Rebecca McDougall is Director of Customer Success at Synapse, a collaborative platform that streamlines and centralizes training and course design. Synapse is moving away from traditional business planning updates and developing a customer-centric “scrum” process that drives customer success. I was happy to get a chance to ask her questions recently—and she was gracious enough to provide insightful answers!
Can you share how the Customer Success process evolved at Synapse?
My background was in partner success, where we took a very traditional quarterly business review approach: we’d meet with each partner once a quarter to understand what was happening in their organization and how they were reselling our solution. We’d then update them on a roadmap.
When I joined Synapse and transitioned into Customer Success, it was my first time building out what our customer journey should really look like. We kept coming back to the idea that we wanted to have some sort of scheduled frequency at which we aim to connect with everyone. And this is something that I’ve always been a little bit challenged by. I don’t think that the concept of a quarterly business review is very customer-centric.
One huge challenge was timing and frequency. We’d meet and talk about our customer’s goals and then go off for a few months. By the time we actually met with them again to discuss those same goals, things had changed. Reality was very different than what we thought it was when we did the last QBR or quarterly business review.
How did you turn the QBR process around to a more customer-centric “scrum” one?
We started playing around with the idea of flipping the traditional processes a bit. We wanted more of a working session with the customer, one where we’re able to discuss their goals and organizational updates—all in a completely iterative manner.
We looked at the pieces that make up a typical customer success lifecycle—handoffs, trainings, optimizations, QBRs, etc. But when I stepped back to assess our Synapse goals—visibility into how our actual customers are using the software and how things are going—I decided I was interested in doing things differently.
We decided to run customer connects monthly. To keep the meetings concise and focus on clear updates. We thought: why not call it a scrum? Although it’s not traditional scrum methodology per se, the underlying values and purpose are completely aligned.
Why are you calling them scrums?
We use the word “scrum” lightly—it’s an ideology more than it is a formal scrum process. We want our meetings with customers to be iterative and collaborative. We want to understand as a team what’s happening, what our combined challenges are, and what we can work on together over the next month to help customers drive closer to our shared goals.
Our new customer success monthly scrums have been working well for us.
What does your customer success scrum look like?
I created a template deck for customers, which I update monthly. When we kick off, we’re always clear in sharing about the purpose of the scrum.
We use the slides to set goals and to create a joint action plan. That’s where it’s iterative and scrum-like: we’re going to measure and drive results.
Each slide has a purpose. They show key actions that we think will get them to value as quickly as possible. We drag and drop slides that represent where they are, and use it as a conversation starter about why certain items might be lagging and when we’ll be able to accomplish them.
We try to get our customers to articulate their goal for the next 30 days—and that’s not always easy, but in many cases it’s easier than trying to determine a quarterly goal because the timeline is shorter.
It’s so great when we set goals. Then we can say, “Okay, you said that you wanted to accomplish X.” Then we look at whether they’ve accomplished X at the next scrum. It gives us an easy way to expose where we can help and where things might be falling off track.
How does this scrum process benefit your customers?
In our customer-centric approach, our conversation focuses not on “Why didn’t you meet the goal,” but rather “Why didn’t we meet the goal?”
When we talk about the measurement, I layer in what we can do. Could we have provided different resources or support to help a customer get there? Is it running another training session? Is it sending you one of our ebooks? Is it connecting you with another customer with a similar use case?
It’s always focused on “What can we do to help you reach that measurement? How do we get there together?” What we’re looking at in a scrum is meant to be shareable but action-oriented, detailing the collaboration and how we’re working together.
We’re finding that with this process we’re able to really partner with our customers on what success looks like to them throughout their entire customer journey, because their success and their goals are not static—especially given how frequently things are changing in the world today. This helps build trust and helps them get more value out of our platform. Plus, we’re excited to build our entire practice on Quala. We’ll begin using tasks within Quala to help keep the cadence of the meetings and then also completing assessments after each scrum to get a timely read on our customer pulse!
Who do you invite from the customer side? How do you empower your champion to share results with your buyer?
With our monthly scrums, we’re really focused on our champions. Sometimes they own the budget. Other times, they own implementation.
For the most part, we haven’t asked executives who control the budget to come in and hear about what’s going on monthly yet. We’re finding that if the champion or the power user is happy and has visibility into the metrics and goals being met, they’re effectively communicating up the chain. Not only that, but our buyers are now used to hearing about us monthly from their champion because of our scrums.
I don’t think the scrums are a replacement for the insights you might get from having strategic C-level conversations—they’re a way to keep a more frequent cadence with those who are actually able to drive usage and be champions within the organization.
It’s been working well because we’re able to drive action with the person who’s responsible although we might consider inviting a buyer to every third scrum. We’re still working on that!
What’s the most important concept you’ve learned so far?
It’s making the customer central to everything we do as a business, and trying to develop that mentality across the organization. In scrums, as I mentioned, we’re saying “How could we have gotten to this goal faster?” rather than “How could you have gotten to this goal faster?” In the same way, I encourage team members to talk in terms of “our customer,” not “your customer” or “my customer.”
Developing that mindset across all teams encourages them to connect with the customer—and I think it helps us develop better products and solve problems faster. I believe using this customer-centric mindset leads to organically developing trust and delivering value.
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