Building out a high-touch Customer Success team
Chief Customer Officer
Today on the show we have Maranda Dziekonski, Chief Customer Officer at Swiftly.
In this episode, Maranda shared her early career experience and how she made a move from the factory production line to an office role and later into Customer Success.
We then dove into Maranda’s framework for assessing the Customer Success function when joining a new company, how she went about splitting out the high-touch customer success function at Swiftly, and we closed off with some tips and hiring advice for Customer Leaders building new teams.
[00:01:25] Andrew Michael: Hey, Maranda, welcome to the show.
[00:01:27] Miranda Dziekonski: Thank you so much for having me excited to be.
[00:01:29] Andrew Michael: It's great to have you for the listeners.
Maranda's the chief customer officer of Swiftly a big data platform designed specifically for transportation, data and operations. Maranda is also a principal thought leader, practical CSM, and a member of the board of advisors for CSM prior prior to Swiftly, Maranda held roles as a customer success coach at Catalyst VP of customer success at Pared.
VP of customer success and customer oppressions of HelloSign and several other leadership roles of leading technology companies. So my first question for you Maranda is [00:02:00] what is the definition of customer success for you?
[00:02:04] Miranda Dziekonski: Yeah, that's a really good question. And so easy. But I'm sure, you ask 10 different leaders.
You're going to get 10 different takes on it for me. It's the actual motion that an organization. Creates to make sure our customer's able to be successful in your product or your service. And if they're able to achieve their desired outcomes, get a great return on their investment and continue to grow and evolve with your company and with your product.
[00:02:32] Andrew Michael: Yeah, I liked the way you say easy answer, but as you mentioned, like pretty much everybody else, we'll give you some very variation of that. It's definitely something we've talked about a lot on the podcast and actually just now giving me the idea. Maybe I should be asking this question to every person I speak to on the show as well, just to maybe formulate, see the perception in the market and how it changes.
Cause it definitely varies wildly. Maybe you can tell us a little bit about your early days. How did you get started? We were having a chat before as well. You mentioned that you're working in a factory and then made a break. [00:03:00] Tell us a little bit about yourself. Like how did you make it into customer success?
And we are
[00:03:02] Miranda Dziekonski: today. Oh my gosh. Yeah. So I grew up in rural, Michigan on a farm in the middle of nowhere. And I. I when I when I graduated from high school, I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go. I got married very young. And I went to work at a local factory in Michigan, not in that order, but I went to work at a local factory.
I was working actually Frigidaire. So I was building refrigerators. I ran the screw gun, who was a really good at it too. But I did that from six in the morning to 2:30 PM and then at night from six at night to 12:00 PM. Part-time I started answering phones at a call center for Amway, Amway has a huge presence.
In Michigan and their headquarters is right outside of grand rapids. So I used to drive from my small community an hour to go answer phones at this call center. And that was like my first foray into the professional world [00:04:00] or kind of getting an idea of what it would be like to work in an office.
And I knew where I wanted more. I then shortly thereafter I moved to Mexico for a year. I lived there and. Had another, shifted my career where I was I was so young, but I was managing these plant managers at factories that were sewing blue jeans. So it was my responsibility to make sure that.
We were meeting our numbers, that we were, the quality was high, that we had all of the supplies we needed. So on and so forth. And the rest is kind of history. I had various careers, your various, I wouldn't say careers, but various jobs along the way, I spent nine years at a pretty large organization where I managed a portfolio of accounts and it was very high dollars, high stakes.
The company itself had probably about 30,000 employees globally, and we have. Upwards of 30 to, I don't know, 30 to $40 billion a year in revenue. [00:05:00] So it was very high stakes type of role. And then I shifted to startups. I moved from Michigan to Silicon valley, and now I've been a part of seven startups.
[00:05:12] Andrew Michael: What would you say is like the biggest difference and what biggest difference between Luxford of the larger co-ops and moving to startups that you see and what is like being the thing that's kept you in startups? Because seven startups, it's quite a lot of different companies to move between sign.
[00:05:29] Miranda Dziekonski: Yeah. So larger organizations there's pros and cons to both being part of a startup or part of a larger organization. I think individuals who are trying to make the decision if they want. Work in a larger organization or smaller, you have to do some soul searching. So larger organizations generally move slower.
They're more predictable. There's usually more stability. I say that kind of tongue in cheek because I know that larger organizations tend to do less. Frequently, but there's a generally more stability that your [00:06:00] paycheck is always going to be there. You tend to have better benefits healthcare 401k match, things like that.
And you, again, I'll just reiterate predictability. Everything is usually. Figured out there's usually a Wiki or something that tells you how to do everything. And you don't have to stress about new things that you encounter and how are you going to handle that? Because it's usually already been encountered and it's already documented.
Yeah. Start over. Quite the opposite. There is a lot of, there's a lot of unpredictability and the day to day you're building your, usually part owner in whatever it is you're building. If you get, options, you. Have a little bit, probably more chaos in the day-to-day, but you get to help create the process and define the role you help build the company.
The benefits usually aren't as great, the pay isn't usually as great, but you tend to get [00:07:00] some shares in the organization which tends to make up for it. If you successfully build out this organization.
[00:07:06] Andrew Michael: Yeah, I'd say that another big difference. I think for me, as well as just accelerated learning you, you do learn a lot in like large organizations, but instead of she typically need to pick up a lot of different and varied tasks and forced a lot of times to go out of your comfort zone and learn new things.
I think for me, that's one of the things I love about. Startups and the environment is just like the continuous learning and being able to immerse yourself into, to new technologies, new ideas, new ways of working.
[00:07:33] Miranda Dziekonski: Yeah. Oh, that's a really big call-out as well. My husband works for a very large organization.
I work of course, in startup land. And we often joke with each other that, I'm using like the latest. Tech tools that are out there. And even though he works for a large organization, that's well-funded, they don't because the change management to incorporate those types of tools or methodologies is quite significant to [00:08:00] where in a smaller organization, like a startup, usually you have, dozens of people that you have to manage change, not thousands.
[00:08:07] Andrew Michael: quite. And this whole thing is wise as well. Why? Turn our attention various quite drastically, depending on the size of the business factors, you mentioned the change management. Once you get a tool or service intern to Brad's organization, like the chances of getting it out, there are a lot less likely because of all the processes and people that things need to go through before a decision like that can be made.
So there's pros and cons. And so obviously throughout this time you've been involved in building various teams as well on the customer success side. And today I thought it'd be interesting, a little bit to dive a little bit into sort of your process going into company, how you go about thinking about building arts, the customer success practice, and then maybe touch on a little bit about hiring.
What are some of those key hires that you want to be bringing in and what stages? So there was a very loaded question, but maybe we can start off like going into a new company. What [00:09:00] are some of the first things you're doing when you're thinking about like the customer success practice in what needs to.
[00:09:05] Miranda Dziekonski: Yeah. When I first go into a startup, of course, I go on what I call like a learning tour. So I'm doing a lot of shadowing asking a lot of questions, talking to customers, really digging into the story that the data is going to tell me as well. So looking at. Customer support tickets. If there are tickets, I have, usually I joined pretty early in.
Sometimes there is no ticketing system. But digging into tickets, figuring out why do customers typically contact us? Where's the fallout? What does the customer life cycle look like? Where do the. Where does churn tend to happen? Where does if somebody gets past this point are they infinitely more successful?
We're really looking at all of those points. So first that's my learning tour. The second thing is I look at the. That I have already understand what is their background? What have they achieved? [00:10:00] What are their natural abilities? Where are areas of opportunity? What are their desires? What do they want to do?
Where do they want to grow and evolve to what what are their goals? And see if there are any gaps, there are these gaps that I need to fill by hiring, or are these gaps that can be filled with training and, just working in partnering with the. The next thing I look at is processes really digging in on how are we doing things right now and understanding what's working, what's not working.
What are we missing? Where's the gaps there. You see a, like a theme, a trend here. And I also try to really dig in utilizing the five, why process figuring out we're doing this. And it can't be just because this is the way we've always done it. There has to be really significant output from the processes, making sure that they're providing value to someone or somehow then last is my tool, right?
Tool stack. I look at my tech stack, making sure that I have the tools in [00:11:00] place that. Compliment the processes compliment the people, compliment the customers. And then I go from there. How do I determine. Or how do I build out the customer success team? We're determined when it depends on all of those factors and what I look at to figure out most startups generally start with a customer support team first, and then they build a customer success team.
I actually did it the opposite way here at swiftly. We do not get a ton of tickets there. Wasn't a ton of need for support. Built the customer success function out first, then started peeling off implementations, renewals, tech support, and so on and so forth.
[00:11:46] Andrew Michael: Yeah, I can imagine as well, like today where you're at.
I'm making an assumption yet, but I think your customers are typically be large corporations or governments. And yeah, so definitely like high touch model that you're you're [00:12:00] adopted there and can also see why you probably don't have many customers, but you just have very big customers. Is that like a good assumption?
[00:12:06] Miranda Dziekonski: Yeah. We have around 110 customers, ARR averages from, around 140 all the way, upwards of 1.1 million a year.
[00:12:15] Andrew Michael: Oh, yeah. Yeah, so quite big customers on that side. So then you're dealing with a really high touch model. You mentioned you didn't start with support. I'm sure there are other listeners out there that have a similar makeup and model as well, too.
You had Sophie and like the motivations to start with customer success. It makes sense to what you mentioned now. What did you get to set up first? How did you go about this?
[00:12:38] Miranda Dziekonski: Sorry, repeat the
[00:12:39] Andrew Michael: question. What did you set up first and customer success? What are some of the things you mentioned quite a few different areas where you go in and you take a look at I'm assuming at this point there was nothing.
[00:12:47] Miranda Dziekonski: Nope. There was a small foundation already put in place. So when I joined there was a team of 1, 2, 3 individuals that had already gotten things rolling and were managing portfolios, but they were managing everything from [00:13:00] soup to nuts. Two of the team members started. Two to three months before I did.
So there were, they were underway, but it was still in its infancy, but I was incredibly impressed when I joined to see everything that had been built out already. So I didn't inherit something that was just not there. It's swiftly. I have at other organizations, but it swiftly, we had a little foundation going.
So I. I again, learning tour, just understanding what was needed. What I was noticing is we weren't able to proactively manage our portfolios because the majority of the time was being spent doing onboarding and implementations and training. So that was actually the first thing that we.
Created it's it created a separate team. And now we have four people in that team doing, just onboarding, implementation training, change management, all of that kind of stuff. That freed up the customer success managers to be able to proactively manage their portfolios, have [00:14:00] conversations, get goals, partner with the transit agencies to make sure that they're getting a return on their investment.
And they're, they're achieving value within our. The next thing I noticed was we didn't have a great renewals function because we were so junior as a company and we had larger and longer contracts. So that was the next friction point was the actual renewals. Then of course we added in CS ops.
It's been it's again, it just started, we just started with CS ops this last January, and it's only February 17th, so it's still underway and we're appealing off tech support is.
[00:14:42] Andrew Michael: Okay. So it looks like you're really focusing on the various functions and really trying to get a specialty to traction.
How is the team working together then? New customer comes in. You have an onboarding specialist come through is at that point, you have the CSM working with the onboarding specialist as well. Like how are you managing [00:15:00] time between us and how I think our would always find awkward in these situations is like the handoffs.
And I used to find incredibly frustrating when you're working with a company purchasing software, and then you never ended up knowing who should I be speaking to for what? So how are you dealing with that?
[00:15:15] Miranda Dziekonski: Yeah, I think we deal with it pretty well. So the customer success manager is introduced at the kickoff call with the implementation team.
The implementation team makes it very clear. These are the things that I'm going to be doing with you. This is what it looks like. Here's what the timeline looks like in that. Your CSM will be picking up the relationship from there on out. So it's just really clearly communicated right out of the gate.
The customer success managers introduced the customer success manager attends, not all calls, but a lot of the calls throughout the implementation just to make sure they get to know their face and they build rapport. And the customer's looking at them like they're a subject matter expert as well.
And there's no trepidation about the hand. So that's how we've handled it. It's [00:16:00] pretty simple. And it seems to work really well. And the relationships, the relationship component in our business is really huge. So it's important for us to be able to build that rapport right out of the gate.
[00:16:12] Andrew Michael: I can imagine, I think, for, from your perspective as well, Knowing and understanding who the customer champions are within the organizations and expanding the number of those champions within the organization can be critical.
Cause losing one, I think can also be a huge loss to the business that not,
[00:16:29] Miranda Dziekonski: yeah, huge loss. Yeah. When you only have, a hundred plus customers and the revenue is high, you don't want to lose any. No.
[00:16:39] Andrew Michael: Absolutely. And then you mentioned as well, you have a renewals team, like what's the relationship like then with them and with the CSMs.
[00:16:48] Miranda Dziekonski: It's funny. You ask me that because right now we're actually getting ready to do some changes on this. So the renewals function has sat under customer success up until now. We did not have an account management team, which [00:17:00] is why we own the renewal. Within customer success. How it has worked up until now is we have, the renewals manager who would join the strategic conversations, where we knew like key stakeholders would be there, not all of them, but anytime we were going to be talking about a renewal, that's coming up in six months or going over, maybe an executive business review to show ROI.
And things of that such a, the renewals manager also would have a monthly renewals, rundown conversation with each CSM, go over their portfolio with them, understand where are the risks? How are we going to approach this renewal? Is this going to go to our RFP, which is another beast that we don't probably want to go down in this podcast?
How are we actually going to be doing this procurement motion? And so on and so forth. So I really liked having the renewals function at least at this phase in customer success, because it was just being built out. It was something new for the organization. What we have done now is we [00:18:00] added an account management team last year.
To really focus on the upsell motion and because they're focusing on upsells and, the commercials that are around upsells, sometimes there is overlap between the renewals manager and the account manager. So we've recently determined because of like customer experience and overlap. We're actually going to be fulling renewals into account management because of how big these contracts are.
It just makes sense.
[00:18:29] Andrew Michael: So sales really focused there and what led you to say, okay, this is the right move for us to make. Was any sort of friction or specific points in time when you said, okay I need to make the change now.
[00:18:43] Miranda Dziekonski: Yeah, there, there was definitely like some internal friction between the account manager.
They're doing everything they should be doing in regards to focusing on expansion. And then the account manager was very, or sorry. The renewals manager is very focused on [00:19:00] retaining the current revenue. So there was just this natural friction, but what really, what caused me to make this decision was I was taking a look at the customer experience instead of putting my company hat on.
I put my customer hat on, which I. Leaders to do when you're building out your teams and how you're going to handle the various motions and the customer life cycle puts your customer hat on and understand what the optics. To them. That's what I did. And I did this just, I don't know, probably a month or two ago, I started thinking about boy, I wonder what the customer is experiencing when they have the CSM who is working with them on their projects and getting a return on the investment on their current investments.
Account managers who are focused on future investments and then a renewals manager, who's talking to them about the commercial aspect of their current investment. I'm like, gosh, this must feel very fragmented to them. So it was a no brainer. [00:20:00] To say, let's do what's best for the customer. And then I tapped my counterpart, the chief sales officer, and ran my thoughts by him, what I was thinking through.
And we both agreed. We're like, yeah, this actually makes a lot of sense from the customer experience.
[00:20:19] Andrew Michael: And then it sounds obviously We were chatting about this earlier with previous guests. So I had a second interview today, but the idea as well, like in a lot of companies where they say, okay, turn our attention is customer successes, job.
This doesn't sound obviously, then it's like the case for you, at least not to some degree, if you're moving renewals arts, if it is then how are you dealing with that conversation? I
[00:20:41] Miranda Dziekonski: absolutely disagree with you. Drives churn and retention drives either, negative churn or retention. I haven't heard anybody say negative churn forever.
So I'm going to throw that out there, but it drives retention expansion, increasing lifetime [00:21:00] value. We are so heavy focus, heavily focused on. Adoption and making sure that the customers are achieving their goals, getting a return on their investment, not just getting a return on their investment, but toddling, NAB, how they're getting a return on their investment, showing them the hard ROI numbers.
And then also the soft ROI, like the quantitative and the qualitative. That is the job of customer success. If we don't do that well, if we don't prove, that you are getting a return on investment, especially when we're talking about government dollars, we will not have a line item on the budget period.
And customer success is heavily responsible for that.
[00:21:40] Andrew Michael: Here's how you maybe got me wrong as well. I wasn't saying the customer thing is not responsible. What were the discussion we were having was that typically organized in say customer success, you're responsible for general retention and it's your job to own the metric.
And is that the case for you currently? Does your team own the metric? Yeah. Because then I would also disagree with you on the summit, maybe in your case, it makes a lot more [00:22:00] sense because of the number of customers in the focus. But I think obviously the premise of the show is just the number of different inputs that go into that.
Everybody influences it. So sales comes in, they bring in bad leads and they're selling to bad customers. They're going to turn because they're not good fits marketing's over selling promising. Like you can I could tell you every team in the company, how they influencing it. But I think one of the Narcisse ways of putting it from a customer success standpoint is like, Somebody needs to be the owner of all these experiences.
Somebody needs to be that internal champion that sort of goes and says, Hey, like marketing, what are you doing? Like you're selling a lot of crap on our side. We need to fix this because people aren't understanding things correctly or sales, do a better job and say, notice on leads and only close the leads that should be coming through.
I see it from that vantage point, as well as in your case, like why it's ever so more important with the number of clients and customers that you have as well. The team now you mentioned as well, you got started, there was two or three of you. How big is the team now?
[00:22:55] Miranda Dziekonski: Customer success.
Where are we at? 16. 17, I [00:23:00] think right around there.
[00:23:02] Andrew Michael: And when did you get started then? So it's been a couple of years now. Three years. All right. So you've grown the team quite nicely over the thing in terms of hiring for customer success. And I'm just being wary of the Thompson. I'm not going to be able to go too deep, but maybe let's say, what are some of your go-to questions that you love to ask in a customer success interview?
Part one and part two, what would you say is the absolute most necessary skill that a customer success rep needs?
[00:23:30] Miranda Dziekonski: Yeah. I actually have published a full article about this called the customer success interview blueprint. So there's not one question. That's my go-to. I have a full framework that I utilize.
I do have, If anybody is listening to this and you're interviewing with me, you literally have success at your fingertips. If you just Google me or go onto my LinkedIn and look through my articles because I do everything from an exercise on the phone screen, where I give a prioritization [00:24:00] exercise.
So I can not because I want them to prioritize these activities in the right way, but I want to see how folks critically think their way through the various active. I also am definitely looking through again. I'm looking for folks that aren't afraid to ask questions that is so crucial, especially like in a remote environment, when we could manage by optics, you could see somebody at their desk and maybe potentially were struggling or.
We're not able to, maneuver, you could actually see it visually or physically the response on somebody's body. If they weren't, moving in the direction they wanted to move. We're in a remote environment now. So I throw in acronyms and the conversation trying to see if they will ask me what those acronyms mean.
If they don't, I ask them what they acronyms mean. So it's little things like that, that I look for heavily. Are you going to be able to critically think through. Are you going to be able to advocate for yourself? Are you going to be able to advocate for your customers? [00:25:00] Can you build rapport quickly?
I want to know if I put you out to represent my company to my customers. How are you going to represent yourself? It's little less important to me that all the ins and outs about customer success the newest, latest, greatest customer success methodology. But I do want to know that you have the aptitude, the hunger, and the desire to learn those methodologies.
I can teach that. But do you have that aptitude, that hunger there's so much more like I could talk about this probably for 30 minutes,
[00:25:32] Andrew Michael: the defendant, it sounds like it's sad. I don't want to go more. We'll definitely make sure we'll leave a link to that post in the show notes. So if you're listening, you'll be able to find it there as well.
The next thing I wanted to ask. What's one thing that, today that you wish you knew when you got started with your career about generate attention
[00:25:51] Miranda Dziekonski: about churn and retention. Yeah.
One thing I wish I knew when I got started. Oh my gosh. That's such a [00:26:00] good question, Andrew. You stumped me. W one thing I wish I knew about churn and retention when I got started was. , churn is a solvable problem. If you have the right team, that's immediately where my brain goes. I have in various companies now taken a company and this is not swiftly, but taking a company that has had a term problem and partnered with.
Product marketing sales and have managed to turn it around. It's solvable, but you have to leverage data and understand the root of it to be able to get at the resolution. So I think that's what I would have liked to know way earlier. It took me probably longer than it should have to really understand.
[00:26:48] Andrew Michael: a good team and really good alignment. So I used to previously work with Hotjar and Nixon feedback. And that was one of the questions we used to ask on the interview is what's one thing that, today that you wish you knew when you got started with your career.[00:27:00]
And it's one of the questions I still use in our interviews now at my company every year. Because I think it's also a very interesting question. That's how you can test, how willing are these people to learn and what ways do they go about learning and things like that. So it's interesting.
It always puts people back to think a little bit.
[00:27:15] Miranda Dziekonski: Maybe I'll add that to my interview. I really liked that. It made me think
[00:27:21] Andrew Michael: that's not cool. Next question then let's imagine a hypothetical scenario and probably not a hypothetical for you because you've been to a few different companies, but you arrive at a new company general.
Attention's not doing great. The CEO comes to you and says, Maranda, we need to turn things around. We need to do things fast. We only have 90 days to do. The catch I'm going to tell you, is that how you're not going to be allowed to speak to customers, understand what the pain points are and start from there.
You're just going to use something that you've seen be effective in a past company in reducing trend FOSS, like one tactic that you've seen, that's been applied and it's been helpful and hope that it works at this new [00:28:00] company. Yeah,
[00:28:02] Miranda Dziekonski: I'm going to be the customer of my own product. I'm going to figure out what use cases are the most commonly used use cases for our product.
And I'm going to try to use the product for those use cases and understand where the friction points are and where the false points are and back into it from there quickly. I think that it's not. It's not possible that at every company, but at most companies you can be the customer of your product and you can put yourself in your customer's shoes and understand just by.
Being that customer, what the friction points are. I think I would marry that with, again, I talked about this earlier, but looking at customer tickets, understanding what kind of bugs are outstanding, what kind of tech that is outstanding, where are we in the development cycle? How do we do releases?
What does the NPS look at? All the sentiment metrics? Like I would just data, the hell out of it and really dig into.
[00:28:59] Andrew Michael: [00:29:00] Cool. And. Yeah, I think as well, like a lot of peoples all go to data, go to speaking to people. But like this challenge, we try to challenge and push on this question is that I think solving general retention in a short period of time is not really possible.
But there are certain things that we can try that help bring the number down a bit and so forth. But I like that backing into your own product. So that was a
[00:29:21] Miranda Dziekonski: trick question is what you're trying to tell me. I'm sorry. I was supposed to say it's not possible.
[00:29:25] Andrew Michael: I J they, all things you can do.
So that's why I ask it actually, because out of curiosity, sometimes you get surprised with the answers to come back. A lot of times they're very like normally on technical side of things. So people will draw to customer credit cards. The average credit card expires every 24 months, whatever it is.
So on average, 5% of your customer base is turning every month, just due to credit cards. That's like the different things that they would mention not necessarily the more strategic long-term things that are going to have the big impact,
[00:29:53] Miranda Dziekonski: but it'll save some money in the short term. Exactly.
[00:29:55] Andrew Michael: Yeah. Ron, it's been a pleasure chatting with you today. I see. We've run up on time. Is there any [00:30:00] final thoughts you want to leave the listeners with is any like they should be aware of? How can they keep up to speed with.
[00:30:04] Miranda Dziekonski: Yeah. So I think the final words, especially around churn and retention is always put the hat of your customer on to understand the experience that they're having with your product and what they're getting out of your product and make sure that you, they have a very clear way of.
Of understanding the value you're bringing to them that right there alone will help you preserve a lot of customer relationships. And the other part, if anybody wants to reach out and connect with me on LinkedIn, you can always find me there. I talk a lot about leadership customer success, and I also share my podcast out on LinkedIn as well.
From there to here where I talk about people about their personal journeys into their professional world.
[00:30:46] Andrew Michael: Very cool. I will definitely make sure to leave that in the show notes as well for the listeners, but it's been a pleasure hosting you today. Thank you so much for joining and I wish you best of luck going forward into the new year.
[00:30:57] Miranda Dziekonski: Thank you. Thank you.
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My name is Andrew Michael and I started CHURN.FM, as I was tired of hearing stories about some magical silver bullet that solved churn for company X.
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