buying software. I think the customer has to show some engagement in order for that relationship between the customer and CS to be as successful as it could be. So don’t hyperfocus on account size, I guess would be my summary.

Celine Kimberly:

Erica, I would definitely second that. Even in one-to-many, we would focus on the higher end of the lower spend customers because they would just hit our numbers more if they turned. And in 2019, at the end of Q1, we missed our retention numbers and it was a big, what is going on in our install base? And that’s really very install base. And when we dug in, we discovered that our blind spot was our starter customers, which is all bottom tier product, and it can be as cheap as $50 a month. So really low spend customers, the very high volume. And they were just chatting at such a fast rate that they were actually imagined to impact our retention numbers because we had basically just accidentally ignored them for too long. And it actually restructured the entire way we managed our team and how we structured the team. And it was the birth of our tech touch movement in terms of, “We have to think differently about these customers. We need to pay attention to them in a different way because they will drag us down if we keep going down this road.”

Celine Kimberly:

I would say to add to that, the aspects I didn’t appreciate enough at the beginning was educating my leadership team on what it means to scale. We sometimes have some customer… Some customers will fall through the cracks because my team manages over 30,000 customers and teaching it leadership to be okay about that and to not focus on every single customer, because if we do we can’t be at scale, has taken a long time for them to be comfortable. Like, “Yes, we may lose this one customer. We may have missed the mark on that. Let’s learn from it and scale that process, but let’s not dwell on every single one because we can’t move forward with that mentality.” So I think that’s been a lot of just sitting down with leaderships or hand-holding them, getting them comfortable with this idea that they might be small cracks that we will find and we will taper over and build reporting to help with it and process to help with that.

JB Bolton:

Good stuff. A couple of thoughts from my end, the first is forge a healthy strategic partnership with your product leaders. Because when you think about scale, one of the best ways that you can influence the customer experience and customer success at scale is actually through the product. Even if you have brilliant communication campaigns and are getting 40% open rates, there’s 60% of your customers that are not getting the message potentially. And so I think starting early there to the degree that you can is really key. The customer journey, if nobody owns comprehensively the customer journey at your company, then you own the customer journey comprehensively at your company.

JB Bolton:

So go get a whiteboard and map out, and you’re going to find out that engineering built a “New Account Sign Up” notification email that marketing wasn’t aware of, and then customer success is inviting them to the webinar and all of a sudden you’re like, “Oh my gosh, we’re sending 20 emails in the first two weeks.” And so really putting together a comprehensive customer journey. If nobody at your company owns that, then you own it. If you literally are like, “Who owns that right now?” And then the answer is you.

JB Bolton:

And then the other thing that I would encourage you with is don’t get stuck as a CS leader feeling like you have to solve the problem. Your job is to communicate and then you’ll work collaboratively to solve the problem. So it’s okay if you’re seeing NPS or CSAT feedback or these weird trends that are emerging and you don’t know what to do with them, just communicate. Next time you’re in the leadership meeting, say, “All right, heads up, this is what I’m seeing. These are some trends. These are interesting themes. These are notes I’m hearing from my CSMs. These are some verbatims from customer.”

JB Bolton:

Just communicate, communicate, communicate. Don’t carry the weight of having to have the problem solved before you take it to the leadership team, whoever your strategic internal partners are, or you run the risk of missing out on first of all, siloing and discrediting the work that you’re doing, and you miss the opportunity to build strategic partnerships across the business to solve customer problems at a higher level.

Sonci Honnoll:

Great points. One of our values that my previous company from ABOX and Chelsea I think is still here, we were both on the customer success team there, was about asking for help. And I think that’s hard for all of us to do. I think we take pride in many of us and being able to solve our own problems, but when it comes specifically to scaling teams and winning with the customer, that is an all team efforts and it’s all consuming.

Sonci Honnoll:

If I might share, I think the thing that I did at Promo Box that I would do differently at Quala was that when we talked about wanting to scale the team and work more one-to-many with our customers to talk open and honestly about what we would be gaining and potentially what we would be losing as a result and how that might affect the company overall. Because as you shift or if you segment your customers, as you shift to CSS scale, it is a mentality shift as well. You can’t have the white glove named accounts full service experience as you scale because you’re looking for inefficiencies, it’s a completely different mindset.

Sonci Honnoll:

So it would really be, if you’re going to choose a path with certain customer segments or across an entire segment, then choose it very carefully and purposefully and make sure that the entire leadership team is also aligned on while you’re doing that and what you’re going to gain from it. That’s my experience.

Sonci Honnoll:

One more final question. I know we have about five minutes, so we’ll try to wrap it up. Specifically, we’re at the beginning of 2021, we’ve gone through many goal-setting exercises, we’ve talked a little bit about metrics already, but any mantras, vision, mission that you’ve put together for the team for this year as you think about scaling across 2021 and bettering your efforts, anything that you’d like to share to the rest of the group here that you think could be inspiring, or maybe just knowledge transfer?

Erica Ayotte:

One thing that I’ll share that’s our teams watch word or mantra going into 2021 is really thinking about what we’re doing in terms of both combining CS and customer experience as well, customer experience being tech touch. It’s really going forward for us, a combination of those things. So thinking really critically about, how do we use data points? How do we use automation to better discover and engage these folks? So really, in my mind it’s really exciting because it’s like combining those two worlds in one org over on my team. Just really excited about that.

Sonci Honnoll:

Nice. I like that. Anything to offer, JB or Celine, that you feel like would be good to share with the group?

JB Bolton:

Yeah. I guess I’d go back to what we opened up with, which is just to encourage all of us, I’m speaking this for myself in addition to you all, is that our job is just to take the next right step and there’s not a silver bullet. So it’s okay that this is hard. We’re better at doing hard work in these SaaS companies than just about anybody else out there. And so if you’re not sure where to start, it’s probably somewhere in the onboarding of your customers. Usually, that’s where we’re making the greatest impact is right upfront, are they getting to health quickly? Do you have a way to measure health? These are all brilliant places to start, or maybe you’ve had a process in place for the last couple of years and it’s time to go back and figure out what you’ve learned from it and revisit it and revamp it, but you need to get to health quickly right out of the gate.

JB Bolton:

And so if you’re not sure where to start, or if you’re new or you’re a smaller company, it’s probably somewhere in the onboarding at scale, and it needs to be more than an email campaign. It’s got to be baked into the product. It needs to be baked into the customer experience. And so I think that’s probably where I would focus. What’s the next step? What’s the right prioritization of the business? I like the concept too… One of the things from our seat that we’re going to be working on a lot is expansion from existing customers this year. And that’s an interesting conversation because who owns expansion? And if you guys want to have another session and debate that at some point, that’s always a hot topic.

JB Bolton:

I’ve had the privilege of running sales at three different points during my career at BombBomb, and I believe that there’s… I love customer success kinds of sales, because we’re pretty good at identifying and adding value to customers. And when you earn the right to expand the relationship because you’ve done it the right way, it’s a great feeling and it’s a revenue that retains really, really well. So you might start to get curious about, how do you add value and earn the right to ask for the opportunity to expand your business within your product? If you can strategically engineer expansion into your product, your business metrics are going to be nuts. So maybe thinking strategically about that, that’s an area that we’re going to be spending some time this year.

Sonci Honnoll:

Awesome. Celine, why don’t you close us out?

Celine Kimberly:

I’m not sure I can really top that ending from JB, so I will say the scale topic, it’s very timely. Our 2021 theme because it says HubSpot is success at scale. So it really is about, even at our level of organization, there’s so many different ways we don’t scale effectively, so I think whatever size you are looking at that customer experience holistically, understanding where are the opportunities to drive strategic customer conversations for adoption and growth, and where are the points of friction, either until a handoff friction, product friction, repetitive questions coming in, whatever it might be, find those areas of opportunity and those areas of friction and tackle them one-by-one. What’s the highest impact and the lowest effort you can find? Find those ones first and then go in decreasing order. I think that’s how you’ll already achieve scale and impact with your organization.

Sonci Honnoll:

Fantastic. Thank you so much, everyone. Thank you, Erica, JB, Celine for joining us. It was good to see your faces and we’ll see you again in March. Bye everyone.

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