In this interview, Alicja Heyduk, Head of Customer Success at Infermedica talks about the most important steps in mapping and designing a customer success journey.
How did you get started in Customer Success?
When I got my first job as a Customer Success Manager, I had no idea what it was about and what it actually meant. I had a background in sales and customer service, but I’ve never even heard the term ‘Customer Success’ before. I was invited for a job interview just to ‘talk about potential opportunities’, and I ended up talking with CCO about increasing customers’ engagement, nurturing relationships with clients, building successful onboarding and we discussed various ways of increasing conversion rate while reducing churn.
So we started talking about customer-success related processes, even though it wasn’t even a thing back then. The CCO said ‘you will make a great CSM’, offered me a position there and I said yes.
This is how my Customer Success journey started, and on that day, I have found my true passion. I’m a self-learner when it comes to CS, I started reading, watching different webinars and interviews, then I implemented some processes and tactics and kept iterating them. Now, I’m creating a CS program and strategy from scratch in the third startup I am working at, and I’m still learning something new every day.
Why is it important for companies to invest in customer success? And what’s at stake for the companies that aren’t investing in customer success yet?
First of all, I think it’s really important to remember that Customer Success is not just a team or department, it should be a company’s philosophy. It should be built in the company’s DNA. It really takes a village to make customers successful, so investing in hiring a few CSMs will not do the trick.
I believe that Customer Success is strongly related to customer-centricity. When we look at the definition of Customer Success ‘Customer Success is when your customers achieve their desired outcome through their interactions with your company’ there’s an emphasis on all the interactions with the entire company. Starting at the earliest touchpoints from marketing and sales, moving through closing and onboarding, and continuing through their entire lifecycle with us.
Customer-centricity is a way of doing business that fosters a positive experience at every stage of the customer journey. Not only before the sale but also after. In a company with a customer-centric culture, the focus is on customers staying loyal and satisfied. This leads to customers referring your business to colleagues, friends, and family. And that leads to more business deals for you.
So why should we invest in customer success and being a customer-centric company? Simply because if a company forgets about customers, it will fail. You’ll build the wrong products, invest in the wrong resources, and you’ll lose the initial interest a customer had in your product. And if you don’t acquire and retain customers, you won’t survive — it’s simple as that.
How would you describe CS at a high level?
Customer Success is about ensuring our customers achieve their desired outcomes through their interactions with our company. It’s about creating a positive and appropriate experience for our customers through the whole customer lifecycle while helping them achieve their goals. It’s a company’s philosophy, it’s the way the whole company operates - whether it’s marketing, sales, product, or customer success team.
Do you believe Customer Success is a competitive differentiator for companies?
Definitely. There was a recent study that stated that customer experience will overtake price and product as a key brand differentiator by 2020. I think that the Customer Success approach - where we focus on all customer interactions with our company during the whole customer lifecycle, where we want to create a positive and appropriate experience while helping our customers achieve their goals - this is the customer experience at the highest level.
What do you think is the biggest impediment to achieving customer satisfaction?
I think that the biggest impediment to achieving customer satisfaction is assuming that we know what’s best for our customers without asking them what they would like to accomplish and how they want to accomplish it. What’s the appropriate experience for them? After all, customer satisfaction is defined by how well your product or service meets your customer’s expectations.
For example - what’s the preferred communication channel? How often are they willing to meet and discuss their success plans and business reviews? Do they need hand-by-hand product walkthroughs or do they have skilled enough professionals who don’t need that level of support?
I know that we all have some processes and tactics in place - and we can definitely recommend a ‘perfect path to success’ to our customer, but what really makes a difference is being flexible and adjusting to the customer’s needs and their expectations.
When it comes to making your customers successful, what is the single biggest challenge, or frustration that you've been struggling with?
The biggest challenge is to actually define what success means to our customers and how our product fits into that definition. It’s the first and the most important step in mapping customer success journey and designing their path to success, and at the same time, it can be really challenging.
You have to talk to the right people, ask the right questions. Very often you need to learn about the customer’s business and deep dive into what objectives they may have, because it’s also hard for them to define what’s their desired outcome at a high-level and how we can actually measure it. Once you have the success definition, it’s also crucial to keep up with the client and be able to fit in their shoes. Their strategy and goals can change over time, so you need to make sure that you understand what they need from you and the product during the whole lifecycle.
What does a "healthy relationship" look like to you?
I think that customer relationship health is really subjective and it would probably look a bit different for each person. In general, customer health is a combination of objective and subjective measurements like product usage, NPS, finance metrics, support cases, responsiveness, etc. A healthy customer relationship it’s more about the connection between CSM and the customer, it’s a subjective ‘feeling’ that the CSM has regarding this relationship, and again, it really depends on the customer.
I had customers with whom I had weekly meetings, we were constantly in touch, they were very active and responsive, they were great brand advocates. On the other hand, I had customers who told me right at the beginning that they’re used to more reactive approach and they will reach out to me in case of any questions, but I knew they were actively using the product, they raised inquires to our support and we had half-yearly meetings to review their account. In both cases -- they were healthy relationships. Just different types of customers with different needs.
If you were to sit down to evaluate your customer relationships, what would you like to learn or hear from your customers?
As a first thing, I’d simply ask if they’re happy with us and what can we do to make them even more satisfied. Then I’d dig into the details - if there’s anything we need to fix on our end, whether they get the value they expected, how do they rate our customer support, renewal process, the usability of the product -- basically the whole customer experience. I’d probably ask them to rate each of the topics ‘from 0 to 10’ since it’s a good discussion opener. It’s better to first ask for an evaluation based on some scale, rather than getting an answer ‘yeah it’s pretty okay’ which gives us no information whatsoever. But it’s just an opener - you need to dig deeper to learn more, ask for examples, etc.
If you are going to assess the current state of CS, what do you think are the changes we are going to see (expect or anticipate to happen) in the future?
It’s a bit wishful thinking, but I do hope that the Customer Success will not be limited to having a team of CSMs, but it will become a foundation and the culture of the whole company. I think it’s likely to happen since we can already see the trend of proactive alignment between CS and other departments. What’s more, I believe that customer success teams will no longer be seen just as ‘churn prevention’ teams, they will be growth-drivers, focused on expansion and revenue increase.
If there's one principle your organization should live, what will that be?
To be a truly customer-centric organization.
How would you like to measure the success of your team?
I would definitely use some metrics like customer health score, portfolio growth rate, retention rate, product adoption rate, NPS, CSAT, referrals. Since my team is also responsible for the customer support, I’d add metrics like first response time, resolution time, lower number of support tickets.