A Chat with Jon Harris: Part Two

At The SaaSy People we really understand the importance of customer support, and how this can impact MRR - effective support encourages customers to share their experience, thus encouraging new customers to get involved. In your experience, has the presence of review sites and social media put pressure on businesses to make sure their customer support is top quality?

Absolutely! One way to look at this is to talk to a salesperson and ask what tools they have that help successfully sell their platform. One of the top things that should (hopefully) say is product evangelists. One of the strongest assets to the sales team is having customers speak passionately about your product, leaving a positive review for example.  There are so many review sites that a prospect could peruse when considering a supplier, everything from glassdoor, which reviews employee sentiment, all the way to G2 for existing customer reviews. 

There are many elements in the customer lifecycle that could impact any given review, and the support experience is just as relevant as any other aspect, sometimes even more so. 

Primarily, support doesn't tend to deal with happy customers. You reach out to support if you have a problem. They have to deal reactively to a potentially negative situation with the aim of turning this into a positive experience for the customer, which in turn can directly any potential reviews received.

Due to human nature, people don’t tend to leave a review to say ‘yes I've had a good experience’, the nature of the beast is that you might leave a review because you want to vent about a problem or negative experience you have had. For support to be able to convert this into a positive outcome is of significant importance and an often challenging thing to achieve. 

A good way the support team can proactively help with this is by enabling transparency through the use of Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) surveys or Customer Effort Scores (CES), which, whilst both are methods of tracking feedback, use slightly different metrics to gather their responses.  With these in place, support leadership can review feedback and directly address any issues to avoid them occurring in the future.

So yes, without question reviews influence the success of your  business and it is so important that they are honest and reflect a positive experience.

You have been working in the customer success industry for quite a while now. What is the biggest change you have seen with regards to how customers want to interact and their overall expectations? Have there been any significant changes in the last 18 months?

There have been so many changes in the CS landscape, even before taking the pandemic into consideration.  Customers (in general) are now more experienced when interacting with a CS organisation as the discipline has become more commonplace. Therefore, expectations are potentially set even before you meet as they may have experience working with CSM’s from other vendors.  This can be both a positive and negative at the same time.  Having experience of working with a CS org means that you can have a cadence, success plan and executive alignment in place far earlier in the relationship allowing you to achieve your goals and objectives faster.  Inversely it can mean that certain behaviours and expectations have been set by previous relationships which do not align with your own vision or plan for customer success.  It’s essential that these are discussed and addressed as early as possible to avoid any confusion or conflict.

When I joined Ably, to get to know our customers better I undertook something I called a ‘Listening Tour’.  I wanted to understand their whole journey, including any previous experience of working with CS so one of the questions I asked was ‘have you worked with a Customer Success Manager before? And if so what worked, what didn’t work and what are your expectations?’ The responses indicated that we are seeing customers becoming more educated in what Customer Success is and does which can actually help set the tone and cadence of the relationship from the get go. 

As far as the pandemic is concerned, yes there have been huge shifts. As a CSM, before the pandemic we would have been on-site and meeting customers anything from 30-80% of the time, depending on product and vertical.  At Ably we work with developers so don’t necessarily need an in person presence as much as they tend to prefer shorter, remote sessions. But in all of my previous roles, I was out every week visiting customers across Europe.

Obviously due to the pandemic there has been a good 18 months where that percentage dropped to zero, so the way I approach my calls and account management has also changed. I know that some CSM’s have struggled because one of the appeals of CS in the face to face interaction and rapport building.  So realistically It’s not just impacting the customers it’s impacting the CSM’s as well. However, if you were to have a look at any CS recruitment website, the demand for CS profressions far out stips supply.  In fact, in 2020, Customer Success Manager was the 6th fastest growing role when looking at jobs available on LinkedIn, demonstrating the huge growth of the role.

Regarding how customers want to interact, it does depend on the product and the customer themselves.  From my experience working with developers,  they now want a more direct and ‘to the point’ relationship, so much so that I have gotten to the point where I’m scaling back my Quarterly Business Reviews in terms of volume of content presented.  Certainly working within our demographic, they want you to talk about the product, give a roadmap, discuss utilisation,  a support retrospective and then very little more.  I’ve gone from 2 hour QBR’s down to 30-45 minutes.  Obviously this will differ from product to product and customer to customer but overall we need to evolve and tailor our content to meet the demands of our audience in this new world.  It’s worth noting that  zoom fatigue has had a significant impact in the day to day CS lifecycle with both customers and CSMs wanting to make sure that any time on video calls is valuable and well spent.  It can be a lot harder to be as engaging over a video call than it is face to face. 

What advice would you give to a scaling business owner who wants to make their customers feel welcome, valued, and supported from the beginning?

When scaling your organisation, you need to invest early in your key hires, both in support and customer success. It’s going to be too much of a resource drain to have inexperienced people on day one.  So, first and foremost ensure the right leadership is in place to build out the organisation and give them the resources to do so.  

When that is in place, through customer journey mapping identify the key processes in the customer lifecycle, both those that are successful and those that cause potential blocks.  Where necessary, document any associated pain points and a plan to resolve these as soon as possible. 

Internal relationship building will form a huge part of the success framework.  You will need to work with many parts of the organisation, from product managers and support leaders, to account executives and pre-sales teams, so make sure that the CS organisation has all the links and ties it needs from as early as possible so that the entire business has buy-in.

Within days of joining Ably, I asked to host a comply-wide presentation on what CS looks like now and what to expect it to look like in the coming months, to set expectations of what CS is and isn't. Defining the role straight out of the gates is so important. 

It is also vital that you hire the right people for the various CS roles.  Initially I looked for people with existing or transferable skills so they could hit the ground running and not require too much hand holding.  As an organisation grows you can look to add more junior members to the team as you will have more resources available to help manage this.

So really it boils down to a few key points:

  • Hire your leadership level first and work down.
  • Document the Customer Journey and identify any ‘low hanging fruit’
  • Set expectations with both the customers and your internal stakeholders as to how CS will roll out and execute in the first 3- 6 months.
  • Obtain ‘buy in’ from the wider organisation.
  • Pay special attention to your first CS/Support hires, in the first instance looking for experience to help grow the organisation.


You can read Part One here!

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