The Digital Customer Success Podcast

Elevating Customer Success Through Accessibility with Alex Farmer of Nezasa and Customer Success Excellence Awards | Episode 017

September 26, 2023 Alex Turkovic, Alex Farmer Episode 17
The Digital Customer Success Podcast
Elevating Customer Success Through Accessibility with Alex Farmer of Nezasa and Customer Success Excellence Awards | Episode 017
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

I'm thrilled to bring you a vibrant conversation with Alex Farmer, the founder of the Customer Success Excellence Awards and Chief Customer Officer at Nezasa. He brings a wealth of knowledge from the frontlines of various customer-facing role experience, particularly in the startup realm. Through our rich discussion, we explore how to personalize your customer success processes, streamline tech stack elements into a unified, customer-centric overlay, and much more.

Join us as we take a deep dive into the art of enhancing customer experience and accessibility. With Alex's expertise, we unpack strategies to establish a single access point across multiple systems for your customers. We also shed light on empathizing with customers to better grasp their needs and confusion. We also explore the Customer Success Excellence Awards program founded by Alex, with a mission to honor those in the industry that are putting in the hard work to make customers successful.

Enjoy! I know I sure did...

Alex's LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/alexanderfarmer/
Customer Success Excellence Awards: http://customersuccessexcellence.com/

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The Digital Customer Success Podcast is hosted by Alex Turkovic

Speaker 1:

A lot of times we're bringing our customer through our process Instead of tailoring our process to the customer's need. For me, the future of digital customer success is ultimately like one customer centric overlay, so they can engage with all of their information as they choose.

Speaker 2:

And, once again, welcome to the Digital Customer Success Podcast with me, alex Turgovich. So glad you could join us here today and every week as I seek out and interview leaders and practitioners who are innovating and building great scaled CS programs. My goal is to share what I've learned and to bring you along with me for the ride so that you get the insights that you need to build and evolve your own digital CS program. If you'd like more info, want to get in touch or sign up for the latest updates, go to DigitalCustomerSuccesscom, and if you have a question or commentary to be used in an upcoming episode, call us and leave a message at 512-222-7381. For now, let's get started. Welcome to episode 17 of the show. I can't believe we're getting close to 20. It seems like yesterday we started, but it's been a few months Been. A few months of great conversations. It's been a few months of growth. August was great, september is even better, and that's all because of you and your listenership and your engagement and the people that I've interacted with since we started the show. I'm grateful to every single one of those people because there have been amazing, amazing conversations. So, before we get into today's interview, if you're a regular listener. You know that we recently launched a call in line and I basically invited you to call in, leave your commentary and your questions and we would feel them on the air, so to speak, and so we got a couple of messages here. I wanted to play them for you today and we can talk about them after we listen to them. So here we go. Here's the first one.

Speaker 3:

Hey there, alex. First time caller, longtime listener Brittany Hillard, here. Hello. Brittany I actually have a favor. I would love for you to interview yourself. I'd love to hear more about what you're doing in your role, your previous role, kind of all the things you've learned by doing and obviously through your network. I think it'd be pretty interesting. So, yeah, looking forward to that episode.

Speaker 2:

Interesting? Yeah, I have. Actually I'm planning and I've thought about doing some solo episodes on digital CS, you know, because it is my day gig at the moment and I think it would be good to do some really focused episodes on some specific topics. So thanks for the call, brittany. I will definitely tackle some solo episodes in the future, and it looks like we got another one in, maybe also from Brittany, so let's listen to that one.

Speaker 3:

Hey there, Alex Brittany Hillard again.

Speaker 2:

Hello Brittany Again.

Speaker 3:

I have another request. I love to listen to the podcast while I am driving or out walking around, and I don't usually have like a pen and paper or you know, something easy handy to take notes with, or if I'm driving. I probably shouldn't be doing that. So my favorite is at the end of the podcast, when your guests are sharing all their gems about the people they follow or the books they've read, their go to knowledge resources. Anyway, you could aggregate that, similar to how you do the DCS definition. That would be amazing for me and for all the other drivers on the road that are driving around me. All right, can't wait to hear this. Bye.

Speaker 2:

Awesome. First off, brittany, thank you so much for your contribution and calling in. Super valuable and appreciated hearing from you. On that last one, the short answer is yes, actually, I've been planning on pulling together a resources page. In fact, by the time you're listening to this, there should be a resources page on the website digitalcustomersuccesscom that you can go to, and it will actually have a digest of all of the resources and links and recommendations that all of our guests have made in the past, all in one page and also going forward. We'll, you know, continue adding to it as the episodes go. So awesome, yeah, how fortuitous. So, yeah, thanks again for the call. I really appreciate it. If you would like to call in and contribute and ask a question, please feel free to do so at 512-222-7381. Today's conversation is with someone that you will likely know because of the Customer Success Excellence Awards. In fact, he is the founder of the Customer Success Excellence Awards. We have a meeting of the Alexes today because today we're talking with Alex Farmer. Alex currently serves as CCO of Nizaza, which is travel tech, but, adding, more importantly, he is a self-proclaimed startup lifer. He is kind of that's his sweet spot in his comfort zone as startups, and so this conversation is great because we talk about digital CS in the context of a startup. Of course, we also talk about the CS Excellence Awards and whatnot. So I'm looking forward to your feedback and hope you enjoy this conversation with Alex Farmer. I know I sure did.

Speaker 1:

I'm with the Eye of the Hurricane Alex. That's how I feel right now, here with you.

Speaker 2:

Really, I don't know whether that's a good thing or a bad thing.

Speaker 1:

Well, I think it's good, because my day's been a hurricane and the eye is where. Everything's good, right. So I could be implying, of course it's about to get real shitty for the next 30 minutes and, like you know, I'm in the eye of the hurricane because we haven't started yet. But we're going to find out together. There you go.

Speaker 2:

It's going to be great. Alex Farmer, it's very nice to have you on the podcast. Welcome, welcome.

Speaker 1:

It's great to be here. As you said, the summit of the Alexes, here we are.

Speaker 2:

The summit of the Alexes. There's some amazing Alexes in the world, but it's not crazy common.

Speaker 3:

Yeah.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, my wife is also Alex. It's a fun fact off the bat.

Speaker 2:

So wow.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, that's more often than you know, there's a summit of the Alexes.

Speaker 2:

So are you legally in Alexander and she's legally in Alexandra, is that?

Speaker 1:

how that is. It is true. The fact can confirm the rumor, alex. Indeed.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, makes it a little easier.

Speaker 2:

That makes it a little bit easier. A lot of people I don't know if you get this, but for some reason a lot of people call me Eric. Like a lot of people call me Eric.

Speaker 1:

So I see you on a screen now. Do you look like an Eric?

Speaker 2:

I don't know.

Speaker 1:

I'm like, I mean, I guess we're playing this game. Now I'm going to give you Ryan vibes. I'm going to say that you look you might look like a Ryan to me. So now everyone yeah, everyone can call you that now. I think that's why you brought me on the show. I assume.

Speaker 2:

Absolutely yeah. Do you get, do you have a name that people call you a lot?

Speaker 1:

They're never, they're not there, they can't be repeated into like not flattering.

Speaker 3:

Let's just go with that.

Speaker 2:

Oh, my goodness. Well, I'm excited to have you on for a couple of different reasons. One is you've got a pretty cool career. You involve yourself with some amazing companies and you're, you know, like you said, you're kind of this, you're. You said earlier when we started off that you're kind of in the eye of the hurricane. I would argue that you are the hurricane, you, you, you are like the one that just gets stuff done in a very positive I meant that in a very positive way, but also I'm here to break things.

Speaker 1:

I'm here to break things.

Speaker 2:

You're here to break things, break the norm, you know. But also you, you are the person behind these lovely customer success excellence awards that we've been hearing so much about. And you guys just did an America's session at Pulse, which was great, really well received. So congrats on that. But yeah, so excited to dig into all that. But I guess first would be great to, I guess, get your kind of CS origin story and what led you down the CS and and and really the customer facing path.

Speaker 1:

Yeah so. So my role today I'll go back in history in a second. I'm the chief customer officer at Nazaza and when I interview folks at Nazaza I can confidently say that I've done every role within the post sale journey in my career. So I could say some say master of none. I had no comment but but that you know it's been a privilege to kind of do and learn the disciplines of kind of the CX or post sale organization throughout my career support, onboarding and customer success. I joined originally from San Francisco Bay Area. I'm here in London, spent here 10 years now. But my CS origin story after spending a little time doing software implementation and then a little time doing customer support, I joined a company as employee 32, company called Fair Sale, based in the UK, is employee 32. And I think I was 24 years old it was like two years from that career and my boss that hired me after a couple of years after he hired me said I didn't really know what we were hiring you for but we just kind of took a price, took a punt on you. Basically I stuck around there for five years but I started there actually doing support and then a little implementation and during the interview process. He told me, you know, as I just said, we don't exactly know the role, but learn the product, do some implementation, do some support, and we kind of agreed with each other we'd reevaluate in six to 12 months. And I remember it was January 1st, january 3rd or something, 2015, and I saw on LinkedIn he posted a job for customer success manager. I hadn't really heard of them before and I Look, read the job description and it sounded perfect. It was you needed to know the product, which I had spent a lot of time doing, and enjoy the show, or analogy you needed to what the thing I really didn't like about implementation was. If you didn't like the project or the people, you're stuck there for three To six months. Yeah that is one project, it's five projects, but. But being able to have the commercial conversation and have a portfolio of customers, all of those things so it's different every day All of those things was super interesting to me, and I had a real interest in traveling as well. So going out and seeing customers 24 years old, you know get on airplanes, that felt pretty cool too.

Speaker 2:

So yeah, that's the origin, if you like. I like it. That's cool, did you in your? I know I spent some time in kind of implementation professional services, you know, type gigs as well, and it was always staggering to me the amount of time where a Project or an onboarding project would come your way and you would invariably end up having to resell the platform to the people who were actually on the phone, that, and where the decision-maker was like nowhere to be found, does it? I mean, I think we can all kind of relate to that. But you know, I would imagine you especially in this. I would imagine this in this startup environment, kind of small company environment. That's especially true.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, you know it was. It was an HR tech platform, so at least they weren't buying, you know, kind of an add-on it was. We're ripping out our old system, bringing in a new system, right, so they kind of in some ways knew what the product did. I think the the devil was in the details, you know, because there was so much. One of our strengths we were a company was called fair sales and H of Salesforce based HR tech system. So basically, logging the sales force, you look at your opportunities separate section, you can look at your people data or your profile, and Sales force, as many people know, has a lot of configuration and configurability. So we would say yes. Well, sales would say yes to a lot of RFP questions that Sometimes turned into yes and or yes but or maybe not, and I think that was the expectation management that we had to do. So at least we can, you know, at least we had flexibility. But with great flexibility comes, you know, all the caveats and the challenges that you can imagine.

Speaker 2:

Absolutely, yeah, absolutely. So this is the digital customer success podcast. I would be remiss if I didn't ask all of my guests the same question, which is to say you know what's when you hear the word digital customer success, or there are the, the function of digital customer success. What's your kind of elevator pitch definition of it, if you had to describe it to somebody else?

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I love. It might be a long elevator ride or a bumpy one, so go with me here, you know well. Let me answer your question. But first say I spent most of my career in really high-touch CS and those are not opposites digital and high-touch but I think sometimes incorrectly get conflated as opposites. But totally, I guess this is a newer area for me.

Speaker 2:

Let's say I think it's part of the definition. Honestly, you know I'm good yeah.

Speaker 1:

I'm kind of you know sideways and just so you know like everybody's definition has been completely different.

Speaker 2:

There's some, you know, there's some storylines that kind of fit among the whole thing. But that's the reason why I ask is because you know everybody has their own take, based on their background and what they do and where they are.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I was just trying to lower the bar before I give it to you. So so there you go. Bar successfully, lord, I hope. And let's maybe give an attempted an answer here. Elevator pitch for digital CS. I mean, I think Visual customer success is about scalability and it's about accessibility. And I think we we talk about scalability a lot. That's obvious, doing more with less, less one-to-one, more one-to-many. But what we don't talk about enough is accessibility. Ie, I have a QBR deck or a massive discovery document for an implementation that I'm going to send you Is an attachment in an email, one-on-one that I mean. Yet email is digital. So forgive me, but, like after the one-to-one QBR that we do, I send you an email attachment with the power port, with a bullet point List of follow-up actions. That's the old way, that's one-to-one accessibility, digital customer success, as I upload that QBR template with follow-up actions in a in a place that is Accessible by your entire team. That maybe lets you view your support cases and all of your other touch, digital touch points With our company in the same place. So I think digital CS for me, scalability, obvious, but accessibility Is important as well. How do you access all of the materials or the activities that the customer success team is doing in one place. So in some ways it's about how adoptable. We think about adoption of the products that we work with the CSMs. We don't think enough about the adoption of the CSM activities or collateral that we're doing with the customer. So I think accessibility really factors in there as well.

Speaker 3:

So those are my two buzzwords.

Speaker 1:

It's a long elevator ride, but if you want to make it a short one, scalability and accessibility, as it pertains to customer success.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I like the accessibility, because we we get that wrong a lot. You know, we we put it a QBR deck together or a deck together or some sort of resource, and then it lives somewhere. You know it's sent via email, which is where things go to die sometimes.

Speaker 1:

I mean, I, I would love to understand the statistics. You know, you just think about that, the this. This really kind of gets me right and I Guess I'm feeling extra curmudgeonly today, alex, so I apologize in advance. But yeah, exactly, great for everybody. It's. It really gets me because the amount of time to see a sample spend bringing this QBR deck together versus the value they get after that 30 minute meeting yes, please, just just, it's just off, it's just. I mean, you know, the QBR is kind of like the Pinnacle. It shouldn't be, but it's the pinnacle of some customer success playbooks and that executive maybe pays attention for half of the zoom call Certainly doesn't open the attachment in the email. You're lucky if they open the email. So what are we doing? I think that's, you know, that's a microcosm of a. I guess the the turbulence. As you know, turbulence happens with two types of air Merge. So you got the old one-to-one engagement style and all the digital stuff and these things are not really fitting together like they should and that's when you get the ability problem.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I agree. Yeah, man, you know QB. The QQBR has been steadily becoming a naughty word for a long time, right? Because I think a lot of folks just don't. When it comes time to QBR, it's like going through the motions, it's like, okay, now I know I need to create a deck and I know I need to schedule a time with everybody, and that's invariably gonna change a couple times. And, you know, and I'm gonna spend literally like three or four hours putting this together with with data from desperate, you know, disparate systems that don't talk to each other and all this kind of stuff. Whereas, you know, I think I think you're onto something, because I Think any good digital program should enable a CSM to put those kinds of things together in a better way, whether it's, you know, whether it's totally futuristic and it's like generative AI created videos and all that kind of stuff, or it's literally just like, you know, populating the right data in the right place so you can easily, you know, make a deck, if that's even what your customer wants, right, like how many of us have asked our customers Do you want a QBR, do you just want like a check-in every once in a while? How do we drive your goals forward?

Speaker 1:

And I think you know there's something here kind of goes back to accessibility, but maybe even more basic than that. You know the QBR process or you know even the customer journey. A lot of times we're bringing our customer through our process instead of tailoring our process to the customer's need, right? So you know, we do a kickoff call, we do a project steering committee, we do a QBR All these things. They're little moments you know, say it's a three-month span. They're little moments of the three-month span that say, hey, I'm here, let's talk about value, don't forget about me. But all the stuff the customer cares about is happening every other day in that period. So how do I make sure that you know, if they want to look at their adoption data, they have that available to them either in the product or in a supplemental dashboard somewhere, right? How do I make sure that our tech stack that they engage with is navigable and not, you know, your support portal over here and your LMS over here and then email attachment or Google's drive folder with your QBR decks over here? Right, and I think that's for me, the future of digital customer success is ultimately like one customer-centric overlay so they can engage with all of their information as they choose, and maybe we'll get into a little bit later. We did some of these things at a previous company where we launched a customer community when we had 84 customers Right, and those two things don't sound like they're congruent, but they sound incongruent. But the reason was we wanted to have a cover sheet that linked all the underlying systems, so the customer went only to one place to access all the things that were digitally available to them.

Speaker 2:

That's funny. In one of the previous episodes I forget which one Forgive me, but we were talking about the fact that, you know, onboarding emails tend to be this thing, where you send your customer links to every single system in your tech stack whether it be the community and the support site and the LMS and the thing and this thing and that thing, and it ends up being like 10 different links, or five different links even, and so I love that concept of pulling it all together under one roof, so to speak, and I do feel like that. You know, we do have a lot of systems and we have a lot in our tech stack, and I think it's just getting more confusing now that generative AI is entering the picture as well, because it's adding yet another thing to the tech stack. And so you know, I think the I don't know what you call it the enterprise of all of that, yeah, or the unification of all that into one place, is brilliant.

Speaker 1:

Well, I think you know for me the journey for software like let's just think about us as buyers of post-sale technology to support customers right. First it was you need a system for that. Support team got a support system. Training team got a training content management system. Cst might get a CS platform. And then those platforms said hey, wouldn't it be nice if your customer could self-serve? So they created a little self-serve widget but without really thinking about it, we created an org chart tech stack that our customer has to navigate. So instead of giving them the one customer experience engaged in one place, I've outsourced the columns in my org chart via technology to the customer right and if we really zoom out and think about that, it doesn't make any sense. So that's what we set out to do by really kind of trying to integrate. You know we lost adoption In our business case. We're buying the community platform at Cognite. That's where I spent two years leading the CSM team and community teams together. Oslo based industrial data ops scale up Business case one of the first things I wanted to purchase actually, and we had screenshots of the 12 different systems that customers could go to to get information or do something and, you know, to get stack overflow, lms, a couple of wikis and documentation sites. We looked at usage data for the ones that we had and it was terrible. We were investing in all these things and nobody was using them because, as you say, if they can't find that one email and set them in onboarding, I feel like my job. You know, a lot of companies say, oh, I sent you the links, you didn't access them. Well, they're inaccessible. You know, think about it. I, as a customer of you, I think about you 1% of the day. That 1% will not be occupied, and all the links you sent me, it's going to be about your product. Yeah, so there's, you know. Again, I'm not trying to be a broken record, but that's the accessibility piece.

Speaker 2:

It is, yeah, it's important, and you think about that customer journey and so many often, so often, we think about the customer journey as, like this string of events that needs to happen.

Speaker 1:

The conveyor belt.

Speaker 2:

The conveyor belt. But we think about it a lot of times outward, you know, outward facing. I don't think a lot of people have put the energy and the emphasis on actually experiencing it as a customer. You know, like, put yourself through the in the customer's shoes and see, okay, what's confusing and what you know what doesn't fit, and how many emails am I getting and all that kind of stuff, and so I think I think your point of accessibility is a real good one, just because it does put all that stuff in one place. I feel like we could talk about that forever. But I do want to ask you about the Customer Success Excellence Awards and how that came about and you know where that came from in your brain and how it started and what it's evolved to today.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, how it came about so well. Let's start with the elevator pitch. That one I do have. Well rehearsed. Customer Success Excellence is the world's first award program, awards program dedicated to the customer success profession. So sales, they have their. You know, different regions have sales excellence awards. There's customer experience customer service awards that have been, you know, existed for a long time. But back in 2019, it felt like it was about time to have our own. So, you know, in typical fashion, I didn't think about the consequences and said screw it, let's do it Kind of put the idea out there back in 2019. Got a website. I was in between. I was in a notice period. It was actually 2020. I had the idea in 2019, did some things in 2020 to get it out there. I was in my notice period between two companies just joining. Cognite actually had this left the previous company and we were in our first COVID lockdown. So I had time on my hands plus time on my hands. Let's say so we got the idea out there. I think I was really when the first lockdown happened. The game grow, retain CS leaders. Office hours really took off. Some of your list, I'm sure we'll remember that it still exists today. But you know everybody was thinking what the hell am I going to do? Customers are going to cancel, what is this new normal? And people just got together and poured their you know their heart and soul out to help another people. And I was just had a really good opportunity to meet a bunch of CS leaders, talk to them and that's how I found my judges. So back to what it is. We have 40 judges. It's a meritocratic awards. This is not a popularity contest. You don't win by number of emails or number of votes or number of submissions. It's a thousand word or more long form application process that is judged by 40 of the industry's best and brightest judges across five categories CS leader of the year, customer success manager of the year customer success rising star. That's somebody that's been in the profession for two years or less. And then there's two awards for innovation, most innovative customer success initiative and best use of technology and customer success. And the reason we exist is really to find the next guest on your podcast, because I think there's a challenge in the CS space where there's a lot of talkers but there's even more operators that don't talk and we risk the same talkers coming on the same you know different podcasts and creating a echo chamber of messaging. That's not moving our profession forward. So how can I meritocratically identify those operators that we need to invite into the discourse to drive our profession forward through innovation and through sharing the things they're already doing? And that's why we exist. Well, 75% of the reason we exist 25% is we do the final awards, so it's regional. We do India and America's, and we were looking at APAC in 2024 as well. It's in person and we take the shortlist down to finalists at awards, gala for customer success, you think, the Academy Awards of CS. We did it in London in 2022, as you say, in San Francisco in 2023. And we're looking to do in the and America's in 2024 for the next kind of cycle. So, it's been a that's what it is and it's been a really exciting project. It's gotten to find a lot of great people and and really get back to a profession that's given me so much as well.

Speaker 2:

I love it, I mean it, you know it definitely ticks that box, like you know you. I think it's very seen and appreciated and the response you know I've seen online to you know, this last one especially, has been overwhelming. And yeah, as soon as the winners were announced, even even the finalists, like I was on LinkedIn, it's like because that's right around the time that I was, you know, launching the podcast I was like, hey, let's, let's talk. And so, you know, ralphie's been on, which is great. There's a couple more in the hopper. So it's good. So thanks, thanks for that, you, you, you.

Speaker 1:

I'm ready to help. I'll say the bill, brother, it's good.

Speaker 2:

But, but you know to your point, though, had it not been for those of I mean. Ralphie, for example, is extremely brilliant, smart, driven, personable.

Speaker 1:

And just context for the, for the listeners, she won customer success leader of the year at the America's Awards and I think I said this publicly before, but it wasn't close. I mean she was head and shoulders above everybody else. Yeah, Phenomenal.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, go ahead and and so you know it. It I'm not sure if I would have approached her otherwise because she's not necessarily part of that echo chamber. You know, you look, you look for the I love that quote. You know that a lot of people use now from, you know, fred Rogers, which is, you know, look for the helpers and and I don't think the echo chamber people are necessarily the helpers, but people like Ralphie, who are kind of she's not, you know, crazy active on LinkedIn and stuff, but the things that she does are so impactful and so kind of helpful to the community and stuff that that's. You know, those are the people that we really need to amplify.

Speaker 1:

Well, and if we zoom out, you know we're a young profession. We're a profession that is maybe getting more responsibility now, where new business is less fruit you know it's not low hanging fruit anymore. We got to work harder for our new dollar and that means we need to focus on existing customer expansion and existing customer growth. We're a young profession and we're not a big one. You know, you look at the amount of CROs and people that lead professional services support teams. There's a hell of a lot more of them than there are CCOs or CS leaders. So so I think we shouldn't underestimate the need to to invite new voices to share their perspective, because otherwise we get people that take the same QBR playbook to every company and think that that is what customer success is and and I think that's really what we're trying to to to attack. You know that's a, that's an action word, but I think it needs to be used here because you know we got a lot of opportunity as CSM's to really kind of bring the customer led growth era into SaaS, let's say. But if we squander that, you know that's on us.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, it is Absolutely. My brain just went five different places all at once. So I mean, what you're looking at is me wrangling it back in. But one of the things that I think is interesting. Right, yeah, one of the things that's interesting about what you just said is this notion of taking a playbook from one place to the other, you know, and plunking it in is probably the least realistic play, least realistic action within CS of any other organization. Like sales, you have a market and funnel that leads to, you know, opportunities, that leads to close rate, et cetera, et cetera. There's a predictability there. You don't necessarily get that in CS because you know the product is different, the goals are different. You know like there's so many variables there. And so this kind of leads to my next question, which is to say that you know you've been part of some pretty cool companies in a customer success leadership role and primarily you've been kind of startup scale up, focused, right. And so I'm curious what advice you might have to other you know CS leaders who you know may have been part of a larger organization and looking kind of to get into the smaller orgs, startups or folks that are coming up that want to ascend into leadership in those smaller orgs.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, good question. I mean I fair sale. That company I spoke about was acquired by a large enterprise and I stuck around for a year and didn't love it. So I'm maybe not the guy to advise enterprise people about kind of going to startups, cause I think it's probably not a true statement but in some ways you're one or the other. I don't truly believe that, but I think there's definitely some make. Making the leap between both is not to be underestimated.

Speaker 2:

Let's say for one or the other.

Speaker 1:

For my perspective, one of the challenges in customer success is the broad definition. So I'm a chief customer officer and my function is called customer experience and we have a CSM team, but a lot of VP's of CS are responsible for CSM but also maybe onboarding, maybe support, maybe professional, maybe training right, so we have. I guess the challenge I'm trying to articulate is there's a little bit of a variable definition of CS, but then also, if it goes bad in any other function, it impacts CS. So I think the challenge in a startup where there's very little process or discipline or even kind of let's even say the worst case management, buy-in for your function, right, what is the. CS thing. It sounds fluffy but we need it. Okay, and obviously it kind of depends on your leadership as to whether they get it or not. But I think the challenge you have in doing this customer success in a startup is you could spend a lot of time telling other departments how to be more customer centric or how to link up and collaborate with them better. Example is sales selling to our ICP. Are they selling anything? If I invest in that, I have a better time dealing with my customer, but if I don't invest in how we deal with customers, then I've shot myself in one of my feet. Similarly, I got to invest in linking product feedback from customers to product and I could invest in that, but if I don't invest in the actual customer success department, then I'm kind of focused on other stuff that I don't own but it still impacts me. So it's this trade-off of breadth versus depth. Let's call it, because I think at a startup, the challenge is we're actually at a company I work for today. It's called Nizaza. It's a travel tech platform and basically think like Shopify for buying trips online. You can add a bunch of different products to your basket, check out one itinerary more B2B, but our customers are B2C, so it's B2B2C, and we didn't have an onboarding function when I joined. We've created one. We didn't have a CSM function, which we didn't do in CS. They were just kind of doing everything and we had a support function that was functioning well but doing a lot onboarding because we didn't have onboarding, and so we sorted some of those things out. And we also have one person whose role is to run all of our digital programs as well, and that's new. But the point I'm trying to make is we leadership offsite in May, one of the values we're kind of talking about, what are our company values and what's kind of the culture we want to instill in a high-growth organization. And I didn't really know how to articulate it and I still don't, because it sounds weird. But this idea of kind of living at the margins or living at the overlaps, because we're there's a term that one of my colleagues or professional I said friend he's a friend told me. He basically called it. He says accidents happen at handovers, right, we were kind of talking about basically that the conversation was do you have onboarding or delivery handover to the CSM after sales or do you hand it over all at once? So the theory was one handover only, because that's where accidents happen and that's exactly the point. So the value we were talking about was okay, we should live at the margins or live at the gaps or the handover points, and that was really what we were trying to instill in our leadership team. So we're not looking downward and insularly. Right, if I'm a new product leader or startup, I gotta sort out how I work with my engineers and fix my own stuff. I don't know. I need to look up and meet that CS leader that's trying to improve the customer-to-product interface and really meet them at the margin. So it's a very long-winded answer to your question, which you can tell is my development area, alex. But long elevator rides, man you gave me an elevator pitch where, at the top of the Birch Gleaf, a tallest building in the world.

Speaker 2:

That's the title of your book.

Speaker 1:

long elevator ride Good well and you can tell exactly. I have chopped an energy tree in the world to write that book. Man, too many pages. But just let me finish by saying, to answer your question and to actually get an answer here, I think advice for people who want to do CS and startups is learn to feel like the job is never done and manage that stress because you want the perfect process. Oh, this customer dropped off at this point in the customer journey because we didn't think about that scenario. It's so easy to get stuck in those little exchanges that don't go exactly right. But you're starting from nothing. I had a colleague once I don't remember it's basically the agile delivery methodology and he basically said look, you're guilty of doing it the wrong way. I'll give you the example. If I want to drive, if I want to go somewhere, I got two choices. I can build a skateboard, a scooter, a motorcycle and then a fancy car. Or I could build a wheel of a fancy car, a door of a fancy car, a roof of a fancy car and then put it together to have a car. But the second example I'm not driving until the end. The first example I'm driving and I'm building and I'm iterating. So I think in a startup environment, you have to embrace that we didn't have a skateboard a week ago. Yes, this customer suffered, but many more customers would have suffered if we hadn't built our skateboard. So I think that, to me, is the most important thing when it comes to doing CS at a startup.

Speaker 2:

Well, and there's an investment analogy there too, because if you're going from skateboard to scooter to whatever it is, you're not just taking incremental steps and getting to the end product in a better way, but you're also building up that juice, that customer juice. And I like what you said about kind of living at the margins, because, having been part of some massive organizations and some tiny organizations, the difference is really astounding, because in those massive organizations there are 10 others of you somewhere that you never talked to and there's like here's your walls, here's your cubicle and this is what you do. And in smaller companies you don't have that option, there is no option to disappear. It's like, and you should be connected at the hip with your peer in product and your peer in support and your peer in sales and your peer in wherever, because guess what you are the customer journey. It's not on paper, it's you right.

Speaker 1:

Well, you're spot on and I think in a startup there's chaos. The question is where there's different areas or degrees of chaos and your job is really taming it and we start with a skateboard and the scooter. But I think the trade-off is I could build my perfect process to take product feedback and get it into sprints, so the product and engineering team are just doing this and working on refining that. But you've tamed the internal chaos right and the customer says, well, where's my product feature? I asked for this ages ago. Yeah, you have a good process internally, but then you're essentially saying I'm going to tame my chaos internally and do my ops and make them more efficient, but I'm not going to invest at all in making sure the customer sees a streamlined and connected. Nizaza, or whatever the name of your startup, is In some ways, investing in taming chaos for internal processes and exchanges implies you're not investing in taming chaos for how the customer experiences their journey through your company. Maybe that goes even back to this accessibility concept where, when I have a support system that has a little customer portal, I've tamed my support chaos, but the customer doesn't want to have to log in at that site and this site and that site there's customer adoption of the material chaos that you completely ignored.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, yeah makes sense. One of the things you said earlier about your journey at Nizaza is around the fact that you've just installed or maybe this recently installed somebody to handle your digital programs and whatnot. That leads to my next question, which is to say that I think with any startup, the temptation and probably the right way to go is you focus initially on very heavily on one-to-one relationships. You have people who are know the customer inside and out on an individual basis and can watch over that, but that's not scalable and any startup wants that hockey stick to happen. I'd like your insight into at what point do you feel like you should start to invest in those digital motions? Do you feel like that's something that you need to start from the ground floor and start building up? Or is that something that you install as you go as you need it, as that hockey stick starts to happen?

Speaker 1:

If you do it, then it's too late. I have a luxury at Nizaza, where we invested in digital and technology before we had a scale problem. We still have 73 customers. We're not a massive organization. We've got around 5 million in recurring revenue, so we're a startup. Part of the reason we're investing in these digital. The good thing is we didn't have the onboarding team. We didn't have the success team doing success things, so we had a blank canvas. So the choice was do I paint one picture, Do I? This is a weird analogy but paint a bunch of pictures? No, Do I go to the photocopier and create a bunch of pictures all at once? How about that? It's a little better Still weird, there you go. Yeah, well, not really, but that's okay.

Speaker 2:

Well, it's almost like do I paint one picture and then a few months later or years later, do I paint over it with a completely different picture.

Speaker 1:

You nailed it, you brought it home for you. For me that's a good analogy. I don't know Good. You're going to get a lot of complete this analogy emails for me, because I clearly struggle and you really get it. It's the trainer, the trainer. There we go, exactly so we have a real opportunity to invest, to start from scratch instead of turning one-to-one activities into digital. It was let's build a spinal cord or a central operating core of digital motion and supplement with human contact. I think so let's talk a little bit about what we did. Then I want to talk about how we positioned it to customers as well, because I think we did a really smart thing there. What we did first we didn't have an onboarding team. First thing we did was we said first thing was roles and responsibilities. Support was doing onboarding, but only doing reaction based onboarding, and customer success then was just doing assisted onboarding as well. The product's relatively complex. We're selling complicated itineraries. You have to connect all these supply systems, so it's not built to be used out of the box. There's a setup period. We just had the companies hadn't invested in any type of one-to-many training or onboarding materials because we could cope with people, with that one customer and that one customer over there. But then we were really starting to scale. We needed to do something quickly. So first thing was okay, support, you're not going to get involved in any customers until they are handed over to support after go live. So that reduced caseload that them focus on making sure the knowledge base is accurate, deflecting cases, whatever. But that team also was well-staffed and had existed for a long time. Onboarding we created and they essentially were responsible for setting the system up, signing off the project and moving into support. Customers success we said okay, you're not doing product stuff anymore, you're going to get introduced at the point of kickoff. So onboarding and CS come together. You're going to get a handover from sales and your job is to speak to the executive, get their business goals aligned and since check progress along the way. After spending all this time talking about QBRs, we do them, but only for the top two segments of our customers, which is less than 25 percent. That's what I think we did first, which was segment our customers so that if we were going to invest in one-to-one supplements, it was only for customers that gave us a big amount of revenue and had big revenue upside. I think that's also really important. You try and take all your customers and create a program for them. You're going to end up always tinkering, always building the car door, the car wheel, trying to piece it all together. So we said no, no, let's define the roles of responsibilities first. Here's your goals and objectives in each phase In onboarding your KPIs. This figure out how to do it, and let's then build some supplemental tooling in your toolkit that you can use at the appropriate time. So that was all the process stuff In terms of systems and technology for digital. We invested very quickly in Pendo. I don't even know if they offer this solution anymore, but I think I was the one that says funny and it's doesn't, I don't think breaches any NDAs about their prices.

Speaker 3:

I'm not going to say how much it costs.

Speaker 1:

But I'll tell you the package. I think I'm the 1 percent. I was joking with their sales rep. I'm the 1 percent of people 0.1 percent that converted from a LinkedIn ad. Basically, it said are you a startup? Check out Pendo for startups. I clicked to the next page and it said if you're 75 employees or less, you get a great deal. I looked at our HR system and we were 74 employees Perfect. So he called me the next day. I said look, we're very motivated to make a deal. So we got basically a good product for a cheap price. We started building. We brought somebody from the product team to own Pendo because it sits right between product and CS guides live, we. Basically we had a starter product that's much easier to use. We basically said we're not going to put any onboarding resource on that because we don't have any capacity. We don't have enough people for the onboarding we need to do turn it into digital onboarding. So we spun up digital onboarding guides. When you log in, you get a pop-up trains you in the product, you're live, you're done, and we did that very quickly. Then we invested in some project management tooling to automate some of the more complex products onboarding with links to guides directly in Pendo, so really integrating our tech stack. But then the customer kind of sees just one place and at least it links them back into other stuff and it's not in their inbox, it's in a system they go into to manage the project. So those are some of the digital initiatives. I guess last thing as well we invested in a tool, survey tool. It's a company called, they Said, and we set it up to just run. So after onboarding it sends the onboarding survey and it sequences it. It's basically almost like outreach for surveys, so it'll do a sequence based on data and then we're getting that data right back into our company and then we're reacting. So we don't have to think about do I do my big NPS blast now, if the data's right, the surveys are going to the right people at the right time. So really kind of building this backbone of automation that then lets the person jump in and react based on live data, instead of being monitoring their dashboard all the time. They react when something happens, so it's the digital program that drives their reaction.

Speaker 2:

A part of my personal definition of digital CS is getting the right content to the right contact at the right time, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And you just hit on that right Because so many times we send out surveys wanting to get some feedback but it's like, you know, a you're lucky if you know who to send it to, but B you send it to them at a completely horrible time in their renewal cycle or whatever it is. So using that data that appendo, that usage data, and really figuring out when those right times are is critical, I think.

Speaker 1:

And if we were a company with 10,000 customers we'd still be planning to implement it right. So again, this is that blank canvas. We can just quickly iterate, figure out the data we need from our CRM and just go, and then now we can tweak it along the way. But we're again. We're building the skateboard, building the scooter, we're not building the fancy car yet. The one thing I want to come back to I said there's an interesting way that we articulated this to our customers. I did a customer tour when I first joined and we kind of had a bit of. We already kind of knew the stuff we wanted to invest in right In terms of the initiatives for CX department. But based on those conversations we were finding those initiatives and kind of sense checked our thinking and then in the QBR or the it wasn't quarterly, it wasn't really a business review every time we go back and see the customer you know the tier one and tier two executive we go and travel to every couple of months we give them an update on their use of the tool, kind of that basic usage stuff. But not just the product roadmap. We give them an update on the customer experience roadmap. So we really got them to buy in and say look, this is the stuff we're going to do to make your users' lives easier. Here's what we're going to build in the product and here's what we're going to build in a program that supports the product. And actually this analogy goes even further. We run our customer experience initiatives in a roadmap in JIRA and I do have an internal calendar invite for me to write release notes for the last six months worth of releases that we'll share internally to kind of drive communication. What we've done it is the calendar invite that I keep moving to the next week and the next week, but one day, because I've said it on a podcast, I'll actually get that done as well. But it's been really it's been a great way for us to unify the support, the onboarding, the CSM functions. These are all your initiatives. Here's how they link together and here's how we're going to speak to our customers about them in a release style so we can drive adoption of the stuff we're building. That's meant to help them drive more adoption of the tool that we've sold them. That's been really impactful.

Speaker 2:

There's been several times where I've wished that my customer base would know where they are in our internal journey. In other words, we've got this great journey map and we've outlined all the steps, but a lot of times what we fail to do is we fail to actually communicate to the customer where they are, either in the onboarding process or where are those milestones that they need to hit to be successful, and so I love that you mentioned that you're really just trying to pull the customer into that messaging as well and trying to have them be part of it instead of us just driving it, you know, and it strikes me as obvious, and that sounds a little bit braggadocious, but it wasn't obvious until we kind of came up with this idea.

Speaker 1:

It's simple. There's a quote that my colleague told me the other day any idiot can make something complex and only intelligent people can simplify. And let's think about it for a second. We spent all his time with our customer saying here's our product roadmap. What do you need in the product? Oh, it's on the roadmap. It's not on the roadmap, here's the update. But then and then, as the CX organization, we say hey, give me your feedback, tell me, tell me what you think about this, give me your feedback. How can we be better? But the stuff they're telling us is not about the just the product. We have a roadmap for that. It's about the experience around the product. So why then that we have a roadmap for the stuff that we're building and delivering to improve their experience around the product? To me those things are actually quite complimentary. And also, you know, as a CC, I wish our product team delivered faster. I think every CX leader does. So I can use the CX roadmap as a way to show progress of the things that I can control while waiting for big new features from our product team.

Speaker 2:

I love using JIRA for those reasons. Like you know I've been, I've been a JIRA user for about a decade and and you know it's been such a great way. It's not just for product and engineering, it's a great way to organize your activities cross functionally. And you know, and there's other tools like that too, like you know, money to hear or whatever, but everybody's got JIRA. You've got. You've got it already. It's great yeah.

Speaker 1:

Use it. I agree with you on the JIRA comment Confluence. It's been. It's been years and I'm still struggling, but that's a separate yeah. Yeah, I need a glass of something to talk about.

Speaker 2:

I said earlier that that email was where things go to die. I think, actually confluences where things go to die, yeah, exactly, yeah. Well, look as we, as we kind of wrap up and and I'm I'm crazy appreciative of your time because I know you've got a lot of stuff going on I'd like to understand a little bit more about what's in your content diet. When you get time to read or listen to podcasts or do whatever it is you do, what do you? What are you? What are you absorbing? To stay relevant, to kind of stay on top of things?

Speaker 1:

Yeah, good question, man. I am aside from the digital customer success podcast. I read who, what, you know what I let's just come out with it. I don't read books and it sounds super lame and boring. I read blogs and I like I read. You know I'm on Twitter, I'm on LinkedIn. Far too often. I have a very bad habit I have. I have LinkedIn is my content diet. I guess you know, in the classic Saster Kel blog and and I think there's Lenny's something is a new one I've just gotten put onto. You know, if it's on Twitter or LinkedIn, I'll read it. If it's in my inbox, it's one of the unread emails that I kind of. Basically, they go to the bottom of the inbox and I'll go through and read all of these at some point and then I just kind of delete them.

Speaker 2:

You don't see yeah.

Speaker 1:

Absolutely. So there's that. Although I do, I have two bad LinkedIn habits. One one that I've gotten over was I would save for later all these articles and never come back to them. And actually this is actually how we tried to make like customer success excellence like a thing. At the start I did. I did this thing back when I was like really into the echo chamber LinkedIn all the time thing. You know phase of my career. I guess I'm sorry everyone. I basically created this. I said follow this hashtag customer success excellence. Every day I'm sharing an article, I said from the vault and I basically said I have a very bad habit of saving articles and not reading them, so why don't I share all the things that I've saved from other people over the last year? And I made the hashtag customer success excellence because I knew in two more months I was going to launch customer success excellence.

Speaker 2:

Right.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, to the world. So, like that was my attempt at marketing. So that's one bad habit Saving articles and not reading them. My new bad habit is I send the article in email to my work email and then not read it. So I'm yeah, that's my content diet and I think that's probably the worst answer you've ever had. No, not at all.

Speaker 2:

I'm equally guilty of emailing myself stuff that I know I'm going to read later and then I absolutely don't. I am also equally guilty of not reading as much as I should. Yeah, for reasons I've mentioned before on the podcast, but I just fall asleep when I like. Reading puts me to sleep, I don't need drugs blogs man Short and I don't need melatonin, I just need like three or four pages of anything and I'm asleep.

Speaker 1:

Audio books, that's a different story, but I just said yeah, and when you said that I said short and sleep but I meant short and sweet.

Speaker 2:

But I think actually short and sleep makes more sense when it comes to reading reading these things, yeah, blogs is about my limit. Yeah. I'll get a good blog post for sure, absolutely, and actually I was saying.

Speaker 1:

I was saying that I have always been obsessed with Point Smiles, travel and I for the first time in my career, now work in a company where there's some relevance to the personal passion that I have, so I can get away with not just reading business blogs but travel blogs as well, and it's this beautiful marriage of personal and professional passions.

Speaker 2:

So I guess that's up to reading. Yeah, there you go. That's good. That's good. Anyone you want to give a shout out to? Kudos to that that's doing cool things in digital.

Speaker 1:

Yes, actually, and I'm going to share one more bad habit. This is really turning into therapy now.

Speaker 2:

Oh, sure, yeah, I'm here for it.

Speaker 1:

I'm here for it. Appreciate your time. You thank me for my time. I should really be thanking you for yours. You should charge me about the hour for this work here, going through bad habits together. One of my other bad habits is I have a million draft linked in articles that I've never published. Yes, yeah, so that's another one. But actually when I first joined as Zaza and knew I needed to do this digital CS thing I spoke to. I kind of put out a bat signal and said, hey, who's an expert in digital CS and wants to talk to me for half an hour and just educate me on this thing? And I have a half written article about the things that I learned. So I won't tell you the outcome because you can all your listeners can gang up on me and hold me accountable, but I spoke to some really good people in this space. Angelica Merrick she was a bazar voice at the time. I don't know if the places are still accurate, because it was so long ago that I created this draft article, which is equally even more embarrassing. That's okay.

Speaker 2:

Right.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, Dickie Singh from castapp. He's the CEO of a very interesting tool in the digital success space, automating QBRs and other things. So basically turning the one to one activities into one to many. So that's super topical. I spoke to Annie Dean from recast success, Lauren Cummings from CanDo, Marco Innocenti from Zoom and Jeff Beaumont from GitLab were also super helpful in kind of giving me an education. And last person I'll mention is Dan Ennis from mondaycom. Oh, and lastly, Chad from customer, and that's all the shout outs I want to give. But they were really helpful in basically just telling me their experience and I think the one takeaway spoiler alert for the article on never publish was that they all had different definitions of digital customer success.

Speaker 2:

Sure.

Speaker 1:

Some people were focused on email. Some people focus on in product. I talked to them a lot about how does product marketing and CS kind of work together in the communication and the conclusion was not well. So I think we have a huge opportunity to really kind of synthesize what it means to do digital CS well.

Speaker 2:

Well, what's interesting about that? So, first off, awesome names. There are some who have been on the podcast. Those of you who haven't been on the podcast expect a LinkedIn message from me.

Speaker 1:

So it's a pyramid scheme.

Speaker 2:

It totally is Absolutely. Yeah, but the other cool thing that you just mentioned is something that I found too, because, as you just witnessed, I ask everybody their definition of digital CS and been putting that on the website digitalcustomersuccesscom as a word map and to have everybody's definition on there as well, which has been interesting because it differs depending on where you've been and what you do and you're past and all that kind of stuff, but there's some constants there. Lastly, how can people engage with you, find you and interact with you? All that kind of stuff.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. So I guess maybe this is kind of like my 30 second pitch time. Even if it's not, we're going to steal it.

Speaker 2:

It absolutely is yeah.

Speaker 1:

Good, well, thank you, I'm glad to do it with your permission. So I guess, firstly, customer success, excellence we talked about, as I mentioned, we're doing awards in 2024 across the world. You can register your interest on our website to Simpliform name and email and we'll email you. When you're region, that's name, email and region. When your region is up, we'll email you and you can get involved more. Also, stay tuned, we're posting a series of video interviews with our winners so you can kind of hear directly from them why they won. It's great to give awards, but we need to get their story, as you have done with some of our winners already, alex. And then on LinkedIn, I would say if you dropped me a LinkedIn email, here's a question for your listeners. This has really, really confounded me. Is it a LinkedIn inbox or a LinkedIn inbox? That's a key question that I would like people to answer. But the reason I mentioned it is, regardless of what you call it, I struggle to manage that. So connect with me on LinkedIn and give it a few tries if you like, and I'm happy to speak to people who have questions or comments or they just like to share their opinion on the name for the damn thing.

Speaker 2:

I'd really like LinkedIn inbox In your LinkedIn inbox. I mean, the marketer says LinkedIn box, but I think it's right, but you know your support engineer would say LinkedIn inbox.

Speaker 1:

Well, exactly, I have the beholder. What a weird way to end. That's what I'm here to do, but yeah, for those that dare, that's how you can contact me.

Speaker 2:

I appreciate your energy, your enthusiasm, especially on a Friday evening after what it was probably a long week. I appreciate your humor. Most importantly, though, I appreciate what you do for the CS community and the CS excellence awards, and it's just goodness all around. So thank you very much, and I appreciate your time.

Speaker 1:

Well, thank you for the opportunity, Alex. A summit of the Alex's now concluded. Until next time.

Speaker 2:

I don't have a gavel. I need a gavel.

Speaker 1:

Next time, there you go.

Speaker 2:

Thank you for joining me for this episode of the Digital Customer Success Podcast. If you like what we're doing, consider leaving us a review on your podcast platform of choice. It really helps us to grow and to provide value to a broader audience. You can view the Digital Customer Success Definition Wordmap and get more details about the show at digitalcustomersuccesscom. My name is Alex Turkovich. Thanks again for joining and we'll see you next time.

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