Data, Decisions, and Dollars: How Customer Success Operations Boosts Your Bottom Line
Customer Experience Leader
Today on the show we have Luis Barbosa, the Customer Experience Leader at Teya.
In this episode, Luis shares his experience in the Navy and how it shaped his approach to customer success.
We then discussed the role of customer success operations and its importance in improving processes and enhancing customer relationships.
Lastly, we wrapped up by talking about the challenges of transitioning accounts between customer success managers and the need for proper documentation.
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 at Andrew@churn.fm. Don't forget to follow us on Twitter.
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[00:00:00] Luis Barbosa: You can't just believe that the same strategy can be applied all the time.
[00:00:07] VO: How do you build a habit-forming products? And you saw this different. Don't just gun for revenue in the door.
[00:00:15] Andrew Michael: This is Churn.FM, the podcast for subscription economy pros. Each week, we hear how the world's fastest growing companies are tackling churn and using retention to fuel their growth.
[00:00:28] VO: How do you build a habit-forming products? We crossed over that magic threshold to negative churn. You need to invest in customer success. It always comes down to retention and engagement. Completely bootstrap, profitable, and growing.
[00:00:41] Andrew Michael: Strategies, tactics and ideas brought together to help your business thrive in the subscription economy. I'm your host, Andrew Michael, and here's today's episode.
[00:00:50] Andrew Michael: Hey, Luis. Welcome to the show.
[00:00:54] Luis Barbosa: Hi, Andrew. Thanks for having me.
[00:00:56] Andrew Michael: It's a pleasure. For the listeners, Luis is the customer experience leader at Teya, an all-in-one solution for small and growing businesses offering payments, loyalty and rewards programs and cash advances to over 300,000 business owners. Before joining Teya, Luis held roles at Switch and Prodsmart as the head of customer success and the customer success operations lead at Infraspreak. My first question for you today, Luis, is what has your influence, has your experience in the Navy as a soldier had on your approach to customer success today?
[00:01:29] Luis Barbosa: I wouldn't say that it directly impacts me as a customer success manager, but definitely impact the way I approach work and I approach relations with others. And I would say things like, you know, discipline and being a team player definitely adds up to my current career.
[00:01:47] Andrew Michael: Yeah, very nice. Yeah, you can definitely see how those skills learned out there as well. Your life almost depends on them as well. And then bringing them back into the business world, I think is the transcendental.
[00:02:00] Luis Barbosa: You can't sail from point A to point B without loads of discipline, steering the boat and handling all the things inside the boat. But also you can go from point A to point B by sailing alone. You depend on the others for pretty much everything.
[00:02:16] Andrew Michael: Yeah. Today as well, like when I reached out to you originally, one of the reasons what I wanted to discuss today was actually customer success operations lead at Infraspeak and the role of customer success operations. What is it and why it exists? Why should it exist? What are the benefits for companies? How to go about thinking about this role? So I know at Infraspeak, this was a role that was introduced during your time. And I'm keen to sort of understand maybe first point in check, like at what point in time did the team decide this was something that needed to be done? How big was the customer success team and what were some of the problems that you were seeing that this was going to be the solution for?
[00:02:56] Luis Barbosa: So when I joined Infraspeak back in 2019, 2020, I can remember the exact date now. But when I joined as a senior CSI, one of the things that was kind of expected for me from the beginning was for me to help improve the CS organization. So give a direct support to my manager in growing, scaling the team. I always enjoy a lot thinking about process, designing, testing them, finding new ways of doing something. So I embrace those expectations. Great joy. And I started challenging a few processes that we had. I remember one of the first was the way we calculated the health score, but also our end over between sales and CS. And gradually, and I think kind of organically, people start looking to me into the go-to person to, okay, we need to maybe rethink this process. Or this process is okay, but there's no documentation about it and we kind of need help to document things and make them clear and transparent to the whole team and to the whole company. So it was expected for me to do that job. I like it and I embrace it. So it was natural for the company to meet in one of our career review meetings with my manager and Infraspeak CEO. The three of us, I think I still remember the conversation, we come up with a clear plan for me that was, okay, we need you to gradually move out from frontline teams and start doing this work on the background. We need someone running these processes and helping change the scale by doing this and it was how it started for me and CS Ops.
[00:04:51] Andrew Michael: And it was how it started for me and CS Ops. Nice. So it sounds like a little bit of a natural evolution as well, something that you part enjoyed doing, but also really started to become an issue for the team itself. How big was the team at this stage when this decision was made? How big was the CS org?
[00:5:08] Luis Barbosa: If I recall correctly, we were about seven, eight.
[00:05:13] Andrew Michael: Yeah.
[00:05:12] Luis Barbosa: Including me.
[00:05:13] Andrew Michael: And already at that stage, you started to see opportunities where process and operationalizationing. But you saw it at this point, you sort of saw it was a good point to start getting processes in place, starting to improve things. You mentioned one of the first areas that you focused on then being sort of the customer health score, how you interacted with sales. So this is a project that I imagine as well involves data. It involves working with sales, involves working with customer success. So even though the role itself is customer success operations, there is a lot of interaction with other teams and maybe you could talk us through that very first project where this came up and how you started even like operationlizationing your role itself.
[00:05:57] Luis Barbosa: Yeah, it evolved a lot of work and straight connection with sales. We were lucky enough because the sales team and customer success team, we shared the same office. Not at the beginning, we were in separate rooms, but next to another. But then when we moved to the new office, we shared the same room. So the connection was there, right? So it was easy for us to discuss those little frictions that were felt between teams and always in a very constructive way. But I think everyone at one point as a CS, you start feeling the need to get more details on your new customer. Okay. What were the pains that you uncovered during the sales process? What were the expectations that you set for the customer? What were the concerns that the customer raised during the sales process? Have we promised something on our end in terms of product evolution? And each one of the CSMs of the Infraspeak, we are handling these conversations a bit randomly and with a network framework. So each CSM approached the sales person involved and we run like a checklist, but it wasn't a formal checklist. Okay.
[00:07:13] Luis Barbosa: So one of the first things that I remember was to start building this checklist. What information is super important for us during the end over? And this helped not only the CS or to get that information and get that information record in the right system in the CRM. So we have all the things record in a systematic way, but it also helped the sales organization to include these questions in their discovery calls and on their meetings. And it's not that they were not asking those questions. Yes, they were asking the question, but they were not recording them or they are. And some of the questions, they were not even thinking how valuable they were for the future and for the future of the customer. So I remember, yeah, that was one of the first things that I spotted that we need to improve. And very, very practically, we start putting together some custom fields on the CRM. We enforce those custom fields to be filled in like mandatory field when the deal move from stage A to stage B. And we start collecting that information systematically.
[00:08:31] Andrew Michael: Very nice. And you can see how some of this information is really critical, but is often left. And I think this also like handovers have a very bad rep and it's typically because of this process where these sorts of situations aren't being communicated, the goals of the customer, their wants, their needs, like what was promised to them. And having to repeat yourself as a customer is really bad. So I can never really see like how you found this is one of the first pain points and going about putting the process in place to make sure that you streamline this process internally and customer facing teams actually do a better job for their customers overall. So this was one of the first processes that you took a look at. You saw, you also mentioned then as well, like the team had requests. They would come to you with specific action items. I'm interested as well, like in this role, because it can really touch a broad spectrum of activities. So you can really focus on like the processes, playbooks, going into specific black technical stack and setting different tools up for your team. How do you go about prioritizing the work that you do in customer success operations? And is there any sort of specific way that you go about evaluating what should be the next big thing that we do?
[00:09:47] Luis Barbosa: Yeah, I'll develop later on a system to tackle that. But at the beginning, I must confess, it was very random and very messy. And as I progressed, I'll organize those requests. So at the beginning, we were a small team. We were 18 members, someone spots a need. Someone has an idea for a specific part of the customer journey and usually they share that thing on our internal stack system. We discussed a bit and I took it and I started working on that. Even without any kind of prioritization or even properly challenging the idea to make sure that, okay, is this the right solution that we want to apply? But of course, problems start arising like too many requests at the same time. Me prioritizing one instead of the other, but not providing the requester's clarity on my decision making and why I'm prioritizing this one instead of the other. And this caused a bit of friction and I didn't reinvent the wheel. I started collecting all the requests on the pipeline, pretty similar to a product owner. When you receive requests from customers or internally, you start collecting them and build a framework to detail normally the request, but running a five wise questionnaire to why we should do this, why we should do this. So to uncover the root cause of the problem and then trolling some hypothesis on some solutions and how should we evaluate the success or not of those hypothesis. So I started collecting all the requests using this framework on a pipeline. The pipeline has, I don't recall all the stages, but I had a few stages on that pipeline from ideation to go live of the request. And yeah, I developed this on a, yeah, I developed this pipeline. And if I remember correctly, I usually took requests from two main sources. So regular check-ins and one-on-ones with each of the customer success managers. So I had these one-on-ones with them to assess, okay, what are the most challenging process that you are handling? What kind of data or analytics you feel the need to on a daily basis to run your work?
[00:12:19] Luis Barbosa: So I had these conversations with them to spot and to uncover new stuff that I should tackle. They collect some ideas from me upfront of that meeting too. That was super helpful. And the second method that I use was, I'm thinking about the word active listening, but was not active listening because it was more active viewing. So close attention to our internal checks and close attention to all the conversations that we had internally to spot what should we improve on this particular process? What should we improve on the onboarding? We are complaining that with that customer, the onboarding is reaching a breaking point and they are finding it difficult to move forward because, I don't know, we haven't collected all the stakeholders upfront and now one of our champions left the company and we left without an owner for the project. So things like that. I was actively viewing all the checks. So one of the things that we had at Infraspeak, for each new customer, we opened a new channel. We opened a new channel on the internal communication system and as Amanda thought, the CSR should be included on all new chats. So because of that, I had this broader visibility on all ongoing projects, all ongoing onboardings. And it was my job to be to pay close attention to them and spot opportunities to improve our process. And yeah, by spotting them, I had those leads to the pipeline and I stopped working with my framework. But it wasn't something there's a very important point here. I learned by doing and I learned by probably doing a lot of mistakes at the beginning. So it wasn't something that came out perfect from the beginning. It required a lot of iteration to get it on a which I believe was a nice process.
[00:14:15] Andrew Michael: Yeah. And you can also see as well that's the nature of the way things were set up to start. If you just naturally evolved into it, you can see that it wasn't like.
[00:14:24] Luis Barbosa: Yeah.
[00:14:25] Andrew Michael: This is the role, this is the criteria, this is how we can set it up. It's more of an exploratory role. And then it makes sense as well that obviously that if you're bringing operations and processes to other teams that naturally eventually you would have some good processes of your own. I like as well what you mentioned, taking that product mindset to it, really treating the CSMs as your customers, interviewing them essentially in your one-on-ones, understanding their pain points, their blockers, and then also just viewing and observing for opportunities. So that enabled you to one, not only be able to prioritize better for what's coming, the requests that are coming to you and understanding the problems, but also to be able to potentially then ideate and come up with new solutions to problems that maybe the CSMs themselves individually are not thinking about, but collectively because you have this vantage point and this overview. You can bring things together. And very cool. I like the direction that that's gone. So you've now got to the stage where you've set up processes, people submitting requests to you, you're able to evaluate them, you're able to then also push back and ask why. What happened from there? What were some of the next things that you worked on as a CS Ops lead at Infraspeak?
[00:15:42] Luis Barbosa: Improving processes and honing the different tools and the different softwares that we use on a day-to-day was part of the job. And I would say probably 60% of my time that we're spending on this process improvement and overseeing all the tech tech, there's the part of the job that we're supporting the broader strategy of the department. Getting really close to the leadership to understand, okay, what are the long-term objectives? How should we scale the team given the growing pace and the growing that the company is having? So part of the job was also to get really close and support leadership on some initiatives. I remember one that was, I think all the CS organizations, they reach a point where they need to specialize the team. So at the beginning, you cover the customer journey end to end from onboarding to renewal to even churn and the offboarding. But you reach a point that, well, I believe everyone faces this dilemma. It's not scalable anymore. You need to start specializing. We reached that point. So at one point we were about 12, maybe 10 members on the CS team. And we decided to split the team between customer onboarding and customer success. So people really focus on the end-over-process, kickstart with the customer and get the customer to achieve the first value as easy and fast as possible. And then the other half of the team focuses on building relationships and making sure that customer objectives were always being met and spotting grow opportunities and accounting expansions.
[00:17:44] Luis Barbosa: So that was one of the first strategic projects that I had with leadership. And it was very challenging because if you think, okay, we have this CSM that has 100 accounts, but we need to move these 100 accounts to another CSM because the CSM will now only be focused on new accounts and customer onboarding. So balancing these workloads to make sure that we are moving forward that strategy, but we are not compromising the relationships. Some of them are very old relationships with those customers and we are aimed over these as smooth as possible to new CSMs and taking into account as well that these new CSMs that will receive these accounts, they already have accounts. So how can we make the life easier for these CSMs that probably will have now 200 accounts on their book of business? And if it was already tough for them to handle 100, what kind of process and automations can we put in place to make them able to manage to 100 accounts? So the process took a lot. I think from start to finish, it took us, I think, nine months to complete the whole process, to complete the whole end over between CSMs and have this strategy fully in place.
[00:19:15] Andrew Michael: It's interesting because it's not something you often think about. So we talk a lot about on the show, sort of this areas of specialization and when these start to happen and how you split up, but we've never really focused on the little details that go into how do you manage these transitions and how do you ensure that there's a smooth handover? Because I've also, as a customer, been many times where it's like, hey, my role is changing and now I'm passing you over to this rep, they'll be taking on your accounts. And it is always a little bit of a weird situation where you've developed a relationship with somebody and then now you have to get started again. And it's similar, how do you make sure that doesn't happen so that the reps have the history, but then they don't have that sort of awkward introduction phase as well?
[00:20:01] Luis Barbosa: I'm smiling a lot because I remember another detail that we forgot back then. That was we haven't thought that we need a new end over process from the customer body to the customer success. And I remember at the beginning, it caused a lot of friction. So we did the same thing, we all knew it, we were all friends, we were all good colleagues. But I remember at the beginning, it caused a lot of friction because the CSMs, they were receiving new accounts without proper contacts and the whole history on how the onboarding went. So we fought a bit and fought along with sales to have proper handovers between sales and CS. But we overlooked the need to have a proper end over between customer boarding and customer success. That was another one.
[00:20:50] Andrew Michael: Yeah, there's all these little details as well, like at the surface level, that makes sense, I guess, let's split the team up, we have onboarding and then we have success. Now they can get specialized, they can focus. But then there are these details, like how do we actually do that? I mean, we're already serving this number of customers, like people have these established relationships and the last thing you want to do is ruin that relationship with the customer and sort of put any kind of risk as well. Now, so your role then like really focused 60%, you said maybe a little bit more around like processes, day to day tech stack, how do you sort that out? Then next is like strategic initiatives, working closer with leadership, figuring out some of these bigger moves and how's the team going to be structured? What should hiring look like? How do we do we scale this? Is there any other elements to the CS Ops role?
[00:21:38] Luis Barbosa: One that it's often very boring, which is documentation. But I think it's very important. It's very important to have not only things documented, but have a process to continue to review that and make sure that they are up to date. I love to write and document, but I like to do it once, you know, having the time and having the willingness to continue to review with something tough is something that's tough for me, but it's needed. So because when you, for example, when you want board a new team member, if you don't have this process well documented and, or on the other hand, if you have this process well documented and up to date, it will get that new team member up to speed quicker, right? So I think it's one of the overlooked things that I see, not only CS organization, but different teams overlooking the need to document and have, you know, a basic process of let's put a reminder and revisit this process in one month, three months, next quarter. It shouldn't be harder than that. Let's put, let's set a reminder and in three months time, we will revisit this and make sure that, you know, the screenshots are up to date, all the lingos are up to date and there were any change on this process. We have it mapped, well, at least in three months later, but at least it's updated, right? So I think that's one of the, it's a very important thing that people don't like to do it, but just look some time on your calendar to make it happen.
[00:23:20] Andrew Michael: Yeah. So, I mean, talking through this, the CS ops role today, I see like so many parallels between, obviously, and it's obvious, but it's company operations and the overall ops team itself. So a lot of their job is really around helping the internal team, putting together the processes, understanding what tools and things, documenting a lot of this information so it's easily accessible. How much do you collaborate with the internal ops team? Is there any sort of overlap where you work together on this role or is it really like you just purely focus on the customer success team and those are your customers?
[00:23:54] Luis Barbosa: Not much, mainly because we at Infraspeak at the time, they didn't have another ops team. So sales, yes, they, of course, they had someone looking for ops, but not a specific role, full-time job doing sales enablement or sales hub. And on the other teams, we started when I, close to the date where I left the company, we start building a go-to marketing team that we're trying to put together all the operations together from sales, CS, marketing but to answer directly to your question, I didn't experience that because we, I was the only op late at Infraspeak.
[00:24:48] Andrew Michael: What's one thing that you know today about churn and retention that you're wishing you when you got started with your career?
[00:24:54] Luis Barbosa: You can't just believe that the same strategy can be applied all the time. So churn is not equal, churn is not always equal, for sure it would be always different. And just because one strategy that you apply before work, it doesn't mean that will work again. So you need to assess, you need to put things in context, you need to understand that probably you are working on a different industry with different customers, with different products. So just because one thing worked before, it doesn't mean that will work again and I've followed that track twice. So I'm literally sharing this because I own a track twice and hard learning from those experiences.
[00:25:43] Yeah, it is a definite, it's an interesting thing to think about as well. I think there was, I think you did reforge as well in material. Yeah.
[00:25:52] Luis Barbosa: Yeah.
[00:25:55] Andrew Michael: So I think one of their courses, they have this concept of the JCPenney effect, which I love thinking about, which was just this exact thing where there was an ex-exec, I think, I might be butchering the story, but he ended up taking over JCPenney. And when he arrived, he was like, okay, I'm going to do what works at Apple, like, let's make things a lot more exclusive. There's going to be more discounting, we're just going to apply the same strategy we had at Apple, and JCPenney is going to be uplifted. And then just like the business went down the drain, because like, what he felt to misunderstand was like, the customers themselves were completely different, it was a different audience, it was a different, almost like industry, if you want to call it that and they expected discounts, like that was the reason they shopped there. And now all of a sudden, you've just slashed them, like you've given the only reason why people came there. So it is interesting, like where we've seen something work in the past, we think, oh, this is an obvious no-brainer, let's take it and this is actually the premise of the show as well, was that there's just so many different ways to approach this and depending on your stage of growth, your audience you're going after, your customer base.
[00:26:52] Luis Barbosa: Yeah.
[00:26:53] Andrew Michael: Like, they respond in so many different ways. So it's experimentation is good, but just copy and pasting is not great.
[00:26:59] Luis Barbosa: And that word experimentation. So one of the learnings from our experience were treating everything as just an hypothesis. So yes, you are coming with an hypothesis that you know, because you've tested before, but it's a new ecosystem, you are in a new environment. So bring this not as a certainty, but as an hypothesis and have some metrics to validate the hypothesis and let's test it. Right. So that was one of the learnings of trying to apply same strategies twice and see them fail.
[00:27:31] Andrew Michael: Nice.
[00:27:34] Andrew Michael: That's good. It's always good to hear these stories of failure and how they come out stronger on the other end and experience with it. But Luis, it's been a pleasure having you on the show today. It's been excellent learning about CS Ops and how businesses can implement it and take advantage of it. Is there any other final thoughts you want to leave the listeners with today? Anything they should be aware of from your side?
[00:27:57] Luis Barbosa: No, feel free to reach out if you want to hear more stories about my experience at CS Ops. I'm also available in LinkedIn at least, so drop me a message there. And yeah, I had a blast.
[00:27:12] Andrew Michael: Excellent.
[00:28:14] Andrew Michael: Amazing. Thanks for having me. Well, thank you so much. It's been great having you today and I wish you the best of luck now going forward. Cheers.
[00:28:20] Luis Barbosa: Thank you.
[00:28:24] Andrew Michael: And that's a wrap for the show today with me, Andrew Michael. I really hope you enjoyed it and you were able to pull out something valuable for your business. To keep up to date with churn.fm and be notified about new episodes, blog posts and more, subscribe to our mailing list by visiting Churn.FM. Also, don't forget to subscribe to our show on iTunes, Google Play or wherever you listen to your podcasts. If you have any feedback, good or bad, I would love to hear from you. And you can provide your blunt, direct feedback by sending it to Andrew at Churn.FM. Lastly, but most importantly, if you enjoyed this episode, please share it and leave a review as it really helps get the word out and grow the community. Thanks again for listening. See you again next week.
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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.
In this podcast, you will hear from founders and subscription economy pros working in product, marketing, customer success, support, and operations roles across different stages of company growth, who are taking a systematic approach to increase retention and engagement within their organizations.