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Mastering CS – Canding Leader Insights – Ep 10 – De’Edra Williams

January 16, 2024 26 minutes read

Summary points:

In this new episode of the Mastering CS podcast, Irina Cismas, Custify’s Head of Marketing, sat down with De’Edra Williams, a renowned Customer Success leader.

Let’s discover more about De’Edra’s journey in customer success. During the interview De’Edra shares valuable insights and tips and tricks for CSMs.

What You’ll Learn:

  • The main challenges of CSMs
  • The importance of data in customer success
  • How to prove the value of CS
  • Important CS roles
  • How to recruit the right CS professionals
  • Essential KPIs for customer success
  • What to look out for in a customer success platform

Key insights and takeaways for CSMs based on the interview:

Importance of Data Access and Accuracy: Success in any role, particularly in executive positions within both large enterprises and startups, hinges on the availability of accurate data. This data is crucial for creating dashboards to report to the C-suite and boards, especially in privately held companies. It’s also essential for providing accurate insights to customers, driving value through data clarity.

Understanding the Role of Customer Success: There’s a gap in comprehending the true role and value of customer success. This role is pivotal not just for the organization but also for the clients served. Recognizing and harnessing the potential of customer success can significantly benefit both the organization and its customers.

Difficulty in Demonstrating Value: A major issue identified is the challenge customer success leaders face in effectively demonstrating their value to key decision-makers, including company leadership and board members. There’s a disconnect between the recognized revenue contribution from customer success and the perceived value of their roles within the organization.

Framework for Creating Alignment: De’Edra’s approach to creating alignment involves a clear understanding of other departments’ KPIs, goals, and objectives, and strategizing how the Customer Success team can aid in achieving these. This mutual support system is seen as essential for the overall success of both the Customer Success team and the broader organization.

Key metrics in CS: De’Edra emphasizes a comprehensive approach to reporting key performance indicators (KPIs) to the board, focusing on both financial and customer-centric metrics. The primary metric reported is Net Revenue Retention (NRR), reflecting the customer success team’s contribution to the company’s revenue and profitability. Additionally, she monitors the average account revenue per Customer Success Manager (CSM) to identify and replicate effective strategies across the team.

Podcast transcript:

2023 in Customer Success

Irina 00:03
De’Edra, it’s great to have you join us at Mastering CS Candid Leader Insights. This year 2023 has been full of ups and downs for many, and the field of customer success has been no exception. Could you share your perspective on how this year has been for customer success and specific challenges that have been notable for you?

De’Edra 00:25
Thank you, Irina, for that question. De’Edra Williams here. I would consider customer success this year, for a lot of us, has been like an apocalyptic film, something where there was this unperceivable disaster that we all were thrust into. And we’ve all literally developed these communities from a survival standpoint.

And I would love to unpack a lot of that. But it’s been a bit apocalyptic for a lot of us. But what I love about it is if you’ve seen a lot of those films or read any of those books, there’s always this scene at the end where they all come to their community. And it’s bright, and it’s beautiful. And I think that’s what’s going to happen to us in 2024. But that’s a lot of what 2023 has been for a lot of us.

Irina 01:17
And if you had the opportunity to rewrite it, again, from a sales perspective, what would be one thing that you would do totally differently?

De’Edra 01:26
The first thing would be to refocus the metrics. I think that part of the reason why we went into this doomsday scenario, kicking off 2023, is that we had been focusing on what I would consider outdated, or what I call “3.0” customer success metrics, things that really don’t move the needle from a customer perspective. And more importantly, things that don’t necessarily highlight customer success in the eye of the C-suite. Things like usage metrics, things like sentiment metrics, those things are wonderful.

But we really need to be moving forward and looking at driving value for the customer, and more importantly, driving revenue for our stakeholders and the companies in which we work. So if I had to change anything, I would refocus the metrics going forward, which is what I plan to do.

Challenges for CS leaders

Irina 02:18
I’m going to go straight because it’s very interesting. I’m intrigued by what you said. So I want us to deep dive directly into the challenges part. And then I’ll go back. And I want to ask you, as a C-level executive, I’m sure you face various challenges when you integrate with different teams. What are the most common ones you’ve come across in these high-level roles? And to simplify it, what is the biggest challenge for an executive CS leader?

De’Edra 02:50
It’s twofold, regardless of what your role is, regardless of what organization. At least for me, because I’ve been very fortunate to be with large enterprise organizations, as well as, you know, series startups. So I’ve seen it across the board. And I’ve been an individual contributor. But obviously, most recently, an executive, I would say, first and foremost, it’s a lack of data, particularly accurate data.

So regardless of what your role is, if you’re going to be successful, you have to have access to data that you can utilize to build out dashboards so that you can report to your C-suite. But more importantly, and your boards for those of you that are working in privately held companies, and then also that you can provide accurate insights to your customers, because that way you can drive value. So first and foremost, it’s a lack of data, particularly what I would call data clarity.

And the second thing is, it’s really a lack of clear understanding of the role of customer success. And the value that customer success can provide both to the organization, as well as to the customers that we serve.

Data in Customer Success

Irina 03:57
Let’s deep dive deeper into the data part. What do you think are the most important key data points? And before we’re besides that part? How do you make sure that you separate the noise? Because what I realize, I’m surprised that you say that it’s a lack of data, because I know that at least in customer success, we tend to measure everything.

So we want to start by measuring everything, by aggregating a lot of data sources, and then we don’t know, what does the data tell us? So it isn’t like a paradox to me.

De’Edra 04:46
It is, however, and I’m gonna start with the fact that everything is contextual. So yes, we do have access to a lot of data. And yes, a lot of it is noise, but it goes back to what I said about focusing on the right metrics. So when I started my career in customer success, we were in what I call Customer Success 1.0. And it was really all about utilization for our customers, and occasionally making sure that they renewed. But we figured out that if they didn’t renew, we weren’t going to make any revenue. So we shifted.

The problem was those metrics are not relevant to our customers. So you can give me all the data you want on usage, you can give me all the data you want on sentiment, I will still have a customer that will churn and I will still potentially not grow revenue. So in my mind, it needs to be a shift for the right data.

But what happens, and you can talk to other individuals in other companies, but I’ve spoken to quite a few individuals and other companies in both C-level as well as individual contributors. That noise, in some cases, not all, but in some cases is not accurate data. So as long as I do not have accurate data, I cannot give accurate reporting on the revenue that we can potentially generate. I cannot provide accurate customer insight so that I can drive value for the customers.

So what I need to be able to do is contextually figure out what data is most salient both for the organization in which I work and the teams that I lead, and more importantly, what data is most salient for the customers that I’m trying to provide value. So how do I determine that? It really is contextually dependent upon what I’m trying to offer to my customer and what I’m trying to achieve for my company. So I hope that answered your question.

Irina 06:35
Do you also have a framework on how to identify it? Is it based on asking the right questions? Guide the audience a bit by offering more insights.

De’Edra 06:51
Yeah, no, it is different. So from my perspective, I focus on narrowing that. Or how do I show you how? So I put this as a way to sort of reduce the volume on that noise. The contextual piece that I’m talking about is, what am I trying to achieve for my customer. So people constantly throw out the term “ideal customer profile.” So if I have an ICP for the particular company in which I’m leading a team, then my way of sort of augmenting or reducing that noise, is by honing in on specifically what is salient for that ideal customer.

So if we’re looking at growth customers, and we really want to grow those customers, then I need data that gives me insight into what a particular customer cohort looks like, and what the value is going to be realized from a revenue perspective from that cohort. But then I also want to be able to see what are the value drivers for that particular cohort? Is it increasing the onboarding, increasing the time to value for that customer?

So whatever data supports whatever that ICP is, that’s the data that I’m going to focus on. And that helps me reduce the noise for all the data that is not relevant to that particular, that particular profile for the cohort that I’m looking at. Does that answer your question?

The value of Customer Success

Irina 08:42
Yes, it definitely, it definitely does. And now let’s go back to the second challenge that you have, that you mention the fact that we should align in terms of what customer success means. What’s the definition? What’s the value that it’s bringing to the table? So how do we clarify this?

De’Edra 08:40
It ties back to the data, but it also is, to me, it’s the biggest challenge for almost all of us, particularly in leadership. I was on a leadership call yesterday with a cohort of customer success leaders and to a person, we all agree that we do drive value. Statistically, if you—and this actually is a quote from Gainsight—80% of a company’s revenue comes from existing customers. So that’s in the wheelhouse of customer success. However, when you look at how the tech industry is being impacted, the roles that are being impacted are those roles that are in the Customer Success suite. They’re being laid off in droves, or they’re being given additional work without the appropriate resources.

And the question is, if that 80% of revenue is coming from the customers that we theoretically own, if there is this consensus in the industry, regardless of what type of industry you’re in, that we can drive value, why is it that our roles are being impacted? And a gentleman suggested that we are having a really hard time exhibiting value to our leadership, and more importantly to the key stakeholders, i.e., the board and the people that make decisions around whether or not we remain within a company. And we’ve got to do a better job of defining really what customer success is.

So across the board, I think that there’s a lot of confusion. Even though you can spend a lot of time in ChatGPT, and I get multiple definitions of customer success from ChatGPT. And if an AI bot can’t clarify what we do, it’s a challenge for us to do the same. But until we can do that, we have the data to prove we are value-driven. We’re just doing a very poor job of communicating that value.

Driving customer success

Irina 10:25
What you tell me, it pretty much reminds me of a line. I see a parallel, because everybody knows that alignment is very important. Everybody is talking, when everybody has the meaning that if all the stakeholders meet in a meeting, and they speak, they are aligned, because we meet regularly and we speak. Well, alignment is more than just meetings.

So I feel like also the definition of customer success. Everybody talks about it. But each and every individual has a different understanding of what it does, how it impacts, and what it should produce. And that takes me to the next question in your journey through different organizations: Who are your main partners in driving CS? How did you build these key alliances?

De’Edra 11:19

I love this question, because my default is everybody. Customer Success is the one organization, or one department, but I always like to say one organization that crosses the entire customer journey. So we really need to partner with everyone. So, when I, as a CS leader, come into any organization, the first thing I’ve done is align myself with the leaders of every single department. And I do that by understanding, first and foremost, what are our respective KPIs? What is each, if it’s the VP of Data, or if it’s the VP of Sales, what are their metrics, and then I determine how Customer Success can help them achieve their desired goals.

Because when we help them, for example, the VP of Sales, they’ve got a revenue growth target. Obviously, that’s something that Customer Success can help with, because we do qualified Customer Success leads, we can help them with their pipeline. I want to make sure that I understand what their goals are, so that when I’m communicating to my team, this is how we can help Sales. Same thing with Data—I put the person in charge of data on speed dial. You know, this is a thing for me. But I make sure that my team has access to the appropriate data to do what they need to do. But more importantly, we have a feedback loop. So they understand what data we need, so they can get us the data to do what we need to do.

So, I align myself with everybody. But my framework for creating that alignment is understanding what their KPIs, their goals, and objectives are, and how my Customer Success team can help them meet them. Because when they meet their goals, we meet ours, theoretically.

CS journey

Irina 13:01
I want to speak about teams, because you mentioned sales, you mentioned data. I’m curious, how was CS perceived along your professional journey? Was it a cost center? Was it a revenue center? Did it switch at some point in the same organization? I think this depends a lot. So I think there are two ways and depending on if you are a cost or revenue, the trajectory is a totally different one. So I’m curious, what’s your experience on this?

De’Edra 13:45
Yeah, I’ve been fortunate enough to experience all of it. First and foremost, when I talk about the evolution of customer success, throughout what I call CS 1.0, 2.0, and even 3.0, it was predominantly COGS; it was coming out of a cost center. It was a line item, which is why again, you see these impacts, because when companies are looking at ways to reduce cost, they look at the thing that in their mind is not necessarily creating revenue. And so for very long, it was definitely part of COGS. So it was a cost center.

When I see evolving into customer success, you know, 4.0, is really being a revenue center or owning a P&L, which I’ve done in my last two positions. And I will continue to fight to do because again, that’s a value driver. You notice that I focused on the data. If I get the right data, then I can determine what is the right approach, what’s the appropriate revenue model for my particular customer success team. But also if I understand what the revenue model is for all the other teams, then again, I can support them and help them achieve their goals.

But to me, going forward, if customer success is going to continue to be successful, pun intended, we have got to own a portion of the revenue in almost every single company. However, to your point, it is contextual within specific companies. Some companies have what I call a freemium. And they just don’t feel comfortable charging for customer success. But they can find other ways through professional services, through charging for other aspects of their particular model, that they can generate revenue. And again, we can do it through customer success-qualified leads.

However, some companies, everything with regards to Customer Success is a premium, particularly if you’re providing white glove services. And customers have no problem paying for that; they are accustomed to paying for that. So we can find a revenue model that fits, we just have to make sure that first and foremost, it aligns with what the company is trying to achieve for their customers. And we make sure that if we’re going to require our customers to go behind a paywall, for lack of a better analogy, that we demonstrate the value and the legitimacy of why they should do so. And we can do that as customer success.

CS as a Cost center versus revenue center

Irina 15:56
Remaining on the organizational layer, how do you usually structure your team? What roles do you think are must-have, and when do these roles usually pop up as a company grows, because you mentioned that you were fortunate to look for bigger organizations, but you’re also in smaller ones. And I also want to tackle the cost center versus revenue center, because I’m curious, if the setup and the organization of the CS differs, if you are in a cost, or you know poor revenue center.

De’Edra 16:32

I’m going to tackle the latter versus the former, the cost center versus the revenue center. In a revenue center, you’re going to, theoretically, depending upon the structure, have more resources that are geared toward generating revenue. So, for example, if you’ve got CSMs, that I don’t particularly have, have quotas, I do have a team model. But when I’ve had a revenue or a P&L, my CSMs have almost always had a CSQL, or what’s called a Customer Success Qualified Leads product. And I wasn’t necessarily paying them a commission because, and this is very important, they weren’t selling, they were identifying those leads, but it was a team model. So if the team identified enough qualified leads, then that’s revenue that is actually being credited or attributed to Customer Success. But again, that revenue is being closed by Sales. So those are individuals that I would say would be critical for that type of revenue model.

However, if your revenue model is through a professional services team, and that’s where you’re deriving your revenue, and it’s sitting underneath Customer Success, then those are the individuals that you need to focus on because you’ve got delivery. And then Customer Success is working with them in the post, onboarding the implementation process.

So the model depends on a couple of things. First and foremost, if it’s a revenue model, what type of payment structure is going to generate that revenue. Again, if it’s a premium that’s coming to Customer Success, if it’s professional services that’s coming through delivery, so that’s going to determine the type of team. The other piece of it is, what type of experience. So everybody talks about segmentation. If you’ve got a segmentation model, where you’re providing a white glove, or what we call that premium service, then you’re going to be looking at a different type of Customer Success individual from an individual contributor. And you’re going to look at a different team structure. If you’re heavily focused on renewals, then who owns that. I’ve worked at companies where there’s an entirely separate renewals team. However, there are some where Customer Success owns the renewals. And that’s a different model.

So it is going to depend upon first and foremost, what type of revenue model you provide. The second thing is what type of service you’re providing to your customers. It’s a segment model. And then third, if you have all of these additional layers, whether it’s a renewals team, or if it’s a separate delivery team, then that’s going to determine your structure. But again, it’s all contextual, based upon, for me personally, what type of experience you want to provide for your customers.

CS roles

Irina 19:14
You mentioned the structure, let’s go back to the roles, because CSMs also need other types of roles. And I’m curious of what else do you hire into the CS team in order to function as a team? Because Okay, CSM is one thing, but what else do you need?

De’Edra 19:36
And it goes back to the model that I’m just talking about. So, for example, in one organization, I had what I would consider Customer Success engineers because it was a highly technical product. And they were the individuals that were taking care of things like demos, customer training, and that was a specific role. But then I also had Customer Success Managers and Customer Success Directors that were really dependent upon the segmentation model. So that was one way to structure, and that was based on the type of revenue model we had. Because it was a freemium, our customers weren’t being charged. So everybody got an assigned CS resource. But all of the CS resources didn’t necessarily have the technical skills to be able to work with the customer. So we had a separation of what I consider technical resources, as well as what I consider functional resources. That was one model.

But then I’ve been in larger companies where I’ve got CS Ops, and they’re really, really helping us. And that’s, I think, where you were going. If I have to pick two different roles, I would definitely want CS Ops in a larger organization, because you’ve got a larger customer base, and you’re dealing with larger entities that will need a variety of other options with regards to whether you are providing that premium service, what type of revenue model, but you’re also going to need a lot more data, and we need someone to own that. So Revenue or what I call Customer Success Ops is another role. I’ve already talked about the renewal role. There are some companies that have separate renewals. So if I have to pick, I want my renewals team, I want my CS Ops team. And then along with them, either I’ve got a technical team that’s really taking care of the technical side, or I’ve got the Customer Success team that can do both, or they’re doing it separately. Again, it’s all contextual, depending upon what type of customer experience I’m trying to provide, and what that revenue model looks like. But those are some of the roles that I try to focus on when I’m hiring.

CS ops

Irina 21:30
Can you can you explain your models? What’s the definition for a CS ops person from your perspective, regardless? So I’m not interested in how you call it, I’m more interested in what it means and what it is. Okay, your definition of CS ops, because I debated what the position is.

De’Edra 22:04
When I had the role, what I was looking for were individuals that really could crunch the data. Okay. In one of my previous roles, we worked with a tool called Power BI, and what the individuals in my CS Ops teams would do is they would pull cohort reports for me. So, they were pulling all the customer data. For my team to do that, they really had to build a variety of models; they really needed to have what I would consider true data analytic skills. So these are people that own, because I either would have a CS Ops person or a data analyst, because to me, they’re doing the same function.

But at the end of the day, they’re the individuals that control the data, they build out the dashboards for my team, they build out all of the reporting, so that all my team has to do is utilize the insights that they’re providing, as opposed to having to try to do that on their own. So, at the end of the day, they’re the data analyst for Customer Success.

Dashboards and reports for CS

Irina 22:56
I’m curious about what are your go-to dashboards and reports, what are the things that you consider that you couldn’t live and breathe without it?

De’Edra 23:05
The first thing is, I really have to understand the lifetime value of my customers. So that’s really important, because I do believe in ICP, I do believe that we do have ideal customer profiles. And so if I can really understand the true value of my customers, then that’s where I, it’s a way that I allow, or the way that I prefer that my team structure their time, particularly if I’m in a highly segmented model where I’ve got high-touch customers. I really believe that’s the biggest challenge for customer success: how do we figure out how to prioritize our time? And a way of prioritization is to focus on those customers that drive the greatest value. So if I have a CLV report that tells me what my most valuable customers are, that’s the first way that I can help my team prioritize.

The second thing is, from a renewal standpoint, if my team owns renewals, I need to understand my high-risk renewals. I need to be able to tell my team which renewals to focus on. So absolutely, positively, that’s important.

And then the third thing really would be time to value. That’s something that I measure my teams on. So if I have a report that tells me, from an onboarding perspective, which customers reach their value at the optimal time, that’s really the customers that usually have the better, they’re least likely to churn. Their churn risk is reduced automatically when they get to TTV quicker. More importantly, they are the best candidates for identifying qualified Customer Success leads. So that’s where I will generate a good portion of my team’s time.

So first and foremost, I really want to understand CLV for my customers, customer lifetime value. I really want to know renewals, and then third, time to value for the customer. So those are the three that for me are at the top of the dashboard. There are others, but those are my top three.

KPIs for CS

Irina 24:48
Speaking about KPIs, how do you prioritize for your team? And I’m also curious what are your KPIs that you are reporting to your board?

De’Edra 25:00
The first and foremost thing I report on is net revenue in our arm, because again, my team has a goal around qualified customer success leads. And they do have a revenue target because we have a P&L. So that’s the first thing I’m reporting to my board is our NRR.

The second thing is, it’s a new one on my metric. And we’re just starting to dive into this. But it’s really around the average account revenue per CSM. Because I really want to see not necessarily that I’m monitoring what they’re doing, but I really want to see what CSMs are driving the greatest value, so that I can disseminate that information and cross-pollinate the rest of my team. Because there are individuals that do things differently, even though we provide them frameworks. So my CSMs that are driving the greatest value within their portfolios, whatever they’re doing, I really want to replicate that and basically just do that. So that’s what I’m reporting.

And then I’m also reporting renewal metrics to the board. Because again, if I’ve got any at-risk renewals, that’s something that they want to be aware of. And then more importantly, I do report on sentiment, not necessarily because I use it as a driver, but things like NPS and CSAT. Again, I don’t necessarily use them as a driver. However, if I see a pattern within a particular cohort of customers, then that’s something that we necessarily want to try to mitigate. And I will report that up to the board so that they’re not necessarily blindsided by it. But more importantly, NRR, average revenue per CSM or per account person, the renewals piece, and then the sentiment piece.

Irina 26:41
Okay, and I assume that you delegate those or you cascade those to your team overall.

Irina 26:48
Oh, no, absolutely, because they, basically, my OKRs, those are distilled down to my team, and they build their individual OKRs based on mine, but my OKRs are based on the company’s OKRs.

CS over performing

Irina 27:02
Now, I want to ask you, what does CS need in order to be performing above expectations?

De’Edra 27:10
Three things, data, data, data. Without the right data, we really cannot effectively optimize our roles. And again, all those KPIs that I talked about the ability to mitigate renewal risk, I need the data to support that the ability to determine time to value for customers, I need data to support that. So everything is different by data. And then if you if I have to say what the second thing would be, it would be executive sponsorship, a clear understanding from our leadership, the value that we provide, and what we need to support that and help us achieve the goals that we’ve set forth for that we’ve set forth for ourselves based on the overall goals of the company. But again, all that’s driven by data.

Irina 28:01
Because you spoke about the leadership, understanding how do you advocate for your customer success team? And how do you make sure that they are aware of what you do and how you contribute? What are the things that you’re constantly doing in order to remind and to advocate for your team?

De’Edra 28:22
Um, there was a huge post on LinkedIn a couple of weeks ago, and I read it, reposted it, and I was really surprised that it didn’t get more comments, but it’s really about the value. So NPV, you know, the net value that Customer Success provides to the C-suite. So when I build out my dashboards that I present to the board, when I’m working with a privately held company, those four things that I mentioned, are part of that presentation. So I present what the NRR is, I present what the renewal pipeline is, particularly for renewals at risk. But more importantly, I talk about the wins and successes. I present what the CSQLs are, so that they understand what value from a revenue perspective that the CS team is providing. And I also present the sentiment again, so that they won’t be blindsided.

But I have to do that on a regular basis. So in one of my previous roles, when I was working with a privately held company, once a month, I presented those four key metrics to the board. But more importantly, I presented what was working well, but I also presented areas where they could assist us because the board is there to advocate for you, and they can provide assistance for you. So where I felt like I wasn’t getting what I needed to be as optimally successful as I could, I made sure the board was aware of that, as well as the C-suite when I meet individually.

In my previous roles, I’ve either reported to the CRO or the CEO. Those are dashboards in my weekly one-on-ones with them. I’m pulling up those same dashboard numbers so they see the success of what Customer Success is doing.

Irina 29:55
I want to ask you, what do you think makes the difference between a great CS team and a good one? But I assume I know the answer.

De’Edra 30:17

You know the answer. A great CS team focuses on two primary things. First off, time to value for our customer, because I haven’t used the term in this conversation, but we should be driven by meeting our customers’ desired business outcomes. So, if we have customers that are seeing time to value, particularly in less time than we anticipated, it’s always a win with the concept of under-promise and over-deliver. Getting to time to value sooner for our customer is a way that we’re going to reduce churn, increase sentiment, and more importantly, drive revenue growth and maintain retention.

The second thing is really around the revenue growth. Because great CSMs are able to identify those qualified success opportunities, work with sales, to close those opportunities, and then continue to drive value to the customer. A good CSM is really going to focus on things like pure just purely what I consider AR, just retention just in that retention space, and really adoption and making sure that our customers are using the service at an optimal level. Those are not bad things. But again, if you’re asking me the difference between Good to Great, TTV and, you know, revenue growth is great. Retention and utilization and to a certain degree focusing on sentiment is good.

Recruiting for a great CS team

Irina 32:07
About recruiting, what’s the most important skill that you don’t compromise on? What does a CSM? How does how does the great CSM look for you? And what are you trying to observe in an interview process? How does your interview process look like? What’s your recruitment process?

De’Edra 32:35
Across the board, regardless of the role, is a passion for customer centricity. Because at the end of the day, we are the face of almost every company for the customer. And yes, the customer talks to a variety of other lines of business; they have their account reps, they have their account executives, they may occasionally interact with, hopefully not support very often. But that’s another organization that they will interact with or engage with. But ultimately, we should be the person that is the advocate for the customer within our individual organization. So I really, first and foremost, it’s not even really about skills. This is about really being empathetic to the customer, and being customer-centric. So that’s one thing I don’t compromise on.

The rest of it, a lot of things really depend upon the role. If it’s a technical role, again, technical aptitude. If it’s a CSM role, the ability to think strategically for the customer, because we really want to be proactive, as opposed to being reactive. And that requires a little bit of strategic thought. But again, the one thing I just won’t compromise on is customer-centricity.

Irina 33:48
And how do you validate it in an interview? Because I find it pretty hard.

De’Edra 33:58

When I’m interviewing candidates for the role, the enthusiasm comes across, even for my introverts, because I love having extroverts as they have an entirely different perspective. But even introverts, people who aren’t necessarily comfortable in some customer-facing roles, those who choose to go into customer success, and there are quite a few.

The way that they talk about the role, the way that they talk about how they work with the customer to solve problems for the customer, but more importantly, to drive value for the customer. It comes across, I can identify it, and it’s just, it’s maybe because I myself, I’m customer-centric. I am a devout extrovert. So I have a different personality in that regard. But when I’m talking to candidates, and they really are enthusiastic and for you know, there’s different levels of enthusiasm, but for me, someone that really is passionate about driving value for the customer, they’re the ones that go to the top of my list. And I just see but that’s it’s an instinctual thing for me.

The importance of the right tech stack

Irina 35:00
How important is the technology stack in terms of CS and what are the things that should help a CS team better perform?

De’Edra 35:10
When you say technology stack, do you mean the tools or the access to tools? Or can you drill down on that a little bit more?

Irina 35:21
It can be the tools and without necessarily pointing out and calling out names more or also the access to it can be, it can be both.

De’Edra 35:33
So, from my perspective, any tool that gives you that 360 view of the customer is what every single CSM role should have. Now, is that always in a CSP tool, or customer success platform? If you’re lucky, yes, but if it’s in a CRM tool, and you can still get that same 360 view of the customer, I’m okay with that. But for me, because what you want to do is, once we inherit that customer, or if we’re lucky, if we, because sometimes I like to see my team engaged even in pre-sales, but if you’re truly looking at a post-sale sort of motion, then you really need to know everything about that customer. Everything about, from a support standpoint, everything about every single product and feature they own. But more importantly, you need to be able to capture what their goals and drivers are, so that you can measure that. And some tools will allow you to do that. So you can do that time to value analysis, and also sentiment and all these other metrics and usage, everything that you need to have in your wheelhouse. But the tool needs to be able to give you that 360 view, regardless of what that tool is. It’s the capabilities of that tool that drive value for me.

Irina 36:49
Okay, and besides 360? And can you also dig on? Why is it important? What’s the benefit? What’s the value of that?

De’Edra 36:56

So, for example, if I’m going into a renewals conversation with a customer, I need to be able to understand every single product they own. Okay, I need to understand the details and accuracy of that renewal. Same thing, if I’m building out, my team doesn’t do what we call quarterly business reviews anymore, we do what’s called customer objective reviews. So if I’m building out a customer, yes, and it’s yes, it’s quarterly, just like a quarterly business review, but it’s driven by the customer. And so I need to understand if I’m building out the deck with a presentation for that quarter, which by the way, we actually get our customers to do that, not us. But I need to know the product suite for that particular customer or solution, I need to know what renewals, if there are any, SLAs that it’s so in each one of those, the renewals again, that’s the revenue piece.

So that’s probably maybe owned by Customer Success, but it could be owned by Sales. So I need that view. I need to understand whatever support tickets because if they’ve got support issues, that information might be coming from whatever support tool we’re using. And then more importantly, from a sentiment standpoint, I really need to understand, you know, have they done an NPS with an NPS survey? Or if we’ve done CSAT, what does that look like? And then more importantly, if we built out what their goals and objectives are, because they may have given that information to Sales during the sales cycle, or we may have built that, we may have built out the customer journey. But all of that is a 360 view of the customer so that I can get as many insights about the customer that I possibly can to provide them with the optimal solutions in some cases, but more importantly, the optimal experience. Because in order to enhance the experience for the customer, I need to have a 360 view. I hope that answered your question.

Meetings with customers

Irina 38:42
Did I get that right? Did you say that your customers are building their own presentations?

De’Edra 38:48
Yep, yep. We send them a deck, we give them the slides they own, they put in the content. And again, these are for high-touch customers. This is not for our scale or digital customers. But for customers that are in our premium solutions, where we consider it white glove, we send them the deck, we assign them a certain slide, they create the deck on their own. And when we do the core objective reviews or the COORs, as we call them, which if you talk to any of my customers, they’ll go, “When is our next COOR meeting?” They get really excited because they own the presentation. They own the content, and it’s being driven by their desired business outcomes. So yes, you heard me correctly. Yes, we give them a template though.

Trends and predictions for 2024

Irina 39:26
As we wrap up, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the future. What are your predictions for the customer success industry in 2024? Are there any trends or changes you foresee that we should all be keeping an eye on?

De’Edra 39:41

Yeah, I’m calling it Customer Success 4.0, and I’m calling it the CS 4.0 Fab Four. So there are four things that I really think that we need to be focusing on in 2024, which puts it into Fab Four for 2024. I love that. First and foremost, we need to move to a customer-led model right now.

So many companies are focusing on product-led growth. And that’s fine, you can still have that within a company, particularly for startups, because they’re developing a product-market fit. But for more mature companies, we need to be leading with the customer. So for 2024, the first thing we need to start focusing on is customer-led growth or CLG. And you can partner with product-led growth, but lead with the customer and you will reap tremendous rewards.

The second thing I’m looking at is moving from being a part of COGS or a cost center, and moving into owning revenue or a P&L. That is really going to be a driver for us in 2024. And it shows that we add value to the organization.

The third thing is really time to value metrics. Because again, that first thing is, if we’re going to be led by the customer, from a growth perspective, from a revenue perspective, we need to increase our ability to get them to value as fast as possible, and to continue that value throughout the customer lifecycle. So TTV is the third of the Fab Four.

And then fourth, first and fourth. And this one is more important to me than almost all of them. Customer Success is one of the most challenging jobs in the industry, we are that face of the customer, we are that trusted advisor. And we really need the ability to have the tools we need to get the data and also get the support from our leadership to successfully meet the needs of our customer. So for me, the fourth of the Fab Four is employee experience or what they’re calling EX. That is the next metric for the future. I was really proud that in one of my previous companies, I improved employee satisfaction by 30%. And I want to continue to do that at every single company that I’m at.

So basically, customer-led growth, moving from COGS to P&L, focusing on time to value, and employee experience or EX.

Irina 41:56
Thank you so much for sharing your insights with me today. It’s been a true pleasure having you on the show. I wish you an incredible end to the year and look forward to seeing how your predictions for Customer Success industry unfold in 2024.

De’Edra 42:14
Thank you Irina, I enjoyed the conversation as well. You have a wonderful end of the year as well.

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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