“Customer Success acts as organizational ‘glue’. The CS manager mediates between the customers and product development and brings the voice of the market to the organization”

Guy Fogel

 

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.

מודעות פרסומת

How to provide premium service to your security product customers

In today’s world, it is not enough to have a premium product, you need to provide premium service. The service aspect, especially for security SaaS products, is critical for your customers.

Premium service in the security world means understanding your customer’s concerns, risks and challenges. You need to be sensitive to your customers and be able to react quickly and effectively once a security issue was detected.

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Here are 4 important tips for Customer Success Manager for security products:

  • Be flexible – security attacks can occur 24*7 with no advance notice, make sure you have the right mechanism in place to provide support off business hours.

The Customer Success manager should be informed of major security issues with his account and follow up accordingly. Talk to your customer to see if there are any lessons learned or processes to fix for the future.

  • Be knowledgeable – know about your customer environment and where your product fits. If your products is located in a sensitive main point in the customer’s architecture, then both the organization and the CSM are required to be able to react quickly and effectively.

The CSM shouldn’t necessarily be an engineer, but should have enough knowledge understanding the issues and bugs in order to transmit them properly in the organization. Remember – you are the voice of the customer.

  • Be creative – always think how you can your work to improve the added value your customer is getting. Be open minded, listen to your customers and help your organization identify the pain points your customers face. When you start your engagement with a customer, make sure their expectations and concerns are perfectly clear, they will be the compass for your work.
  • Be engaged– customers will appreciate you if you are there when they need it. When they face a security incident and they call you, make sure to provide them with 100% of your attention and do all you can in order to help them face the crisis. They will remember it and appreciate it.

In the security world, your products are mainly an insurance, so as long as everything is calm, your engagement with the customer will be normal. When a real security issue occurs, both the product and the service will be put to the test. A CSM usually cannot fix the product, but can defiantly assure good service.

Setting the right expectations and working procedures will help you face these sensitives situation in a more successful way and assure quality service to your customers.

Ariela Belzer is a Customer Engagement Manager in F5 Networks. Ariela has joined F5 with the acquisition of Versafe in 2013 and is working closely with the company’s Anti-Fraud and Silverline customers globally.

Solve it yourself: what you should expect from your Customer Success Engineer

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Harry Gordon Selfridge was an admirable entrepreneur and innovator. In 1909, he had a then-crazy idea: Allow people to buy fashion off-the-shelf. Before that, most people had not more than a few items of clothes in their closet, and real fashion was only available to the rich individuals who could afford paying private tailors.

Selfridge acted upon the idea that most people on earth wear similar sizes, and created the world’s-first department store in London’s vibrant Oxford Street, offering off-the-shelf fashion in pre-fixed sizes to people of different classes. He democratized fashion and provided people access to the most basic of commodities: clothes.

Off-the-shelf fashion is, to this very day, how people purchase their outfits. Most people buy most clothes in a shop and wear it as is. But clothes that matter, even if they start as factory-produced products, go through modifications before being used. Imagine a wedding tux that did not go through measuring and fitting with a tailor, or an Armani suit that has not been modified to fit the classy businesswoman who wears it to work.

Even the products that were designed to be sold off-the-shelf often need modification, and your product, be it an App, an Enterprise SaaS platform, a Cyber Security software or even hardware equipment – is no different. The reality is that big clients, the ones who close big deals, are expecting special treatment – you could say that they are in fact the ‘special events’ for which you tailor your suits. They may be impressed with your product – but they’ll still want adjustments. Can it cater their specific needs? Can it be installed on their infrastructure? Will it integrate with their legacy systems?

These questions, along with many other product-related queries that are bound to pop up before and during the onboarding/installation process, are the reason why Solution Architecture is such a necessary skill in a product-based business. Traditionally part of the domain of Product and R&D, Solution Architecture can sometimes be most valuable wielded by none other than your Customer Success Engineer.

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Architecting a solution for a customer can be reduced to this very basic formula: Provide the customer with maximum custom value, whilst maintaining minimum interference with the product’s core and utilizing as little of R&D time and resources as possible. It can also be summarized into these three words every Customer Success Engineer should know: Solve It Yourself, or SIY.

Make sure your Customer Success Engineer reads this

SIY starts with asking the following 5 questions whenever a client requests a modification in the product:

  1. How highly is this customization prioritized on the client’s side?
  2. Was there any specific customization that was promised during the sales process?
  3. Is this a recurring need/issue or a one-off pain point?
  4. Is the solution something that could benefit other (existing and future) clients as well?
  5. Is any part of the solution in the product’s roadmap?

Once these questions are answered fully, your Engineers would have a better grasp of the required capacity and can get down to architecting a solution – be it mild modifications or extracting abilities you haven’t dreamed of from your product.

What sets SIY from other standard Customer Success strategies, is that it puts the emphasis on the Customer Success Engineer (CSE). Empowered CSEs can go a long way in changing and customizing your product for a specific client, without using valuable R&D time. Here’s a real-life example: A major client requests to add the creation and distribution of a report that is not supported by your product. While the client is well assured they need this feature, and is definitely paying enough to be taken seriously, solving the problem is potentially quite costly.

Adding such a feature might sound uncomplicated, but even a simple solution could take long, expensive hours to create if going through the standard procedures. A Product Manager might take time out of their busy schedule to examine the request and assemble a solution. In order to implement it, they’ll need to consult VP R&D so as to calculate the effort needed, possibly involving VP Product in the process. After the task is completed, this may be sent up the stream to the CEO, who in turn spends priceless company time considering if this was worth priceless company time.

A capable CSE, However, properly utilizing the SIY principle, is able to create a local add-on to the product – a simple script, which generates the report automatically – leaving them with just scheduling its distribution to the client, which they also easily automate. They would of course, later on, discuss long-run effects and the profitability of adding this feature to the roadmap in their regular sync meeting with the PMs. However, the CEO, Product dept., VP R&D, and of course the developers themselves, would all be blissfully unaware any of this has even occurred in real time, all due to the obvious, dead-simple concept vital for any Customer Success Engineer: Solve It Yourself.

CEO? Sorry, you’ll need a Customer Success Engineer

Dear B2B CEO,

You've raised your seed round; clients are pouring in, and as revenue grows — retention slowly becomes an issue. In today’s hyper-competitive tech scene, great client acquisition just doesn't cut it any more. As you run towards your A and B rounds, you come across this new, terrifying metric that you have to measure and optimize: Churn rate. That awful, dreadful number signifying the number of users who tried your product and decided they can do better. That you can do better.

Churn rate is the wrong question

“How do I reduce the churn rate?” is a hard question to answer and it’s the wrong one to ask. The right one is: “How do I keep my customers happy”. It’s painfully obvious, isn’t it? happy customers stay. Unhappy customers leave. Recognizing who’s happy and who’s not, and on time, is that one thing that differentiates high churn rate from low one. And the biggest, ugliest problem you’ll face when trying to make that differentiation, is that like in sales — software can get you the leads; It can provide you with the info; But you’ll need stellar reps to turn that data into action. As always, It’s a combination of technology, analytics, and communications that will save you from the retention-volcano.

And there’s one obvious conclusion that pops up every time you make time for this problem:

YOU NEED TO HIRE ANOTHER ENGINEER. I know, I know. Recruiting Engineers is hard.

With growing competition from companies like Apple and Google, It comes as no surprise that some CEOs feel relieved as they turn to recruiting employees for what they recognize as non-technical positions, such as Community Managers, HR, Sales or Customer Success.

And that would be where they’re wrong, because there’s no way around it: If technology is a vital part of your core value proposition, you’ll need technological people to man the key positions. You’ll need Engineers.

Customer Success is called that because that’s what it’s about: the customer’s success. To your customer, ‘Success’ usually means that your product is working properly and providing the value proposition that has been originally promised upon purchase.

Now, if you've been in this business for a while, here’s something I'm sure you know by now: Nothing EVER works as planned. Even if you have the best, brightest and most diligent R&D group, sooner or later your clients would feel the gap between what they expect and what they actually get.

Add to that the sometimes complex work of Solutions Architecture in order to tailor the product to the client’s needs, the everyday problem solving, the expertise needed in order to observe between defects and misuse of the product and the collection and classification of feature requests, and you get a challenging position which requires — you guessed it — an Engineer.