Customer Success Strategy: A Guide

I recently had the chance to connect with Gaby Moran, director of customer experience at Workato. Before her current role, Gaby spent quite a few years at Medallia, customer experience management software with a world-class NPS of 60+. 

As we all know, net dollar retention and customer success are critically important to any SaaS business. That’s why I thought it would be interesting to speak to Gaby. She answered many burning questions about customer experience that I hear from entrepreneurs all the time. Check out the video, podcast episode, or read below for Gaby’s insights:

Ryan Floyd: When most people think of customer success they have a vague idea of what it means. But customer experience is new to most people. What does customer experience mean and why is it so important?

Gaby Moran: Customer experience is about understanding your customer’s expectations and whether you’re meeting them. It starts at the very beginning of the journey. 

It allows you to understand all the steps along the way, the challenges, and the opportunities to innovate. How do I onboard and implement quickly? How do I let the rest of the organization know that it’s this specific tool or service that is helping us to get results? It’s an end-to-end journey, where customer success is just one touchpoint. 

Ryan Floyd: So how do you create your map? That’s a lot of information you need to gather. 

Gaby Moran: It’s a lot of fun and an ever-changing task. Journey map sessions are common in the industry, especially for marketing. After all, sellers and Customer Success Managers (CSMs) are quite knowledgeable about what it’s like to be a customer. 

You start with your internal expertise. At each customer touchpoint you put up a listening post, for example a survey. Video analytics is popular, especially for retail, with companies like Gong and ChorusAI helping to track how people interact with social media. 

Then there are review sites like G2. It can even be your own employees, and the sessions or conferences they attend. Today, you can employ technology to capture that sort of direct feedback.

Ryan Floyd: Direct interviews don’t really scale for a lot of companies. You would need an army of people! I imagine your customers probably don’t want to spend a whole lot of time on interviews either. So this is a data-driven approach.

Gaby Moran: It’s very data-driven, yes. The best insights are going to come from one-on-one customer conversations. But this approach allows you to find key customers who really need you. When the relationship is not working and they’re having a hard time finding value, your listening post will raise a flag. Deteriorating feedback is something you need to know about, because it helps you to solve a problem. 

That’s very well documented in the world of NPS. Your best customers often turn out to be people you went through a rough patch with. 

Ryan Floyd: A lot of people know about NPS. But are there some listening posts that are perhaps not quite so obvious that can help you gather the right data?

Gaby Moran: The right listening post will be different from one persona to the next. For example, executives are notoriously hard to get information from. They don’t even answer emails. But they love their phones, and they love to text. So a great listening post for executives is to invite them to a nice dinner, or some corporate event, and then text them afterward for feedback. There are systems that allow you to grab that feedback at scale.

Ryan Floyd: We know that the timing of the conversation can affect how people answer. If you’ve just hosted this great corporate event, do you think the feedback you receive afterward could be positively biased?

Gaby Moran: Yes, and I think this is a place where operational customer experience is quite different from research. Any conversation is better than no conversation. What’s important is that a door has opened. In a week or two you can follow up, text or call back, and have a more honest and balanced conversation.

We’re also aiming for actionability. We’re not trying to understand the deepest truth about all customers, with statistical precision, every single time. We’re excited about the prospect of value realization on a specific business problem. Does feedback help me to move a customer further along on this value journey? If yes, then great.  

We’re smart. We can understand context. But the point is to take action on the feedback, to build stronger relationships.

Ryan Floyd: So you’ve gathered all this data. What can you take back to the organization that CSM interactions can’t provide?

Gaby Moran: It depends on where you are in the journey. Imagine a world where you can predict exactly how many customer contacts will give direct feedback every six months. Do you have an executive sponsor for every single one of the accounts? Has that sponsor engaged with you on direct feedback at least once a year? Is an account worth a million dollars, but only one person has given you direct feedback? These are red lights.

Ryan Floyd: Let’s say from a CSM standpoint, all the interactions have been positive and usage of the product is high. You may not have enough executive sponsorship. Oftentimes churn happens not because customers are unhappy, but because your champion leaves. If nobody else in the company understands the value of what you’re selling, then there is high churn risk. That’s something a CSM person may not be looking for.

Gaby Moran: Exactly. But in a world where Net Revenue Retention (NRR) is so important, it isn’t all about churn. It’s about expansion potential. There is a huge amount of benefit in identifying upsells that are not going to happen unless you do value work.

Ryan Floyd: How do I get customer experience working with CSM when building a value case? What do you need to watch out for?

Gaby Moran: It isn’t just about working with CSMs. In cases where the sale hasn’t occurred yet, sometimes the AE has the strongest relationship. Often, the product owner is the right person. 

Thanks to their sophisticated alerting systems, CX tools are good at closing the loop. That’s useful, since you need the ability to capture detailed root causes and feed them back into the listening post.

It’s still important to leave room for creativity. The ‘how’ of solving a problem is best left in the hands of the customer experts.

Ryan Floyd is a founding Managing Director of Storm Ventures, where he invests in and works with early-stage enterprise SaaS startups. 

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