Customer Success Leader
Customer Success Leader

Episode · 1 year ago

Success Teams Align with the Customer, Not Sales w/ Richard Myers

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

A successful customer success team always aligns with the customer — even over the business.

But you can marry customer success to business outcomes.

You just need to start with the right mission and values.

In this episode of Customer Success Leader, Eric sits down with Richard Myers, Vice President of Customer Support & Customer Success at Linode, to discuss what customer success success really looks like — and how to achieve it.

They cover:

- Why success teams are a function of support, not sales

- How to align with your customer and your business goals

- Why you should be your customer’s first choice — not their only choice

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

With a customer success team, your intent is to make them successful. Sometimes that is not aligned with where the company is going or what the company is doing, and the solutions that you have to provide aren't in the best interest of your company, but they are in the best interest of the customer. 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, y'all, welcome back, good morning, evening, middle of the night, lunch time, whenever you are listening. Thanks for joining us on customer success leader this week. I'm Eric Crane, CEO and Co founder a flat file, and I'm here today with Rick Myers. He's the vice president of customer support and customer success at Leode. Hey, rick, how you doing here? Thanks for having me. I'm doing well. Yeah, no problem. So want to talk about what the phillies need to do next season to try to get back in contention in National League East? I would love to talk about that, but I don't think there's an answer. That's probably the right one there, I would say. For sure. Sorry every of you on that right when we get started here, but I just had to bring it up here on the podcast. You know, my braves also choked in the playoffs, so it's not like I got much on you here. anyways, it's well deserved. Well, thank you for joining us. We're not here to talk baseball. Here Talk Customer Success and I love to just kick things off by asking like, how do you define customer success? Sure, I think that customer success is really cool because the name kind of gives it away. It literally is whatever you do in your organization to help your customers become successful, and it's super easy to draw that line between customers becoming successful and spending more on your platform, and it really not more complicated than that. Ever, you do things to align the goals of your customers with the goals of your company. They find success and you find success in their success, and it makes her a fun tongue twister with how many times you get to say success in a day. But yeah, doing everything in your power to make your customer successful. Yeah, and you've kind of sort of written the wave of customer success, I would say, because this wasn't really much of a formal concept even just about ten years ago. So tell me a little bit about how you got into success and sort of the structure and how you're leading your team today. Sure. So, when I started at Lennode I had never even heard of customer success. We didn't have a customer success team. We were also quite small at the time, so we didn't have a lot of teams. We were start up back then. Obviously, in time we saw a need for it with sales and marketing departments growing, and that concept of customer success kind of landed with us at some point three or four years ago, which is when we figured that it would be once we read into it and figured how sort of what it was and how it is being news elsewhere, that it would be a good thing for us to do, and that's kind of when we kicked off. Originally we started our customer success team in the Marketing Department and then Marketing Organization, and we did it sort of like like we do most things, like most startups do. We just kind of, you know, through stuff at the wall and figured out what what worked over time. Are Our mission and our values and the customer success team have really changed to align with what our customers need and how we need to do customer success. That ends up being a little bit different than traditional customer success teams a lot, but the mission still holds true what we were just saying a minute ago about aligning our goals with theirs. So yeah, it has been a wild ride and we're still evolving. So we're only three or so years into having a customer success team at Leonard and you said it's different than typical customer success. So tell me a little bit more about why it's different there. Yeah, so customer success is traditionally and was invented by and for software companies. We're...

...not a software company. So Leno does infrastructure as a service. We do cloud computing, which means that our customers are a little bit different and they consume our products a little bit differently than customers in software companies usually do. So by design, our services are kind of ephemeral. We let our customers spin up and spin down servers. We don't do a lot of contract work. Our customers are free to leave whenever they want, at the drop of a hat. So things like retention and growth and even measuring those things, let alone improving them are are a challenge that a much different challenge than a lot of software companies have. So that means that we've had to kind of take the concepts from quote unquote, traditional customer success, and that's a silly thing to say for a thing that hasn't existed all that long. We've had to take those lessons and kind of translate them into an infrastructure world, and that holds true with not just growth and retention, like I was saying, but a lot of other things as well, from the way that we do eb ours to the way that we reach out to customers to onboarding and pretty much every every other part of the customer success journey. Yeah, so what's one of the like wonkiest translations where if you tried to plug what you're doing into his ass company, it just wouldn't make sense? That's a good question. I'm not sure that I have a great specific one, but I have a very good general one, which is our customers generally don't talk to us. We're kind of like the utility company. We describe ourselves as the gas company, right, like we provide the gas, but whether you plug it into a Washer or a dryer or oven or whatever. That's kind of not a our business and we don't have anything to do with it, nor do we even know generally what's happening. So and our customers can turn off the guests whenever they want, they can turn on the oven whenever. Our relationship with our customers generally is pretty hands off. They reach out to us when they have a problem. So us being proactive, not only in success but also somewhat in support and and also marketing, which is something that we've ramped up in the last four or five six years, was kind of a shocker. And the rates of return in terms of people like talking back to us, people who actually want to engage with us. Although it's so much better now, at first it was like, you know, why, why are you talking to me? I you know, I just want to spin up my server, I want to get my work done and I want to sort of be left alone. So generally that has been like sort of one of the weirdest things. That doesn't translate so well. Yeah, it's a really great analogy there to write. It's almost like, well, I don't even want to know you exist, right, I just want to make sure that things are working and only when they stop work and it becomes a problem. But, as you mentioned, being proactive is what customers success is all about a lot of the times, because you have to know what the customers goal is in order to help say hey, we're aligned on your goal. And so tell me a little bit about how you were able to get some of those initial conversations started with your customers so that you could learn a lot more about what they're aiming to do with Leode. Yeah, so we started with I think the logical place to start with when you're starting any customer success team is kind of go the account management route sort of, and just talk to your biggest customers. So obviously those are the ones who you want to retain the most. They are the ones who will inevitably have the biggest impact on your product road map and they're the ones that you wanted, to put it in the most basic terms, keep happiest. Those customers are more willing to talk to you generally, then, someone who's invested a huge amount of their time and money and trust are far more willing to speak to you than those who could leave at the drop of a hat. So one of the other things about our industry is while services are ephemeral, lock in is real in that it's very difficult once you have that mass to move somewhere else. It's not impossible and it's certainly not something that doesn't happen, but to keep those...

...customers, figure out how you can keep those customers that they want to stay with you. They don't want to go elsewhere because it's such a hassle to do it. So just talking to those customers there, they were much more willing to speak up and speak out and say, Oh yes, thank you. Finally, I would love to talk to someone. In fact, this whole effort started with one of our biggest customers who were contacting support often than eventually and just asked for it. They were like we need an account manager, like we need some one, and we were like we don't have those I guess we can start this and that's actually where that kicked off several years ago. So there's a lot of consternation around the term account management in customer success circles and I know you've got some thoughts on where customer success sort of lives in the organization. So you want to tell me a little bit more about your thoughts there. I do, I feel super strongly, and it only keeps getting my thoughts are only stronger in time, that a success organization is a supplement to a support team as opposed to a function of a sales team. I think that account management exists for a very good reason, but I think that they serve a different purpose than customer success. Some of the ways that that manifest are the ways that we talk to customers or the intent with which we talk to customers. So with a customer success team, your intent is to make them successful. Sometimes that is not aligned with where the company is going or what what the company is doing, and the solutions that you have to provide aren't in the best interest of your company, but they are in the best interest of the customer, and I think that that's when there's, for example, commission attached to a customer being retained or growing. I think in my experience I've seen that intent get muddled and keeping it as a function of support or a having the right intent, that what you're trying to do is make a customer successful as opposed to just making them spend more, is the right way to if you make them successful, they will spend more, but focus on making them successful, not focus on making them spend more. Yeah, that's really interesting and you'll notice that a lot of times when customer success has it explicit revenue target, but ends up happening is that, you know, okay, well, if I'm being compensated on hitting a specific number and I feel like there's an opportunity to do that here, it is in my best interest and maybe not necessarily optimizing for the customers best interest. So I really do appreciate that perspective because it's something that we think about even when we're not in an unusual space like infrastructure as a service. So appreciate that. And how do you get to the point, though, where your customer success team is able to kind of marry those two things up, where, hey, they're pro actively identifying value expansion opportunities that are mutual value expansions for both your business as well as your customers? I think it's about having a really great set of core values and are really solid mission statement. When you create those for a team, that's when you think about those things, that's when you think about marrying those two items and that's when you think about how you do those things. So if you have a great set of values and a really strong mission statement, that lead you into situations where naturally those things get married you don't have to think about it. You don't have to consider, well, am I on this side of am I on the customer side of the fencer? Am I on the company side of the fence? You just do the thing that your mission says you're going to do and we've already established that that mission, in the case that it succeeds, when it succeeds, will be mutually beneficial, which is why it's so important to get that right right off the bat. And we've had to change that a...

...couple times. We've seen things in our mission vision values that didn't align correctly and at the end of the day, something went in one way or went in the wrong direction because those weren't married up. So I think it's about putting those foundations in place and then you don't have to worry about it. It's so how do you effectively establish that foundation with the customer you just mentioned right away? Right you want to make sure from the very beginning of your conversation with a perspective customer that they understand exactly it is or who it is that you are and what it is that you care about and that that's an alignment with that customer. So talk to me about like the establishment of that shared understanding. Yeah, the so it's all about expectation settings, right. That such as life, you know, life is about saying expectations. I think that that's going back to what we were talking about a minute ago. I think that that that is the value and having a sales organization, and that is the value and having account managers so you can set the expectation of customers. You know, I talk to you about this. When it's time to sign a contractor renewer whatever, you can go talk to them about that. I'll be in the room to make sure that we're advocating on both sides. But when you're talking to me, I don't care about how much you're spending. I don't care about those I don't care about those things that other functions of the business have to care about. All I'm here for is for you to help you be successful, solve problems for you, find creative solutions to things that are going wrong, aligning our goals, figuring out your business needs. That's all I'm here for so that separation is actually super, super helpful and it's more justification for both of those existing but for them aligning in with different goals and values. Yeah, makes a lot of sense. I mean, unless you're like, you know, hardcore Buddhist here, you're definitely going to be dealing with expectations and as a result, you want to make sure that you're in alignment on those. To follow up on that, how do you systematize that, like what are sort of processes? Are Tools that you used to be able to do that at scale across many different customers? So one of the most valuable tools that we have in our tool belt is our onboarding flow. So we use email on boarding through from the time that a customer signs up up until a couple of weeks in, with essentially these light bulb moments through a customer life cycle that hopefully, over time, reinforce the value that Lennard is providing a customer. So once a customer sees as a customer progresses through signing up, spinning up their first Lino, perhaps adding more services, contacting support, getting help via our documentation or self serve things, I customer kind of gets that value they start to understand that value over time and that we can see results in better retention over time. Whether it results in growth over time gets a little bit fuzzy because you have to consider all the other things that are are happening to a customer during their life cycle and you have to consider whether or not it's it's on boarding that has gotten there. But we are able to see that customers stay longer, where they drop off less early less soon. That seven to ten day window is kind of like our danger zone, which is what we have found and and that has gone away with giving customers those light bulb moments through onboarding, automated on boarding. We have considered doing in APP on boarding, but that actually goes back to what we were talking about before about how things are a little bit different in your infrastructure dashboard than it might be in this piece of software that you're using. It's hard to kind of translate that APP onboarding experience when you're a software company. I think most of the time you you kind of you have a much more targeted problem you're trying to solve. I don't want to speak totally generally, but I think I think most of the time that's true, whereas with our customers it could be one of so many different things. It's really hard to like direct someone in APP to the things that they should...

...be doing, because for a lot of customers they shouldn't be doing that. That's not the problem they're trying to solve. So segmenting customers into what they might be doing is an idea. You know, asking them up front like why are you here, and then creating an inapp on boarding experience based on that segment might be something that we could do, but we haven't yet translated the software version to the infrastructure version in terms of in APP on boarding. Yeah, and there's, you know, a balancing act between making sure that you get the customer to do all the things that you know will lead to their success in the system from a technical perspective, but also not necessarily wanting to spoil their creativity with what they're going to do with it. And that we run in that same challenge with laugh hour. We work with customers across different market segments. We work with work with software companies, we work with enterprizes, legacy businesses. I mean we got like a children's Hospital, a grocery store and an insurance company all as customers, and so I can totally understand that perspective. In one of the biggest challenges is just like, okay, well, if we don't necessarily know how they get on boarded, but we know technically when they do that they're barely sticky. How do we then build on that relationship over time? So talk to me about, like how you then build on that relationship, assuming a customer is able to flex that creativity, deploy and use leode the way that they're hoping to. What is the way which you like keep encouraging them and saying, Hey, like this is this mutual exchange of value and we're really both enjoying this process. Yeah, one of the ways is by monitoring product adoption. So we have our core product, which is our servers, but then we also have load balancers and we have backup solutions and we have storage solutions, we have networking solutions. So it's watching as a customer grow. We know that as a customer grows within segment, or sometimes even without segment, there are certain things that are going to become more valuable over time with growth. One great example of that is backups. So everybody knows you need backups, and that's one of the easiest conversations to start with someone is because it kind of defies segment or size. Just starting the conversation, I notice you don't have backups. You know what are you doing in what industry or in what problem you're trying to solve or what have you. All of those things require backups and that's the place to start and if you do it cleverly, you can get more information about what they're doing and then you can expand from there. So kind of that land and expand, kind of moving land and expand into a different, different definition. If you can just land in that one thing, start that conversation about backups, then generally you can get some more information about what they're doing and then figure out what might be the right thing. A lot of times, so I came from apple and some of what we do come from sales at Apple, which was all about providing correct solution. So if you're trying to sell a customer computer and you say, you know, we have a ninety nine dollar printer that comes with this and they say well, I have a printer at home, well then that's when the conversation ends like okay, cool, if like, let's make sure we can set it up like that's all, and we do that too. You know, when you talk to a customer and you say, well, what about load balancing? They say, I don't need load balancing for Xyz. Well, that's what that's when the conversation ends. I think that that's the values difference. That can be the values difference or the intent difference of a sales team versus a customer success to humor, account managers are what have you. Yeah, tell it makes sense and I think that add a guest on an earlier podcast episode who is describing this to a t where it's like the the ideal state of customer success is not necessarily that you own every aspect of what the customer is doing anything remotely related to your space, but rather you have a full understanding of all the things that the customer is doing in their organization to achieve their objectives at a high level, and that could include other components or parts that might not necessarily be worthwhile to replace them right now, but if you ask them...

...questions and you show curiosity into how they're solving their problem, that's going to establish trust and later on down the road, when they're hoping to expand or do more with those things, you're gonna be the first person they think of because they know that you're thinking about their business just as critically as they are. Yeah, I think that that made me think of another big difference that we have to that we have to deal with doing. Customers success here is by definition, to have redundant infrastructure. The responsible thing to do is not to just use Linnarde, it's to use our competitors also, and we completely understand that. That's a responsible thing to do. That's that's very unlike a lot of traditional companies. Right, like we don't want you to use we don't want you to have a hundred percent. We want to have a hundred percent of your wallet allocation, right, we want to have a hundred percent of what you're spending on infrastructure. Well, that's an irresponsible thing to do in our world and that's another thing that we have to deal with. But, like you said, if we can do a good job of making sure that customers know our values are aligned with theirs, than when they kick off the next project, maybe they choose US first. Or when they're expanding and they need to figure out where things go. Maybe the most critical stuff comes with us. It's all about those little value moments that kind of build up to gain the trust where you become their first choice, not their only choice, which is what we're trying to do. First Choice, not only choice. Yeah, all about that, and that's actually a really good paradigm. I think I'm going to start using that now, is first choice, not only choice. That's a great way to position it well. So what's one specific piece of advice that you've picked up along the way, either from someone else or just have kind of garnered yourself or pulled together from others insights that you would love to share with our audience here? I think one of the best pieces of advice. I got a lot of people here ask for forgiveness, not for permission, and I had an old boss several years ago tell me that's definitely true, but you need to use it very wisely. Sometimes it makes a lot more sense to ask for permission and is going to cover you way better and it's going to cover your customers way better when you're asking for permission and not forgiveness. I think that a lot of people can flate that with how you treat customers also, like I think everyone has gotten burned a few times by doing the nice thing and it ended up being the wrong thing. There is no harmon ever asking a customer if this is the right thing to do. So, I think we said earlier on the call expectations are everything, and that holds true so much more with customers then I think that we even understand like academically, fundamentally, we know that expectation setting is is really important, but having that top of mind all the time, that you need to be super clear, super transparent and super honest with your customers, that's always going to pay off one hundred percent of the time. Yeah, I couldn't agree more, especially on the honesty that I there's plenty of times where you get in a conversation with a gustomer and they say hey, can you do this? In your default response, what you really want to do is say yes, Oh, yes, we can do that, but blah, blah, blah, Blah Blah, and what ends up happening is that all they remember is the Yes. Right, they remember the yes, they don't remember all the caveats, and then they try to do it and it's like this isn't quite working the way I was hoping it would, and then you're ultimately damaging your relationship with the customer from a business perspective, but also from a personal perspective. Right there, working with you is part of their job, they have similar types of incentives and they have a similar life outside of work, and so really instead, if you go back and say no, we can't do that, that's what they're going to remember and they say, however, I want to work with you to solve this problem regardless. That's going to set you a way better for success with that customer in the future. Yeah, one of the going back to apple, one of the I think it was in the steps of service or one of the mantras...

...or mottos was responding to a customer or, I don't know, let's find out, and I always love that quite a bit. It's partially about no, I don't know the answer, but it's also about finding out the answer. And thirdly, it's about let's find out together, let's figure this out together, which that relationship pieces is so, so valuable. Stay curious, y'all. You hopefully didn't hear that here first, but if you did, keep it in mind and really thank you so much for your time today. Again, that was a Rick Myers. He's the VP of customer support and success. I'm Eric Rane, the host of Customer Success Leader Co founder flat file, signing off from this week's episode. Y'All, stay well and we'll CHATTINGG INS in 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 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 file DOT 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 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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