SaaS businesses have changed a lot over the past 18 months, and the customer success function is becoming increasingly important.
Now more than ever, companies need a direct line of sight into their human relationships along with defined processes to bring out the best in every teammate.
With this bigger picture in mind, we’re excited to welcome Lauren Sickel to Quala as our Head of Customer Success. Lauren joined us back in August after connecting with Quala through our Humans of CS Community Hour.
She is an innovative, thoughtful, and hard-working role model for the CS Community at large, and we are grateful that she’s on board.
Meet Lauren 👋
Her expertise is in building and scaling high-performance Customer Success teams, with a focus on the frameworks and processes required for rapid growth — all while keeping real human connections with individual customers at the center of everything she does.
We were interested in learning more about her thoughts, professional ambitions, and recommendations for the CS community at large.
In the following Q&A, we discuss the following:
- Her sports coaching background and path to becoming a CS leader
- The biggest challenges in CS that need solving
- How to transition from a reactive to proactive mindset
- Tips for building a CS function from scratch
You have an awesome background in the world of sports and coaching. What was that like?
It was hugely impactful in how I approach everything: life, work and raising my three kids. I was a four-year varsity field hockey player at Providence College and was chosen as a captain for both my junior and senior years. From there, I went on to coach at the collegiate level for five years.
I had a great career, and by the time I was a senior the team had improved from a mid-tier Division I program to being ranked No. 8 nationally and it continues to be something I am very proud of.
One of my most valuable experiences as a collegiate coach was helping transition the Bryant University field hockey program from Division II to Division I. It was the first time I was part of change management leadership and it taught me how valuable it is to communicate with your team during a time of transition and to involve them in the process.
I eventually moved on from coaching because I decided to start a family. It would have been hard to travel and recruit with little kids.
After leaving coaching, you spent some time in real estate. How did you find your way to tech?
When I was working in real estate, I was essentially running a small business. I had to figure out how to use all these technology platforms and became very interested in the Software as a Service (SaaS) space.
Having exposure to all of these technology platforms led me to WordStream’s digital marketing platform for small and medium businesses to manage their Google and Bing ad spend.
There was an entry-level customer success role, and I decided to apply. I was looking forward to applying different skills that I learned over the years. I was also passionate about supporting small businesses. Both my parents owned small businesses — my dad owns a local hardware store, and my mom owned a floral shop. I could really relate to the customer base.
The opportunity allowed me to help business owners take control of their advertising and help them understand where their money was being spent and how the system works. WordStream helped our customers see the bottom line and put food on the table.
What has your CS leadership journey looked like?
As a coach, I’ve gotten to work closely with individuals and to build personal connections.
I see a lot of parallels between coaching and customer success. My role has always been about helping customers achieve their goals and work through pain points. That means supporting their daily workflows in a way that aligns with the bottom line.
I think because I have that background in coaching, running a small business, and being an end-user for tech platforms, I bring an interesting perspective to the field of CS.
I ended up staying at WordStream for 7 years, wearing many different hats while I was with the company. I started out as a Customer Success Manager. During my first year, I volunteered to teach my team about Facebook ads, how they worked, and how our customers could utilize them.
So you’ve brought together innovation with customer success? What was that like?
I was asked to be part of a small startup within WordStream to build a product specifically for Facebook ads. This team consisted of me, a product manager, a technical lead, and a sales rep.
It was an extremely valuable learning experience being my first time in a startup environment, and I was regularly meeting with the company’s leadership. The product we were building, WordStream Social Ads, ended up becoming a part of the core line of business and overall platform. I then transitioned over to WordStream’s next new product “Advisor Lite.”
Our goal was to provide an easy-to-use platform for business owners who were on a tight budget and just starting out with their digital advertising. There was a lot of demand in the market and we were onboarding over a hundred customers a month almost right out of the gates, but gross churn was also extremely high. I was aggressive about creating onboarding materials, supporting and educating the customers, and working closely with sales to define qualified leads. Through a lot of process iteration and improvement, I was able to drive down our gross churn by 12%.
After this milestone, I went on maternity leave and WordStream was acquired. Plans for Lite to move forward were shut down so I had to determine a new role for myself.
What was your next career move given your strong customer success foundation?
I decided to move into professional services, and I took a couple of my reps with me. I also hired a couple of people and built out a team of 9. I was extremely proud of this group as we became the highest performing team in the department with both the highest net retention and NPS scores.
While in this role I got to lead a couple of key initiatives. First, I project managed the roll out of a new suite of services, helping to define what those services were, how to package everything, and how to go to market.
In conjunction with the new service offerings, my co-worker and I spearheaded a successful onboarding pilot that ultimately led to the creation of a new Customer Onboarding function.
After an internal and external search I was offered the role of Associate Director of Customer Onboarding to build out and lead the new function. It was an incredibly exciting and fulfilling experience as I am extremely passionate about the customer experience. My team’s philosophy was to welcome, educate and empower our customers to use our product to reach their business goals.
What is the next CS challenge that you’re looking to solve?
I love working closely with customers. It’s not just about seeing them successful with a platform but in their businesses overall. It’s great being able to coach them and to lead them towards their goals.
So I am really excited to be here at Quala where I get to help the Customer Success community.
One opportunity I see is the need for more defined frameworks around the customer success function. There’s a need for putting basic processes in place.
Customer success, for a lot of companies, is still very reactive. But the goal is to become more proactive. That’s when the magic happens — people know what their responsibilities are and how to integrate into different departments. Ownership is important for organizations to figure out.
At Quala, I’m building frameworks to help customer success leaders transition their functions from reactive to proactive as quickly as possible.
Success starts with exploring basic questions — what does success represent for your customer? I always try to put myself in the shoes of the customer to be empathetic to their point of view.
In our field, there’s a tendency to get caught up in metrics. Numbers are super important. But at the end of the day, we need to be problem-solvers — to give customers the best experience we possibly can. When we get that right, and we lead customers to successful outcomes, seeing metrics point in the right direction is the icing on the cake.
Let’s talk about Customer Success!
Want to join conversations around human-centric customer success, share your insights, and learn from other smart CSMs? Join us in the Humans of CS Community. (It’s free!)