Greetings from Seat 21F, and a quick shout-out to my new friend in 21E who keeps catching my elbow occasionally as we fight over their rightful domain – the middle armrest. This week I am spending a good bit of time focusing on key customer conversations to finalize our message and product and make sure we have all the right capabilities in place — we’ve started with a solid engineering team, added in product management, systems engineering, sales, finance/operations, and marketing as we have closed the gap with our intended launch timeframe. Recently we started adding to our customer success function.
What is customer success?
I guess that is actually the first question we asked ourselves – ‘How do you introduce a new product and new product category in a way that can reduce all the associated risks for a new customer?’ How do we ensure that people who choose to use our products are gloriously happy with that decision, have no buyers remorse, and truly know that ‘we have their back’ when they need support or better yet, that we have anticipated their needs? If you are going to challenge product or market norms, you have to be willing to also challenge the norms relating to how to enable successful outcomes for your customers.
We decided that we needed to combine a few functions that in some companies are disparate into one rather incredibly empowered role and department: Customer Success. We’ve combined customer support and technical assistance center functions, customer service, on-boarding and training, and customer retention/renewals under one department. We’ve seen this model work in many of the Software as a Service success stories – the person who is most closely associated with the account is the support manager/engineer not necessarily the sales and systems engineering team – although all parties are responsible for successful outcomes.
You have to be clear in your mind who you want, a person that looks to incrementally do things better, or one that looks to radically do things differently? What makes customers successful in a rapidly changing world you might ask? Adaptability! Being able to see when circumstances change, so that you can be responsive to those changes in a positive way for your customers. To accomplish this you need someone that has the ability to think beyond today’s capabilities or processes, this is critical.
In my usual manner of describing most all business processes with stories and anecdotes I often talk about ‘Bob the Customer Success Manager’. Bob’s job is really simple – make his customers amazingly happy with us. This starts from the time of the first order where Bob should contact the customer and make sure everything was ordered right, understand the customer’s use case and application for our products, and verify shipping/delivery options. Bob can go so far as to be there with the customer to receive the first units, help install them, and help the customer configure them properly. Bob may organize a lunch and learn or two, train the operations team, and spend time making sure our customers are taking full advantage of our systems’ capabilities. By the time Bob signs off on the customer having successfully deployed our system the customer will be fully operational. Bob will then document into our customer support system the use cases, any caveats, and operating/support best-practices and processes for this customer so that our continued engagement follows their model and practices.
In staffing this newly-created role we identified a series of candidates with deep experience in supporting customers in some of the most critical and challenging environments in our industry, short-listed to a couple, and brought the best ones in for a chat.
We had twelve engineering leaders in the room the other day discussing this role and our expectations for it when Ted, our lead for our WebOps function asked a very fundamental question, “What are you looking for and how can I judge if this candidate is the right person?”
I took pause, because I really didn’t have a scripted or prepared answer and while I’ve worked with some incredibly talented customer support organizations I have never had to hire the leader for one before – so this was a bit of uncharted territory for myself, and for all of the leadership team at Skyport.
We looked back at Ted and on top of all of our usual ‘culture fit’ conversations that are critical to establishing a productive work environment we added a last and critical test for our Customer Success lead — this person will be empowered to stop any version of software from shipping, do a complete system recall, can ask anyone here pull a long weekend or all-nighter to make a customer happy, and can spend whatever we need them to in order to get parts on a plane, a resource to the customer, or to troubleshoot and root-cause a failure. So ask yourself in the interview — do you trust this person to put the customer first and to do the right thing for them and will you empower them to be able to tell the CEO ‘No’ those times when it needs to be said?
After over twelve challenging interviews we found our lead for Customer Success — Kim Ringeisen. Kim joins us after eighteen years in Cisco as a systems engineer, critical accounts manager, director and senior director of customer advocacy and the lead for the Safe Harbor and Data Center Assurance Programs that validated multiple systems for some of the largest and most complex global financial customers. Prior to all that fun time in networking Kim was a tank commander in the US Army and served in Desert Shield/Storm in 1991.
We would all like to thank Kim for joining our team and helping us form a customer success organization that can set the standard in our industry the way companies like Nordstrom’s and Zappo’s have in theirs.