Customer Success Leader
Customer Success Leader

Episode · 2 years ago

The Customer May Not Always Be Right, But They Should Be First w/ Jeff Breunsbach


For early-stage companies, building the foundation for a customer success program can be a little daunting. It’s not enough to simply push your product out to market. An in-depth understanding of the customer experience is imperative for designing a strategic plan to support and bolster the efforts of the organization as a whole.


Things like market fit, the power behind your sales engine, and identifying the right problem to assure the right solution are all things Jeff Breunsbach, Director of Customer Experience at Higher Logic, looks at when working with clients. 


He joined me on the show today to share his insights on best practices for setting up and maintaining a customer success program.


We talked about:


- Steps to stand up a successful customer success program


- How customer success drives business outcomes


- Challenges that can prevent programs success


For more info, check out or send a message to

... fact that our unit economics of SASS businesses I've changed and we need that customer to be with us for a long period of time. 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, it's air crane here, the CO founder and CEO flat fole. Today on customer success leaders. I'm joined by Jeff Rumsbach from customer imparrative. Thank yeah, Hey Eric, thank you for having me a good to be here. Awesome to have you so first most important question. Are you wearing pants? I am wearing shorts and I would like to say my attire for the pandemic has really just been a golf short and then typically some gym shorts. So I've been getting away with it for, you know, the last three months or so and I don't think I'll change. My Office tends to get quite hot, so if I wore pants in here, I'd probably be sweating right now. I can feel you the in base in a land and myself. I didn't know you are a Golfer, though. Yeah, yeah, you know Charleston. Grew up in South Carolina for about twenty years. So if I can get out on the golf course I try to, but I also during the summer I will probably avoid it like the plague. I love the winner fall months down here in the south where, you know, we don't get too much snow and it's easy to get out on the golf course for it's a good weather. I love it. Well, left to a place on time? Yeah, well, to get out, you know, somewhere in between here at Lanta and Charleston, easy drive, good deal. Well, so I'm really excited to have you share with our audience a little bit about customers success. It's kind of been the definition of your career almost and I would love to hear how you define customer success. Yeah, there's probably the long definition and the short one. I'll try and give you the long one in an assustinct way, but I think we think about customer success is proactively helping customers reach measurable business outcomes and you know, it's the generic answer that you're going to get a lot of places right now. But when you really boil that down into what we think about it, or some of the assistants parts, is the proactive piece really matters when you start thinking about customer success and Customer Success Management and also business outcomes. You know, I think we oftentimes in a lot of businesses see that they might be focused a lot on adoption or they might be focused a lot on support or some other areas, and really what we want to be looking at is what are the actual business outcomes that we're helping our customers achieve, and that really needs to be the core focus of what customer success is really allowing towards in the business. That makes sense. I mean, tell me a little bit more about how you're helping folks do that through customer imperative. Yeah, so we started our business about three years ago now. We focus on a lot of consulting engagements and we've tried to tailor them to different stage companies. So when you start thinking about early stage companies who might be looking at getting customers success off the ground, we've built a accelerator program so how do we give you the foundations and start thinking about some of the strategic elements or what we think of as readiness. So do we have the right segmentation? Do we have the right customer journey? What's our engagement model look like? And then we started looking at engagements that also serve kind of the larger customers or clients in the BDB space. And so, you know, how can we do customer journey work? How can we do a little bit more specific pointed engagements? We've been doing that for three years and then, you know, about fifteen weeks ago we also stood up a community for customers success leaders. So it's called gain, growertain and every day we get new leaders into our online community. We've got thousand that signed up over the first week and it's just grown every day, which is exciting for us. But it's just another thing that we're really passionate about. We're learning from customer success leaders every single day and it's been fun. That's cool. Really excited to hear that. And how did you get into doing consulting work in the area of customer success? Yeah, so we my business partner Ja had started customer imparative three years ago and I think that was I'll put a u some words in his mouth, but that was born out of the fact that he wanted to go start his own company and, you know, venture off after he had been successful in the BB stass space for a number of years and naturally the easiest and first thing to go do is just start consulting, and what...

...he found was that there was a need for this. You know, I think customer success is still kind of on a maturity curve that maybe lags behind some of the other sales and marketing functions that are a little bit further along in terms of their development. So there's a lot of people out there that are starting ask companies, that are thinking about recurring revenue and subscriptions, and this became a really hot commodity and so, you know, he started the company and then about ten months after that I joined him and we've been running ever since. You know, we don't like to think about ourselves as consultants. We tend to think we're a little friendlier the normal consultants. We tend to think that, you know, we're a little bit more execution focused and you know, it's been fun to do that for the last three years and try and build you know, some repuatability of what we're doing. But at the end of the day, what we're trying to help our clients achieve is just increase growth retention or increase net retention, and do that through customer success programs. Got It. That makes sense. So, I mean, let's talk about like when you're working with your clients like one, are the things that you like to see some of your early stage customers focus on when they're just thinking about how to stand up customer success and their organization? Yeah, I think the the question that we always like to ask ourselves at the very beginning is maybe a series of three questions. One is, do you have product market fit? The second tends to be do you have a sales engine, and then third is, you know, have you really started to stand up a customer organization? So, you know, when you think about product market fit, that's really the first question because you know you need to understand that you're solving the right problem in the right space. The second question then becomes, okay, now that we're solving the right problem in the right space, can we I actually get a sales engine that's repeatable? You know, can we make the unit economics work for a sales team in the growth that we want to achieve? And then the third question then becomes now that we have the right problem, we're solving at the right space. We've also spun up a sales team and now we're getting a ton of new state ails through. Now we have to think about the customer experience and how do we start optimizing and thinking about the customer experience and what customer success can really mean to that kind of as the third cog in that wheel. So that's typically the questions that we're trying to ask. And then you know, as you start drilling down into some of the earlier stage companies, there's probably two areas that we would say you really want to focus on. First, when you're in the early stage and you're starting to formulate customer success, one area is just making sure that you've got a good support function. You know, we need the dial tone of the organization, as we like to think about it, so broke fix. We need to be able to do that very quickly and you know that tends to be really close to kind of product and engineering because you know typically the product is still being built out there. Then the second area is just the onboarding. I think you know, when you are in the early stage again you're getting a ton of new customers. We want to make sure and think about the onboarding experience and how we start to optimize that. So there's a probably the two areas that we see a lot of early stage companies focus on first, and that's that's generally what we try and do as we go into companies at the early stage as well. Got It. That makes sense. I'd love to come back to that. Like driving business outcomes for your customers. Are you say that's the ultimately the most important thing in customer success? What are some of the ways in which you can ensure that that happens for your customers as a customer success person who has no control over the product, necessarily for you know, the sales mile or even the marketting that was delivered to that customer? Yeah, I think it starts with as you take over that relationship. So one of the tools that we like to think about out is what we call a joint success plan and you know, might be a fancy word, but really what it boils down to are a couple of core concepts, which are who are the relationships that we have at this organization. What are the actual business outcomes they're trying to achieve, and we think about that as maybe you know, they've got a three year initiative to grow by a certain percent or they're trying to reduce costs, but something that's very tangible and oriented to the greater business. And then we like to think about objectives and key results. So how can we actually take some of those larger, more strategic vision of where they're going and what business outcomes we can help them achieve, and then how do we boil that down into, you know, things that are tangible. What are we actually helping them move the need of bill on terms of our day to day relationship and what our product and service can do? And then the last two areas are just key milestones and then key risks. And the reason I bring up that as a really good place to start is back to the point you made. You know, we have a lot of things in the customer success team. We have a lot of things we can't really control, but the one thing we can control is kind of keeping all six of those boxes, as we think...

...about it, at the forefront of our relationship with the customer and what that tends to do is really bring up risks earlier in the process. It tends to make sure we're aligned to the outcomes that they're looking to achieve on a more regular basis and it just tends to make sure that the relationship is really focused on the customer and focused on getting the right feedback at the right times. If you don't have the joint success plan, when you've got something else that can do, you know that can still be that forcing mechanism to try and aggregate that information. I think we tend to see that works really well. But I think the big thing is that we notice a lot of times, as you would mention, you know, if we can't control product and we can't control all these different things, then if we allow ourselves to let the customers see that or think that as well, then you know, we tend to be in a losing situation. So we try and again kind of focus back on the customer. How can we make sure that we're really dialed into that and then hopefully what our management team and what our team in the back end are doing or building channels for us to bring back some of those points about product or marketing or sales that we need to go give feedback in the right areas. God, thanks, and sounds like building this relationship is incredibly important to understand what the business objectives are of the customer and to be able to understand. Okay, like how do we play a part in that? So what are blockers that get in the way of establishing that relationship that you're trying to build with this customer? Yeah, that is a question that we get as many, many times. I think the big one is probably, and I'm sure you've experienced this in your career, is our key contact over there maybe gets defensive or thinks that were trying to posture ourselves in a way that maybe it's going to go around them or maybe it's going to kind of skirt buy that relationship, and so they don't value the same things we are. I think that's probably number one, is that you find a champion or whoever you're working with to be a little bit more defensive or combative rather than trying to be helpful and, you know, be it a real champion for us inside the organization, and that's probably a big one that we see. I think a second one is we tend to see products and services who think about themselves first instead of the customer. So you're thinking about what are we trying to achieve? What are we trying to get out of this process? Can I just check the box move on to the next customer, and you're not really focused on, you know, what they're trying to achieve and building the actual relationship. At the end of the day, we like to think about this as a lot of relationship focused because, you know, we have people to deal with. It's a oneonone, typically a oneone relationship that we're building over time and if we'd lose sight of that and we start to focus on the more transactional elements of what we're doing, then we lose sight of that relationship and how it can be really beneficial for us in the long run. And I think that's just the element that we see a lot of. Is, you know, businesses now can't necessarily think about transactional elements. They have to think about the fact that our unit economics of STASS businesses have changed and we need that customer to be with us for a long period of time. You look at some of the data, a typical CAC payback ratio means that we need that customer to stay with us for at least eighteen months. So generally, if we lose that customer at the end of year one, it's not necessarily we actually lost money on that deal as a business. And so how can we make sure and ensure that we've got the right relationship so that we can stay ahead of any potential churn problems, that we can stay ahead of what we're trying to do as a business? Got It? So, as a farmer CSM I really enjoy hearing others stories. So I'd love to hear, maybe warned two exceptional stories. Some your time and customers success, e. they're working with custom your clients or in or previous holes. Yeah, so I've got maybe a I'll give you a good example and a bad example of maybe it's like shaped the way I think about this and what we've done. To the bad example first, I like to, you know, deliver bad news first. So there was probably at least one or two times in my career where you kind of went into a meeting you weren't really feeling good, you don't really feel like you're that prepared. This was like Qbr that we were delivering to a enterprise customer of ours. They were six figures, they were a big deal needed, you know, like for us, this is a really important we had from the customer side of the House, we had executive team members in the room. From our side of the House, we had executive team members in the room and, you know, you walk in and this is the moment to shine and a completely blew... You know, I had a presentation that just wasn't cohesive in the story that I was telling. I did a lot of regurgitation of data on the slides. It was basically just like a report, you know, could have gotten out of a tool and I just threw it up there and started delivering it and about halfway through the presentation, you know, the executive team members that we were presenting to essentially stopped me and just, you know, wanted to know what else was in the presentation because they felt like they could probably just go read it on themselves. It was a really crucial moment and really shaped the way I thought about things because ever since then I've tried to maybe take a reverse approach now, which is like I'm trying to go extremely deep on the customers that I had so you know, fast forward maybe three months or six months from that point. You know, I had gone and done the research. I was reading. It was a public company that we were working with. I went and read the public filings and the public reports that were being put out. I was talking with other departments that we weren't even working with to understand what was happening, and what that really did for me was just helped shape a story that I wasn't telling in that first meeting and completely changed the relationship when I was able to take the time to do that, to go in and learn. You know, I think one of the questions is like how does this company make money as a business, and for me that just kind of transform the way I thought about just the preparation needed, the research that you can do. There's so much information online now that like that research, no matter where you can go get it from, can really help tell a narrative for your product and service, because it's all kind of points that you can bring into the discussion. That our public information. They're out there. So that was a, you know, painful moment that kind of shaped me into thinking about how we need to research better, how doing to think about just getting deeper into accounts. We can't just stay surface level and kind of rip and repeat and go on to the next one. So that's that's kind of an initial one that that sticks out for me on the bad side of things, on the good side of things too, I think, at least in customer success. I'll give you an example made from our recent times. One of the fun things that we've done recently was we had a client who had maybe the bare minimum of customer success, very large business. They were actually getting over a hundred million dollars as an entire business and they're really a transactional type business. They're trying to transform what they were doing and they had really low retention and one of the things that we did is we walked in and help them to just look at the problem in a different way. So we said, Hey, let's take a cohort of customers. We took two hundred and let's go kind of prove out maybe a customer success model that can work. So we focused a lot on implementation and on boarding for that, making sure that clients got activated, and then we had a series of customer success touch points. And so the real fun part about that, or the unique story is that we were able to help them improve their gross revenue retention by eighteen points over about a year and a half span. So for them it was really fantastic because they started to look at customer success more as a reactive role. They were about to get rid of it. They weren't really thinking, you know, this could be a strategic arm of their business and transform the way that they thought about it. And it, you know, was a really fun exercise to try and do a test on a cohort like that and that ended up proving out over, you know, the next eighteen months where they expanded it to the rest of the customer base. That's awesome to me here. So I run a technology company. I have to ask you about tech. What are some of your favorite tools for customers success? Everything from, you know, APP store, widge it's all the way to like enterprise style software. One of the tools that you use are you recommend in your customers use in order to make their job easier and more efficient and make their customers experience more delightful? Yeah, so I've got a couple that are sticking out to me. One of them is a product called loom. Not sure if you've used it before, but I record video really easily. They've got a slick in your face and one of the things that we've been trying to look at recently is how you could, as a CSM, really just start to introduce maybe some more personalized videos that you can send via email that you can make easily accessible. So for me that is one that a cs them could just easily start doing without really anything other than just signing up for an account. You know, they've got like a really good freebase version that you can work from and I just think it's so easy to use that for me it's something that, like every CSM should be able to go do it and I think it provides a little unique experience for your customer. You know, generally they're just going to read an email from you. You know they're going to go on zoom calls and this could just be an easy way for you to get something across that doesn't necessarily have... be kind of boilerplate in an email. So that's one. I think it's kind of fun right now. Another one that we've seen recently is the use of some of these sales recording tools. So a gong or an outreach and, you know, some of these tools that can from the sales automation thing, who can, you know, record or help us think about sequences, I think can become really valuable and I think we've seen some people really use as well, especially the recording piece espect. You know, when you think about the fact that I can go listen to other customer success managers maybe delivering, I fine go listen to you know, as a manager, if I can go listen to all my customer success reps and who's performing well, who's not, what are the types of things that they're saying, I just think it's there are so many good elements to it. We've seen that work well, as you know, in that case. And then I think there's some really fun tools that are coming out in some unique ways that we've seen people use. Dash Boards, maybe through looker or tableau, which or probably your you know, your more standard bi tools, and then you've got your kind of avoided saying the traditional customer success tools because I you know, I think everybody knows those. So I was trying to give some different examples, but those are all still out there and, you know, tend to be in the space that everyone knows about the gain sites and client successes. Turn Zero's of world. Medicx just launched catalysts up in New York's there's a ton of, you know, cs tools that are certainly capable out there as well, and makes sense. You're telling me earlier that there's some places that technology is not really helping your customers very well. So, like, what are some things that you see your customer success clients doing manually that you feel like there should be technology out there to address? Yeah, I think there's a number of different things. I think at the beginning, as we start thinking about some of the fundamentals of customers success and what we try and instill in our clients, is around the idea of trying to be proactive. So how can we have a health score? Maybe that brings in multiple different types of data into the picture. And you know you're not paying me to say this, you know this is a challenge like that we need to get data into the right place and that we need to make sure that it's accurate and that we've got it flowing just from all the right areas of the business. So you know, when we think about health scores, we want to get you know, financial information, we want to get renewal and information, we want to get crm level data. We then want to get product level data. You know, there's so many different sources support level data. There's literally more and more that come every day. MPs and survey marketing right there's tons and I think what we continue to see is just the challenge for customer success teams to really take advantage of the tools because they can't get the data in the right way. And so for us that really turns into health score and how we can become proactive. And then I think it has some of the other permutations down the line of you know, I'd love, for I like we've got some customers who would love some of the financial information to flow in, but you know, they might be using different tools that don't sink well with sales force and so we don't have, you know, Opportunity records that really speak to what we need. And so the connecting of data through all these sources, whether it's renewal information and PS and survey level data, is a big one. And then looking at product level data. You know, I think that's just the big challenge, for what we see right now is as why some of these tools can't necessarily be utilized to the fullest, and that really helps as you start thinking down the line right, like if we can get our customer success team, we can help them and incremental one, one to two percent by, you know, maybe getting some proactive outreaches on their behalf. Can help schedule some meetings on their behalf and use some of these tools to do it. You know, that would go a long way and their day and helping them do the right things. But again, if you don't have the data flowing right and you can't get those things working, even if it breaks one time, right, like we've done a ton of homegrown solutions at that break, and then it's like you end up putting more time into it than you really want. So ends up being a huge, huge challenge there. For sure. Got It. So you mentioned churn and Customer Health score a couple times as a sort of like the heartbeat of any customer success organization. What are some specific initiatives or campaigns or like projects that you have teams work on in order to improve not only just the general heartbeats and maybe some other metrics that you might see within the business, whether it's activation on these features or or something somewhere. Yeah, couple that come to mind, you know. The first one maybe that popped into my brain is we've been thinking about NPS and survey and more just survey programs overall, and I...

...think, you know, they're kind of becomes a fallacy out there where the MPs score matters, you know, to a great deal, and I think we maybe dprioritize the score a little bit and we think of it more as an engagement tool. And so one of the things that we're trying to teach our customers about is, you know, that's great. We've got promoters, we've got the tractors, but really who we want to go target and talk to even more are the non responders. Those are the ones we didn't even take the time, you know, to even give you a score. And so what we're trying to think about our how can we build maybe a campaign that goes to look at the non responders. How do we get them engaged? Why are they not even giving us a score? You know, is it because they're too busy? Can we help offload stuff on their plate as it because they don't even like the product and they're just never going to use it and you know, they don't even want to give us a time of day. They're going to churn. We want to know those things. So I think trying to figure out the Non Responder Bucket is a big one that we've been trying to push right now, and because the other ones you can easily deal with in our minds. Right. The promoters, great, we should be able to shift those off to sales and marketing and we should be able to start to cultivate those into more promotional material for our customers. You know, they should be able to do testimonials for us, like we should be able to really super charge you know, those promoters, the detractors. We should be able to follow up on that, right. We should be able to whatever the score was, whatever their feedback was, let's actually get into it see if there's a solution that we can come to. You know, sometimes we can't. Some times it's product level stuff that maybe is on the road map or maybe not. You know, we can't go make everybody happy, but at the same time, can we actually follow up make sure that they feel like they've been heard and make sure we have a follow up cadence for the detractors as well. So that's just one that really comes into my mind right now. Is just this idea of making sure we can build a better program around surveying and and PS, if that's what you use, or ce sat and so along those same lines as well, I think you know you mentioned is how do we get our response where it's higher, but I think a lot of times when you hear from companies, they might only be hearing from ten, fifteen, thirty percent of customers and that's just not a large percentage. And so I think that also really comes into play, and something we're talking a lot about with our customers, is how do you develop a nice to syncd cohesive, which also didn't you know that those two do always go together? But so SYNCD and cohesive survey that could go out there where you can actually get good response rates and entice your customers to respond because they know you're actually going to use that information that they give you. I think we're on the same page on M yes, and a lot of times folks treated is and end when really it is just the meat to a variety of different ends. I'm a little more extreme in my view I think that promotter score is quite overrated. If you want someone to promote, you give them the tools to actually promote you and see if they do right. Yeah, referral programs, okay, if someone actually is sharing out referralings, they're definitely a promoted. It's not just about yes they do, but what they actually do know. Definitely, and we think about that the same way right, like if they're going to be a promoter, like they should be able to go write a public review. They should be able to put their name on it out in public if they're a true promoter. And you know, I think that's the crux of the problem too, becomes that, you know, the NPS was the first one in the door and so that's what everyone does and now they're I think there's a large you know, there's a there's not necessarily a large component where people want to move away from that, but I think you can. I think you could start to ask better questions that are more informative to what you really want to know as a business instead of just, you know, they standard MPs question. And again we want to think, if we want to be thoughtful about these things, so we actually if we're going to ask the question, we better want the back and we better respond and use it, and so it has to be stuff that's really going to be important. So yeah, I'm on the same page of either. Right. Cool. So last question here. I like to ask the same thing about everyone. What is the best piece of advice related to customer success that you've ever got? Best piece of advice I don't have to go back to an old boss of mine and one of the things that he would say is if you can help somebody get recognition or get promoted, then you are going to have somebody for life. And he meant, you know from that, is not only can our product and service help them, but if they can go get recognition inside of their company and then you're going to find like a deeper relationship that you're going to have for a long period of time. So it goes back to the relationship aspect we've talked about a lot, but I think because of that, you know, again, its shaped a lot of what I thought because if you can go do that, if...

...that person moves to the next company, they're probably going to be thinking about you and how your company could help them. Right and it's the same thing in your career as your even just moving up in the same organization. You tend to find people who are promoters of Yourself, champions who want to help you, and you know if they help you, then you're more likely to go back and ask for more feedback or and develop a deep relationship and it just becomes kind of a harmonious cycle. So I think that's the the one that sticks out to me is you know, if you can help somebody get promoted or recognition, that you're going to have somebody for life. Yeah, people build relationships of people, not really as well. Let's see corps. Yeah, exactly. Yep, need to get down to the human level for sure. Kad, I will thank you so much. All this is Jeff from customer imparative and I energy to go check out their customer success community gain, grow retain. Will provide details in the show notes here and again. I'm er crane from flat file, sign and off. 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 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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