Customer Success Leader
Customer Success Leader

Episode · 1 year ago

How to Make Customer Success a Discipline


In almost any corporate office you walk into, there’ll be some sort of propaganda claiming their dedication to customer service.

But real customer success comes from something deeper, more ingrained.

Tanya Strauss, Director of Customer Success Strategy & Operations at ServiceNow, joins Eric in this episode to discuss why CS should be a discipline in your organization — not just a poster on a wall.

Plus, they discuss…

- How to maintain great CS outside of the office

- Why CSMs should be more honest & proactive with customers

- Advice for people just getting into CS

For more info, check out or send a message to To hear other interviews like this one, subscribe to Customer Success Leader on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

I think in order to practice the discipline of customer success, the cultural value of customer success has to be something that really leads that company's strategies. Want to create delightful customer experiences. You're in the right place. Welcome to customer success leader, where you'll learn about the successes and struggles of leaders who are passionate about their craft. Trust me, you want to stick around. Here's your host, Eric Crane. Hey, good morning, afternoon, evening, middle of the day, whenever it is you're listening. I'm are crane, host of customer success leader. I'm joined today by Timya Strauss, and she's the director of Customer Success at service now. Hey, Tania, how are you doing today? I'm doing great. Thanks. How are you, Eric? I can't complain too much of the power still out at the house. We just had the remnants of the hurricane roule through town, so we're clean enough right now. That sounds awful. Where are you calling in from? I'm in Sunny Southern California. Actually, I'm calling in from San Diego. So you never seen one of these hurricanes in your life? No, honestly, I can't even imagine it. I did one time see the remnants of Hurricane, actually Hurricane Harvey in Houston. I came in a couple weeks afterwards of which was obviously devastating day. By the time I got there it was mostly just a lot of cleanup. But yeah, definitely can appreciate what our nature is capable of. Yeah, it is. San Diego just like shut down whenever there's a drop arraigned, as everyone you know got and make a run on umbrellas at the Walmart or something there. I don't know about that. I think people generally are are all about being at the beach regardless of the weather. But the one thing that I think you would crack up about in San Diego is if it drops below about seventy two degrees, then you'll notice the UG boots in the park of start coming out. Just kind of laughable because by the time we get to the middle of the afternoon it's usually still seventy five. Oh Wow, that's so good man. That's funny. I mean we do the same thing in Atlanta. It's just with snow. We get freaked out over that. I mean I think SNL, you'd made fun of us for it, so I can't hate on Y'all too much for for that type of reaction. If it's snowed here, I think that there would definitely be a yeah, it would be arm again, because we would have no idea how to deal with that either way. Thank you so much. I love being able to make these connections across the country and one thing that I would love to learn a little bit about is just kind of your path to having this conversation today. Tell me a bit about how you got into customer success. Well, I'd love to. So I started my career in business to business software. At the time that was really more of an on premise kind of a thing, which hopefully doesn't give away too much about how old I am. So I started off my career working in training, where I got to work with end users and that was really fun, teaching people how to use individual, you know, enterprise software, and then I sort of progress through professional services and a couple of different areas. I even worked for a while in pre sales for a software company. All of that was really great, and then until two thousand and eight when I decided to when my husband and I had our first child. So when our first child was born, all I realized that all of the kind of work that I was doing was really oriented around jumping on a plane to solve some sort of problem, and so when jumping out a plane just didn't seem very appealing anymore, I actually took eight years off to be a stayathome mom to my son and then later my daughter as well. So by the time I came back into the workforce there was this somewhat new idea really taking hold called customer success, where there was an entirely different part of software companies then had existed for most software companies before I had children, which was customer success. So I quickly, you know, decided that this was probably the place for me, because one of the things I had found maybe not disappointing or frustrating, but certainly unfulfilling about working, particularly in professional services, is that I never felt like I really got to experience the excitement and the celebration of customers experiencing actual outcomes. So I saw lots of customers getting to go live, but then generally I was on a plane to the next city and to the next project. So the idea that customer success is really all about helping customers to achieve...

...outcomes, celebrate outcomes and then take on new outcomes or new, new desired outcomes was really appealing to me. So very quickly became clear that gainsite was the leader in customer success. So I spent a couple of years it at gainsite, learning as much as I could about what gainsite does and about what customer success means. Then then earlier this year, actually right before we started, the world started working from home and we all sort of hungered down from the COVID pandemic, I started working for service now, which has been really special because service now is a company that's actually founded in San Diego by a couple of surfers. So I live in San Diego. I work for a company that was at least founded in San Diego. Headquarters is now up in Santa Clara, but yeah, I get to do customer success at one of the most innovative companies in the world, which is really just a really big privilege for me. That's really exciting. And, by the way, don't worry about the the on prem software thing. I mean I did that too at the start of my career and I don't want people guess and how old I I am either. So don't worry about that too much and can totally relate to sort of that wanting to experience kind of shared outcomes with the customer. Tell me more specifically, like how do you define customer success? I actually I'm such a I'm so passionate about customer success that I've probably spent a sort of ridiculous amount of time pondering this question throughout my career. But I've actually come to a framework that I think other people might share of for components that I think to find customer success. So first of all, it's a job. It's something that individual people do, obviously in practice customer success by hopefully delivering outcomes and helping customers to liver outcomes. It's also a department in organization within a generally within a software company or any sort of subscription based or renewal based organization. Anything, obviously with that subscription economy, would fit into a customer success model. And then the third and fourth that I think about our a discipline as well as a cultural value. You, so you know, obviously we can walk around any corporate headquarters and somewhere you're going to find a mission statement somewhere you're going to find a company purpose and almost every one of those is somewhere going to mention something about, you know, being customer centric and keeping our customers, you know, our first priority or whatever, and I think that that's that's wonderful. But I think in order to practice the discipline of customer success, the cultural value of customer success, has to be something that really leads that company's strategy. So it's not just a poster on a wall, it's actually something that all the way from, you know, the board at the very top, down to technical support engineering, absolutely every aspect of it, of the company, is taking into account the discipline of customer success from the perspective that ultimately, somebody's job probably depends on this investment that they've made in this technology that they purchased from us, the software vendor, and therefore, you know, helping them to get too outcomes via best practices or whatever that requires, really does require, I think, some discipline. So I think that between the idea of a discipline, as in a practice that is deliberate, and a cultural value, which is something that, as a company, we all share and we all fundamentally believe in, I think that that those four things sort of make up what I think customer success should be all about. I love it. I think that's a great sounds like the kind of thing that you have in a poster on the wall in the office. And then I realize, oh wait, wait, really in the office too much these days, are we? Yeah, that's too true. I kind of missed being in the office, if I'm honest, and one of the things that I was so excited about joining service now is actually we have a campus here in San Diego, and so I was looking forward to, you know, the afterwork happy hours and all those kinds of things after my years of jet setting. But yeah, I think that, you know, I'm pretty sure that any corporate headquarters I've ever been to somewhere has something about, you know, how customers are our most important thing. But I think that it's the way to flex that and to practice that is by making it a discipline and of a truly deep cultural value. Yeah, well, let's talk a little bit about that and like where we are today,...

...because I feel like we could probably talk through each one of those four areas and how covid is kind of made those things differently. So how covid is made the job and the department and the discipline and even the values of customer success different than it was even just ten months ago? Yeah, that's a great question. So I think that as a cultural value, I think at this moment and and in the last six or eight months or however long it's been, a lot of companies have realized that the cultural value and the discipline around customer success are actually much more valuable than than they may have considered previously, in the sense that it's really hard, it's a lot harder, at least right now, to get net new business, to land new logos, because right now there's, you know, there's a lot of fear and uncertainty in the world about what's going to happen with the election that's coming up next week, what's going to happen with the stock market as a result of that, what's going to happen with the stock market or any other market as a result of continuing the constantly shifting changes that that covid has really introduced to our lives. So, given all of that uncertainty, I think that the companies who double down on customer success, who really push customer success to the front of their strategy, then have the the advantage of a keeping their customers, so the revenue multipliers that they're relying on for valuation, for example, being able to keep those customers and keep them, keep them happy and keep them coming back is really important. But then obviously the the other part of customer success that's exciting is the ability to expand and sort of nurture those those partnerships that we have with our customers and having them again cross cell up cell expand by more. So I think that customer success has become more and more of a competitive differentiator to a certain degree in the covid world, then it would have been previously, or than it ever was previously. I actually always thought that it was a competitive advantage companies who focus on customer success, but I think then in this covid world, the companies who are really focused on it really really can excel. Yeah, and that's really interesting. I think I was talking to someone earliier about you know, in most organizations typically customer success takes a while before it actually becomes more important and net new business, because what you have is you have basically more opportunity from winning new logos that you do from you know, leveraging your existing customer base, and I think this is shaken that paradigm up even to the point where it doesn't even matter if you're still winning more new business than you are upselling or expanding or growing, whatever you want to call it, your existing business. But also just the fact that that is much more reliable than actually having to go out and get those new logos because, yeah, the pipeline might be good right now, but who knows what it's going to look like in a corner? Yes, exactly, exactly, and that that definitely have been an impact on sort of the other two components, right the job in the department. I think from the job perspective it means that customer success professionals are there's even, maybe, unfortunately, even more pressure, even more folks serve eyes on them as far as what they can produce. I'd like to think that it also enhances the partnership between customer success professionals and their sales partners, their solution consulting partners, their renewal management partners, etcetera, so that really there can hopefully there can be more consistency and a more cohesive nature of those relationships so that again that cultural value and that discipline really get reinforced. And then on the departmental, the organizational or kind of operational side, I think that this experience has given us an opportunity to really kind of sit back and think about what we're doing from an operational perspective and how consistently we we have, what opportunities we have for real consistent delivery and engagement with customers all across the the spectrum. From revenue perspective, so even those who we might consider, you know, lower value, lower priority, lower severity. However, we want to sort of figure out our segmentation. I think that departmentally and again operationally, we have a really good opportunity right now to kind of look at at our practices. Is because we're not traveling. We hopefully have a little bit more time...

...than we used to, although in my company I'm not sure how that happened. It doesn't seem to be the case, but if that was the case, then I think it's definitely a good time for some reflection and then focus on internal delivery and excellence. Yeah, I mean you've had to see a team, as a leader who just joined the business, actually go through this as a major transition. So could you talk about some of the ways that you've helped those folks who are doing customer success the job get adjusted to the environment that we are in today? Eric, I think that's a really good question. I think it's a really important question for us to be considering right as like how does this effect to the individuals? And not to make too much of a plug for service now, but culturally, service now has really, I think, done a fantastic job of taking advantage, if that's the right term, of the pandemic to really double down on our culture. So the company has been extremely generous with ensuring that every employee is well situated to be working from home, offering things like my fi devices if people don't feel like they have adequate bandwidth because maybe there's children in the house who are also, you know, connecting to school or whatever. But we've also been able to leverage our own platform, our own workflow delivery capabilities to really make it easier for people to get the things that they need really quickly. So I think about that a lot. As far as the fact that this has been a certainly a very scary time in history, certainly been the scariest time in my life as far as something that's that's continued to be this sort of level of uncertainty. But I'm just personally, I'm so grateful that I work for a company that's been able to really focus on employees and their and their wellness first, give us a lot of choices and that sort of thing. So, as far as our customer success professionals go, we've leverage technology to really pick up and keep everybody running at the same pace they always were. So you know, we're not missing our quarterly success reviews. We've rolled all of those things into zoom. We encourage people to use the camera whenever they can. So both on the on the strategy, the culture and the tactics, I think there's definitely, again, just a lot of opportunity that this situation has presented to us. Yeah, and I think we're all kind of getting used to this world where the other person's always on the different side of the screen. To beyond just like teleconferencing, like, what are some of the other processes and tools and things like that that you've used in order to help the team get adjusted to the New Paradigm? Well, we are big fans of slack. I've actually always said that I could write poetry about slack. And when we were just getting settled in the sort of work from home new normal, which for a lot of the people on my team was at first for them, because we have a lot of people on my my particular team who are early in their careers. So for those kinds of people to get used to, you know, going from you know, maybe they were in college a couple of years ago where there was potentially a lot more structure, to then the the structure of working in an office, to almost no structure, and really that sort of all of the discipline to get through the day kind of relies on our own self starter capabilities and that sort of thing. I have found that, you know, first of all, it's been an exercise and definitely that technology and collaboration are more important than ever. So using things like slack to communicate, because we're not going to pick up the phone, we're certainly not going to walk over to somebody's desk, using things like collaborative documentation and, you know, one drives and sharepoint files and all those kinds of things, I think of made this all possible. Quite honestly, if it weren't for the Internet and some of the innovative technologies that we've had, that we've seen and created over the last couple of decades, this whole thing could have really crippled the entire world. Yeah, I totally agree. It's really interesting and I feel like you can see the stark difference between those two things, where you have the types of businesses where you can do business over the Internet and be a video calls and things like that, you know, Ip owing and celebrating and ringing bells, and then businesses that don't have that ability or suffering a lot more than I feel like we are and what we do on a day to day basis. Absolutely so, regardless of all the cool tech that's out there. What are the things that you feel like you're still doing manually right now that you wish you could do in a machine instead? I feel like operationally, the area that I would love to explore...

...a lot more is doing a better job with meeting collateral, with sort of meeting customer success professionals with exactly the collateral that they need. Not that I would like to hand someone a portfolio of documents as they're walking in the door, to customer, but to be able to serve up as much of the sort of obvious stuff as possible. Thankfully, there's a lot of technologies who are who are really innovative around this and a lot of that stuff kind of doing really well. But I think of things like powerpoint autogeneration, templated tokenized email capabilities, both on the on the mass scale as well as on the on this sort of one too one scale. I think that I like to think about matching up each customers unique product footprint, adoption, posture, engagement level and then sort of suggesting again, I think a I can help with this a lot, but so can you know. So can just a sort of if then statement, matching all of those components up to the right collateral and serving all of that up to really keep our first of all keep our boots on the ground enabled with what they need, but also continue that level of consistency of delivery and engagement with our customers right. I really like that and I think he would probably break quarantine and social distancing to strangle me if I didn't tell you about this, but one of my previous podcast guests name is Josh Fettie. He's got a company called sales reach and, funny enough, they're actually thinking about changing the name of the company because what they do is they provide a personalized landing page for customers and they thought that sales teams would be the ones that use it the most, and turns out that they're getting many more customer success team signing up and using this because they want to do exactly what you're talking about, which is aggregating information about a specific customer or that is relevant to a specific customer in a single place like a landing page. They can go get all of that information to see it, understand its relevance and also so that the team themselves can understand how the customers interacting with that is opposed to just hoping that they're opening their emails and downloading their attachments and reading through them. Oh my goodness, I love that. Yeah, I can see an entire quarterly business review meeting just possibly walking a customer through their sales reach portal and you know, here's all the things that we've curated for you that you know based on, here's your adoption data, et Cetera. I could think of a lot of cool things that could happen with just, you know, sort of using the customer success engagements as awareness tools for that technology enablement. So, yeah, I really love that. Yeah, well, thank you for sharing that, and for other builders out there too. I mean this is something that I really find important, is they're also folks who are trying to, you know, solve problems that you're running into and customer success. Listening to the podcasts and they told me directly, hey, or there are things that you can ask your guests to come on. They could help us understand how and we're to build certain types of things. Absolutely, yeah, I mean, for me we're from where I'm sitting right now, all things sort of just in time, materials just in time, enablement just in time, collateral so that we can really continue to scale and keep, you know, serve as many pot customers as possible. Obviously, customer success some organizations look at it as something of a cost center, although I would argue that Roy on it is pretty straightforward and usually several x would whatever investment it might be. However, I think that still be the opportunity to scale so that we can keep our or our pro sales organizations lean, especially in these kinds of times are definitely priorities for most companies right now. Oh yeah, absolutely. I mean we include customers success us is part of the cost of sale here at flat file and I encourage pretty much anyone else to do the same exact thing, because it is definitely part of not only your, you know, just customer service motion, but also your revenue generation motion. If you understand your customers objectives and you can educate them on how to receive value out of your solution and come up together with a plan for how to achieve that value, and absolutely those customers are to keep coming back to you from more and more business over time. Absolutely, and building that partnership, building that rapport and you know, when on the rainy days,...

...when times are tough and you know the customers not necessarily see and eyed, I it never hurts to remind them that, you know, we're making a huge investment in our partnership with you by having a dedicated customer success person. All of that stuff, I think you know. Again, I think it can all pay dividends, but I think you're making a very wise choice by including the cost of customer success. Is Part of customer acquisition. But I would also, you know, encourage you guys to consider how expansion opportunities, you know, renewal, plus kind of stuff, really can hopefully make the roy very, very strong. Oh for sure. Yeah, then there's just pure upside after that, exactly. Well, really appreciate you sharing a little bit more about how you've helped the team. They're adapted. Covid, I'd love for you to just share some wisdom that you've picked up along the way, as you've learned about how customer success developed and why it was the right fit for you and your career. So there anything that someone has either told your if you just kind of aggregated that would be a little piece of advice that someone can carry away from this particular episode. So, Eric, I think that's a really good question. I'm so glad you asked it. Someone I've had the fortune to work with in my career is Alison pickens. We work together at gainsite. She was the chief operating officer as well as a chief customer officer during different points in her her time at gainsight. She's also written a couple of books on the topic of customers success. A few years ago she came to the company's sort of all company all hands meeting and she presented this idea that we should be brave. She talked about how, you know, we've seen customers who have had great experiences from a personal sort of sentiment perspective, working with with gainsight, with other technologies, right like Oh, we just we just love the people so much, but we're still going to not renew because we haven't gotten the value that we needed and we really wish that your team had given us better guidance along the way. And this is a theme that I've seen, unfortunately, play out, I think, throughout my career, really where, you know, you have really nice people who have really good intentions. So Alice's idea of be brave was it's okay to not only say no to a customer when times are tough, more when necessary, but also to, you know, provide the guidance and even stand up with the guidance when the customers maybe not even asking for it. I actually have a great example of this in my own life. A few years ago we were remodeling a house and I had it in my mind that it would be a great idea to paint the ceiling of the half bathroom a dark blue like a maybe blue color and I was working with a designer and she looked at me and she said no, you're just no, we're not doing that like that is just not going to work. It's too small of the room, you know, and she brought up all of her subject matter expertise about design and bathroom designs, etc. All kinds of stuff that I don't know much about, if I probably don't know anything about, but the bravery to sort of, you know, in some ways stand up to me professionally, gently and with the with really good intentions, was something that really stuck with me. As far as from a customer success perspective, we have a lot of opportunity to advise customers, to offer them consulting, and sometimes the best answer to someone is no, like that's just you're not doing this the right way. It's not necessarily the best reasoning. Here's what I've seen is evidence of this from past customer engagements. Then, you know, let's work together to find another solution and it's maybe not going to have potential consequences for you. That's so awesome. I had a very similar type of experience as well. I had a previous CEO come up and tell me, Hey, are stop showing your work. So a similar type of advice is like hey, if you know what you're talking about and you know what you're doing, go for it, right. If someone's going to ask you questions, yeah, bring up your work later, but that's not the first thing that you provide. The first thing you provide is direction or decision, and then from there you ultimately might be questioned. You, someone might call into your judgment, but stand behind it and be confident in it and just know that, like, you don't necessarily need to show that in order for pole to, you know, believe that you are intentionally guiding your thoughts and your decisions.

Absolutely, yeah, I think that the permission and the advice to be brave as something that has been really influential for me. So, Alison, if you're out there, thank you so much for that advice. and to everybody else who might be, you know, especially early in your career and trying to figure out, like, you know, how do you buy? No, when to say when? You know the customers will certainly guide you, but occasionally it's it makes more sense to provide some guidance to them as well. Wonderful. Well, thank you so much for joining us today again, y'all, that's time you strouse. She's a director of customer success at service. Now I'm Eric Crane, founder and CEO at flat file, signing off of this week's episode of Customer Success Leader. You depend on the fastest time to value for your customers, so why light data on board and sell you down? Stop emailing spreadsheets, creating CSP templates or setting up FTP transfers. Create collaborative, secure work spaces with your customers and their data, saving you time while providing a memorable on boarding experience. Oh and there's no code required. You can go to flat files IO C S leader to learn more and get started for free. Thank you so much for joining us for this episode. Customer Success leader is brought to you by flat file. If you're a fan of the show and want to help us share these conversations with others, leave us a rating on apple podcast. Just tap the number of stars you think the show deserves. That's it for today. Catch you in the next one.

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