Customer Success Leader
Customer Success Leader

Episode · 1 year ago

Customer Success: Does Your Product Live Up to the Hype? w/ Chad Horenfeldt


Customer success is all about driving value. 

But that’s not limited to your customer success team. 

It’s company-wide. And your product better live up to what you sold it as.

Today’s guest is Chad Horenfeldt, Customer Success Coach at Kustomer. He has experience in a variety of customer-success-centered roles and came on to share the wisdom he’s gained over his impressive career.

In this episode, we discuss:

  • What customer success is
  • Why your product needs to live up to the hype
  • Why leadership means a dedication to lifelong learning

For more info, check out or send a message to

To hear more interviews like this one, subscribe to Customer Success Leader on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts.


Customer success is all about driving value for customers. 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 Krane. Hey, y'all, are crane from flat file. Here on this week's episode of Customer Success Leader, we've got Chad Horn felt, the director of customer success at customer. Hey, Chad, how are you today? Hey, good or a care you? I'm doing all right. I have a really important question for you. How many times do you say customer throughout the day? That's funny. Actually, internally we use client so as we differentiate that. So we want to make sure that we don't say customer too many times. I guess I did it up, but everything actually a part of our culture. Everything is with a k. So we're the crew with the K and we use customer business reviews with the K. So there's lots of things that we do. We get customer and the K and there all the time. That's awesome. Well, thank you so much for joining me today. So I really want to dig indeed to your experience in your background. But before we get in there, tell me a little bit more about how you view customer success. What's your unique definition for CS? Yeah, I'd like to keep it pretty simple. It's to me customer success is all about driving value for customers. I think the key thing that I've learned spire time that in order to drive that value and for your customers to want to work with you, you really need to establish trust with them as so that's something you can dive in and talk a lot more about. But you know, customer success there is trust is such a fundamental part of that in order to help drive value for customers. So how do you build trust with your customers? At it's our clients at customer yeah, it's a company initiative. It's not just the customer success team. Right that your product has to live up to what salespeople sold it terms of how they sold it. You know, every day the product has to work the way is expected and from a customer success perspective, when that customer success manager is introduced and even before their first called, the first communication that they're involved in, that's establishing trust right there. The credentials the customer success manager has, how they're introduced, when they're on that first meeting with the client. If they don't know enough about the client or if the client has to repeat things they've already said, that customer success manager is already behind the ETALL. So, you know, it's really understand the customer and even getting down to how they speak about things like how do they call their agents, because customer is a customer support software. If they call them associates, then you need to call them associates. You need to understand their product and understand their business. So that's part of the fundamental ways that we helped establish trust. I love that. Sometimes people gloss over those little things that they might feel like, Oh, you know, that's not such a big deal, but it actually really does make your CS team feel like a part of their team, and that's the whole objective here, is to integrate and understand more about what drives business value for them.

Yeah, I mean, you think about any relationship that you have. You can't just start asking these indepth strategic questions and a lot of cus I was like, well, I want to be more strategic and I want to have these types of conversations. You know what do? I get just sent all these issues. It's like, well, you can't have those larger conversations unless you speak the language that your customer speaks. And if you want to have a conversation with the VP or hire the C level, you really need to again understand their business, what's on their mind and then think about from that perspective. And so it's just different. Is Very different from typically the day to day of the CSM. But if you ask them questions, you know terms of their customers, you know what makes a very value customer. How do you make money? How does your company make money? I ask some of these questions and then you'll start to see the relationship change and you can have a better relationship with your customer. Now the obviously depends. If there's people who are champions and they might be really indepth in the product, you're not going to ask them those types of questions. They're typically just looking for your help how to get to the next thing done. But it's about deepening relationship within the client which will really drive you forward from most part. So when is that moment that you know that it's like okay, we've got this bond now, like like maybe some examples might be helpful, but usually there's like a light bulb, they clinics or something that goes on. It's like, okay, I know now off that we're on good terms, we get each other and they view me as a partner, not necessarily as a vendor. Yeah, it's interesting, I would say. I mean depending on the different levels. I think there's a colleague, its names Ben Win, is over another software vendor and he was like when you guys are friends on Instagram, it's always a good sign. You know, maybe that's the newer generation. In terms of customer success and editors. I would say that if you were able to converse in a really easy, positive way, I can mostly tell for my team if I sometimes I'll listen to some gone calls and I'll just see that there's this relationship that you can see that's formed there asking about some of the stuff of other personal lives. That's typically tells me that there's a strong bond there. And one of these I see is that when customers give you obviously a high service spor but at times I've gotten emails from our clients just saying how much appreciate the CSM's and our custom success team helping them. That tells me that, you know, we've gone past that sort of vendor client relationship into more of a partnership. Yeah, building that intuition takes a good bit of time and exposure to customers as well. So I'd love to talk a little bit more about that, because you've seen customer success at so many different organizations, both from an individual contributor level as well as a manager, director and strategist level. So tell me a little bit more about what you've learned across all those different experiences. Yeah, I've had a lot of experience and I've had a lot of pain, I would say, over time. I think the key thing is that there's certain approaches and methodologies you can take to customer success, but it you really have to look at each situation in a unique way. Back when I was at a Looqua and I...

...was a customer success manager, started, you know, in a CSM roll and moved my way up. People were moving to different parts of the organization, but I really loved customer success and I wanted to further move into a leadership role. But when I started there we were about a three million are our company and there are in people like me who didn't have a lot of experience and by the time I was in the leadership role, I was looking for people with a lot of domain experience because that's what our customers were looking for. They were looking for people with advanced marketing skills and B tob who could take them to the next level. And I remember arguing with my manager at the time because she was like, Oh, we need people with more technical skills and I was like, well, we actually have a team for that. We have at the teams as it really what I need is I want to hire people who can be more like coaches and who have been there and done that and provide more of that strategic experience, because I just felt it was missing. So it even changes within the actual company based on the stage the company is in and where your team is and how your team is maturing. You know, another company was at Blue Corps, was a much more technical product and it was more on the the email space and the PC space, and I found that the people that really excel well in those rules you have to have the core CSM skills of empathy and being able to be a good coach, ask questions, but it was also really helpful when you had more of a technical background, because then you could, you know, de Cipher issues much more quickly. And then, you know, my last start up before this one update or it was a moving software but it was not very technical at all. So it was more about building a relationship and, I would say being more adept at how you can help that client work through their issues, not necessarily the technicals side. So that's how I have seen the different parts of that in terms of the different customer success or organizations. Yeah, and I found too in my career that this is aren't always very good at describing that. So I mean, if you're a customer success manager out there looking for your next opportunity, or even want to break into customer success, look at what the company does. This is what I often advise people, especially if they want to get in tech for the first time and they're non technical. They say, Oh, customer success looks great. I say go to a company that builds tech for whatever industry you just came from, because you're going to grow so quickly within that organization because of that domain expertise, and I love the word you use, which is coach ability to coach customers as a get more and more out of the solution you're providing. It is a good point that you made. When I ask a question like why do you want to work at if it's customer or another company, I don't want to hear from you that you're looking for, you know, company that you can grow and, even though I mean I totally understand that, I want to help you there too, but what I'm really looking for is, like, are you passionate about what we do? Because it's great that you want to grow in the company and my part of my motto is to help people grow in their careers, whether it's in the company, there with work with you or beyond. If you're not passionate about what the product does and the company is still going to be enjoyable for you. So passion... a really big part and when I'm interviewing people I want to make sure none of there's the passion part. But do you have the right skill set? And I think that's the Sims you get rejected from certain roles. You know it might not be. It might be you're an awesome CSM. It's just this isn't a right role for you because customer success, I mean it just encompasses so much to many different parts, so many different types of roles, and you know, the end of the day, like there's lots of different parts out there and it's just a matter of finding a right role for you. Yeah, I mean I haven't been in a variety of different roles in a software business, including product management, engineering, everything in between. Customer success by far was the most challenging. Yeah, it's not going to get any arguments for me. So what is the difference, like the main difference you see in being a manager of customer success managers and a customer success manager, like, what is the key difference you see there, besides just yea, okay, I have to hire people and interview like, what is the key difference there for those folks who are thinking about moving into more of a leadership role in customer success ass in their current organization day? Yeah, it's a really about that passion. But here's where your passion changes. So I remember when I was going through this myself, I was determining, like what do I want to do in my career, and when I was first starting out in customer success. I loved working with customers and I loved helping them. I love taking them to that next level and I had a lot of success doing that. And what I realized is that when I started to manage other people, and I still remember this, because I was given an opportunity to manage somebody and they wanted to give me a team lead role and I was like, I'm not team lead On't I'm a manager. I'm managing somebody's person over years doing that. They're a manager. I wanted to be a manager, so I was like making me a manager and I got that opportunity, which is great, and I was fighting for my own career. And then what I got to do is take that same skills where I'd helped develop clients, but I was developing people and I really enjoyed that. And what I learned, though, is that it is extremely difficult, way more difficult than being sesm. It's just one of those things that people think that really the only opportunities potentially are to move up into leadership, like that's how you move up, and then when they get into it they're like, holy crap, this is really, really difficult and and I definitely struggled over the years. I had lots of opportunities and, you know, messed up in many and many of opportunities. However, I still understood in terms of what I wanted to do in a career and that was to manage people, to be in those leaders roles, and I I took those learnings and helped improve myself and the companies that have worked with. And so for the other sort of manager level customer success folks out there and listening the VP's and the directors and the heads of like, what's your advice for them when it comes to like building and scaling out their team, especially if they're new to that kind of role? I think that you need to first of all, you need to keep learning, so the leadership isn't just something that you're given a title and then you can say, all right, I'm in this title. It's something that's it's a lifelong learning if you really want to be great at being...

...a manager, being a leader. You know the I've read, and I keep reading a number of books. I talk to other people ask them how to handle certain situations. You want to learn more about yourself, you should do things like the strength finders or you can do a disk assessment learn about where you're strong in and also, if you know those strengths, sometimes those strengths can actually be weaknesses because you could just overcompensate in a strength and it might mean that maybe you're not listening to people in a certain way or making it maybe you're making decisions and you're not necessarily taking to count all the different opinions that are out there. So it's just something that it takes time. It's not something that you can instantly jump into. And the one thing too, is that if you start to move into those roles, those higher up Rols, you know there's a lot more that's on your play, there's a lot more responsibility, and then those extra responsibility can lead to other problems as well. So churn is always a problem. You know, if your customer success manager, it's horrible when use his clients, but you could probably live to find another day. And you get into leadership roles, you start having churn, that becomes a big problem, potentially that you'll be losing your employment and you know there's obviously chart is a thing in retention and cus for successful an organizational thing, but I think that you know you're going to have potential challenges and how you respond to those challenges. That's what I would say makes people better leaders, but it just takes time and think I learned is that I kind of felt, as I moved into these leadership roles, that I should have all the answers and I should be able to figure it out, which was definitely the wrong approach. Really, when you start to move into those leadership roles, that's when you need to seek help from others more often, either from your own team or cross functionally or outside your organization, and that just took me time to learn and understand. Yeah, totally agree. It's not about being right, it's about getting it right a lot of the time, and that's one of the things that people miss out is like, Hey, like I can, I just want to make sure we get this right together. Yeah, even if I don't have the answer right now, we'll work on it and we'll get there. And I know you're involved in the success league as well as sort of an outlet to get some of that knowledge sharing happening amongst a group of like minded peers. So would you mind sharing with me a little bit more about what the Success League is. Sure you know, the successfully is a consulting an agency. It's led by Christen Hare and how I got involved with the the success league is that I remember listening to a Webinar that Kristen did and then I was like whoa like this is really awesome, and me being a bit of a Geek of a customer success and a learner as one of my strengths, I started just looking at her other blog posts and I was like this is awesome. I remember just reaching out here and saying, like, Christen, you rock, like this stuff is amazing, I use some of your materials and some of my compensation proposal, and she's like, Oh, you know, it's like I've been look at your content as well. You want, you can write for o our blog, and I was like, okay, I'll write for your blog.

And and then she had just asked me to be an advisor and and as an advisor I helped shape some of the content that they use within the success league for their clients, and we also just meet up and discuss customer success topics. So it's just a really great symbiotic relationship that we have as these advisors for the Success League and I've met up in person at times with some people from Success League. Now we meet virtually but yeah, it's a great way, I'd say, to expand your knowledge and also to just work and develop your network. And what would you say are like maybe a few snippets of advice that you've gotten from others? Is a part of that. I'd love to kind of share those out with the broader group here, maybe even just as a teaser to try and get them to think about joining. Yeah, so in terms of like joining like, it's really like Kristen has as her consulting firm, and and she does. There's courses that you can take and there's things that you can read, but I'd say like Rawder like in terms of joining a community or even forming a smaller, almost like a study group of Customer Success People. You know, it goes back to what I was saying earlier, is that you don't have all the answers, and North should you think you should have all the answers. The answers are out there and sometimes it just takes a conversation, was another person to spark those answers. And I think the other thing is that the customer success profession is still so young. I was really lucky just to be part of a SASS company that was thinking forward and thinking about the customer and the fact that if you treat your customers properly, they'll tell others and that's how you'll grow. Those my experience in Alloqua. But really this is still a very young profession and so you're really only going to learn if you can contact and consult other people. So the successfully is a group that I'm part of and I even have a group that. It's in New York City and we just have a small group where we slack back and forth almost daily and it's good just for, you know, this sort of mental outlet, because we're all leaders and we all have challenges that we are working through and it's good to just get advice from others. Yeah, I can't tell you enough, especially as a founder of a business, to to to have a community of people who are in a similar type of situation professionally really does help because often times you are running into just different flavors of the same types of challenges daytoday, and also a place to celebrate some successes together. Sometimes in your business that can be hard to celebrate certain types of successes and being able to do that with others definitely makes a difference to definitely one of my values is really about helping other people. So it just very much in line with what helps drive me forward and I'd recommend that other people. I mean, there's such such great communities and resources out there to take advantage of them. So that's my next question for you here is if you are to teach like a cs one hundred and one course, and there were some pre work for that, chorus like one of the top two or three public sites, resources, books that someone could...

...go get to learn a little bit more about how to be an effective CSM. Yeah, there's lots of really good books out there and resources. I would say that. You know, there's a couple communities like that. I think it's called the gain, grown and retain community. I've just started working and listening to that. I think it's an excellent community. There's a slack community that is I've just forgetting it right now, but it's led by Miranda. Believe it's the customer success leadership network. So I would just search on like Customer Success Slack. You should be able to find that and in terms of books, there's I believe it's called the customer success handbook. I think I was something too that effect. It's something that I was involved with very briefly and that was created by the people were again sight and there's a lot of other customer success leaders. I've read it recently myself. I just found it. It's really helpful and a good book to read. Yeah, we've actually got a book club going at flat file and the next book up here is the second book by Alison and Nick, which is the customer success economy. So really excited to dig into that one. Very cool. Yeah, it's next on my list. Great. Well, we're about time here and I want to make sure you get the chance to impart any bits of you know, wisdom on our listeners. Just again, a lot of times there's their folks who are either trying to break into customer success or are hoping to establish more of a leadership role inside of CS. So if you have any parting thoughts, would love for you to share them with our listeners here. Yeah, I think that's important, is that in customer success it's a role that's somewhat defined but in a lot of ways not to find. So one of the best pieces of advice that I ever got when I was starting up in the roll is to go and talk to other departments and ask them like how you can help them and really developing those cross functional relationships and when there's challenges, instead of looking at the challenge and say, Oh, it's a challenge, like why is this department doing this? I can't believe it, it's really going and talking to them and trying to understand what's going on from their perspective and maybe that they're just short staff aft or maybe they really want to help you but there's something that's being put on their plates. And while you do that, this is kind of where the a's the conversations coming full circle, is that you develop that trust and that trust will go very, very far from you if you work to develop those relationships. So I think that's a big part of it. I think that you need to not only understand your product, if it's in Sass against technology product, and spend a ton of time understanding that, but understand the industry as well. So going back to talk to your customer about their products and their company, if you don't understand the industry, if you don't start reading up and learning about the industry. It's great you can ask them questions with their company, but if you're not going to be able to do too much with that unless you really understand the that environment that you're working and so I think that those things are things eat anyone can do. It's not something you can typically do in your...

...daytoday. So you're definitely going to have to work outside of normal hours if you want to exceed in your role. been there, done that, I'm telling you a can't agree more. Yeah, just being curious, to be as curious as possible about your customers. I loved in the roles that I had where I was able to actually, like, join customers on side and sit side by side and actually learn more about the challenges they ran into every day. Those are some of the best experiences because it really just helped build empathy, which then led to their ability to trust me and understanding that I could be a good representative of their needs. These exactly and you know, with this new environment where in where we're not going on site, it makes it even more difficult and it actually requires the customer success team to get more creative and to even, unfortunately, work harder in many ways to build that trust. It's just something that almost instantly happens when you go on site and you don't have that anymore. So it's it makes it even more difficult and totally agree. Thank you so much, Chad. Appreciate your time. Again. That was Chad Horn felt. They're active customer success at customer that's with a K. I'm are crane from flat file. Thank you all for listening to another episode of Customer Success Later Right. Thanks. Appreciate the opportunity. You depend on the fastest time to value for your customers. So why let data on board and sell you down? Stop emailing spreadsheets, creating CSP templates or setting up FTP transfers. Create collaborative, secure workspaces with your customers and their data, saving you time while providing a memorable onboarding experience. Oh and there's no code required. You can go to flat files IO CS 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 as 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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