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Mastering CS – Candid Leader Insights – Ep 6 – Tracie Zamiska

Updated on December 8, 2023 28 minutes read

Summary points:

Welcome to another insightful episode of “Mastering CS: Candid Leader Insights.” In this edition, your host Irina Cismas, Head of Marketing at Custify, engages in a compelling conversation with Tracie Zamiska, a distinguished figure in the realm of Customer Success. With a wealth of experience as a Customer Success Manager, Tracie brings a unique perspective shaped by her journey from managing individual accounts to overseeing entire teams.

Join us as we unravel the layers of Tracie’s career, delving into her strategies for navigating the complexities of customer success, the evolving role of CS in the broader business landscape, and the valuable lessons she has learned along the way. Get ready for a deep dive into the world of Customer Success with Tracie Zamiska as she shares candid insights and leadership experiences.

What you’ll learn:

  • What to keep an eye on when you are just starting out in a new team
  • How to use AI tools to be more effective
  • How to handle customer complaints
  • How to turn things around during an offboarding interview
  • Tips and tricks for better CS-sales collaboration
  • Top key metrics to measure in CS
  • Individual KPIs for Customer Success Professionals
  • CS predictions for 2024

Key insights and takeaways for CSMs based on the interview:

Starting out in a new team: In your first 30 days, focus on understanding the organization’s goals, KPIs, and your role in customer success. Prioritize learning about customers through interactions and research. Ask questions, identify challenges, and be a bridge between customer success and product teams. Fresh perspectives can offer valuable insights, even in the initial stages, fostering proactive contributions to improve processes.

What makes a CSM great: A great Customer Success Manager excels in deeply connecting with customers, understanding their needs, and showcasing the product’s value in a way that aligns with customers’ daily goals. It’s not just about what the product does but how it becomes an essential part of customers’ routines. Additionally, a successful CSM is forward-looking, contributing to both personal and company growth by adapting to evolving customer needs and fostering long-term sustainability in the customer base.

Handling customer complaints: Dealing with difficult customers involves creating a space for them to express their feelings, acknowledging their emotions without necessarily agreeing, and setting clear, firm boundaries. It’s crucial to separate oneself from the situation, focusing on the customer’s needs rather than taking things personally. Providing a neutral and calm environment fosters trust and enables collaborative problem-solving. Embracing challenges posed by difficult customers can be a rewarding learning experience that strengthens relationship-building skills and culminates in satisfying resolutions.

CS and Sales collab: Effective collaboration between Customer Success (CS) and Sales hinges on building personal relationships, fostering understanding, and conducting team-building exercises. Clear communication and continual refinement of the Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) are vital. Recognizing the different dynamics of sales (transactional, quick) and customer success (relationship-focused, long-term) helps bridge gaps.

What should CSMs look for: To stand out in customer success roles, effective storytelling and data utilization are essential. As the field evolves, there’s a shift toward quantifying the impact of customer success not only at the customer level but also at the company level. Amid concerns of customer success being perceived as a cost center, the focus is on showcasing its contribution to revenue and stability.

Podcast transcript:

Irina 00:03
Tracie, I’m super excited to have you on Mastering CS – Candid Leader Insights. Thanks for joining us. I noticed that you are also the brain behind Flourish Yoga and Wellness. That’s really, really cool. I’m wondering if juggling that with your role as the Customer Success Manager must be quite an experience. How do you think this unique combination has influenced your approach to customer success?

Tracie 00:30
Yeah, so I’ve been teaching yoga for 13 years now, and I’ve always been someone who is genuinely interested in humans and connecting with people. Having the opportunity to become a yoga teacher and connect with people in that way has been incredibly rewarding. It has affirmed how important it is to take time to connect at a human level. This experience has also made me a much better manager. One thing I appreciate about being a manager, which aligns with what I love about being in customer success, is observing people evolve, grow, and change.

These three aspects all intertwine. I see people in the yoga studio evolving emotionally and physically, witnessing their progress in their personal practice. Similarly, in customer success, we work intimately with our customers, helping them understand not only their goals but also uncovering challenges they might not be aware of. Assisting them in verbalizing their needs in a supportive way is crucial.

Translating these skills into management, I can connect with my team authentically, understanding and addressing their unique needs. Balancing two young children, a business, and a full-time job is challenging, but it has made me organized and focused. All these aspects fulfill different needs I have as a human, leaving me feeling enriched from these experiences.

Starting out in a new CS team

Irina 02:15
Speaking about beginnings, I want to ask you, what’s your playbook for the first 30 days in a new customer success team? What’s your go-to strategy for quickly understanding customer needs, and setting the stage for a long-term success?

Tracie 02:37
Yeah, so I think the first thing when you join any organization is to really understand the goals of the organization. So really discern like what the KPIs are, what are you responsible for? What are the things that you need to focus on? And then how does that connect with your role with a customer?

So understanding where those benchmarks are, so that you can be continuously evaluating whether you’re performing at the level that you need to. And then, in addition to obviously, knowing your product. Well, I think it’s more important to understand the customer well, and you only will learn that by diving into those opportunities to meet with customers, listening to other recorded calls, and reading any information that you may have about your customers; sometimes things are very industry-specific.

My first role in success was in supply chain and logistics, which I knew nothing about. And I spent a lot of time just learning what that meant. All the different parts of what a supply chain was, and who my customers were, who were they serving? What were their goals?

And so I would always say to people to like, don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. That’s the only way that you will learn. And people want to talk about themselves. They want to talk about what they’re doing and what they’re passionate about. And so be open, you know, to ask those questions.

So as you spend those first 30 days in a new role, in addition to learning, like what the company expects of you, learning more about your customers, and what do they expect from you? Why are they using your product? What problem are you solving? And how are you doing that? Well? And then also knowing like, where are the challenges? Where are your customers feeling friction, and keeping that in mind as you learn more about the product will help you become that bridge between CS and product to be able to inform with customer feedback, different ways that the company can improve over time.

And I always tell people that it’s not wrong to have suggestions in your first 30 days. You know, context is important. And it’s important to understand things but you are a fresh set of eyes, you don’t have any biases. So you might see something and think why are we doing it this way? It’s okay to ask that question. And you may have suggestions in those first 30 days and it’s okay to make them

Irina 04:43
You mentioned questions and I often find it hard to ask the right questions. Do you have a set of questions that you usually ask when you first interact with a customer? Questions that help you report and find out more or understand the whole context?

Tracie 05:00
Yeah. So I think that’s a great question. I think that we can sometimes get caught up in our list, right, and not deviate from that. And I think it’s important to be really flexible and to practice active listening when you’re meeting with customers, so that you can pick up on those little nuances that you might miss if you’re just focused on your list, right?

So you want to find out who they are? What are they doing? What is their goal? Not just in their role, but for their company? What is their company goal? What are they trying to accomplish? Who are they serving? Who is their customer or constituent? Who are they, and how are they helping them? And then you want to learn a lot about the team. Who’s on the team? Who’s going to be using your product? What are their goals? Why are they using your product? How are they doing things now? What drove them to make this change?

I think that the follow-up whenever you ask an open-ended question like that is to say things like, ‘Tell me more about this.’ If you can read the body language, you’ll see where there are points of friction or points of passion. They want to talk more about that. So, it’s totally appropriate to say, ‘I’d like to hear a little bit more about this’ or ‘I’d like to dig in a little bit more here’ and have them talk more about that. Really listen to those things.

I also think that this is a great place where AI can be really useful. I find it difficult to take notes and listen at the same time. What’s been amazing about all the different products available right now is that they will record for you and take notes for you so that you can be really present in that moment and go back and look at things a little bit better. The other thing that I found, too, is that sometimes in the AI summaries, points will come up that I missed, and I realized I didn’t even notice that in the conversation. So, that’s also been really helpful. It’s a nice way to use that technology. But I think that you always should have a follow-up question from your initial question to get them to continue talking about why or how or what because that’s where you really learn from the customer, to kind of take that next step and say, ‘I’d like to hear more about this.’ And I think that’s where you find the really important knowledge in those moments.

AI tools

Irina 07:22
You mentioned AI and I had it in front of my list to ask you about this because I think it’s a topic well debated, not only in the CS industry. So I didn’t know on which side you were. But you mentioned one of the use cases that you are using it.

What are your AI tools? How do you use it? Because everyone is afraid at this moment that basically, AI will replace our jobs? What’s your take on that?

Tracie 08:17

I don’t think that it can replace human interaction. I think that’s something, that’s a misplaced fear. And I think that all of us as users, you can tell when you’re talking to a person and when you’re talking to a computer. And I think especially when you’re in those moments of friction or pain points or frustration, you don’t want to talk to a computer. And I think that if people kind of take a step back and realize the interactions that they’re having, how they’re able to recognize that really quickly, they would realize that I don’t think AI is ever going to take the place of us. I just think that it doesn’t serve the customer in the way that we can.

A few of the tools that I use include chat GPT. I often use it to outline documents that I’m writing or to check my emails sometimes. Sometimes I have trouble with being concise, and so I will put information into chat GPT and ask it to summarize it for me, give me the main points. I’ve also taken conversations that I’ve had via Slack or even meetings and taken snippets of it and put it into chat GPT and asked for the main points.

I also use Update AI, and we use Gong as a company. Both of those tools are super helpful in taking notes. I find Update AI to be the best in terms of the notes and giving me next steps. I love the summary emails that they send, and it’s very clear what I need to do next, which is really helpful.

Then I’ve also used, for the studio itself and for work, Canva has a magic write feature where it will help you with document writing. I’ve used it for social media marketing; for example, ‘Give me 10 social media posts about this topic.’ Everything that you get from when AI is generating, I would say, is just your starting point. It’s important for you to go in, revise it, make sure that you have your own personal touch.

I will say that I have seen AI being used a ton in hiring processes. And it is frustrating, like, and I didn’t realize it was happening right away. We got over 1200 applicants for the last role that I hired for. A human being, actually, looked myself and our recruiter looked through all the applications. And I would see somebody said, ‘Oh, this is great,’ you know, and then all of a sudden, I realized one day as I was going through the responses because we have questions and prompts that people answer when they submit, I realized, ‘I feel like I’ve read this before.’ And I started going back through, and I found several, many people who clearly had been using the same chat GPT type of product, and it was like verbatim. And I thought, ‘I appreciate that. Applying for jobs sucks. And it’s very tedious and time-consuming. But you should be… I don’t fault anyone for using it to come up with ideas. But you should take the time to revise it so that it is kind of authentically who you are, right.’ And I decided because we just had so many people that I wasn’t going to interview any of those folks just because it wasn’t authentic to who they were. I was trying to find out who they were as a person, not what the computer said about them or about our company. So it was just really interesting.

I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a high school teacher or a college professor because I could see how that’d be really useful when you’re in college. Yeah, I think that technology, always in my mind, the creation of it is to make our lives better, right, and to improve where we’re at. And I think that AI has the potential to do that in lots of ways to support you. I know that people use it even for personal growth, like they’ll talk to Chat GPT and ask her questions about how to make their schedules better or help them make a sleep schedule or things like that.

Irina 12:20
You mentioned the AI being used in the recruitment process. And you mentioned that you basically disregarded the ones that were not authentic. What are the skills that you are searching for when recruiting? What are the things that you do not compromise? What makes a great CSM for you?

Tracie 13:02
I’ve never been—I mean, I’ve taught at a collegiate level, but I’ve never been like a teacher, teacher. I didn’t get trained for that. And I feel like, you know, teachers, salespeople, they have their voices, you know, you have your teacher voice, you have your sales voice. CSM is the same way; you have your CS voice. I know that if my husband walks into the house, he can tell if I’m talking to my team or if I’m talking to a customer; you have a different way, you know, of carrying yourself. And I think that that’s the thing that you’re growing over time or when you’re early in your journey, right? Like, who you are, what’s your message? How do you connect with people?

So for me, regardless of the sector I’m in right now, I work mostly with nonprofits. And so they’re very emotionally attached to the work that they do. They’re very connected to the causes that they’re working for. And they want that connection with us. Even when I worked in supply chain and logistics, the people that I worked with cared deeply about the work that they were doing. And so I think that it’s important to demonstrate when you’re applying for jobs, how do you connect with people? What’s important to you? Like, I do like to learn, you know, about the person that I’m interviewing and what are the things that are important to them?

How do they connect as a human being? And I think that when you’re answering questions, it’s for resumes, or cover letters, things like that. I think it is helpful to show the ability to connect on a human level I also look for, especially if you’re coming into a startup role. I think that ownership is really important. Being able to identify where things can be improved, and make those suggestions and run with it and own that whole process, you know, show that you’re able to identify areas to improve and that you’re willing to take risks and experiment. So I think for me, like probably the top three things that I look for when I’m hiring somebody, someone

Who has confidence and, you know, really kind of knows who they are like what they’re bringing to the world.

Someone who is comfortable connecting on a human level, and someone who also is comfortable with ownership and experimentation, so that I know that they’re going to always be trying new things. And that will lead to them being able to, you know, really serve the customer well.

The difference between a good CSM and a great one

Irina 15:32
And what do you think it makes the difference between a great CSM and a good one?

Tracie 15:38

That’s a hard question. I think a great CSM is someone who is able to connect deeply with their customer, understand their needs, and demonstrate the value of the products to them, and show them why this is important to you. I probably might be alone in this, but I don’t really care what your product does. If your customer doesn’t want to use it every day, then they’re not connected to it. And so you need to show them how this is something that they need every day to be able to do their job well or whatever it is they want to accomplish, right? And so I think a great CSM is able to really understand the use case and demonstrate how that product is able to accomplish those goals for them in a way that makes them realize they can’t live without this thing.

And I think that and then also a great CSM is somebody who is forward-looking to help, you know, themselves grow and also help their company grow in the ways that the customer needs so that they can support, you know, sustainability within that customer base.

Handling customer complaints

Irina 16:52
Speaking about customers, it’s not always easy to speak with them. And dealing with customer complaints can be like navigating a tricky maze. How do you tackle those tough conversations and steer them towards positive outcomes?

Tracie 17:09
Yeah, so I’ve had some really difficult customers. I also worked before I moved into SAS; I worked in the affordable housing space for about 14 years. And so I worked in government, which is interesting, and lots of interesting people.

I think the thing that I learned the most from that experience is that people want to be heard. And so whenever you’re dealing with somebody who is upset or frustrated, the most important thing initially, to build rapport, is to give them space to talk about what they’re feeling. You don’t have to agree with them; it’s not a moment for you to affirm everything; it’s a moment to let them express how they’re feeling.

And then try to find a path forward and acknowledge even if you don’t agree with them. You can acknowledge how they’re feeling; I understand why you may feel frustrated, I can see your point of view, I understand that you’re upset, I can see why you’re upset. Being able to just affirm that goes a huge distance in terms of building that relationship.

I think it’s also really important. And I teach this to my team, there is a place where you have to set appropriate boundaries; there are some people who have come very far in life with very bad behavior. And it’s okay to not participate in that and to say, ‘This is what I can do for you. And that’s the limit of what I’m able to do for you.

You’re not always going to find a solution for them. There may be times when you’re able to do what you’re able to do. And that’s it. And so I think that it’s really important. I’ve seen lots of situations where people will allow abusive behavior from customers. And that’s not acceptable. And so I think that you can be kind, but you can also be very firm and clear with what you’re capable of doing.

You acknowledge their feelings, you give them space to express themselves, you affirm how they’re feeling. And then you start to work on solutions. This is what I’m able to do for you. These are the outcomes that we can work towards together.

And I think the biggest thing in all of this, and I’ve worked with several CSMs who really struggle in this area. This is not about you. Even if you made a mistake, this is not about you. This is about them, and you cannot take it personally. Because if you internalize how they’re feeling, you will then become defensive, you will become emotional.

They’re coming to you because they need help and they want a solution. You won’t be able to find that if you’re also emotional; you have to be really neutral and calm and provide that steady space for them where they feel safe to express themselves and they can trust you moving forward that you’re going to find a good solution.

And I think that’s where setting those clear boundaries and being supportive builds trust so that they feel comfortable moving forward with whatever that solution is that you propose.

I think that’s where I love difficult customers. They’re my favorite. I enjoy. It’s a challenge for me; like, I enjoy working with them and trying to find that common ground and move forward. It’s so satisfying at the end of a call for someone to say, ‘I didn’t expect for this to happen,’ or ‘I didn’t think that you’d be able to help me.’ Or ‘I’m really sorry, I acted the way I did at the beginning of the call,’ you know, like, I think that there’s a place where you can have an opportunity to learn; you have an opportunity to work on your relationship-building skills and build that trust to move forward together.

And I think that’s why I enjoy those situations because they’re a really great learning experience, but they’re also so rewarding at the end when you have that solution together.

Turning things around in an offboarding interview

Irina 20:49
Everything that you mentioned, feels like parenting, to be honest. I was listening to what you said and it’s basically what I do with my with my daughter. So basically, Okay, listen to her acknowledge how she feels, it’s not about me, it’s about her setting boundaries. It feels more like parenting. And the other way is the other way around. And remaining on those I would say difficult moments. I want to ask you, do you think it’s possible to turn things around in an offboarding interview and save a customer from leaving?

Tracie 21:38
I think so. I think it always kind of depends on what they’re coming with. And sometimes it’s not a good fit. I’m sure you’ve been in that situation where sales did a great job selling to the wrong person, and they come to the call, and you’re like, why did they buy the software? I have no idea; we can’t do anything that they think we can do. In those moments, I think it’s just important to acknowledge, you know, this is what we can do and kind of move forward.

But I have had calls where people have gotten on and not so happy and wanted to cancel. In those moments, again, you have to excuse me, stay calm, and not take it personally; they don’t dislike you. They feel upset or disappointed because they thought they were getting something that they didn’t get. So I think in those moments, it’s really important, again, to acknowledge what your goals are. And then focus on the stuff that you can do; say, ‘Okay, here’s where we can help you. These are the things that you mentioned that you want to do; here’s how you do all of those things. Here’s how we can help you with that, support that, and take it a step further. And then in the areas that you can’t help them, be honest about that. Say, ‘This is a really great use case, I think all their customers. If this is true, of course, I think other customers may benefit from a feature like this; I would love to speak more to you about this use case so that I can go back and inform our product team about this and see if there’s any way that we can make some changes to the software.’

You know, I never promise anything, but I let them know that we are interested in hearing what they have to say because I think that also goes a long way. And I think that’s where you build longer-term customer relationships, by giving them a platform to talk about their needs and taking those seriously and caring about them. So I think if you focus on the good, focus on what you can do, acknowledge the areas where you may be falling short, and come up with some sort of solution or plan for accomplishing some of those things, or maybe even saying, ‘I’d love for you to talk to our product team about this and let them have some time with them.’

I think that people do really care about being treated with caring and respect. And I do think it makes a difference. You know, I’ve seen it myself; our software, some of our competitors, we may be a little bit more expensive. But we hear all the time that the reason people choose us is because of our customer relationships and that they know that our team cares about them and wants them to be successful. So I think, you know, in our world today, we focus so much on the capitalistic view of things.

Consumers are very fickle. And so I think that there’s always going to be something shiny and flashy and cheaper than you are. But what those shiny, flashy, cheaper things can’t provide are the intangibles that you can. And I think that’s where you have to really set yourself apart and focus on those. Because at the end of the day, people do want to feel important and cared about, and they want to feel like somebody understands them. And if you can do that, then I think that you’re able to really keep a customer for a long time.

CS and Sales collaboration

Irina 24:51
You mentioned sales and customer success and about the situation in which sales is not selling necessarily to your ICP. This gives a lot of struggle on the CS. I want to ask you, how do you align the two teams, the sales and customer success in your playbook? And what are some tactics you found effective in fostering this relationship?

Tracie 25:31
Yeah, I think the first thing, and exactly what you say in terms of a relationship, the companies that I’ve worked at that have had the most successful handoffs have been companies where we took the time for the CS team and the sales team to actually get to know each other.

It’s a lot easier to not care about the consequences of things when you are not understanding who is being affected by them. So I also think that there can be a lot of negativity between CS and sales sometimes because the CS team might not know the salespeople that well. And so they’ll get frustrated, and you know, oh, gosh, that salesperson, they always do this, you know, it’s things like that, right? If they actually get to know them, and they have a better personal relationship with them, that stuff doesn’t happen as much. And there isn’t this tension between sales and CS.

Doing team-building exercises, even virtually, can be really helpful. Getting to know each other, doing some short 15-minute calls, like using a service like doughnut, for example, where people have time to talk about stuff that’s not related at all to work, and find that common ground is really important.

The next thing that I always tell my CSM is that it’s our job to refine our ICP over and over again, so that it’s very clear about who is being successful with our software, what are the characteristics of the customers who are being successful, who are being most successful, and then communicating that in a way to the sales team where it makes it very easy for them to understand when they’re talking to somebody initially, if they fit into that category or not. You’re always going to get somebody who doesn’t fit; that’s just going to happen.

I think it’s important for the CSM to understand that the sales team has a quota that they have to make, usually, and at the end of the month, there are lots of things that slip through that they can meet their numbers. But it is our job to be responsible for educating the sales team and giving them the things that they need to be successful. And I think that’s kind of where things break down and fall short is that there’s this expectation that the sales team should, and this I see this at all organizations that I’ve worked at, there’s this expectation that the sales team should have an intimate, deep understanding of our customer. And they have no opportunity to do that.

You know, I talk about, I say this all the time. And it’s kind of like a crude comparison. But like, sales is like a one-night stand. And CSis like a marriage; you take time developing this relationship and nurturing the relationship and really getting to know them because it’s going to be a long-term thing, right? And so there are benefits in investing in that. In sales, it’s very transactional. It’s like you’re trying to get to know them as quickly as possible; you have a ton of people you have to talk to in a day. And you have to very quickly discern with just a few questions if you think they fit this mold, right. And it all depends on what the person is saying and what the salesperson is hearing. And those two things aren’t always the same thing. And so I think that there needs to be a little bit more grace from the CS side and understanding kind of how that relationship works with sales. And then it is sometimes very quick, and they don’t have time to get to know the person as well. And so anything that you can do to support their discovery process better, you’re going to get better clients at the end of the day. And so I think that’s where CS and sales have the most opportunity for collaboration is having CS be very vocal and assisting with tools, with checklists, with questions, with PDFs, to give the sales team to help them be more successful in determining whether customers are a good fit or not.

Key metrics in CS

Irina 29:12
Hopefully you evaluate the impact you’ve made in customer success. What are your key metrics that tell you you are heading in the right direction?

Tracie 29:31
Yeah, so that’s always a good question. I feel like they’re changing. And I also think, too, that people have their favorite, right, that they believe in.

So I think that for me, you have to take several things together to find your whole picture. And I think health scores are important.

But you need if you’re using health scores, you have to have a way to watch them. I think most software allows you if you’re using a software we don’t currently have software but if you are using a software you generally can weigh them so that you know what you’re looking for. I think it’s important to constantly revisit your health scores and see if they’re applicable or not. Any software over time is going to evolve. And so like the first customer that you worked with is not going to be the same as your most recent one. So it’s important to be open to the evolution of those metrics and how you are measuring the success of your customers.

For myself, you know, we always have the revenue. So we always look at our revenue, our recurring revenue churn, making sure that that’s healthy. NPS is a great indicator, sometimes to help people like your software. It doesn’t always mean that it’s working for them; it doesn’t always mean that they’re going to stay. I’ve seen people who are 10s who say, ‘I have to leave.’ I don’t know if it is an indicator of retention all the time.

But I always try to focus on direct impact with a customer. So adoption metrics, or being able to show general impact over time. And that comes more closely into aligning with your data team and your engineering team to be able to actually collect information from your customer. It does usually, depending on your type of software, require them to self-report things which can make things a little bit hairy. But you know, at the end of the day, you need to be able to show them very clearly what they’ve accomplished, and how they use your software to do that.

And I think that’s where adoption metrics come into play and are really helpful in the retention game, is being able to show that direct impact. You have saved this much money; you have saved this much time; you have gotten this much money, you know, whatever it is that your thing is being able to really show the customer very clearly, not just in words, but also in pictures, being able to show graphs or numbers, you know, that really demonstrate the value that they’ve been able to get over the last year.

So I think in terms of measuring your team, I have seen KPIs anywhere from like, how many calls have you made this quarter to, you know, we are expansion, your expansion dollars, or your certain levels of retention. But I think if you really want to talk about customer success and customer health, you need to develop a strategy to measure what the customer is doing against what their goals are. That can be very challenging when you have low ACV because you don’t usually have the time or the manpower to do that. And so that’s where, you know, tooling comes into play to be able to kind of say, ‘Well, we can track X, Y and Z in the software that demonstrates that they’re using it, it demonstrates that they’re getting value from it, and then how to communicate that to the customer.

I hope that answered the question.

Individual KPIs for the Customer Success Team

Irina 32:54
For sure! I want to do a follow up, because you mentioned about the CS KPIs. I’m curious, how is your manager reviewing your performance? What are your individual KPIs? What do you report on month by month basis?

Tracie 33:17
My manager looks at what I do, even though I’m in the lead position, and they manage the team support and success, I still also have a book of business. So I have my own, I have the highest paying customers that are a company. So we obviously look at those retention numbers.

And then the performance of my team as well. So we are tracking. Right now we’re specifically looking at measuring the impact of customer success on our customer base. And part of that is to help build capacity at our organization. So we track how many people we’re meeting with, and the success of those types of interactions, which means we gather data, user data before the meetings and then user data after the meetings to see what their impact was there.

I’m also measured on our one-to-many events because we’re doing a lot of scale work. And so being able to help the team revise those and make them more impactful. And again, we measure data at the beginning, and then after to see those impacts.

And then in terms of like the support side, you know, the direct measurements there that I’m looking for is reducing, you know, how long it takes for us to help people and making sure that they’re happy. That’s interactions. So I am directly measured on the team metrics and then my own individual ones.

I also have a component though, that I think is really important that we don’t always talk about, you know, is my team satisfaction. I actually asked them every week to give me, it’s like their weekly retro where they answer a few questions and one of the questions says, ‘How can Tracy support me better?’ You know, as a manager, and I want to know that, you know, every week, I want to know, like, what are things that I can do better? How can I? How can I make things work better for you? So I think like from a team management standpoint, I’m definitely my KPIs are focused around the team performance, my own book of business performance, and then I also measure myself against the needs of my team, and are Am I able to fulfill those?

So what’s your review process for your, what your performance review process for your, for your team? How do you make sure that they move the needle in the right direction?

Yeah, so we do at a company level, we have performance reviews, twice a year, we provide 360 reviews. So there’s peer reviews that go into that. And then anybody who is reports to someone else does a manager review, obviously. And then I think we actually just started doing our review cycle now. So we’re in the middle of that, I look back at the goals that they’ve set. So we always have kind of your key metrics, which would be like your gr in our company, we do GRR right now. So their recurring revenue, what are they doing kind of at that level? How are their expansions? What’s their rate of churn across their customer base, their book of business?

And then we also look at specific professional development areas. And we come up with two of those usually, and give them tips on what they could do better, you know, Where’s this coming from? And for us, I think that our company is really aligned in this idea of having a growth mindset. And so when people are filling out the peer reviews, they’re very honest, I wouldn’t say that they’re unkind, but they’re very clear. And like, here’s where you could do a little bit better, you know, where here’s where I feel like, you might have fallen short. And so I’m able to take the kind of the peer reviews and match that with where I think the person can grow, and give some really concrete specific examples of things that they could do differently. And then we kind of measure it in two ways. And or we present it in two ways. Here’s what we hope you can do.

Here’s some concrete suggestions. Here’s what it would look like if you were just really killing it. And that gives them kind of a barometer of like, where do they want to go? How much do they want to invest. And then after a review cycle is done, we do like a development plan for the next six months, where we take those development areas, and the individual comes up with some ways that they want to work towards accomplishing those, and then we meet monthly to continue talking about that. I am really big on trying to give as many external resources too, as possible. So I’m always sharing like blogs and books and like LinkedIn posts that you know, kind of will help them. I think the other thing that’s really important, as a manager to remember is that this person probably isn’t going to be with your company forever. And they want to grow, you know, independently from their role here, they want to learn and grow. And so I always asked my team, like, what are ways that you want to grow? Or what are the things that you’re interested in?

What do even experienced CSMs miss sometimes?

Irina 40:00
As we evolve in our roles, there’s always the risk of overlooking something, what’s one thing that even experienced CSMs might sometimes miss or not give enough attention to?

Tracie 40:16

I think that in terms of professional and self-development, it’s really important to have self-awareness. And to be able to identify your strengths and your weaknesses, and kind of lean into both of those so that you know where you have to grow. I think that one thing that we might not take advantage of enough is asking our peers and even other people cross-functionally at the company.

Where could I have done better here? You know, did this meet your expectations? Do you have any suggestions, you know, of how I could have done x better. And I think that we’re afraid, so many times to get negative feedback, right? If you’re asking the right people, and they care about you, the feedback is going to be beneficial, so that you can grow. And I think that’s where, oftentimes in terms of our own professional development, that we miss things that we have opportunities to learn from the people around us. And we don’t ask those questions. And we don’t ask, you know, how is it going?

In terms of building relationships with customers, I think that what we overlook is the importance of that connection. And we take for granted, the customers that we think are solid. And so we feel like we don’t invest in them as much, right? We don’t need to invest in them as much, because they love us, they’re never going to leave. But I think that you have to treat all the customers the same. So I always think to myself, like nothing is ever a sure thing. And if I was trying to save somebody, like all the effort that I was putting into trying to save somebody, I should also be giving that effort to the folks that I already have that I know want to stay with us so that my efforts are consistent among my customer base.

And I think that’s where you see the biggest results in terms of expansion and retention with your customers.

Learning from mistakes

Irina 42:18
Thinking about learnings and development and growing in the current role. I do think that the most important learning lessons were, at least in my case, coming from mistakes. So I want to ask you, if you have an example of mistakes that you’ve made in your CS role that actually turned into a valuable learning experience.

Tracie 42:50
Oh, gosh, we don’t have enough time for all.

The first thing that I always tell my team is that, you know, I think language is really important. And there’s no such thing as a mistake. There are only learning opportunities. And you can absolutely take your moment to be like, oh, gosh, I can’t believe I did that. But focus on what are you learning from that and how you move forward.

I think, let me think of a really good one for a customer and where I screwed up something. I can’t, I can’t think of something like that I did terribly wrong. But I definitely have had instances where I may not have prepared for my meeting well enough. And got on a call and either forgot the name of the person I was talking to or didn’t realize what their company did. You know, that’s an embarrassing thing where I wasn’t prepared for a meeting. And, you know, usually like you can do stuff on the side and get yourself reoriented. But in those moments, I think what was a reminder to me was, it’s really important to be gentle with yourself. Maybe I got on a call and I wasn’t fully prepared for it. Obviously, it’s a reminder for me to be more prepared the next time to have notes ready. But I think too, that you’re a human being and admitting that you’re a human being admitting that you made a mistake is a huge step forward. When you do something wrong for a customer.

And I think that’s where you, you know, not only learn, but you start to build a reputation with them about how much you care about them, right. It’s, it makes a huge difference when you admit that you made a mistake. And then you can move forward.

CS predictions for 2024

Irina 45:02
As we are closing this discussion, I’m curious: What’s your big prediction for customer success in 2024? Where should the up-and-comers in CS be looking?

Tracie 45:17
Oh, gosh.

I think that if you want to set yourself apart from other applicants, you need to be able to be a good storyteller and utilize data to tell a story. So come to your interviews prepared with accomplishments that have demonstrated how we are a revenue driver and a stabilizing factor at companies at this point, I think that’s where customer success will be going. I think a lot of the things that you’re seeing right now with, and I haven’t experienced this myself, luckily, but I’ve been hearing a lot about customer success kind of becoming like SDRs, or salespeople. And I think that will end as things kind of stabilize over the next two quarters.

But I think at the end of the day, one thing that customer success really has to focus in on and become really adept at is being able to use data to show their impact, not just with the customer, but with at the company level. How are you contributing to the long-term success of the company? Why is customer success beneficial for our company? In a lot of ways, I think that because so much of what we do is very touchy-feely. We’re afraid of using data, we’re afraid of quantifying things. But CS cannot be a cost center. It has to it has to give back, you know, in terms of revenue to the company. And so I think that where we’re headed is a realignment of expectations of what actually does and what they provide for stability at a company level.

Because I think right, and I think that’s why so many of them are being pushed into sales roles, right? Because sales is extremely quantifiable. It’s super easy to be able to say you talk to this many people, you close that many people that’s how successful you are, right?

There’s a gray area. And because retention is such a long game. It’s such a lagging indicator all the time, it’s there is this kind of concern, I think of like, How can I show my impact if it takes a year for me to show what I’ve done right? And so I think that that’s where we have to focus on the data of like, usage behavior, actual experience metrics, and you know, what you’re bringing to the table for the customer to focus on adaption and how they’re actually utilizing the software. So if you’re able to quantify the wins the customer has, and you can quantify how you drove those, then you become a bigger story to talk about. And I think that’s where we’re headed right now is kind of this emphasis on being able to quantify that in a quicker way than we do now.

Irina 48:41
Thank you very much for your time for inputs and for your insights. It was a really pleasure talking to you today!

Nicoleta Niculescu

Written by Nicoleta Niculescu

Nicoleta Niculescu is the Content Marketing Specialist at Custify. With over 6 years of experience, she likes to write about innovative tech products and B2B marketing. Besides writing, Nicoleta enjoys painting and reading thrillers.

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