3 Lessons From my First 3 Years in Customer Success

In June 2018, I accepted my first official position in Customer Success. I had graduated from university just back in December and my first job out of college was, let’s just say, not what I expected it to be.

Hence why I was only there for 6 months.

I had moved my wife and I out to Arizona to start a new chapter with this job and was feeling pretty foolish at this point. I had just found out about this cool new space called “Customer Success” a month or two prior to getting this gig so I was hoping and praying it would work out.

3 years later, and I can say that choosing to persue a career in Customer Success is the second-best decision I’ve ever made (2nd only to marrying my wife).

My first gig was a Client Advocate position for a social media marketing company in Scottsdale. I was there for a year and have been working as a CSM for a global software company that creates Virtual Data Rooms for the past two years. It’s been an incredible journey and I’ve grown in ways I didn’t think was possible for the first few years of my professional career.

If I could give advice to any college graduate who is unsure about what they want to do career-wise, it would be to get a job in Customer Success. The skills you will learn and the community you will be a part of are unmatched.

So, with three years under my belt of working in the space, here are the top three lessons I’ve learned thus far:

The Customer may not Always be ‘Right’ but They are Always the Most Important

Sorry Sam Walton, but “The customer is always right” just isn’t correct anymore. As Customer Success Managers, we need to know our product and services better than our clients. This will help us provide them with the highest possible value when working with us.

And because of this, sometimes the client may request something that we can’t offer directly, have a misconception about what our product actually does, or even tell us what our product should be doing when in reality, it just doesn’t work that way. These kinds of conversations happen and sometimes we can’t deliver on specific requests exactly how the customer wants us to.

But because we are knowledgeable about our product or service and care about our customers, we can always offer some kind of workaround and alternate solution that can help our customers get where they want to go. A huge part of CS is delivering on customer’s desired outcomes. And sometimes we need to help them see how our product can do just that even if it may not be what they expect at times.

Working for a social media marketing company, I had to have these conversations nearly on a weekly basis.

Customer Success can only be Attained through Consistent Cross-Department Collaboration

Customer Success, when done right, isn’t just a department. It’s a company-wide mindset.

That means it’s up to Customer Success Managers and Leadership to ensure that other teams are doing what is best for the customer in the respective duties. Usually, this starts with teams like sales and product. Both of these teams are critical when it comes to company growth and customer satisfaction.

Breaking down internal silos is a key duty (often “unofficial”) of Customer Success. We, as CSM’s, are on the frontlines helping our customers succeed. But teams like product are working behind the scenes to ensure our customers are being successful with adopting the product. And teams like sales and marketing are helping to bring in new business to help the company grow and stay “afloat”.

So to ensure our customers have all the tools and training they need to succeed, it’s imperative to have conistent collaboration with these teams. This can be done in a variety of ways. This article isn’t meant to explain it all in detail but having open lines of communication through meetings, Slack channels, and informal conversations is a ‘must’ not only to help the company grow but to help the overall culture of the company actually be something to brag about.

My Job as a CSM is to Make the Lives of my Customers Easier

Simple as that. An organization can only be as successful as its customers. And the first thing you need to look at when assessing the success of your customers is how easy it is to use your product or service.

No matter how complex your product may be, it’s your job as the CSM to help your customer adopt and see value in it as quickly as possible. Value for your customer can be measured by how easy it is for them to achieve their desired outcomes.

So there you have it, folks. 3 simple lessons.

What have been your top lessons from your time in Customer Success?

So You’re the First Customer Success Hire at Your Company…

Congratulations! You’ve joined the exclusive club made up of individuals who are the first customer success hire for an organization.

What now?

Well, since Customer Success is still a new concept, every organization and every situation is different. We know that many organizations are finally starting to see the value in having a solid CSM team and are making the right moves to put it in place.

Take my experience for example. I was the second Customer Success Manager hired at my current company. It was me, another CSM that had been hired about 6 months previously, and the Head of Customer Success who was a woman who had been with the company for about 5 years working in various roles. When I was hired we had a cheap CRM and that’s about it. No playbooks, no CS Software, no real CS processes in place. I was still pretty new to my CS career so this was an exciting challenge to be a part of a CS department that was basically in “start-up” mode.

Now, a year and a half later, things are much different. We have HubSpot, Churn Zero, a Customer Journey Map in place, playbooks and processes so we know what’s expected for us to excel in our roles, and have a growing global team of rockstar CSM’s. It’s been a fun, bumpy ride up to this point and we’re still growing and evolving every day.

If I could sum up what I’ve learned being one of the first CSM’s at my company, it would be this: Collaborate with your fellow CSM’s on a daily basis and never be afraid to voice your ideas. As I said earlier, Customer Success is still new so many of your ideas on how to improve, streamline, and innovate things can be very valuable to the department’s and company’s growth.

So how about being the first Executive of VP-level Customer Success hire?

After doing some field research on the subject, I came across some great advice and best practices.

For starters, Gainsight wrote an article about this very subject and outlined the 7 most important things every new VP of Customer Success should prioritize:

1) Understand your customers
2) Understand your team
3) What is your segmentation strategy?
4) What is your engagement strategy?
5) What tools do you have at your disposal?
6) What are the boss’s expectations?
7) Make sure your CEO is all-in

Read the full article here: https://www.gainsight.com/blog/youre-the-new-vp-of-customer-success-now-what/

I also asked my fellow LinkedIn community about their experience being the first CS hire. I asked them to share the top 2 or 3 lessons they learned. And, as always, the advice did not disappoint.


1. Success teams are most reactive when they aren’t communicating or collaborating well with product, support and sales.

2. Digital engagement is key for Success teams, especially when there’s a large SMB customer base at play, but paradoxically, self-service strategies are useless if you don’t continue enough 1:1 conversations to know what your customers pain points are.

– Liz Stephany, Director of Customer Success at Close


Learn as much as you can about the sales process and do some support tickets to quickly learn what customers are regularly struggling with.

– Rav Dhaliwal


1. We know enough to listen and “love” on our clients, but are we doing this internally with our team? Continually improving new hire onboarding, and taking the time to understand each CSL’s superpower has been helpful in creating harmonious collaboration. Advocate and support your talent like you would your top client.

2. CS moves fast and information changes daily. Don’t assume that other key players across the organization know what’s going on. Take the time to pause and educate others on your process and share the “why” behind the decisions that you make to create buy-in. Trust can be ruined when decisions are made in vacuums. 

-Amanda Torrelli, Associate VP of Client Success at Mongoose


1. Be flexible. Customer Success is an integral part of any organization. With as much weight as CS holds, you can’t expect processes and procedures be 100% correct in their first iteration – fleaxability is key

2. The challenges you are facing are not specific to you/your organization. Leverage your network, connect with other CS professionals and don’t try to recreate the wheel for everything.

-Nashad Abass, Customer Success Manager


Lesson #1 – Infront of the customer, you are the CEO of the company and you got to own everything.

Lesson #2 – You got to set the expectations right at your customer’s end.

Lesson #3 – Its okay to question the processes at your organization and suggest changes which can expedite the delivery to your clien

-Amit Bhadu


1) Recognize that your CSMs will likely be more reactive to begin with and take that into consideration in your planning. There are probably a lot of quietly frustrated customers out there that no one is seeking out.

2) It’s already been said, but active listening in the first 30-60 days is critical to get a sense of what you need to prioritize. This applies to both customers and employees. Go on a relentless pursuit of learning WHY things are the way they are.

3) Don’t assume you’ve got the “playbook” from previous roles. Every company’s needs are different. Apply your best practices from the past, but don’t assume that they will all have a place.

-Parker Chase-Corwin


Make sure Executive Leadership is clear on why they are hiring YOU and why NOW. I’ve joined organizations where the leaders thought they understood CS or why they needed the function but clearly “didn’t get it”.

-Kristi Faltorusso


Progress over perfection, the program will constantly evolve. Be scrappy don’t get stuck over-engineering for scalability. Get started simple see what works and resonates then iterate. Build a foundation of every interaction adding value to the customer not a culture of “checking in” noise.

-Samantha Styles



Learn as much as you can about the sales process and do some support tickets to quickly learn what customers are regularly struggling with.

– Rav Dhaliwal


1. We know enough to listen and “love” on our clients, but are we doing this internally with our team? Continually improving new hire onboarding, and taking the time to understand each CSL’s superpower has been helpful in creating harmonious collaboration. Advocate and support your talent like you would your top client.

2. CS moves fast and information changes daily. Don’t assume that other key players across the organization know what’s going on. Take the time to pause and educate others on your process and share the “why” behind the decisions that you make to create buy-in. Trust can be ruined when decisions are made in vacuums. 

-Amanda Torrelli, Associate VP of Client Success at Mongoose


1. Be flexible. Customer Success is an integral part of any organization. With as much weight as CS holds, you can’t expect processes and procedures be 100% correct in their first iteration – fleaxability is key

2. The challenges you are facing are not specific to you/your organization. Leverage your network, connect with other CS professionals and don’t try to recreate the wheel for everything.

-Nashad Abass, Customer Success Manager


Lesson #1 – Infront of the customer, you are the CEO of the company and you got to own everything.

Lesson #2 – You got to set the expectations right at your customer’s end.

Lesson #3 – Its okay to question the processes at your organization and suggest changes which can expedite the delivery to your clien

-Amit Bhadu


1) Recognize that your CSMs will likely be more reactive to begin with and take that into consideration in your planning. There are probably a lot of quietly frustrated customers out there that no one is seeking out.

2) It’s already been said, but active listening in the first 30-60 days is critical to get a sense of what you need to prioritize. This applies to both customers and employees. Go on a relentless pursuit of learning WHY things are the way they are.

3) Don’t assume you’ve got the “playbook” from previous roles. Every company’s needs are different. Apply your best practices from the past, but don’t assume that they will all have a place.

-Parker Chase-Corwin


Make sure Executive Leadership is clear on why they are hiring YOU and why NOW. I’ve joined organizations where the leaders thought they understood CS or why they needed the function but clearly “didn’t get it”.

-Kristi Faltorusso


Progress over perfection, the program will constantly evolve. Be scrappy don’t get stuck over-engineering for scalability. Get started simple see what works and resonates then iterate. Build a foundation of every interaction adding value to the customer not a culture of “checking in” noise.

-Samantha Styles


To read my nearly 150 answers I got on my LinkedIn post, click Here

So friends, if you find yourself being the first CS hire for an organization, you’re in for a fun ride. There will be challenges along the way but make sure you have an open channel of collaboration with your team and the C-suite and a clear vision of what you want to accomplish for the organization.

Best of luck to you and, if you’re not only new to the org but new to Customer Success, welcome to the family!

Additional Resources

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/one-step-time-lessons-learned-from-building-customer-success-steve/

https://360leaders.com/2020/10/09/customer-success/

What Cross Country Coaching Taught me about Customer Success

If you participated in High School sports, you might remember some of the feelings you had as a 14-year-old being on the same team as 17 and 18-year-olds.

I’ll never forget my first cross country practice as a freshman. Being on the same team and going to the same school as guys who could drive and grow beards had me feeling a little intimidated. But running cross country for 4 years in high school was a great experience. To this day, I still run as a hobby. In fact, running is so much of a hobby for me that I volunteer at the local high school as an assistant cross country coach.

My running career has now come full-circle.

Now I get to work with freshmen who have the same look on their faces as I did my first day at practice. One of the greatest things I get to see is their development as athletes and as teammates. Helping them feel accepted by the team and pushing them to be a better and stronger runner are the greatest parts of being a coach.

Now, as a front-line Customer Success Manager, I get to have similar experiences with my clients. While it may be a very different situation, the principles are the same. I work with them on a consistent basis so they get the maximum value out of our product and service. I ensure they understand the value of our services. And I help them identify best practices, workarounds, and solutions so that they can be successful.

In short, I’m their coach just as much as I am the coach for my high school cross country kids.

In a recent article posted on the HubSpot blog, Michael Redbord said: “Customer success helps you engage and guide customers to help them grow into happy power users, and these satisfied advocates will recommend your brand and help grow your business as fast as sales and marketing.”

Read the full article here: https://blog.hubspot.com/service/making-customers-more-successful

As a Cross Country coach, helping my high school kids develop as athletes helps their confidence in themselves grow. They then are able to share that confidence with other new athletes. This is a chain reaction that helps the team develop not only as runners but as individuals working together to make one another better.

If you’re in Customer Success, you know one of the best things about the profession is developing clients enough to where they get maximum value out of your product or services and share that with others who later become new clients.

It’s a pretty great feeling as a CSM and a Coach to see this enthusiasm and advocacy develop in my clients and athletes.

Dave Blake, CEO of ClientSuccess, was recently interviewed on the Customer Success Leader podcast. In his interview, he hits the nail on the head when talking about what makes a CS team successful.

“It starts with authentic and passionate humans that go above and beyond that genuinely care about our customers as individuals and that carries through with them truly wanting to help the clients succeed as a business.”

Full episode can be found here:

As a coach, my effectiveness ions measured by how much a care about my athletes as individuals. It’s through that personal connection that I can see their potential and push them to reach it. This applies to my clients and my desire to help them succeed as individuals and as a business.

While it’s easy for me to been seen as just another vendor to my clients and just another adult yelling at my athletes to “go faster”, I can truly set myself apart from the others. It all starts with me and my desire to serve and develop those that I’m serving.

Customer Success and Product: A Vital Partnership

I grew up watching the Karate Kid. One of my favorite movies. In this movie, the main character, Daniel, immediately becomes enemies with Johnny after a misunderstanding and scuffle on the beach. This rivalry continues until the end of the movie where they face-off in the final championship match. Over 30 years later, they are reunited in the new Netflix series, Cobra Kai.

The rivalry is far from over.

After a new series of misunderstandings, poor communication, and actions based on preconceived notions, Daniel and Johnny find themselves competing, once again, in the ring. This time as rival coaches.

Obviously, there’s a lot more to the story here (I recommend watching Cobra Kai) but my point in sharing this is that you have two boys, now men, who both want the same thing: To be great at what they do.

Both had the same goal and both could have easily worked together to make their dreams a reality. Unfortunately, they couldn’t get past petty fights and minor differences.


I see some similarities in the relationship between Daniel and Johnny and the relationship between Customer Success and the Product team.

We both are working towards the same common goal: to better serve our customers.

While Customer Success is on the frontlines communicating with customers daily, the product team is working behind the scenes to ensure our customers have a seamless experience using our product. Both teams help mitigate risk and ensure a quality customer experience.

So what does this mean for Customer Success Managers like you and me?

First off, it means that we need to be mindful that the product team has the same goal that we do. They are here to serve our customers. They are aware of most the product issues. And the ones they are not aware of, it’s our job to present those issues to them. But it’s through this communication process where words can be misconstrued, tone can be read wrong, and misunderstandings can occur.

As a CSM, you need to have a strategy when it comes to presenting product issues to your product team. Megan Bowen, Chief Customer Officer at Refine Labs, says it best.

“My rule of thumb for working with product teams – DO NOT ask them to build new specific features – rather identify the biggest pain points of the customer and bring them the biggest friction points or pain points with data to back up how many customers are impacted. Then, let product do their job to identify the right solution to the biggest customer pain points.”

You have a job to do and so do they. Finding ways, like Megan pointed out, to make their job easier will greatly impact the relationship you have with them. Showing the “Why” behind a product request through any kind of data will help the product understand the need for it.

Krista Roberts, Enterprise CSM at IntelliShift, also added her two cents based on her experience.

“Regular communication with Product is key! Inviting them to attend customer calls, EBR’s and other times where they can hear first hand how customers are using the product, want to use the product and how our product is and can solve their business challenges is so helpful.”

Just like how sales and marketing should work closely, CS and Product should be working closely and meeting regularly. Knowing how your customers are performing and adopting the software is vital information for both of you to know. Identifying usage gaps and pain points can help both teams excel in their individual jobs as well as grow together to help the overall growth of the company.

In one of the most recent episodes of the Women in Customer Success Podcast, Katrina Coakley shared her experience as a CSM and how she has built good relationships with her respected product teams. She explains that how important is for anyone involved in building out the UX/UI of the product to involve representatives in the company who work with the customers face to face. Customer-facing reps can help identify and avoid certain pitfalls they know their customers have the potential to experience.

Click here to listen to the full interview.

One last word of advice to my fellow front-line CSM’s; just remember that our fellow product specialists are here to do their job just like we are. Sometimes misunderstandings occur and there might be some frustration. I’ve been there. But consistent communication (in person, if possible) where ideas are shared and pain points are identified will make a huge difference for you and your customers.

Maybe send them some donuts sometime to show your appreciation. They’ll like you a lot more. Trust me, it works.

If you’re interested in technology that helps product and CS teams communicate effectively, check out https://productsignals.com/

Driving Success from High-touch Accounts

Author: Maria Jose Villanueva, CSM at Ultimate Kronos Group and Founder of Customer Success Montreal

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mariajosevillanueva/

Customer Success Montreal: https://cs-mtl.com/

As a CSM, you have been given a book of business that consists of mostly Enterprise accounts, with the highest ARR contract value.

It is now in your hands to foster and grow them.

In this case, let’s say you have the right engagement model in place for them. So now, it’s imperative that you develop a plan and have the right approach in mind. These are the 4 things that I have implemented in my day to day that have helped bring value to my high-touch customers.

Create and Strategize a Joint Success Plan

Everything starts with understanding your customers as deeply as you can.

What business outcomes do you need to see them achieve to know that they are successful with your product? How are you measuring that?

Creating a Success Plan for each of your customers will help you have a clear definition of success and have them also commit and sign off on it. Once you have established the plan, the next step is to work in collaboration with your customer on outlining, developing, and prioritizing key activities that will drive your customer closer to their goals.

The Success Plan will help you ensure key Customer Success engagement activities will take place, and that they are aligned without any conflict. One thing this can do is provide future value for EBRs. These are key to help you present what your customer have achieved, their progress so far, and their overall experience with your product.

Another key activity is having a joint roadmap planning exercise with your customer. This will allow for greater alignment with other technology platforms and provide better long term plans. 

I still remember the first time I presented these exercises to one of my Enterprise customers. They were very enthusiastic in their feedback:

“ I wish all our vendors would do the same! This has helped us keep track of all our initiatives. Thank you!”  

Having a Success Plan will help you set mutual goals with your customers and give you a roadmap on how to achieve those goals. 

Build Internal and External Stakeholder Relationships

Establishing cross-functional communication will be imperative for you as a CSM. It will play a crucial role in creating a top-notch customer experience for your Enterprise customers. It will empower you to provide product knowledge, quicker customer updates, and generate more in depth insight about your customers.

By doing this, you will become your customer’s advocate and the voice for your customer inside your organization. 

When it comes to building the relationship with your external stakeholders you should always aim to take the role of a strategic advisor verses a tactical one. Thinking together with your customer by helping them solve critical problems with your product can elevate the current and future conversations you have with them.

Always have a value-driven discussion with your key executive contacts at every interaction.

Having these value-driven discussions will be key in helping your customer move closer to their desired outcomes. This isn’t always easy since putting out fires may disrupt you delivering value.

So how do you prepare for it? 

Ensure you are always prepared for every single call you have with your customer. Do your due diligence! Research the project at hand, ensure you have the right resources, and remind yourself of what the desired outcome is for the customer.

This is al important information to have, otherwise, you won’t be able to add any value and you’ll miss a great opportunity. Make it an habit to ask yourself these key questions on your on-going cadence meetings with your customer: 

How can my product/service bring more value to my customer?

How is my customer tracking against their desired outcomes?

How can I help them drive product adoption?

When it comes to leveraging digital engagement for certain value-driven activities, such as new feature announcements, you might need to make sure you follow up with them if they need training that focuses more on their relevant business case.

Be a Problem Solver and Knowledge Advisor

Help your customer by constantly sharing best practices for your product or service. By providing best ways to use your product and connecting them to the right company resource, you become a trusted partner.

Be present beyond the initial period of onboarding.  When you customer is having a critical escalation, it’s an excellent opportunity to build trust as you will find ways to help your customer with their issue at hand. These situations often position you in way that help your customers see you as their knowledge advisor.

Brainstorm on leading change management initiatives with them and find creative ways to solve their problems. Don’t shy away from these conversations. 


I hope these key points help you and that at some point along your journey as a CSM, you’ll cross a threshold where you’ll say to yourself, “Bring it on! I can take on any Enterprise account and there isn’t a customer situation that I can’t handle!”

Keep in mind that your relationship with your enterprise customer will be a continuous evolution process. It’s challenging but rewarding in the end.

About The Author

Maria Jose is an experienced business and Customer Success professional with 10 + years of experience in SaaS technology industries. In her current role with UKG (Ultimate Kronos Group), Maria Jose is responsible for working closely with Enterprise customers as their Customer Success Manager, focusing on driving their long-term success with their solution and building relationships. She is the founder of CS-MTL, the first Customer Success Meetup group in Montreal, where she has hosted several Customer Success content-driven events contributing to the growth of the Montreal CS community.  She is also an active Mentor at CS Network Mentorloop program. 

3 Tips to Stay Ahead in The Customer Economy

We are living in the subscription economy. Or as I like to call it, the Customer Economy!

The ability to provide a great customer experience while delivering desired outcomes is the very essence of Customer Success. It’s also the foundation of every business that is striving to stay ahead in the Customer Economy.

As Dana Niv, Strategic Customer Success Manager at WalkMe says, “Today’s B2B customers feel empowered. They demand a whole new level of customer focus, expecting companies to know them personally, recognize their challenges, and cater to their needs.”

In other words, your customers know they have the power. It’s no longer a secret.

If you’re still with me, allow me to share three tips that I believe are essential to staying ahead in the Customer Economy.

Customer Success is a Company Mindset, not just a Department

In a recent interview, Dan Steinman talked about the exciting and promising future of Customer Success. He talked about how important it is for the Product team and the Customer Success team to be on the same page.

“The only real scalable thing in your company is your product.” He said, “If you’re going to scale Customer Success, it has to start by doing things within your product. Nothing is as impactful than delivering on something in your product that makes a difference with regards to user adoption and clear ROI.”

When Product Success and Customer Success come together, world’s collide. In a great and scalable way!

Dan went on to talk about the relationship between sales and CS.

“If Customer Success is not a slide in your sales deck, you’re not doing it well enough.”

I’ll give you a minute to take that in…

Prospects these days aren’t only thinking about your product and what it can do for them. They are also thinking about what your company can provide as far as service and client experience. This can only be accomplished well if the CS team is on the same page with sales, product, marketing, and other departments.

The customer journey involves all departments to some extent. Make sure all of them know what they need to do to provide a legendary experience.

Full interview can be found here:

Track the Health and Success of your Customers

One of my favorite books on CS is The Startup’s Guide to Customer Success by Jennifer Chiang. You can’t find a more detailed book regarding what you need to do to become a successful startup.

In the book she quotes Jeff Cann, Senior Director of Client Experience at Sysomos. Here is what he had to say about tracking customer success metrics:

“There is an incredible amount to learn from customers outside of that 1:1 opportunity that you have a responsibility to know. Product usage behaviors, areas of your application customers may have challenges with, NPS, the frequency of support requests. All of this information is critical to understanding the health and success of your customers and you owe it to them to be diligent with how you not only learn from it but act on it.”

Understanding the health and success of your customers is vital. Some metrics are quantitative and others are qualitative. Both are important when determining how your customer is performing with your product or service.

ClientSuccess goes into detail about these metrics and how you can best use them. See what they have to say here: https://www.clientsuccess.com/blog/6-metrics-help-calculate-customers-health-successscore/

Be Ready and Willing to Adapt

As JFK said, “Ask not what your customer can do for you, ask what you and your product can do for your customer!”

I may have misquoted slightly but you get the idea.

Customers understand that the software and technology landscape is constantly changing and evolving. If they get the feeling that your company isn’t one step ahead of the game and not willing to adapt, they will shop around for a new vendor.

One of the first career lessons I learned is when I was still in college. I was working for the student housing office and they were rolling out a lot of new policies and initiatives. Many of these initiatives didn’t make a lot of sense to me. So I asked my direct manager why we were doing all of this extra work that, to me, just added a lot of unnecessary tasks for us.

He told me that any business that isn’t constantly innovating is not moving forward. He explained how vital it is, even for a student housing office for a university, to always be thinking of ways to innovate and adapt to inevitable changes. This lesson has stuck with me ever since.

Irit Eizips, CEO and CCO of CSM Practice, spoke with Nick Mehta, CEO of Gainsight, about the importance of Customer Success in today’s business ecosystem. Listen to their conversation here.

What are your thoughts? In today’s customer-centric world, what are some ways businesses can stay ahead and really ensure their putting their customers first?

2020: A Year in Review for Customer Success

“Happy New Year” will take on a whole new meaning when we ring in 2021.

If this blog withstands the test of time and someone is reading this who hasn’t heard about 2020, go ask your grandparents to tell you the stories.

2020 has been a ride. And not one of those fun rides you go on at Disneyland or Six Flags. It’s been more like the rickety, rusty rides you see at a local carnival that are assembled by a hungover 20-something with weed in his back pocket.

So while it’s been one of the hardest years many of us have gone through, there have been many highlights and things that have made this year memorable in a good way.

For Customer Success, this year has been one for the books.

Here are a few ways 2020 has positively impacted the Customer Success Community. These are simply my observations. Feel free to add your own observations in the comments!

The Rise of Online Communities

According to Kantar Profiles, 1 in 5 people are turning to online communities for stress management in 2020.

With online communities becoming more common, thanks to lockdowns and quarantine, the CS community has been a leader in creating and participating in these communities. Gain Grow Retain, Product-led Growth Hub, and RevGenius are a few examples of spaces where CS professionals have made their mark, grown in their presence, and collaborated with hundreds of other online professionals.

Online communities for business professionals will continue to grow and Customer Success will continue to be at the forefront of the growth.

The Emphasis on Customer Experience

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The companies that make Customer Experience a priority, will win in the end.

More companies have discovered this in 2020. Many have doubled down on their efforts to take care of their customers and provide a legendary customer experience.

Cisco and GitLab are great examples of this.

Cisco has implemented a Customer Experience initiative that has helped their customers deliver extraordinary experiences to their own customers. Today, they have more than 27,000 people around the world working daily with customers and partners to build solutions that delight and inspire.

GitLab has created, what I believe to be, a model Customer Journey Map that should be duplicated and tailored to every other organization. They created a Customer Success vision and put that vision to work through a well-thought-out journey map. Their goal with this customer journey is to “deliver faster time-to-value and customer-specific business outcomes with a world class customer experience, leveraging the full capabilities of the GitLab application.”

Follow these links to learn more about how these two organizations took 2020 by the horns:

https://about.gitlab.com/handbook/customer-success/vision/

https://blogs.cisco.com/customerexperience/intro

Many frontline CSM’s and CS leaders learned that putting their customers first was the best solution for driving success forward. Not only for their customers but also for them and the company they work for.

This podcast episode is full of CS professionals sharing their wins and success stories from 2020.

The Strength of the CS Community

I got my first official CS job in 2018. I knew right away that I was on a great career path.

Around mid-2019, I started getting more involved in the community on LinkedIn. It was great connecting with other like-minded professionals and reading their CS-related content.

Well, we all know what happened around the beginning of 2020. With all the uncertainty and stress that it brought, the Customer Success community became stronger and bigger.

Online communities like Gain Grow Retain and Success Chain started popping up and gaining new members on daily basis. People who had gotten laid off and wanted to start a new career in Customer Success were welcomed with open arms. CS job boards via LinkedIn and Slack were created. CS professionals were connecting 1 on 1 via Zoom to collaborate, network, and learn from one another in record numbers. Many of these Zoom conversations were posted on LinkedIn if one or both of the participants were looking for a job.

The more CS professionals I connected with, the stronger my network became and the more inspiring my LinkedIn feed would become.

Being a part of all this confirmed to me that I am part of the best professional community there is.

To see more of the progress CS has made in 2020, download this free report from TSIA: https://www.tsia.com/resources/the-state-of-customer-success-2020

How to Make the Most out of Your Executive Business Review

Have you ever had to sit through a presentation when the presenter was basically telling you how amazing they are?

If you answered “Yes” to that, you’ve either sat through a Tony Robbins seminar or a crappy Executive Business Review.

In the Customer Success world, an Executive Business Review can take on a few different titles. The two most common being EBR and QBR (Quarterly Business Review). No matter how often it occurs, it’s the perfect opportunity for you to meet with executives and have a dialogue with them about their progress and experience with your product or service. Every one of your customers should receive some version of an EBR at least once a year.

I recently posted on LinkedIn and asked the CS community how they get the most out of their EBR’s.

The advice did not disappoint.

Since I value the advice of these individuals over my own, I’ll share what they had to say rather than ramble on with my opinions and advice!

There are some critical components to EBRs that I’ve found beneficial and add great value to customers.

First, make sure you understand what your customer’s want to get out of their EBRs. If you don’t know [and meet] their expectations, you won’t add value.

Second, don’t tell them what they already know or read a bunch of metrics. Provide insights, thought leadership, and guidance. Be strategic. Those are some of the qualities of a Trusted Advisor.

Third, keep your EBR to a reasonable time and keep the information at a high (executive) level. Many people confuse EBRs with QBRs. They’re not the same. Avoid getting into the weeds on anything unless your customer takes you there. Customer executives are busy people and they want to get in, get what they need, and get out.

Fourth, never throw your day-to-day contact under the bus to their leaders in an EBR. In fact, you can solicit your D-T-D contact’s help in preparing for the EBR.

Finally, follow up your EBR with a warm thank you. Let them know that you appreciated their time and engagement, and ask whether your customer received value from the meeting.

David Ellin, Chief Customer Officer at Centric Leadership Strategies

Setting expectations for the EBR to be prepared by both customer and supplier as part of the partnership commitment. This is key for transparency on performance goals and achievement. Celebrate wins and correct gaps with an action plan with clear responsibilities for both supplier and customer.

Sue Nabeth Moore, Founder of Success Chain and Success Track

I recall my most successful series of EBRs were really a progression of story telling. Of walking the customer through their success and positioning my key contact as the star of the show. It resulted in an expansion deal and his promotion.

Peter Armaly, Senior Director of CS Enablement at Oracle

Always have a new project for the client to commit to as part of the EBR. Continuous engagement is key.

Emilia D’Anzica, Founder and CEO at GrowthMolecules

The EBR is a time to highlight not only what the partnership has accomplished to date but also brag a little on our main point of contact with the customer. This is a great time to shine the light on the hard work they are doing with setting and working towards goals. This is actually how I often sell the idea of an EBR as often they are nervous or put off by the idea of a member of their SLT joining a call. But when you tell them that it is all about them and how awesome they are it usually helps to ease their mind! Getting that buy-in is so key to a successful meeting.

Krista Roberts, Enterprise Customer Success Manager at IntelliShift

Another great resource is a recent video created by Rick Adams, CEO and Founder of Practical CSM. In this video, he talks about the essential practices for any effective business review. I like his emphasis on the word “business”. EBR’s should not focus on upselling or technicalities. They should focus on business and outcomes.

At the end of the day, an effective EBR/QBR/BR helps the customer understand the value they are getting from you. Plain and simple.

What do you do in your EBR’s to prove your value?

Additional Resources

Networking Your Way into Customer Success

This is a bit different than my usual posts.

Part of what I hope to accomplish with this site is help as many people as I can break into CS and make an impact.

The best part about the Customer Success community is that we’re all people-people (is that the correct grammar??) We love talking with others and we build one another up. There’s no shortage of success in the CS space and we all understand that.

So, you’re definitely in the right place if you want a career path that’s not only fulfilling but also filled with like-minded individuals that want to see you succeed. This is starting to sound like an MLM pitch but you get what I’m saying right? Cool. Let’s move on to who you should be connecting with.

There’s an embarrassment of riches on LinkedIn of CS professionals that are constantly posting great content. Here is a list of just a few that you should be connecting with today:

  • Jared Orr 😉
  • Irit Eizips
  • Megan Bowen
  • Emilia D’Anzica
  • Ali Topaz
  • Rasika Kelker
  • Kevin Leonor
  • Brian Hartley
  • Queen Joseph
  • Alex Farmer
  • Jim Buscaglio
  • Rick Adams
  • Ronni Gaun
  • Sue Nabeth Moore
  • David Ellin
  • Amarachi Mary Ogueji
  • Kristi Faltorusso
  • Jay Nathan
  • Jeff Breunsbach
  • Maranda Dziekonski
  • Diana De Jesus

Now that you’ve started building up your CS network on LinkedIn, it’s time to start engaging.

Once I’ve connected with another professional on LinkedIn, here is the 3 step process I have followed that has landed me a 1 on 1 meeting with almost everyone on the list above:

  1. I send them a short (2 to 3 sentence) personal message. Here is an example of what I usually send.

It’s short and to the point. I would say I get about a 50% response rate with this. Usually, it’s a simple, “Thanks, Jared. Likewise!” And that’s good considering most of these people I connect with are Director or VP level. They don’t have time to engage with simple folk like me ;D

2. After we connect, I engage with them on the content that they share and post.

Rule of Thumb: The people who consistently post on LinkedIn are the ones that will be more open to meet with you.

If they post something, don’t just reply with “Thanks for sharing!” of “Love this. Great tips!”

Add something to the post. Your own insight, a personal experience that relates to the post, or something of value. Heck, ask them a question about what they posted. Ask them to elaborate or give more info because you’re interested!

Also, post your own content and tag them in it! For example, I listened to a podcast episode and the interviewee was Maranda Dziekonski (in the above list). I posted about what I learned from the podcast, tagged her in the post, and she responded! This opened up an opportunity for me to engage with her further and we ended up having a great 1 on 1 via Zoom. Here is what I posted.

And don’t be nervous about engaging with someone with a lot more experience than you. They all used to be right where you and I are. They learned just like we did and gained their experience just like we are doing now.

Remember, luck favors the bold!

3. And lastly, like I did with Maranda, after I engage with them a few times, I send them a message asking them for a 1 on 1. Usually, it looks something like this.

Having these 1 on 1’s has been essential for my progression. It has given me a more meaningful and engaging network, provided me with great career advice, given me mentors, and opened the doors to future opportunities.

Here are some best practices for your next 1 on 1:

  • Keep it 30 minutes or less. These people are busy. Respect their time.
  • Always ask if they have a hard stop at the 30 minute mark. This shows that you respect their time.
  • Run through their LinkedIn profile before the call
  • Have 2 or 3 questions prepared for them. Be creative with this.
  • Thank them graciously for their time when the call ends and afterwards with a quick LinkedIn message.

And don’t forget to follow up on things you may have discussed. For example, one person I had a 1 on 1 with was working on a CS product. I have in my notes to reach out to him in a month or two just to follow up on how that’s going.

These simple things make a world of difference and will truly set you apart from the rest of the crowd.

If you want some great tips on how to optimize your LinkedIn brand and reach an even larger audience, I highly recommend these resources:

Providing a Legendary Customer Experience

This is a piggy-back off my previous blog post Customer Success vs Customer Experience. I recommend reading that before diving into this post.

Personally, I live life by very few rules. One of these rules, thanks to my favorite TV character, Barney Stinson, is to be “Legen … wait for it … DARY!”

Be Legendary.

To be legendary is to make a lasting impact on those you come in contact with. To be legendary is to not do anything half way but to fully commit to your dreams, goals, and ambitions.

Now to tie that into the point of this blog post: to provide a legendary customer experience is to treat every customer as if they are your first. You commit to them. You do everything you can to help them see long-term value in your product or service. You see them as the key to generating more customers and long-term growth for your organization.

So how do we get to this point will all of our customers?

Well, it all starts internally within our organization. One of the best interviews on Customer Experience is on The Relentless podcast.

Customer Experience Expert, Liliana Petrova, is interviewed and talks about the importance of “starting from the top” when creating your customer experience. “It starts with culture. This is the only thing that allows you to scale.” She says. Regarding CEO’s, if they can be engaged with their employees and make them feel valued and happy, then the employees will have a greater desire to make their customers happy.

“It starts with your connection with your team and building that trust. And they will become even better versions of you, who knows?!”

She also emphasizes the importance of having a vision for your customers. Otherwise known as a customer journey. A quality customer journey has touchpoints and each of those touchpoints needs to be constantly evaluated to ensure the customer is getting the best experience throughout their lifecycle.

Listen to the full episode here:

Check out Liliana’s website: https://thepetrovaexperience.com/

I grew up in McKinney, Texas — a suburb of Dallas. There was a Papa Murphy’s pizza store not too far from my house. Since my family is of Italian descent, we love pizza. Like a lot. We would go to Papa Murphy’s more times than I care to admit.

For those that are not aware of this particular pizza chain, it’s “Take and Bake”. Meaning, they put the pizza together with fresh ingredients, and then you take it home and bake it.

Every time we would go into this place, the incredible aroma of fresh pizza dough and toppings filled the air. The workers were lined up at the assembly line with smiles on their faces ready to put the pizzas together. The owner and manager were always warm and welcoming. The service was quick, the prices were reasonable, and the product was always exceptional.

Well, my senior year of high school, I got a job at this Papa Murphy’s store and learned very quickly why their customer experience was the way it was.

The owner and manager ran a tight ship and expected the employees to deliver exceptional service. And at the same time, treated us all with the same respect they expected us to deliver to every single one of our customers.

They also trained us well enough so we knew what duties we had to do all hours of the day in order to be prepared to deliver a legendary customer experience. Such tasks like keeping up with toppings and ensuring they are well stocked, baking and cutting pizza dough, cleaning the assembly line and floor, and ensuring the promotions and discounts were up to date and well advertised were some of the many duties they expected us to keep up with.

While I may have only been 17 at the time, I learned a very valuable lesson from David (the owner) and Karri (the manager). It’s the same lesson taught by Liliana Petrova.

Happy employees and a well-thought-out customer journey are exactly what every organization needs (whether you’re a Fortune 500 company or a local pizza chain) to scale and succeed. Doing this will lead you to make a long-lasting impact on your customers. Or in other words, a legendary impact!

In other words…

“We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer [journey] a little bit better.”

jeff bezos