At Workday, the CS Ops team has done a phenomenal job of aligning functions, roles, and processes to create quite the scaling machine. I spoke with Kari Ardalan, Senior Manager of Customer Success Scaled Operations, who walked me through how her department succeeds.
Like many in CS Ops, Kari found her role unexpectedly. She was a field Customer Success manager with over ten years in CS. With her move to Ops, she has driven the meteoric rise of the department at Workday. When Kari began there, the function of Ops was called “Customer Success Scaled Operations.” She brought together a team of six initially doing the same job but independently and in separate areas all over the organization.
The idea behind consolidating was to approach customers more scalably than Workday’s traditional white-glove method. Kari quickly organized the team from a regional setup to a formalized and centralized operation as the CS Ops team.
The first program Kari and Workday built out had a one-to-many focus, marketing into the customer base. Part of that change was uniting silos with disparate data sources inside the company. While Workday used Gainsight as their customer success platform, each team’s use was disjointed and not uniform. And there was more information and data beyond that of the customer that their business analysts needed to consolidate. Kari and the team created a strategy for the entire organization, gathering data and going from multiple dashboards to two for practical use. The whole process took about a year. And recently, they took it further, developing a cross alignment with customer-based sales. The idea was to run coordinated customer-facing operations enterprise-wide.
Creating a Charter and Metrics
Their team and the CS org developed a charter to create experiences that enabled lasting customer success. For example, “We invested in how we become more multithreaded in our survey approach,” Kari said, “and then how do we build in listening architecture to understand where our end users are finding the most friction points.”
Health and adoption became a crucial new development to Workday. Traditionally, Workday did not look at adoption metrics for customers. They realized they wanted to change that practice to help customers along their journey. Now, Workday is running an extensive program around adoption analytics. CS Ops needed to build it from the ground up to understand what customers adopted at the beginning, through ‘emerging use,’ to advanced levels.
They also launched a customer health score system that incorporates some of their listening architecture. Kari explained that they are “looking at how customers are engaging not just with systems, but through our webinars, through our community page, and different areas, producing health scores with machine learning.”
The CS Ops Teammates
There are specific functional skill sets that are a necessary part of Kari’s team of CS Ops. The first is program management. Her five PMs drive much of the corporate programs and the levels of service. With recent acquisitions of Adapitv and Skout, this “mini-team” is a part of acquisitions management, building onboarding programs, and launching new programs. Two business analysts are a part of CS Ops with primary responsibilities of running all dashboards, mainly in Gainsight. She also has two Gainsight administrators. One is more of a systems PM to help with account planning architecture. Two additional team members manage customer marketing and onboarding programs, while another system PM is a technical writer responsible for map workflows and account planning. Together the team is successfully managing Gainsight and accomplishing the goals of alignment and data consolidation.
With a vast array of responsibilities and various initiatives, it would be hard for anyone to know what areas they’re successful in versus which ones are less effective. I asked Kari how she tracks the CS Ops team’s success. Kari explained that it was easy to measure when they simplified the dashboard process from 30 down to two. Since Workday relaunched those consolidated Gainsight dashboards for the field CSM and leaders, they saw usage increase by 30 percent.
There are also performance OKRs that mirror corporate OKRs, with green/yellow/red scoring. And there are internal stakeholder’s NPS scores. While subjective, they are insightful indicators of the stakeholder’s negative or positive position towards a team member or the overall team.
Deciding on Strategy
I was interested in how Kari manages the governance in interaction and requests from internal stakeholders, such as various directors, VPs, and C-suite demands. Stakeholders need to have a sense of agency in influencing prioritization. Kari revealed that Workday has quarterly prioritization that involves their 26 CS leaders.
They begin with the corporate initiatives and base their OKRs against them. Kari found that feedback from the CS teams can be massive and overwhelming. To manage the motion better, they slowed that down. Instead, they do an intake from the field, prioritize that effort, and rank each need or suggestion. “We apply that to our resourcing and headcount,” Kari said. “Then we come back and say, ‘OK, here’s what we can do.'”
Kari schedules an all-CSM weekly global call to manage large-scale delivery, especially when rolling out a new product, features, or motions. She sees this communication as an opportunity for a high-level overview and then adds office hours to dive in deeper. There are also weekly CS leader calls focusing on soon-to-be rolled out projects, program updates, and gathering feedback. Leaving nothing to chance, Kari manages 1-on-1 chair sides to help everyone understand day-to-day issues.
Kari is interested in capturing stakeholders’ sentiment from different segments when proposing new solution designs. She sends out surveys for detailed feedback and uses champions within each field to center the discussion. However, to prevent a “trip down the rabbit hole,” they limited options for their solutions using the 80/20 rule, not building for the exception but the commonality. For example, creating a playbook for a risk CTA, three options for the solution used as finalists, and the choice that receives the most votes gets used.
Additionally, mutually agreed upon scope documents are a part of the process to record progress and prevent redundancy. Not surprisingly, with such attention to detail, Workday has made incredible progress in a short amount of time.
It’s All About Partnership
The initial experience of Workday’s silos makes Kari mindful of how vital team collaboration is.
Speaking about aligning with Sales, Kari described that Sales views their engagement as linear. They close a deal and move on. Customer Success and CS Ops are not linear. It’s aligning different touchpoints at the right time. Ultimately that feeds back into Sales through renewals, expansions, and references/advocacy. To help Sales appreciate the non-linear perspective, she showed them how CSM interactions and data would tie into their workflow. She described it as a “treasure map” for Sales, where CSMs’ insights would expose both risks and opportunities.
Kari and her CS Ops team are a true balance for Workday. She draws the map between what is a want, what is a need, and the possible. Kari can see that CS Ops holds the answer to many of the questions about promoting adoption, aligning on a strategic direction, instilling team collaboration. As she champions that understanding across all the leaders she works with, Kari puts Workday’s advancement at the forefront of all she does.