Customer Success Leader
Customer Success Leader

Episode 19 · 1 year ago

How the Best CEOs Drive Customer-Centricity w/ Arjun Devgan


Who owns the customer experience? Most would say the CS team. But, in order to be truly customer-centric, it should be the entire company starting with the CEO.

In this episode of Customer Success Leader, Eric sits down with the VP of CS at Amplitude, Arjun Devgan. The two discuss…

- How to prove your value to the customer year after year

- Why Arjun breaks CS into success, services, and support

- Why the CEO needs to empower the organization to be customer-centric

- The importance of having a top-level metric

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You have to continue to reprove value and document value and get acknowledgement of value every single year. Do we earn the customers business 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 Ya, welcome to the customer success leader podcast. I'm your host, Eric Crane, and I'm here today with Argent Dagan, who's the VP of customer success at amplitude. Hey, ore, didn't how you do today. I'm doing well. Thank you for having me on this podcast. So where you calling in from San Francisco. Referring to the room of the House. It looks like you got a nice little background there. I do have a very vast collection of virtual zoom backgrounds at that are in high demand. As going to say that it seems like the trend these days. Did you see that thing, that zoom release, where you can now have like multiple people and like a board room type setting in the background? Yes, it's pretty cool. It's amazing how much of a forcing function. COVID has been for us learning about what we really like and also what we really hate about remote working. Absolutely yeah, I mean I'm definitely on the camp of I do miss the inoffice interaction and white boards and the lunch sessions. So hopefully, you know, sometime with then your future, will be able to go back and do that as well. A hundred percent agree. Well, I'd love to hear about your time and customer success. I mean, someone looks at your resume and they just so well, like this is crazy, how much you've contributed to the growth of so many different businesses and largely driven by ensuring that you customers reach their desired outcomes. So tell me a bit about why you decided to get into customer success and what you're doing today at amplitude. Yeah, I got into professional services, which is, you know, the sort of early version of you know, I would say, you know, spending time with the customer after they have purchased your software. About twenty years ago, you know, fellow to it, slightly by accident, but primarily because I realized that one, I liked working with systems to develop solutions and second like being customer facing. So you can buy those two and I like spending time with customers to help them use technology to solve their business problems. Right, kind of the ultimate sort of consultant gene that sort of gets you attracted to that. You know, that job, or a job even in support, a job and solution consulting. Many of those jobs that to attract the kind of people who like tinkering with technology to solve customer problems. And so how did that kind of lead you down the journey to customer success eventually? Yeah, so I spent, you know, the majority of my career and that tweed. I was there for twelve years. You know, we I was one of the first services people they hired. We had, I think, for people in the services team and it wasn't much of a team. I think we were just trying to figure out what services even looked like for our customers. Back then they would just buy the software and we need to figure out what, you know, on boarding look like. How do you deploy them successfully, how do you train them properly? How do you make sure they start to actually use the software? And over the next twelve years, as net sweet went from you know, I think we're, you know, twenty million to eight hundred million and revenue, you know,...

...the service, the organization went to four five hundred people. There's a lot of innovation. We, you know, started by figuring out the basics of how do you get someone up and running, but over time it became much more complicated. As you know, the market grew from SMB to enterprise as the product became significantly more complicated and sold were sold to many different apartments, not just you know, finance and accounting. Really had to think through how you deploy enterprise, you know, technology at scale right, and that involved looking at not only on boarding but actually looking at post implementation experiences and services, looking at how you scale out training, how you support customers. What what do you monetize? What do you not monetize? Right? And then, since you hire so many people in the post sales seem, how do you fund a lot of those people, because you do need to actually, you know, have you know in some parts of the business of a piano right. How that morphed into customer success was was interesting, right, because customers success the way it's defined today kind of you know birth probably ten years ago and you know, when I left net suite and took a little bit of a short break. I knew the one thing I really wanted to do was make sure that I went to a smaller company, sort to early days of net Swede, and had a bigger influence on the end to end customer journey. And that's kind of what I've been doing for the last seven years, is really spending a lot of time thinking about the end to end customer experience, not just one aspect of the customer journey, because ultimately every single point in that customer experiences and the outcomes you delivered to that customer end up defining how long they stay with you. Right. So that's, you know, in a nutshell, how I started in services and morphed to do where I am today. Yeah, it's really exciting. It seems just sort of like natural, right, like a natural progression towards like hey, like I want to make sure I get as close as possible to where the problem solving is happening. And, like you said, it's like consulting, right, you get such a wide variety of exposure different businesses and business problems when you're in that type of role that's aligned with the ultimate business outcome of the end customer. Yeah, I don't know where I read this, but I once read that, you know, customer success is a service function with a sales outcome, right, and it was a really fascinating take on customer success because before customers success, what you had was services, support and sales. Right. That was broadly how you work with a customer. And if you want to go really far back to before there was a subscription based software, you kind of, you know, sales team sold the software, the services team implemented and support team supported it and then the sales team came back into sell more software, right, or to upgrade the customer, if you will. Right. And when we went to the subscription economy, it changed, but if you think about it, it didn't change that much. We changed how we do business with customers because you have to re earn their business every year, but you kind of still had sales, service and support. In fact, you know, I would argue that for the majority of netsuites existence, and you know, if you look at work, they even look at sales force, you know, probably the pioneers of Sass, they all had sales services in support. And then over the last ten years what's happened is... kind of flipped out on its head because we basically said it's time to grow out of the old model and put the customer at the center of this conversation. And that's when the model started to change and you end up with customer success, which is effectively a role, if done right, is equal parts consulting an equal parts commercial acumen. Right, you're able to understand what the customers like business outcomes are, with their desired outcomes are, what are the trying what business problem they're trying to solve, for which traditionally, you know, very good sales people have been great at, and combined that with recommending a solution to solve that problem, which is traditionally a consulting and, you know, services skill set. Right. So I love that about cus how it's brought those two disciplines that are equally important together in one yeah, I would argue, to get itsend that even further to other parts of the organization right. I think the folks over at game side have a really great book. We're actually going through a book club right now at the company. It's called the customer success economy and the core premise of the book is that customer success is the business right, like, especially in a subscription business like you have to be continuously generating value, not from your perspective but from the customers perspective in order to stay in business these days. Yes, it's a very important point, because here's the thing, right. How many software companies out there are like furniture, that are that is just like you, it just is. They're like you know. Certainly I would say financial management software, you know, comes under that category. Lots of sales force deployments are in that category where, regardless of how much value and usage is happening, they're kind of just there. You just buy it, right, and you know those those companies are fortunate because they're they're very sticky. The majority of software companies are not that sticky. You do have to reprove value every single year, even for high quality companies, right. And then you you layer on top of that the fact that disruption happens fairly quickly these days, right, especially if you're not an end doing like sweet type solution, if you're not one of the you know, the clouds, the sales cloud, the marketing cloud, you can get disrupted if you're only providing a point solution. No, matter how great your product is, because all it takes is for the next product to come along and you know switching cost or low. Which is why your point is super valid, which is you have to continue to reprove value and document value and get acknowledgement of value every single year to we earn the customers business. Now you de find it. What cost effective way to do it so it doesn't become a huge burden on your organization, right, and that's where sort of the unit economics of the business and and the cost of customer success comes into question. So tell me about how you have scaled this customer success and Services Organization and amplitude. Have you kind of made sure you reigned in those costs while still delivering the most amount of value on a continuous basis? Yes, I mean it's a great time to ask that question. Where in the throes of twenty one planning, and you know, I have an initial model that is still to be reviewed by the CFL, on the board, etc. So we're still having those discussions. I mean, I'm I'm thankful I work for a company that is very customer centric and has invested in see us long before I even had heard of amplitude. So they had it, you know, stood up very early, so credit to them. You know, our product organization is probably one of the most customer...

...centric, customer friend the organizations I've met, which helps a lot. But to answer your question, how we think about it is, you know, we have broken cs into success services in support and, as you can imagine, when you're smaller company, when you have, you know, a hundred people, when you got you know, a handful of customers, it's fine. You it should be one role. Right, like you don't start to specialize super early. It's okay. Many companies start with one person doing everything. They'll traditionally break out support first because it's a very different motion. Right. You want to operationalize that, you want to have Zendesk in place and or silver technologies, but then the CSIM still ends up doing a lot. Right. For example, they would do the kickoff call and the implementation. Then they drive a option, they do some training, they might negotiate the renewal. They might be doing a whole bunch of things right, and we are starting to move away from that and specialize and you know, one of the big investments for us as professional services. We've got a doubled our professional services team in the last, you know, nine months, looking to grow it next year because what we find is one you really need to have that rins and repeat motion in the first, you know, Thir thousand and sixty ninety days of a customer where you you guarantee that they go live with the software. You can't take leave it a chance. You need to have a very rigorous process and having a team focused on that is very important. Now they all sit under cus, the broader organization, so that helps with the integration. But it's really important and, as you could tell, have a PS background, right, so I've done a lot of you know, implementation, design except or in my life. So I think that is very important. I also think that helps you because most customers are willing to pay for some sort of one boarding fee in the enterprise. They expect it. I've had customers say how come there is no implementation offering with, you know, a bit large price tag where I can get people spending time with me. So the beauty of the paid service model is you can have a menu that meets every customers need. Right so when somebody comes and says I need you to do extra me. You don't need to say we don't provide that. You can say yes, we can provide that service, here's what that service is for fee. And then eventually, as you evolved, you can introduce partners who can do the services. But it's very important because you know, once you get to a certain scale, you can't tell your customers you can't provide them a service that is on the critical path to making them successful. Is going to say? That actually helps enable the sales team too, because instead of them selling line I ams, they get to sell value. Right. Your life with s is way better than selling this thing, right. Yeah, you got to be selling widgets. You want to be selling margin and experience and opportunity. Definitely, and you know, look different software. The technology matters, right. So you know, if zoom releases a new feature and the video feed, they don't need to sell these services to use it. Right, it's a B Toc sesque experience, right, and all modern says technologies like we release very often at amplity, right, we really stuff that doesn't need anything. You, you release it and there's a little pop up that tells you what it is. It's done, right. But then we release life changing that chnology like this market changing technology, like we did this week at our Amplifi conference right. And in reality, the best way to consume that technology is probably to sit with an expert who helps you map it to how your business should be using it. And there's value in...

...that to the customer and there's value in US spending the time with that customer do actually help them do that right. And as you scale it's important to separate that out. So you know we don't do this today, but it's one of our clearer visions for two thousand and twenty. One is making a clear distinction between something that is released that is very self service. We create content the customer consume and levers the technology, so that we product led right. Our producting leads the charge. Our product marketing can create some content. Then there is CSM led. So the product creates the technology, but the CSM's partner with the customers to educate them on it, to inform them about it, to align on use cases, to give them the idea that they can be leveraging this technology. And then there's a services, you enabled component, which is really around the right way to deploy this brand new behemoth of a product. We've launched is to actually do a small implementation project, right, or to do some sort of enhancement project, optimization project that actually helps you take it to market, right, and you know, that's the way we want to think about everything we build still forever. Makes a ton of sense and we're actually already running up into that and our business and we're only, you know, twenty something folks here and at leasy to question, which is like who owns the customer relationship? I think at the best companies the company owns the customer relationship. I think when you, I know a lot of people, believe that the head of customers success should be empowered to own the customer relationship, I think it's true some extent. Like an ampl dude, I would say yes, generally speaking, everything to do with the customer. The C steam takes the lead on the strategy, but it should never be at the risk of alienating other departments, because sales has an enormous role to play in engaging existing customers and driving net revenue attention. They're the ones who acquire the customers to begin with. Right. The product and engineering teams are building products for the customers, right. Do you want them talking to the customer. Absolutely. I think the CEO owns the customer right. And you know, the CEO empowers the head of customer success to partner with all of the other components, you know, departments within the company, every single one of them, right to create a unified experience to the customer. I know it's incredibly hard. What I'm saying is not easy to do, but you have to figure it out as a company. Right. So let's take two or three very specific examples. Right. Do you want collections emails to be sent by finance in a vacuum, or do you want an overlay where you actually think about the experience the customers getting when you send out collections emails? Right, I think that's a great intersection of CS and finance. How you message collections? Hey, Yoi money, pay up. Are I'm going to shut you down, or is it hey, it's really unfortunate that we reach this point where we have sent you three emails and you still haven't paid. We really would not want to get to the point where we have to turn you off. Can we figure this out? Right? That's a very different tone. Right. Same with marketing. You know, marketing owns a lot of the content, the messaging, you know, a lot of the you know thought that goes into the brand of the company and the software, right, and I love the idea of that brand messaging overlapping into the customer...

...experience. Right. So there's a huge overlap between CS and marketing in designing the perfect experience for customers, because market that marketers do it best. They really do, they'd nail it right. So, you know, we have our customer marketing person sits and marketing, but they spend a lot of time with us because we're trying together design a great experience, you know, for those customers. Right. So, you know, long winded answer to your question, but I really think that at the best companies the CEO is very customer centric and empowers every department to think, you know, customer first and not, you know, doesn't silo the customer experience into one division. Yeah, listeners can't see this, but I was fist pumping here in the background, but I heard you say that it's owned by the CEO, because that is absolutely true. Like you have to, especially in an organization where you're trying to scale and you're trying to ensure that you're able to build these relationships with many, many folks over a short period of time. Everyone has to be unlocked. That right. Think about it. You like you don't go date someone and then they go hand you off to their friend and then another friend comes in and says, Hey, actually, I'm going to go out with the day tonight because we've gone to Italian. Yes, yeah, I'm the one who eats Italian. Yes, I mean, think about an organization where CS and sales report directly to the CEO, right, and they're two separate teams and everyone gets along fine, except the CEO says, look, see us, you are empowered to drive, you know, retention. You really have to, you know, make sure that the customers you know, we want to be a customer centric company. You got to go these with other departments. At the same time, they tell the sales team that they have to hit their numbers at all costs, all costs including not factoring in whether you are acquiring the right customer, which thereby impact retention. COMPLANS aren't the line and centis aren't a line. That's going to be very hard to become a customer centric company in that in that sceneri right. So it does start at the top, as you'll probably read about and see from other people, you know conversation with other people, and I think, you know, I love my job because I think you have a huge say in this in terms of influencing the culture of the company, building those cross functional the relationships. I think you're the cheerleader in chief. Like talking about customers and customer success, but it takes a whole company in order to you know, be customer centric. Yeah, so what's your like favorite actual story of seeing that in practice? So we've talked about this kind of theoretically, but what's an example where you really saw that high degree of alignment across you know, CS, sales and support? Well, I'm going to definitely pick my current company, even though I've seen other examples as well. So even before I join amplitude. So I joined amplitude and I one of the first things you do is you understand what are the company metrics? What are the targets? Right, and they had five targets at the company level. It has not changed since I've joined in eighteen months, and one of the targets, which it took me a while to understand, I'm like, Hey, what is that like. What is that metric? I help me understand and you know is educated on it and it's essentially a target that is, I would say, is like led by the product team and supported by the CSTEAM but it's really a joint metric. It's called weekly learning users and it's a joint metric to...

...measure adoption within our customer base and we are, at a company level, trying to drive it and it isn't product soul responsibility and it isn't css soul responsibility. We all need to get to that right. And it's a very meaningful metric. It's not like how many people logged in it. If you look at the definition, it looks at something that is a serious indicator of retention or expansion. Right. It looks at people who have been active in the last seven days, who are creating content that has been consumed by two other people within the organization. So it's a very thoughtful metric that you know many people but you know their heads together and and built and it's lasted, you know, over several years and I think that's a phenomenal example of a product and a CS organization and a company, you know, being unified in their goal. I talked about it with B Tob Sass, companies that are our customers all the time, because they're all struggling with this. Their product teams are building to satisfy the next sale, the prospect, and the C steam is sort of catching up, and I always tell them the story. I was like, you have to get unified around this idea that you're all in the same business. You know you you grow the business by making the customer successful, not the other way round. Right, yeah, arrant and now we don't mind, but I am definitely gonna Steal that and talk to our team about how we can build a similar type of measurement in our own organizations. Of thank you and we'd be happy to help you talk to that well. So we're kind of getting up on time here and I do like to wrap every episode with just one specific question, which is what was the best piece of advice you've gotten from someone else just related to customer success? So related to running customer success? HMM, I would say I'm going to specifically speak about the customer Success Management Team because it's the one where people struggle a lot. Like I don't think too many people are going to say what's the best piece of advice? And God, regarding a running a professional services team, I think that function has been are around for long. I think the best piece of advice, actually read it in a TSI white paper, may be an unexpected place to find this, is always have a charter, and the reason for that is you know, at the scale you guys are at, etc. You'll find that a lot of CS teams run into this identity crisis of I'm responsible for everything but accountable for nothing, and it's a very hard job. It's a very, very difficult job because you are actually expected to deliver on seven different fronts and yet it's unclear what is the direct benefit you're having. So you need to have a primary charter at amplitude. Its retention. Right now, it may chase next year, my chains the following year. Right right now. At the end of the day, what matters is grosser tension. We measure teams by in quarter retention, an Wal and quantity retention, and we also look at adoption and we also look at experience and we look at a bunch of other things, but what we're driving tow wards is retention. In other organizations you may find that you know, retention is a secondary metric for the CS team because they have an account management function or sales team that is owning that, and you may have an adoption metric that is, you know, front and center, which is you need to have ninety two percent utilization of the product or eighty three percent utilization,...

...or the help score needs to be something higher, but it needs to be one thing because the moment you say you need to on board successfully, you need to drive adoption properly. You need to be doing x number of customer engagements per quarter. You also need to be ruling it this thing. You need to be a contribute to expansions. It's too many goals. No one team can, you know, hit five or six different goals in a year. Right. So that's probably the best advice and I've never had a C S team report to me since that. I'm I read that many years ago, where there's been any sort of lack of clarity around what the top level metric is. I love it, man. I love the big number reports right. It just makes it so easy, right like, because you don't have to try and balance all these things out or figure out how one thing relates to another and then. I love to do this, even when I was running product teams. But you know, we would, we would pick a top metric very similarly and during every conversation that was about our strategy or how ead addressed in account, I would say, how does that drive x? How does that drive whatever that top level metric is, and if you couldn't come up with an answer, would say why are we talking about this now? Let's go pick something else to tackle in the business and take care of. Yeah, absolutely, I mean I think best case you can, if you can get it org down to like top two or three things you're looking at right, then you can everything else you measure. You're measuring because you need to measure it and improve it, but you know you should have the top one. The other thing that that you know that is related to that is make sure you get the CEO and CFO bought into that top level metric. So there's not much point having a charter if the if the CCEO doesn't agree with it right. So I think it's very important to get their alignment on that fair client well, thank you so much, Argent, for joining us today again. That's urgent, Dave Gun. He's the VP of customer success at amplitude. I'm Er Crane, CEO and Co founder a flat file. Thank you for listening to this week customer success leader. Thank you, Eric. Have a good one. You'll 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 ATP 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 a 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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