Name: Guy Fogel
Position: VP Customer Success at GamEffective
Guy has an extensive background in management consultancy and project management with strong technological orientation. He has more than 7 years of experience in bringing together technology, entrepreneurship and customers. In the last four years, he has built and directed the Customer Success field at GamEffective, an Israeli startup company and world leader in Gamification, which has lately raised 7 million USD.
Tell us a little about your current position
I head a department with 14 CS managers, leading the entire post sale life cycle of the customer, from initial onboarding (project implementation) till the renewal. I began as the company’s number two employee and actually established the Customer Success function in it. I turned it from a concept into a functioning team managing the company’s engagement with its customers. In recent years, I have managed dozens of projects with leading international customers, such as Microsoft, Yahoo!, PayPal, eBay and more.
How did you become involved in this field of activity? Tell us about your background
Before joining GamEffective, I led global projects in some key tech companies in the Israeli market, such as Intel and Amdocs. I am a Tel Aviv University graduate with a first degree in industrial and management engineering and an MBA, specializing in entrepreneurship and information systems. I enjoy seeing positive business results emerge from process change, and strongly believe in an information-based analytical approach to any situation. This is how I became interested in CS.
The Customer Success field has undergone a number of dramatic changes in recent years. How do you see its future development?
In recent years, a significant shift has occurred in the corporate approach to CS. Positions previously defined as Account Management or Delivery are now part of CS.
The main catalysts of change were the SaaS companies:
- Mobility Barriers between different services have been largely lifted, compared with similar software products of the past.
- The customer is no longer bound to an expensive licensing and maintenance deals, but pays for usage.
- The majority of a company’s income comes from existing rather than new
- It is much cheaper to retain an existing customer than to obtain a new customer.
There was a real need for an organizational role to guarantee customer continuity and loyalty to the product or service. This change is rooted in the building of a close customer relationship, and maintain an iterative process designed to encourage effective use of the product, thereby ensuring value creation to the customer. This is more or less how CS, as we know it today, was born.
The conceptual change also engendered an understanding that customers should be treated differently in the different stages of the process. At GamEffective, we opted for separation of the Customer Onboarding team from the standard CS operations team, as we understood the two roles required different skill sets. The department also deals with additional subjects, such as Support and Training.
As I see it, this field will continue to grow in directions that will reinforce the reciprocal relationship between the company (and product) to the customer. For example, more in-depth analysis of the customer’s use of the product will enable us to detect specific usage patterns, and to provide immediate feedback with recommendations to the user on correct product usage.
Further, as more people in the industry become aware of the value of CS to the customer, its impact on other company departments will grow. For example,
- Sales – a gradual transition to a Consultative Sales They will wish to target customers for whom the product is most suitable and possess enough knowledge on the product that will enable them to suit the initial solution to the customer. Most likely, the process will include measurement of the sales team on new KPIs like customer renewal (at least in the first year).
- Product – greater emphasis will be placed on product design with features most likely to encourage user Stickiness, at times even at the expense of functionality.
What would you say are the specific challenges facing a Customer Success professional in the technology sector?
It is difficult to define a single challenge: It greatly depends on the product and the market. A major challenge is the building of a method to enable rapid understanding of the customer’s needs and so assist him in creating the most effective solution (Based on your product) in the shortest time. To achieve this, we constructed templates representing solutions for various customer types. These templates help us to focus, simplify and shorten processes. Nonetheless, obviously one cannot rely on them exclusively, and have to look in greater depth at the unique characteristics of each customer. The solution must be customer-oriented and suit his needs, if we want it to generate value and effective use, and finally to lead to contract renewal at the end of the period.
Another challenge is the ability to manage a large number of customers in parallel, and to give superb service to all of them. In meeting this challenge, we employ analytical tools and alert systems, which identify customer usage patterns and help us focus on the right customer.
In recruiting Customer Success personnel, what qualities do you seek?
I seek a profile which combines process analysis abilities with good interpersonal relations, a service orientation and technical know-how. As Customer Success depends on the way the customer chooses to use the product, it is critical for CSMs to be able to analyze the customer’s needs, so that they can offer a comprehensive solution to serve him well in both the short and the long term. Furthermore, the relationship with the customer is key. A personal connection and excellent service generate business opportunities with existing customers. Moreover, a candidate must have keen analytical abilities. In my view, part of the job of a good CS manager is to analyze the customer’s product usage patterns in order to provide him with recommendations for improvement.
From your experience, in which stage in the life of a startup is it recommended to establish/open a Customer Success department?
Customer Success acts as organizational ‘glue’. The CS manager mediates between the customers and product development. He’s a main partner in setting product roadmap and brings the voice of the market to the organization. This means that CS should be introduced in the early stages of a business. The operational basis of the CS team will alter in time. Initially, heavy emphasis will be placed on implementation and feedback on the major functions of a product. Later, the emphasis will shift more analysis of product usage, value creation, reducing the risk of churn, and expanding business with existing customers. Many startups tend to invest extensively on early stages in development and product at the expense of CS. In my view, even if there is a budget constraint prevents recruitment of more CSMs, the CS culture can still be implemented to maximize the value the product creates for the customer. At GamEffective, we set up the foundation to the CS department very early on. We understood that in order to direct our product to the right way, we’ll need to enhance our ability to listen our customers and understand their pain points. In retrospect, it was the right decision for us.