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How specialization within customer success will improve your retention

Brian LaFaille | Global Head, Customer Success Strategic Programs

  • | Customer Success | Engagement | Growth | Onboarding | Product Strategy | Retention
  • October 2019
  • EP31

Make it special

Build a team of specialists within your company

Today on Churn.fm, we have Brian LaFaille, Global Head of Customer Success Strategic Programs at Looker, and advisor at First Round Capital.

In this episode, we talked about the importance of specializations within a customer success team, at what stage you should look into hiring team members with specific skills, and actionable steps to bring your success team onto a specialized path.

We also discussed how customer success teams can start using data to decide their actions, why quantitative data is not enough, and how to assess and classify risks to set up the team for success.

Brian also shared how to conduct exit interviews with churning customers more effectively, how customer success should work closely with product teams, and who Brian thinks should own retention within a company.

As usual, I’m excited to hear what you think of this episode, and if you have any feedback, I would love to hear from you. You can email me directly on Andrew@churn.fm. Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter.

Mentioned Resources

Highlights

Time

Biggest change since Google acquisition at Looker 00:01:47
The two key transformational moments for the account management team at Looker 00:03:20
The key data Looker used to gauge customer success metrics 00:08:05
Best practices for a team to start using quantitative data to guide their actions 00:11:40
Different areas of specialization within the customer success team 00:15:49
How Looker determine the ownership of customer retention and compensation program 00:21:36
The specific areas where customer success team should start when they become more specialized 00:23:45
How Slack and data helped in communication between customer success team members. 00:26:08
How to get the ‘real’ answers from churning customers by working with a third-party consultant. 00:27:14
How to motivate your customer success team 00:31:40
The most interesting thing about churn retention that Brian found in his career 00:33:24
How customer success can build a relationship within the product team  00:35:46

 

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Brian LaFaille

Global Head, Customer Success Strategic Programs

About the podcast

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.

In the real world tackling churn and increasing retention is one of the hardest problems a subscription business faces.

In this podcast, you will hear from founders and subscription economy pros who are taking a systematic approach to increase retention and engagement within their organizations.

Transcription

Andrew Michael
Hey, Brian, welcome to the show.

Brian LaFaille
Hey, Andrew, good to be here. Thank you.

Andrew Michael
Fantastic. So for the listeners. Brian is the Senior Manager of customer success at Looker and an advisor at first round capital we helps early stage SAS companies build up their support and customer success functions. Looker is a data and analytics tool, which was very recently acquired by Google for 2.6 billion. And Brian was hired look as first account manager in 2014. And then since then morph the account management team into a team of specialists across the SMEs and renewals focused on two primary segments. So my first question for you, Brian is like, what has been the biggest change since the Google acquisition of Looker?

Brian LaFaille
You know, we’ve been getting a lot of those questions from from candidates that we’ve been working with, to recruit right now. But, you know, it’s actually been status quo, surprisingly, you know, not much has changed. And the reason for that is that, you know, one the deal has not closed quite yet. But to we have had, you know, orientation at Google. And it’s, it’s something that we see a very close alignment of culture of go to market fit. The style of customers we already share. I think it was about 350 customers between GCB excuse me, him and Looker. So, you know, there hasn’t been you know, too much change. quite yet, the biggest thing that we are really planning for is, you know, what is our customer base look like if it’s to, you know, double, triple quadruple, the GDP sales team is is vast, and they’ve got offices all over the world. So we have to start thinking about, you know, further, how do we scale our customer success efforts? So I mean, that’s one of the biggest things on our radar.

Andrew Michael
Yeah, I can see how that’s going to explode as well for you and must be a next layer of challenges. But I’m interested. So you’re starting out in 2014. Obviously, I think a lot has changed since the early days. And since getting started. Maybe you want to talk us through some of that transitional period and like maybe pick two key moments that you felt like where the account management team and customer success really had a pivotal moment and liquor.

Brian LaFaille
Yeah, yeah. I mean, going back to the early days and 2014. So it was actually surprising. I mean, I had a very strong foundation to build from when I came on in 2014. While I was the first customer success manager or account manager back then as we called them, we actually had a strong foundation in kind of onboarding and support. And those teams had been developed under the pre sales motion. We actually run something a little bit different than most SAS companies, we actually run a hands on trial for about a three to four week period. And that sets the foundation for two things really, we want to understand and bet is this customer, the right fit for Looker, we understand that there’s a long and, you know, potentially capital intensive or hourly intensive implementation. So we want to make sure that that customers mature enough to roll look around. And so we invested heavily in kind of that onboarding experience. And the second thing was, is that you know, our CEO at the time, and founder Boyd tab, he had this this vision that he didn’t want our customers to ever get stuck. And he he, you know, preached that through and through and all of our company all hands in the early days. And so our support team, we actually call them it’s something kind of quirky and fun, but they’re the Department of customer love, and we actually have a lot Support chat that we run 24 hours a day, five days a week. And they’re available within the application. And so, you know, going back to the early days, it was it was, you know, instrumental for, for me to come in as an account manager to have such great, like foundational teams that were already, you know, put in place. But, you know, kind of going back to the early days of 2014, one of the things that you know, was was very, you know, trends transformational for me was just the, the usage of data. Now, obviously, we’re a data company, and we’d like to eat a lot of our own dog food. And so we actually have a lot of dashboards and things set up. But, you know, the importance and stress on on data usage and data integrity across the team was was critical to our team success from the very, very early days. And that’s, you know, carry through all the way to now, you know, as we get to kind of scale in the business today into, you know, thousands of thousands of customers. You know, we actually have data that we’re collecting at every stage of the life cycle across many different data sources. That’s bins from our CRM, Salesforce, Zendesk our support tool, our own in house event collection system. And we’re kind of aggregating all of that with liquor dashboards on top. And so you know, one of the things that that was transferred transformational for me and coming in as a CSM or account manager, first into Looker was just seeing the importance. every meeting was run with, with information data, every customer interaction was one with data. And that was one thing that really empowered everybody in the customer success and account management team to very take take a very quantitative approach. And I think it’s set the foundation for us to be successful later as a customer success organization. You know, the second the second time that comes to mind in terms of kind of like a transformational element is realizing the need for specialization. When we were in the early days, we definitely were hiring some some people that were jack of all trades, right? These were these were people that were had experienced and being entrepreneurial. They had experience in data analytics. They had experience in working with customers, but we really That hiring somebody that has experienced in, you know, renewal, negotiation and expansion pricing, and you know, product engagement, adoption, project management skills, it’s like trying to hire a unicorn. And that’s where we really double down. And that was probably about two years in when we really started to focus and hone in on the emphasis of the customer success management organization. And so that low level of specialization was, again, transformational for us because it allowed us to start hiring specialists. And so that was right around, maybe about the another $50 million mark. And I would have liked to specialize a little bit earlier. But I would say those are kind of the two areas that really were pivotal for us. One was that emphasis in that focus on data from the very, very beginning. And the second was just making that realization that, you know, you really have to specialize once you get to a certain point in the business.

Andrew Michael
Okay, well, there’s a lot to unpack. Yeah. And I want to make sure we can pull everything out of it. It’s going to be interesting. So the first step talking a little bit about data and how important is and I really love the fact as well that could look at you eating your own dog food. But let’s talk a little bit more specific in terms of like the types of dashboards that you were looking at the early days, maybe you could just walk us through like one or two of your key dashboards and what information you’re looking at these in these dashboards and how they’ve been used within their this CSM organization.

Brian LaFaille
Yeah, absolutely. So I do want to start and caveat this that, you know, based on the maturity of every CS organization, every business, your data will be on a journey with you as you grow your business. When we started, in the very early days, we were looking at spreadsheets. And it took us a while to actually get all of the data that we needed from our source systems into our centralized data warehouse to build dashboards on top. And so, you know, for a lot of the younger and smaller and more nimble companies out there, like starting even in that approach, and kind of getting all that information qualitatively if you have to, into a spreadsheet like that’s a good place to start because that gave us a lot of logic today. Then build on the customer success dashboards that we have today. Now, as I mentioned, we kind of matured our data organization in the in the following years. But we think about our dashboard content at three different levels. The first is the kind of the highest level, that’s the 50,000 foot view. And we have kind of a customer success wide dashboard. Now the customer success team at Looker is comprised of support. It’s comprised of renewals, the CSM organization or scaled customer success, organization, and knowledge management. So those are kind of the five key departments, each one of those departments have certain KPIs that they’re aiming to achieve. And this dashboard at the highest level kind of presents all of those metrics to somebody like my boss, who’s the global VP of customer success. Wayne McCulloch. Now zooming in on kind of the dedicated CSM set of dashboards. We actually have a portfolio pulse that is the the dashboard that our CSS are using. operationally This is similar to what you might you know, encounter It’s looking like a gain site cockpit. But it’s aggregating lots of different information about a CSM portfolio, and all the customers within that portfolio. Now the information on that dashboard is, you know, made up of a lot of different data points. We’ve got usage information coming in from our own product. We’ve got Zendesk support information so we can see how they’re interacting with our support team on live chat. We’ve got NetSuite information that actually shows how we’re building and collecting things. There’s probably nine or 10 different source systems that we look at in this kind of summarize view. And I would be kind of like in that mid level category of dashboard, right? How do I as a CSM, take action on my portfolio. And then the most granular the most zoomed in piece of data content that we have is a very, you know, specific and targeted piece of data content like our customer look up. If I want to see and drill into everything about a particular customer riveted, zoom in on that one customer and see you know what release they’re on or what features they may be using, or not using And those are the kind of dashboards that we’re using to drive a lot of our cube QPR conversations. So I would say those are kind of like the three that we look at kind of most today.

Andrew Michael
Very interesting. And so you have those sort of three different levels. And each level you go down dp, it’s getting more specific and more focused within the organ within, like a user account level.

Andrew Michael
So I like as well, that you pulled out that caveat, that it depends on the level of maturity in the stage of the companies that and you alluded to, like a couple of things that teams should get started with is getting set up with sheets and pulling in like that, even if it has to be qualitatively. What are some other best practices that you recommend teams wanting to get started, like being able to track their progress and use data to influence some of their decisions and directions like, what else would you advise the team Getting Started?

Brian LaFaille
I would say you know, more data is always better than less data. And if there’s anything about your customer that you can collect and store like, absolutely do so even if it means that you have to fly out to visit a customer on site. One of the things that that I was tasked with when I came on board in 2014, it was actually a funny scenario. And I’ll go on a tangent for just a few seconds here. But, you know, my CEO actually came on board and was like, Brian, you know, we’ve got about 4050 paying customers, and we sold them about a year ago, we’ve been supporting them with our support organization, but we haven’t talked to them in 12 months, get on a plane, and go fly out and meet with every one of those customers. And I still have photos, where I was on a trip with my VP of product. And he and I went to New York and was in the middle of a snowstorm. And we went and literally visited I think was 24 customers in five days. And we went and visited we’ve got all the feature requests, we captured all the bugs that they were running into. We looked at their maturity of usage with the platform by like witnessing firsthand how people navigating product and and those those Initial media blitzes, what I call them were like instrumental and understanding how the customer base was adopting our software, it could we keep that up? Absolutely not. But in the younger ages, that was one of the best ways for us to capture data. And it was able to validate a lot of the information that we were seeing quantitatively with our event collection system, right? Perhaps we might be noticing that a certain customer is using a lot of a certain feature. Maybe, you know, that’s because they love the product, and they love that feature. And that’s, that’s wonderful, right? An alternate reality could be, you know, they’re using the product so much in that particular feature, because they don’t know how to use it, and they are constantly running into challenges and frustrations. And so by going literally invalidating a lot of the things that we assumed to be true, it like I said, that drove a lot of the product direction for the next 12 you know, 18 month period. And so again, coming back to the points of you know, if you were to get started, obviously get on a plane, go visit customers, validate your assumptions, and realize you know, when you are actually starting collect this information about customers. It’s got to be a balance between quantitative and qualitative. We, you know, we tried to look at both hand in hand. And in the early days, we were very quantitative and usage based. And I think it proved immature to be to be totally honest. And frank with you, we had customers that had a usage health score of 95% that was still charge. And we were like, why is this what is going on like what what is happening here and come to find out we we actually had to mature our thinking of, you know, hey, a customer may be using the product and that is one way that they can be engaging with our brand. But there’s, there’s so many other ways that you can validate a relationship between a client and and, or customer and their vendor. Right. And so I think that’s one of the ways that we were starting to balance both the qualitative and quantitative, and that’s kind of incorporated in in our new overarching kind of customer fitness score. But again, in the early days, you know, get out on a plane visit with customers validate some of the quantitative assumptions, you have capture those validated, or those qualitative elements with your customer relationships. And it’ll be very, very telling as to how your customer base feels about your product.

Andrew Michael
Yeah, and I love what you say as well in saying that in the early days, maybe you got it wrong by being focused too heavily on quantitative data, because it’s an interesting point that you don’t often think about as well is that you may see usage, like going really well in account very heavy. But it could also mean that something’s going wrong in their accounts, and they’re not getting what they’re looking for. So using sort of like the quantitative data to influence, like some of the qualitative research and things that you’re trying to uncover with your customers is, is critical. So next, as well, then you started talking a little bit about your second point was really around specialization and you wish you had done it earlier. You said? What are some of the areas like walk us through you mentioned five, but maybe you want to talk us through the different areas and what the key focuses and specialization within the team.

Brian LaFaille
Yeah. So, you know, when, when we were a smaller company, as I mentioned, we hired a lot of these kind of jack of all trades. Customer Success folks, I would say the one area of expertise that was very, very specialized was our support organization. Now, you know, when we think about specialization within the customer success group at Looker, you’ve got, you know, I can kind of cycle through the various departments but you’ve got a renewals team that is focused on you know, retention, they’re the people that are working on license compliance, they’re ensuring that we have a lot of our renewals in on time, under budget, things like that. You have the CSM and our scaled organization. So we actually break up kind of our field engagement team into you know, the dedicated CSM, that managing a defined portfolio and then you’ve got the scaled organization and the scaled organization is managing, you know, hundreds of customers per customer success specialist. And their focus is very, it’s very quantitative. It is you know how I look at data about these customers to understand where they’re going off track. In the dedicated realm, it’s more around, you know, how can I build a very deep relationship with this large enterprise customer account to broaden the breadth and the depth of usage of our product? And do so that, you know, drives up license utilization. We’ve got some customers that are that have purchased, you know, over 100,000 seats of liquor. How do we make sure that all of the people that have purchased them license are actually adopting the platform in ways that they’ve expected and that they’re getting value from the software. We also know that you know, the customer success team or FCS Customer Success specialist CSM, renewals managers, the support organization. That’s a lot of people. I mean, I think the last tally that we have, we’ve got about 120 people across the entire CSG organization within within Looker. And so that requires that we maintain a lot of education for all of these field employees and that’s where knowledge management comes in. They’re the people that are responsible for, you know, educating both the internal teams that Looker on how you know, certain new features are rolled out and what to consider. And then also how to educate our customers. And so that team is absolutely critical for enabling the broader team to grow and scale. And then finally, that that last kind of organization that I talked about was our department of customer love the support organization. These are the people that are focused on the tactical, somewhat maybe technical, and maybe syntactical issues that come up with our product, liquor, don’t get me wrong, it is a it is an enterprise piece of complex software, and we deploy in a hybrid fashion as well. So we’ve got some customers that are deployed in their own cloud. We’ve got a lot of customers that we host in our own cloud, but that introduces complexity and some of the customer relationships and so our support organization are the specialists in really deep diving into uncovering what are some of the technical issues that customers having, recording bugs and having a strong tie into our engineering. Product Design Group, and they are kind of the technical specialist. So those are kind of like the five broad teams.

Andrew Michael
Very nice and like it definitely sounds. Sounds like you got a really well structured focus for each team and for each area in terms of like, retention and renewals, like when How do each of these teams play a part?

Brian LaFaille
Yeah, it’s a good question. I would say that the CSM, the account executive that we actually partner with in our sales organization, and the renewals manager, make up the comprehensive kind of account team. And that’s really what we you know, how we think about engagement with our customers, the account executives, the CSM, the renewals, managers, they’re all on a team together. And we promote a lot of collaboration. One of one of the ways that we do that is through a dedicated customer Slack channel. We have an internal Slack channel for every one of our customers. Does it make our slack instance a little bit, you know, crazy to search? Absolutely. But is it worth it? Eventually, we have had so much collaboration across the account executives, the CSM, the renewals, managers. But, you know, it all takes place in a one centralized hub. And we post you know, customer data in there will post contracts in there will have conversations about how best to drive value for customers. And so that is one tactic that’s really, really helped in terms of point of collaboration. But in terms of actual engagement through the lifecycle, the account executive is all about positioning value. They’re the people that are the ones that are demonstrating value in the trial, and they get the customer to sign a contract at that period of time. You know, we have a professional services organization that helps with onboarding, but the CSM is also introduced. And that’s where we want to ensure that the CSM is tasked with ensuring that customers realizing value so again, we’re trying to orient everything that we do around lifecycle and value for the customer. And then finally, when it when it gets to actual tool, you know, the you know, what step is it that the customer actually renews? That’s the competition. Step and that is making sure that the customer is actually achieving that value. So about 90 days prior to the renewal date itself, the renewals manager is going to reach out to both the CSM the HE to understand the landscape of the renewal, what are any potential blockers, legal sales or otherwise and ensure that we haven’t on time and all right and so the AT is all about the positioning a value to CSM and the professional services organization is all about realizing that value. And then the renewals managers come in about 90 days prior to renewal to ensure that we’re, you know, you know, getting that value confirmation from the customer themselves.

Andrew Michael
Very nice. And in terms of like targets for these different teams and goals. Like how would you say you use retention as is that a goal for all three? Is it a goal for anyone individually? Is it like do you measure it at the team level?Are you looking at it?

Brian LaFaille
Yeah, it’s a really, really good question. So I can confidently say that you know, customer success management and renewals management compensation plans. Is is very nascent, we have had, let’s see for compensation plans in five years in the time that I’ve been at Looker. So we are, we’re evaluating to a lot of things and it will change based on the maturity of business. But that said, retention is at the center of basically everything that we do at Looker. An example of that is, you know, our account executives actually have a portion of their commission that’s held back until the customer is actually realized value. And so we make sure that we you know, make sure that the account executive feels accountable to position the value and then they’re able to see that value through once it’s realized what the customer and that’ll be at the end of kind of the onboarding, the launch phase. The renewals managers have a gross retention target. And so that is something that they’re trying to renew customers as much as possible. And then the CSM, the people that are making sure that we’re realizing that value expanding value, they’re based on dollar base net retention, of which retention is a key and core component of that metric. So that’s how we kind of you know, have retention Sitting at the center of basically every field facing organization.

Andrew Michael
And then you have just the the land goals sort of behind them more specific to the teams and what the actual goal is.

Brian LaFaille
Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, as the CSM, for example, right, they’re trying to drive up, you know, partnership with our sales organization. We also have other NGOs that we set up on a quarterly basis. And as an example of that, we actually have our user conference coming up in November. So an MPO here is, you know, get invites out to all of your customers about our upcoming user conference. So we balanced embryos across each of these teams, but we make sure that retention is is a key metric across all teams.

Andrew Michael
And I sat and let’s talk about as well like the different stages. So you mentioned like the 50 million hour mark is when you really sort of started specializing but you said before that probably should have been better like if you had to pick that two or three stages where you feel a customer team needs to start evolving and adapting, like, at what sort of size? Would you say that is? And what could be some, like maybe one of the first two changes, you’re making a team after the early days. Like initially, where you everyone’s just doing everything, and there’s no specialization or what have you, one of the first two areas that the team should start the most specializing in?

Brian LaFaille
Yeah, it’s a really great question, it goes back to my comment that I made previously about data. One of the things that we really focused in on is making sure that we had good data to support all of the organizations. And so you know, when when I talk about specialization, it also means laying the foundation for other specialist teams to to be effective. And, you know, I think that, you know, one of the things that I it was a mistake on my part was, you know, maybe we could have specialized a little bit earlier, but I also would have liked us to build a better foundation with the knowledge management function with the analytics function, to better enable future CSM to come on board and thrive and have all the The tools that they need to be successful, I would say run around that 25 to $50 million mark is where I would have liked to have that sweet spot of two things. You know, one really set the foundation and have a team set up for future CSM success, and then to really start to hire specialists. But I would I want to make sure that it’s also doesn’t go on said, one of the things that we really have to focus in on right on that stage that I wish I would have done sooner is is really defined roles and responsibilities as you’re really starting to introduce these specialists. You’re moving from a generalist to a specialist type role, and you’re starting to get a lot more codify what this person does day to day. Now when you do that, you’re going to have lots of different cooks in the kitchen, so to speak. So how do you know when the renewals manager should take lead in a conversation versus a CSM versus an account executive versus a support person? actually having that kind of matrix of responsibilities is absolutely one thing that as we’re starting to move into the specialist role, start to define like what What are the core responsibilities of each role of this field facing teams? And how they’re going to work effectively together?

Andrew Michael
Yeah, I can see that getting very messy very fast as well. If you have all these different specializations, everyone trying to make sure that they’re keeping in touch with the customer and they’re doing their into the bargain. But then at the other side of the coin is like not being too heavy and not being too pushy on the customer side. Is this something that slack helped with as well? Quite a bit?

Brian LaFaille
Absolutely. So I mean, one of the things that’s the connecting fabric between all field facing teams is again, data and slack. We have dashboard setup at you know, for every department on how they can better understand our customers and how they’re using the product, what their their fitness or health score is. And then the way that we you know, typically collaborate is all done through slack. We actually have all of our content hub linked there as well. So another tactic that we use is will Ken certain things about that customer the contract the customer notes, all of those things happen in slack. And so again, we feel like it’s a really lightweight way, as we’ve grown kind of globally. We’ve had more of a distributed team, but slack has been that connected hub for us. And

Andrew Michael
so, next question I want to ask is, maybe it’s a little bit of a hypothetical scenario, tough question. I think you might have heard it before. But let’s pretend you get thrown into a new job. Now, you arrived at this company, and China essentially is not doing so good. And you’ve been asked to try and turn things around. They’re giving you three months to do some to do so. And to try and make an impact sec. What would be some of the first key things that you would want to do at this company?

Brian LaFaille
Yeah, it’s a it’s a really good question. And the first thing that I would want to do is seek to understand, you know, depending on the level of maturity of this company, there might be a lot of data both quantitative and qualitative about this customer. There could be none. And one of the things that I found to be really impactful at Looker is really Going through and almost acting like a, like a crime investigator, you know, let’s go back and really trace back like what was the initial point of risk that that these customers when they ended up turning? Why was that or if this user ended up having a bad experience ended up leaving the platform, can we go back and talk to them. And that will be one of the things that I would want to do to come up with some conclusions. And some hypotheses about, you know, why these customers might be leaving is really just start to do that investigatory work on, you know, the customer data that that might be present, or there might be a complete lack of. And then the other thing that I would do is engage an outside consultant to actually talk with those customers that left, I’ve found that you know, when you try and go and do a, you know, and maybe other sales leaders from into this, when you actually go and try and do some sort of exit interview with a client, they may not give you all of these like very juicy and real answers, and paying a consultant to go and talk to each one of these customers and have a very real conversation and seeding that conversation with a couple of key questions that I might want to understand. I can provide that to the consultant, the consultant can go and have an unbiased, you know, conversation, and presumably you’re going to get a much more real answer that will give you kind of the the nuts and bolts of why that customer left. So I think that if you’re able to have that kind of outside validation of going and having a third party, talk to these customers that left and marrying that with whatever information you have internally about why you felt this customer left the platform in the first place, it’s give you a really good starting point to kind of, you know, quantify where there are areas of impact that can be made in a relatively short period of time to impact that term result.

Andrew Michael
Absolutely. And I think like you know that as well in terms of the unbiased view, because that more often than that as well. Internally, we all have our own ideas of our product and how it works. What are the reasons for Channel retention? So typically, we bring those biases in with us into these interviews and having maybe a third party Jackie says is a nice refreshing look at it as well and could be very interesting in terms of what you uncover, especially when people feel a bit more comfortable in giving their feedback because it’s not directly to, to the company or to the individual.

Brian LaFaille
Absolutely.

Andrew Michael
Cool. So within an organization then as well, Brian, like, Who do you think? Who do you believe in your opinion should own churn and retention? If anyone

Brian LaFaille
you know, I think it is a metric that that customer success should own. You know, I think that one of the things that you know, the customer success industry in general is trying to fight for potentially but potentially evangelize of the impact that we’re having. And so much of what the CSM is are doing on a day to day basis and the customer success organization is doing on a day to day basis is intertwined with the retention and expansion of customers. And you know, I I’m kind of biased because I’ve had this you know, perspective that a few companies, but every, you know, company that I’ve been at thus far, the CS organization has owned a, either $1 based net retention Target. So including the retention and expansion or just simply the retention target. And both I think can be highly effective mechanisms to prove that, you know, effectiveness to the rest of the company, and you know, kind of understand and evangelize the impact that customer success is having. So, again, that’s that’s kind of my, you know, potentially biased a point of view. But I think that customer success as a department should certainly own the retention and database net retention metrics, when it comes to expansion. That could be something that is shared with sales, like we have it Looker. But again, I don’t want to have this this organization stray away to from far from any sort of monetary metrics, right, we want to make sure that we’re close to show an impact. Yeah.

Andrew Michael
And then how do you sort of weigh that in when it comes to like the impacts of product or marketing can have on the metric and how do you sort of keep your team motivated potentially as well, at the same time if some of these factors are outside of their influence as well?

Brian LaFaille
Yeah, it’s a good it’s a good component. I mean, one of one of the things that What we’ve started to do at Looker is really get better about codifying risk and whether that risk is regrettable or non regrettable. You know, I think that there are some elements where, you know, there’s going to be some sort of turn that happens, and it’s gonna be non regrettable risk and ensure and you know, whatever we do, no matter what, you know that CSM does in the field, that could be the best, most active CSM in the world. And there could be an environmental shift, let’s say that that customers acquired or you know, the company goes bankrupt, that’s certainly gonna be out of the CSM control. And I think that, you know, for myself, one of the things that as a leader at Looker, I need to evangelize, what are the things that our systems are doing to impact that regrettable churn and risk and highlight those stories and make sure that we’re, you know, you know, telling the rest of the company and the rest of the customer success department, how great a job we’re doing at impacting that regrettable risk on things that we can impact because inevitably there is going to be a natural rate of attrition regardless What kind of software you’re selling, you’re always going to have customers that churn, they’re out of your control. And I think that that’s that’s up to yourself as leaders to understand what a an acceptable amount of percentage of churn is, and benchmark that and just realize and tell the team and be real, you know, look, we may expect to see, you know, two to 3% annually that are just going to turn regardless of no matter what we do. And let’s just get comfortable with that.

Andrew Michael
Yeah, makes it makes sense as well. And I like the way sort of how you quantify the acceptable versus regrettable when it comes to sort of how you connect to measure your team. So next as well, quickly, then is I’m interested in hearing like, you’ve been going at this for quite a long time. And you’ve obviously worked in the customer success space, and have vast experience for you what has been one of the most surprising things that you figured out or like maybe an aha moment when it came to churn and retention. throughout your career.

Brian LaFaille
Yeah, there’s so many different interesting takeaways that I could go into. But I mean, I think that one of the things that is been, you know, one of the most eye opening kind of lessons for me is the importance and the interwoven relationship between product engineering, and customer success and churn impacted the term results. When we were doing a lot of this new risk classification, when we were talking about how we categorize our turns and things like that, a tremendous category for us were feature requests and bugs that were impacting our customers. And so by doing that analysis, it became very, very clear that you know, we were doing a very poor job of interfacing with the product and engineering team, and prioritizing the things that really impacting the outcomes for our customers. And so, you know, that was one of the major takeaways is that, you know, when we actually think about this, you’re seeing this in the industry as well, right, you’ll notice that gain site is launching kind of like a product analytics feature within their gain site product, right? That that is it’s something that I think is going to continue and permeate throughout Customer Success is you’ll start to see things like you know, product managers become CSM and vice versa CSM is becoming product managers. But that is a very tight knit relationship. And from the very early days, you need to build and foster the relationship you have with product to ensure that you know, any sort of rock that gets in the way of a customer achieving an outcome, you’re able to have a very direct and real conversation and be able to quantify that impact and potentially mitigate any sort of turn risk. So again, that’s something that we’re absolutely still building and refining, here at Looker. But it’s a massive takeaway for me, which is you know how interwoven those two teams are.

Andrew Michael
Yeah, and I can definitely see as well like just from your comments in terms of how you believe CSM should own the geometric when you say things like we’re doing a bad job of communicating to engineering product team of what needs to be Fixed? Because typically, maybe it would be the opposite way around, where is our products not doing the things we need them to do? It’s more around like, this is our job to make sure we fiction and attention, these are the issues with product and we need to be making sure that product has this information so that they can act on it.

Brian LaFaille
Right. And I, I think within customer success, right, we talked about being this, you know, evangelist for the customers, right, or this trusted advisor. Yeah, I think that evangelism activity happens, you know, certainly with our customers and evangelizing the product and the features they should be using and things. But I also have this sense that, you know, customer success, and CSM need to be the evangelist internally as well. And they need to be the people that are out, you know, trying to tell the story of what their customers are trying to achieve. And if they can’t launch because of this one bug, like, what is the pain that some of their users are feeling? I certainly think that that’s the responsibility that falls in customer success lap.

Andrew Michael
Yeah, and it’s something like at least for most people that are spoken to so far. It’s something that they want to be doing. But it’s never done enough. And it’s never maybe the voices never loud enough inside internally within the organization because they are the closest to the voice of customer. They’re hearing the problems and pain points all day every day. Yet still, like some of them don’t have the voice that they need to have within the organizations in order to impact to make changes. Right. So in Brian, like we’re running up on time here as well. And I just want to like, before we go, what’s like, another sort of tidbit that you’d maybe give to the audience and say, okay, like, getting started now, like building out your team. And what would be like the first two, three things they should think about now in the context of churn and retention, trying to build out a team that’s going to be like, you’ve built solid, look at it aligned, that’s focused and sort of working together in unison.

Brian LaFaille
I mean, the first piece of advice that I can offer is, you know, understand that this is going to be a journey that the CSM organization has been shaped over, you know, five plus years. And it is it’s gonna require a lot of change, I can confidently say that, you know, when I look forward as to what customer success will be in the next, you know, 10 2030 years, it’s going to look very, very different than it does today. You know, I really wish that I could look back and read about how Customer Success teams have been shaped and formed. And there’s a codified playbook and you see that in marketing. You see that in sales, you know, historical business has been around since the 1920s 1930s. Modern modern business books have been published to demonstrate how mature you know, sales teams and marketing teams have been built and shaped in various industries, you can go read all of those things. Customer Success is just really young. I mean, this this industry came about when it was you know, Salesforce actually instituting this notion of subscription revenue. So I mean beyond a couple of books that have been written in Last, you know, 510 years, there’s not a tremendous amount of things that are out in the, you know, the universe to go and read and study. So I believe that this industry is very nascent, it’s new, it’s early, it’s exciting. And, you know, we all are trying to figure it out, I’ve talked to hundreds, maybe even thousands CSM candidates at this point. And each customer success department that they’re working with currently is structured differently. Some are more on the commercial aspect of the relationship with customers, some are more on the product engagement, adoption, everybody is figuring it out. And so I would say that you know, as a newer and younger company that is you know, just getting kind of this, this retention Strategy Team trying to figure out just feel confident and know that you know, there is no playbook like we are still all as an industry trying to figure it out, but that’d be the first thing. But then the second thing is to guide your assumptions. I’m going to stress this again, come back to data like you need to institute this early and often and and proven meetings with your CSM with your customers that you have a good view of the world, and that you’re not just focusing on one component of data, quantitative or qualitative, you need to focus on both. And then really, I mean, you know, what, throughout everything you do, just make sure you have empathy for the customer. I know that we can kind of focus on like, the tactical deliverables with customers, but really understand that the reason why you know, CSM is actually have a job is because there is an intersection point between somebody trying to do a certain thing with software and that being difficult or hard or they need help. And so, you know, more often than not, you know, just have empathy for the person that you’re working with. And those three, you know, if you’re, if you’re doing that, you know, I think focusing on data, you know, really making sure that that you’re, you’re empathetic with customers and just knowing that, you know, hey, you were figuring all of this out, you can have a good path for success set up for your future.

Andrew Michael
Absolutely. So as you’re saying is that you really need to be able to embrace uncertainty and it’s a part that you need to adapt and change. constantly in the space, like say innovating as well, I guess is another aspect that’s important because it’s the roadmap is not laid out for you and using like that as quantitative, qualitative. But the last step in you mentioned it is like empathy is like just keeping true to that that customer success wouldn’t be here if you went building these relationships and empathizing with your customers. I love it. So Brian, like just maybe you want to let the audience know how they can keep up with your work. Anything you’d like to recommend before we end today.

Brian LaFaille
Yeah, yeah. So I I live in San Francisco and more than happy to meet up with any sort of, you know, customer success community member here in the city. I’m going to have my LinkedIn I believe LinkedIn, the the profile page, so you can reach out to me there. And then if a any, any companies that are listening their first round companies, I’m part of the first round, mentorship community and so I’m mentoring actively to companies, you know, on how they can get there. customer success team up and running. So again, if anybody in the first round families listening, you know, feel free to reach out to me. My email address is simple. It’s Brian BRIN at Looker calm. And yeah, I really look forward to you know, connecting with more of you.

Andrew Michael
Amazing. Thanks very much, Brian. It’s been a pleasure having you on the show today and wish you best of luck now going forward.

Brian LaFaille

Cheers, Andrew.