An AMA With Ashvin Vaidyanathan And Ruben Rabago Image

An AMA With Ashvin Vaidyanathan And Ruben Rabago

Our CCO, Ashvin Vaidyanathan, and our Chief Strategist, Ruben Rabago, were honored to be invited to do an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit last week.

As the authors of The Customer Success Professional’s Handbook, Ashvin and Ruben are two of the world’s foremost experts on the emerging customer success movement, its role in modern business, and best practices in both strategy and tactics. Below you can read their answers to just a few of the questions asked during the AMA. I’ve lightly edited the text, but I highly recommend checking out the entire thread here.

Additionally, the Customer Success Subreddit is a great place to connect and network with other practitioners and leaders. If you’re on Reddit, you should definitely join!

If you were building out a CS team from scratch where would you focus your efforts in the first 120 days? What are the most important processes to have in place?

Ashvin: We think of the maturity stages in three steps:

  1. Get insight into your customers—Connect your data sources, execute on 3–5 key activities (called Moments of Truth) that have a ton of impact on customer experience, and create a health score that tells you if customers are trending well, flat, or unwell.
  2. Become proactive with your outcomes—Here you start getting more proactive and consistent with your outcomes. Be it driving better product adoption, managing risk, reaching out to executives, etc., it’s all about consistent workflows.
  3. Collaboration and transformation—Share customer insights with your non-customer facing teams in your company (e.g., Product, Finance, etc.) to drive better customer-centric decision-making.

In the first 90–120 days, focus on #1!

[Editor’s note: Our CEO, Nick, wrote a great article on launching a new CS team. Click here to check it out!]

How have the metrics evolved over the last few years?

Ruben: Early in the advent of this new category and profession, the primary metrics that CS teams were being measured on were Retention (primarily Gross Retention) and NPS. As the function and practice of CS evolved, Net Retention rose quickly to the top, which accounts for both retention, growth, and expansion of existing account via upsells and cross-sells. It has become the primary metric while NPS has fallen to near the bottom of most-used metrics as per our most recent Industry Benchmark Report. It’s not to say that customer sentiment is not important, but it points to the growth impact of a CS-centric company.

Also, check out this really good guide that goes in to greater detail about metrics.

Ashvin: To add to Ruben’s post, I’d suggest thinking of your metrics with respect to the maturity of your CS organization:

  • Early/low CS maturity—Measure your team on activities (e.g., are you having business reviews every quarter, are you training the customer every six months, etc.)
  • Mid maturity—Move to leading indicators of value like improved product adoption, improved NPS, etc.
  • High maturity—Measure on financial outcomes for your company (e.g., Retention Rates, Expansion, etc.) and customers outcomes (% of customers with demonstrable ROI)

I work in an industry that just doesn’t seem ready for the traditional CSM role. I feel like I get constantly bogged down by and spend too much time escalating support tickets. I try to distance myself from being the customer’s technical support, but it seems to not click sometimes and I get drawn back in. What are some practical things to do to get yourself out of the weeds?

Ashvin: One practical tip—carve out (or convince your Support leader to carve out) a small team of one or two people in Support who don’t answer tickets and do some proactive outreaches to customers. And measure the pilot group of customers managed by that team vs. a control group to see if their adoption or NPS improves and (over time) whether their retention/renewal rate improves. That will help you make the case to create a separate CS team.

Ruben: We’ve learned that just about any industry will benefit from applying customer success best practices and CS platform technologies: from traditional on-prem software, tech, and manufacturing to (of course) born-in-the-cloud SaaS businesses. Take, for instance, John Deere. While they don’t have a traditional CSM function, this year marks the first year in the company’s history that they’ll have more software engineers than mechanical engineers, having IOT-enabled many of their mechanical products. The “account managers” don’t just talk about the bells and whistles of the next set of equipment iterations, but rather they talk about best practices leveraging data inputs from just about every indicator along the farming journey from soil, geology, weather, outputs, conditions, etc. You’re not just buying a John Deere tractor, you’re buying the means to produce a better yield. The same holds true in companies that traditionally only think transactionally. Customers expect an outcome—an ROI and not just a closed support case. I encourage you to continue to be forward thinking!

If I want to be a Chief Customer Officer, what should I be able to prove?

Ashvin: It’s a great role, but I might be biased! 🙂 Some tips:

  • Prove that you can run a Profit & Loss (P&L)—If your business has a Professional Services P&L, that’s a good one to dive deep into and prove you can run the forecasting and repeatable business. You could do the same with Renewals as another business.
  • Prove that you can put the customer at the center of your company—Share insights and learnings with everyone and advocate for customers. When things go well, share the learnings to keep repeating. When things don’t go well, share the learnings so we dont repeat it.
  • Prove that you can work cross-functionally—CCO is all about advocating for the customer and influencing the company to do things that they might naturally not do (because of their silos). Inspire and persuade to make it happen.

Ruben: I’d also like to add that you need to become REALLY comfortable in the hot seat at the board and executive level. Ashvin is being super humble about it, but his demeanor is very chill, cool, and collected. I’d also add it’s very important to form a strong network of peers and leverage them often.

[Editor’s note: If you’re a new CCO or you’re trying to be, this welcome kit by our CEO, Nick, is your new best friend!]