How to crush churn before it even starts with user testing.

Chris Hicken




Chris Hicken
Chris Hicken

Episode Summary

Today on the show we have Chris Hicken, CEO of 'nuffsaid.

In this episode, we talked about what drove Chris to build 'nuffsaid, and how it helps Customer Success teams. How conducts user testing to mitigate churn, and he also shares the 3 most common user testing mistakes that companies make. 

We also discussed the fundamentals of building an effective low-touch customer success model, how to level up it’s maturity and the skill sets needed to do so at each level.

No Rules Rules by Reed Hastings

Mentioned Resources



What is 'nuffsaid and what drove Chris to found it. 00:01:54
How conducts user testing to mitigate churn. 00:04:09
3 most common user testing mistakes companies make. 00:09:13
How 'nuffsaid got where it is today with user testing. 00:12:50
Building a low touch Customer Success model. 00:15:33
How to level up the maturity of your low-touch model. 00:23:45
How Chirs would reduce churn for a company in 90 days. 00:39:40
The one thing Chris knows about churn today that he wished he knew when he first started with his career. 00:43:44


Andrew Michael: Hey, Chris, welcome to the show. 

Chris Hicken: [00:01:29] Thanks for having me, Andrew really appreciate it. 

Andrew Michael: [00:01:31] It's a pleasure for the listeners. Chris is the CEO and co-founder of NEF, Sid a smart space for your work apps. Uh, prior to enough said, Chris served as the president and COO of and serves as an advisor and mentor to companies like Accella prize and get prime. Uh, so my first question for you, Chris is what is nuff said and what drove you to found the company? 

Chris Hicken: [00:01:54] Yeah, just very briefly. The problem that we're trying to solve is that people well at work, especially now [00:02:00] during COVID are increasingly overloaded with information and communication at work.

And we all kind of know the story of how we come into the office we've got, or maybe we, we, we go to our home office knowing there are some important things we needed to get done that day. And then that work gets buried underneath a pile of email chat, SMS, LinkedIn CRM, updates, newsletters, JIRA. The list goes on. Of applications or tasks to distract us. And so what enough set is doing is building an AI powered brain that will sit on your shoulder and that brain will understand who you are at work, meaning what your title is and what department you're in. And with that understanding will not only filter out all the junk and the noise that comes into your daily workspace, but more importantly, it will help you to focus on the work that matters.

So that's what I've said at a very brief overview. That's what we're up to. 

Andrew Michael: [00:02:49] Cool. And how are you doing that? Exactly. Like maybe give us a use case in the workplace. Somebody would typically use your tool. 

Chris Hicken: [00:02:55] Yes. So the way it will start as you'll come to enough,, [00:03:00] you will start by plugging in all of your core work apps.

So your email, your chat, your SMS, your LinkedIn, your calendar, and your tasks. And then, um, our initial use case for the product is. Uh, specifically for customer success. So we're helping customer success. People focus on the work that matters, which of course is customers who, or are at risk of churning or customers who have an opportunity to grow.

So enough said, uh, a variety of different, uh, types of data interactions with customers, et cetera, to help detect risk or detect opportunities for growth within your customer portfolio portfolio, and then helps to surface those tasks in your main workspace so that you don't miss them. So think of it as like an all-in-one think of it as an all-in-one workspace, where all of your apps get plugged in and we use intelligence to figure out the stuff that matters.

Andrew Michael: [00:03:51] Nice. Um, and we'll, we'll touch on a little bit more now what you're doing there, but I want to do, like for today's episode, just maybe get started with your background and [00:04:00] experience. I think coming as the CEO of, I think you were, you served a very long time at the company as well. And I think it's something we haven't touched on much yet.

That on the show yet really is like the power that user testing can bring to churn prevention by really sort of being prevention, like preventing it before it even exists and starts. And yeah, I'm interested, like maybe just to get started, like maybe you could give us some ways that user testing themselves, we're using user testing, um, for sort of churn mitigation for sort of, uh, our product ideation and what are some of the cool and interesting things you've seen like customers over the years using for.

Chris Hicken: [00:04:39] Right. And I think for churn prevention, you  , the teams that most typically use user testing are product management, design, user research. And in some cases, marketing specifically product marketing, and the problem that we solve, I would say specifically for the market [00:05:00] for the product, uh, product management department, is that many product managers.

You know, they kind of come down from the. From the product thinking mountain, uh, getting a personal vision from the gods of user adoption and retention, and they have their stone tablet of 10 features that they feel like they have to build. And the problem of course, with that is, um, You know, product ends up getting built frequently based on, you know, that, that product manager or the CEO's personal experience, which oftentimes isn't indicative of what the, what the actual market thinks or feels about a product.

And so the ways that, uh, companies can reduce the risk of churn in the product is including customers. Really really early in the product development life cycle. So kind of the, at the earliest stage, it's actually bringing customers in and interviewing them before you even start specking [00:06:00] out a product.

So this is customer interviews and by the way, user testing does this all the time. Right? You bring in 10, 15 customers, you have live conversations about what some of their problems are. Do some discovery work around, uh, you know, alternatives in the marketplace, how they solve the problem today. What, what are the existing pain points?

And then, and then after that, the company goes through an editor iterative process where it starts designing what a product could look like to solve those discovered customer problems. And at each stage of the process, you're looking to get feedback. So the first. Design I'm putting air quotes here. The first design is often just a wire frame.

So it's a very basic blank white screen with no design where it shows kind of a layout of how the product could work, the different functions and how they would work together within the product. And you get feedback on whether or not that that design makes sense. So then you do that. You can do that via not, not user interviews.

You're actually specifically gonna do user tests, [00:07:00] uh, to get that feedback. And then you're able to, after you've iterated on that, a couple of times you're able to move to a higher fidelity prototype, which is a fully designed mockup. It could be in, you know, something like Invision or Adobe XD or Figma, depending on what product you're using.

Uh, again, you're going to do the same process, get user tests on those designs. And then finally, by the time you deliver a design and a spectrum product, you've gone through ideally. Three or four iterations of the product you've gotten 40 or 50 different customers feedback on it. So you're delivering something that, you know, the market wants that will solve an existing customer pain point.

And you won't be asking engineering to redo this work over and over again, as you learn from the market. So that's, that's how user testing does it. That's how I think some of user testings best customers also do it.

Andrew Michael: [00:07:50] It sounds like a very lengthy process, but you definitely sort of see the huge value on the other end is that like the lengthy process, really actually the building, uh, component, the engineering time and [00:08:00] work effort and sort of preempting some of that by doing that, you're really good solid research at each different stage iterating towards it really can help sort of prevent you.

Building a Frankenstein product and building something that nobody wants. Ultimately, uh, I'm interested like in this 

Chris Hicken: [00:08:14] process, I want to, I want to double click on what you just said there, Andrew, which is, uh, it feels lengthy upfront as part of the design stage, but just, just think about how time consuming it is to have to change your product after engineering is architected it's.

Um, so take the extra week upfront to build the right thing. And by the way, the user testing process itself, you know, Oftentimes you can release a user test and have a result back in an hour or two. So the process of getting feedback is actually very, very quick. Um, and th and the designers can iterate much, much more quickly on a design than, uh, than the engineering team.

So, um, Anyway, I just wanted to get 

Andrew Michael: [00:08:55] a it's it's an important point to make as well, for sure. Because I think, like I mentioned lengthy [00:09:00] process, but definitely the lengthy processes and having, trying to revert and going back after you screwed things up. Um, so the other thing I'm interested in as well, so you must had like a really unique perspective into how many different companies were doing testing, how they were using it.

What are some of like the common mistakes you saw companies doing when it came to user testing? Like what would be some of your advice to people wanting to sort of. Preempt some of the problems they're gonna have down the line by using user testing, just to be aware of going into it. 

Chris Hicken: [00:09:26] Yeah. Well, there's kind of an endless list of mistakes that companies make, but the couple that come to mind right away are one doing user testing on a product that's just about to be launched.

So that's probably the most common mistake, which is you've already done to the, the design. You've already done the customer research. You've already built it. Engineering has built the product and it's sitting on a staging server somewhere. And that's when you do user testing at that point, of course, you're going to get value.

You're going to catch. Um, you know, major bugs or red flags before you launch, but you'll have missed on the opportunity to iterate on the user experience. Um, so that's, [00:10:00] that's kind of, I think mistake number one, mistake number two, and this is a more difficult one to learn is, um, many companies, as they're doing user research will ask.

Um, leading questions that lead users to do what they want them to do. So it's very important when you're setting up your user test to leave, uh, ask questions that are, um, open-ended so don't ask yes or no questions. Don't ask ABC questions, leave things as open ended as you can. So the user has to think about, um, how they actually feel about an interaction or experience.

And then the last mistake is many companies. Uh, as part of user experience testing, feel like they have to get their exact target market. And that's just not the case. That's just not true when you're doing market research, which, which are things like, you know, what pain do you feel as a customer? How much would you pay for this product, those types of questions, then you need to talk to your actual target market.

But when [00:11:00] you're, when you're iterating on the experience, which is how intuitive, how simple is your product to use, you don't need to have someone who's your exact target audience. You just need someone who is a user of software. And so, uh, anyway, that that's a mistake that I see commonly as people, when they're doing user experience, testing are spending a lot of time trying to recruit, um, a tester who is in their exact target market.

And it's just not necessary. 

Andrew Michael: [00:11:24] Yeah, I love the points you made as well on like sort of interview questions. And don't seek for us to know this section is take our, made very learn one of the first startup side, uh, like we went to a startup weekend and basically went around doing surveys to try and send it, like the question not looking back at now.

And it was just like really, really stupid, but it was like, um, I couldn't remember what the app was at Samba was basically like if you, um, Got prizes. When you cleaned, would you enjoy cleaning more? And like 1900 people said yes. And then it was like, okay, you see people like this idea or whatever, and like, looking back how stupid was it.

But back [00:12:00] then with this is a great conviction. Like 99% of people said they would enjoy cleaning more if they got prizes. Uh it's like, yes, of course, like why wouldn't they enjoy it? It's like a really shitty job at the moment. So like, it's just, you've made it just slightly less shitty. Uh, so it mean actually gonna like follow through.

And the other thing, I think, as well as like learning in that lesson as well, people are really, really bad at like predicting future behaviors, but they really know that pain-point that painted they've had. So like really trying to dig into like where their pain is different. It gives you a lot clearer picture of where you're going.

Um, cool. Let's fast forward a little bit now then, um, it's enough set a bit, but also just with the mindset of user testing and how. Are you bringing your experiences from user testing now into the product that you're building enough said, what are some of the things that you've been working on in the early days to get the product to where it is today?

Chris Hicken: [00:12:50] Yeah, I mean, I, I, I don't, um, it's not very much different from what I just explained. When we, when we started the company, we did hundreds of interviews and our [00:13:00] target market to understand the pain points that different departments were feeling that allowed us to. Hone in on customer success as the first audience that would get our, uh, our initial AI powered brain.

Um, in the design process, we started with a, um, You know, a wireframe where we did many, many iterations of the design, um, probably 20 rounds of, uh, user feedback. And then we moved to the design phase and this is where the company spent. The bulk of its time. We went through, uh, feels like countless iterations on the design of the product.

We're actually designing. We're solving a pretty hard to solve problem. Um, which is how do you combine. Different types of information. So think about an email versus a chat window versus SMS, and then calendar and tasks. How do you bring all of this together into a single workspace and it make it feel intuitive and simple and something where you don't feel like you [00:14:00] have to learn a whole new way of working.

And so we spent a lot of time iterating, iterating on that design. And I think after, you know, hundreds of inter iterations, I think we finally have arrived at something that works for the market. And even now, as we're rolling out our product to our initial beta users, it's the same process. You know, it's white glove onboarding, it's lots of interview style questions.

It's understanding how users. Interact with the product and how they expect to interact with the product. So I think, you know, we're going to be bringing a product. You know, we will release a generally available version of the product when we feel like we've arrived at a product that is truly unique and valuable and useful for our customers.

Andrew Michael: [00:14:46] Very cool. Yeah. So I was taking a lot of those learnings in the past and reiterating, I can also appreciate it as well. Like you mentioned, like so many different types of information, ways of working, trying to make that feel familiar, but at the same time, like creates a unique experience. Um, cool. [00:15:00] So.

Let's talk a little bit about SAC today, user testing. And before the show you started working on something very interesting. Um, now in terms of content and thought leadership, and one of those ways I think that you were talking about before the show is really thinking about the concept of customer success.

And I think last time we chatted as well, the reason was like, This was going to be one of the areas you wanted to focus on the product a bit to begin with, but, um, maybe talk to us a little bit about this piece of content that's come in. It's out now. Like, um, why do you think you've got a unique take on the market?

And what's interesting about it. 

Chris Hicken: [00:15:33] Yeah. So the, the topic that keeps coming up over and over again is this idea of a low touch customer success model. And we kind of started with that as the theme for what this piece would be and kind of like user testing. We went out and did a ton of interviews around what pain companies are feeling.

Um, how. This problem is being solved in the market today. And we [00:16:00] ended up arriving at a piece that pulls together kind of four different, um, you know, uh, subject or topic areas. The first one is what the landscape looks like today. And then we dive a little bit deeper into how a company matures their low touch customer success offering.

And then we're then we go into, you know, if, if you actually want to build. A department or a team that is a low touch customer success team, what skills are required to build that team effectively and what we're seeing in the marketplace from kind of, I think, kind of leading teams, and then finally, what could a career path look like as you're thinking about hiring people into that team?

So that's the piece that we wrote. And again, kind of in spirit with, with user testing, um, the piece has been vetted by. No less than 20 people. So we've gotten feedback on the article from other thought leaders in the space, and we plan on [00:17:00] publishing it here shortly on our blog blog Dutton I've

And, uh, of course I'm trying to FM we're doing the first podcast following up on that content. 

Andrew Michael: [00:17:09] Nice. Um, so talk us through a little bit of as well. So we're talking about like low touch model now. Um, figuring out how you can sort of scale this within your organization. Like, uh, sort of a one, a CSM, like one to many type a celebration.

Like what are some of the things that you've seen successful companies really adopting in this area? How are they going about setting up their, their one  to, uh, many, um, model. 

Chris Hicken: [00:17:34] Yeah. Let's, let's actually talk about the landscape first so that everything we talk about afterwards makes sense. So the, the, the human led.

Model, there's kind of two different approaches that companies are using today. And most of us are familiar with those. So the first one is the strategic customer success model. This is where you're going after very large enterprise customers. The CSM typically has industry knowledge. They're seen as a trusted [00:18:00] partner in growing their company.

They're often embedded, they're providing weight white glove service, and it's typically very expensive to offer this, you know, you might have one CSM for. Three accounts or 10 accounts, uh, you know, kind of at the, uh, at the max, um, then you've got a dedicated CSM model, and this is something where, you know, you know, this is probably the most common model where you have a CSM who's managing somewhere between 20 and 50 accounts.

Um, they are responsible for tracking the customer's goals. They're monitoring customer usage. Uh, they're probably doing, you know, some kind of QPRs. Um, over the course of the relationship and, um, and that's the model that we see the most frequently. But again, companies are thinking are feeling like that model doesn't work as the customers, um, You know, as, uh, as you look at customers with smaller average contract value.

So if you've got con customers that are spending, you know, a couple of hundred dollars or a couple [00:19:00] thousand dollars per year, how do you still provide a great service to those customers without the expense of having a dedicated CSM? So that's where there's kind of two new models that have emerged. The first one is, well, in this piece, we call it a low touch model.

Some companies are calling it a pooled CSM model, but it's a very similar approach. This is approach where you can think of this. Um, the CSMs are technology assisted. So humans are monitoring, uh, customers at scale, trying to detect which customers, for example, aren't using the product, uh, very, uh, very actively, maybe they're, they're not engaging with the company's content.

And so, um, the CSMs are using technology to automate communication out to, uh, um, Out to customers and CSMs do get involved so that the CSM can jump in and help when a company is getting stuck. So in some cases it's like a, you think of it like a, a Marine team [00:20:00] of CSMs, that comment that come in for an account that's not doing very well and they do month long engagements.

In other cases, you see companies setting up a pooled CSM model where customers can write into customer success at. and one of many CSMs will respond to those requests. Um, and so, and we call that model the low touch model, and that's the focus of the piece that we're going to walk through today.

And by the way, just a quick note here, um, A pooled CSM or a low touch model differs from customer support in that the low touch CSM is a proactive agent within the company. They're not responding to technical or product support questions that those questions are all handled by customer support. The last model that we don't the last model that we don't get into, but it's kind of like for many companies, the Holy grail is the, uh, tech touch model, which is a fully automated, [00:21:00] uh, engagement with customers that there is still a CSM behind the scenes, kind of like a puppet master, pulling the strings, deciding when to send out content, uh, coming up with a whole, a whole series of touchpoints training videos to help enable customers be successful.

Um, but the entire experience for the customer is via technology. So it's email chat, video webinars, et cetera. Yeah. So not, not many companies. Yeah. Last, last thing. Not many companies are able to achieve that level of maturity in their digitally led customer success experience. And the reason for that is, um, there's kind of two.

Um, factors that go into deciding what kind of model your company can implement factor. Number one is what's the revenue potential, the revenue growth potential of the account. That's kind of step that's kind of factor number one. And the other factor [00:22:00] is how complex is your product to use without human help.

And so that's one, the one that many companies don't. Um, think about when they're deciding which model to implement. And for example, if you have a very complex product, I'm going to pick one Salesforce, um, very difficult to implement that product on your own without human help. And therefore it's very, very, very difficult to set up a low touch model.

Um, sorry, a tech touch model, um, while supporting such a complex product. So, um, 

Andrew Michael: [00:22:35] whereas, and then Slack on the opposite end is sort of like super simple. They, I think they nail sort of the tech touch, even though they still do have, um, a high touch on the high end. But, uh, like for the vast majority of customers, really customer success is automated too.


Chris Hicken: [00:22:50] Slack, zoom, um, keep it simple tools, super simple Dropbox. 

Andrew Michael: [00:22:56] Cool. So, uh, today, like a, the piece you said is not really focused [00:23:00] on tech touch, it's more sort of this one-to-many, uh, model sort of like Pat again, you mentioned something critical. I think in the sense that the customer success team is not seen the support in this function.

And I think there's sometimes where, like you see the lines get blurred a little bit. Sometimes people get hired in a success role, but ended up doing support most times. So I think that distinction for me, at least it's very critical that you have somebody proactively looking out for the counts. In in the world, like tech touch stack, obviously you're using automation and you have all sorts of tools available to what are some of the tools that you're seeing these one to many teams using in the market now to sort of manage these interactions, to be able to effectively identify, um, a cancer risk and, uh, what are some of the best practices that you've seen in the market?

Chris Hicken: [00:23:45] Yeah. So let's. Let's actually walk through, um, how a company matures and its low touch model over time. Cause I think that will help uncover how companies are doing a really good job of this. So most companies, I would say where at [00:24:00] least many companies start at level one of maturity, and this is where there's just dedicated CSMs who are managing hundreds of accounts.

And um, so again, each customer as they're onboarded, as assigned a named. Customer support representative. Um, they're seen as, uh, uh, uh, oftentimes being a, kind of a reactive resource. So a customer will come to them when they have a problem. They're often also in charge of handling the renewal experience.

In fact, that's where a lot of their time goes is making sure that all the renewal paperwork is handled and the customer renews effectively and while very inefficient, it is a good way for companies to understand. Where customers are having the most pain around adopting and engaging with the, with the product.

So you have humans, you have CSMs involved understanding that experience. And, uh, in that process, CSMs can share with the company what needs to improve with [00:25:00] the product, what needs to improve with onboarding, what needs to improve with content? To get customers to be more engaged. And I think that's how companies end up moving into level two, which we call technology assisted CSMs.

And this is a model where now the CSM is no longer dedicated anymore to the customer. Now, each CSM could manage, be managing hundreds or even thousands of accounts. And a lot of times there's a small group of CSMs who are responsible for all of the. Kind of a low revenue potential customers or maybe the, the low average RR customers.

And in this model, um, technology is the main driver for engagement. So CSMs are sending out emails, text messages in app notifications, and all of those are driving, um, onboarding product adoption, um, throughout the different lifecycle stages. Um, [00:26:00] and. All of the tech support questions that come in are automatically routed to the customer support team.

So the customer oftentimes doesn't know, uh, well then they know that there's a pool of CSMs that are helping support them, but they don't know them necessarily by name. Um, the, obviously the benefits of this are that you can have, you can truly build out, uh, um, a very large and successful support organization at a very, very low cost.

So it's extremely scalable as your company grows and scales. Um, you can add many customers into the existing model without adding a lot of head count. The drawback of course, is that it can take. A really, really long time to implement this properly, because just think of all of the support systems you have to have in place to pull this off, you need to have a really streamlined onboarding.

Um, you need to have, you have to develop a ton of content to help company, uh, customers understand different parts of the product. Um, [00:27:00] you need to have a. Uh, a knowledge-based management team in place to help keep the, the, the, um, support content fresh as the company scales. You need to have probably some kind of webinar or training program in place that enables you to continue to Uplevel customer skills as the, um, you know, as they get more advanced with the product.

So there's just a lot of work. And it can take a year, sometimes many years to put this in place before you have a truly exceptional scaled CSM model. That's kind of like level two. And then level three is the most, um, you know, the most mature version of this, which is, uh, the customer success, but actually limited.

Let me add one more thing to level two in level two. Um, the company still very much relies on. Um, customer success managers jumping in when a customer has gone off the rails. So if a customer is completely not [00:28:00] using the product, they're really angry with their experience. They're not going through onboarding.

Then a customer success person is proactively jumping in, helping the customer get back on track, addressing their concerns. And so it still does require human intervention. The level three, we call. Uh, fully technology driven, engagement and intervention. And in this level of CSM has just never required because the product, the onboarding, the engagement is very mature.

There are lots of support systems in place to help customers. Self-serve their way to success the product as well, established in the market. So the customers want to stick around and learn how to use the product. Even if it's a little bit complex, take. I don't know, Adobe Photoshop as an example of that, you know, complex to learn, but companies are into people still want to learn, uh, how to use it effectively.

And all of the, all of the systems that we [00:29:00] talked, I talked about in level two, have matured to a point where they're fully automated. So a customer is on, you know, self-serve onboards into the platform, their support, content, training, and videos to enable successful onboarding. There are engagement, touch points along the journey that helped the customer.

Have success. Sometimes the, um, the, uh, interactions that the customers have with the product are gamified. So the customer feels like they are locked in to their experience. Um, and then finally all the entire renewal experience is also automated via either, uh, uh, either email or in app. Um, renewal prompts.

Andrew Michael: [00:29:41] Let's talk a little bit about this sort of the journey from stage went from stage to stage as well. So obviously, like, I think this is an evolution of a time that you're discussing now different stages, different stages of growth and maturity within the team. What are you seeing sort of the typical timeframes in the market from the research that you've done, uh, from getting from [00:30:00] stage to stage.

So like how, at what point of the stage of company would somebody be at stage one? Like how long would they stick around stage one for when other maturing to stage two? Like what have you seen, uh, from the market so far? 

Chris Hicken: [00:30:13] Yeah, it seems. Okay. So stage one is the, um, I'll just also name the stage. So everyone remembers what we're talking about.

So, so stage one is when you have dedicated CSMs, that model lasts until the CFO comes in and realizes how much money the company is spending to retain its lowest revenue customers. Oftentimes those are the customers that are churning at the highest rates. And so that happens, you know, it kind of depends on how savvy the finance team is, but that starts to, you start to get some knocks on the door around 30 to 50 million in sales.

So that's what I'm this, the finance team starts to really chip away at, uh, at spending on that team. Then you start to go, the, you start to, uh, engage in this journey to get to level two, which is technology assisted [00:31:00] CSMs, which is a one to many model. And what we're seeing is that model is taking companies years to develop into.

So this is probably, well, most companies that we talked to were in, uh, Uh, and at some level of, of level two, meaning as a kind of mid-stage level two development, no one very few companies feel like they've really dominated, uh, this category. Well, and so this is, you know, probably a three plus year journey for most companies to nail the level two experience level three is the fully.

Technology driven model. And actually this model is not possible. For most companies until they've invested in making the product easier to use. So think more like that zoom like, or that Slack like experience it's the company has [00:32:00] made a concerted effort to invest both techno you know, to invest in both technologies for CSMs.

But also in the product to make it simpler. I think a really good example. We talked about Salesforce earlier. Salesforce for the longest time was extremely difficult to use, extremely difficult to get onboarded onto. And what was their response while they rolled out a new version of Salesforce called Salesforce lightning, which is way easier to use way simpler.

And of course had a huge impact on their ability to onboard. Self-service customers that were paying less money. So, uh, level three, you know, it's because it requires heavy investment in the product as well. You know, level three can take five to 10 years before the company is able to invest, uh, those kinds of resources and making the product simpler.

Andrew Michael: [00:32:50] Very interesting. Yeah. Uh, I definitely see the timeframes. I've actually seen this play out, like moving from stage to stage, working with suppliers. I could, when I was working at our [00:33:00] working with different companies and we would sort of in the beginning start working with the dedicated CSM and then slowly over time they would start shifting and changing.

And then eventually it went to like a model where, um, you could just reach out to them and you could see sort of this evolution. As they became a little bit more technical, a little bit more sophisticated and probably similarly, like, I think the two companies that I have in mind that this happened at were probably about that in terms of AR at the time when they realized that, okay, like we need to sort of, uh, figure this out and get a little bit better with it.

Um, cool. Interesting. And then, so you mentioned as well at the beginning, like. The skill sets required at different stages. Obviously this changes from the CSMs perspective, the types of people that you're hiring and these roles change over time as well. Like maybe just the three stages we mentioned now.

Like I imagine somebody like in the first stage you want somebody who's a little bit scrappy is willing to do a bit of everything that can get things done. Like maybe talk us through some of the types of roles and the sophistication that's needed, uh, for the company for [00:34:00] hiring in each of these stages, as they try to move through the life cycle.

Chris Hicken: [00:34:04] Yeah. So the way that I'll answer this question is to talk about rather than roles, which actually companies implement the roles differently. Instead, I'll talk about the skill sets that are needed, that are different in a low touch model versus a dedicated model. And of course, on the dedicated side, you're looking for people who.

Um, can, uh, who, who first really are good at taking care of customers who can look at analytics, data like product usage, data and uncover problems they can present? Well, they can present QPRs, uh, to customers. They can get, uh, Executive stakeholders involved. Those are all skillsets that are required for a dedicated CSM model.

But as you move into a low touch model now, suddenly the human interaction is less important. Now it's the ability to, uh, interact with customers at scale. And so these are the types of skill sets that get implemented on low touch teams. The first one is [00:35:00] an operations skill set and. Many companies say that this is the most valuable skillset on the team.

This is the skill set that helps implement, uh, tooling, uh, automation, data routing, uh, stinking back and forth with Salesforce. Um, so this is a super critical skillset that you have to onboard into. Maybe the most important skills that you have to onboard into a low touch team, then you separately have someone who's a kind of a customer advocate.

So this is someone who is analyzing data throughout the life cycle. Listening to customer feedback, identifying patterns for product adoption, they're anticipating churn risk. They're identifying promoters. Um, sometimes this person is called a CSM, but it's someone who is good at, uh, decoding the matrix.

So they're good. They're good at looking at all the different. Aspects of the experience of detecting which customer needs attention, which customers need attention and why [00:36:00] the third skill set is a content. Skillset. So this is someone who's developing programs, enablement training. So it's content specific content to solve a problem that the customer is having.

And it's, uh, it's sometimes a combination of both video and a written communication to help the customers understand a feature or to help get onboarded, et cetera. There's actually a different skillset, separate from content. Which is I'm going to call it programs or enablement. So this is the, this is the skill set that, uh, enable someone to take all these different pieces of content and put them together into playbooks, uh, and automations that get automatically deployed.

Uh, over the life cycle of the customer journey. So if this customer does this, then trigger this content. If this customer has done this much product usage or has used this feature, deploy this content. [00:37:00] So it's the person who's putting together, all of this stuff into automations to, to drive engagement.

Andrew Michael: [00:37:07] They're not. So in that sense for different roles from are getting, like you've mentioned, like the ups being like really, really critical to begin with or skill sets as you put it. I think it's is a bit of way as well. Um, really like that person coming in and be able to connect everything, make sure that is flowing from system to system.

People have access, uh, to it. Then you sort of said, I think in the next one was the customer advocates. Uh, when you can really, Luxford sort of the tech data and the patterns like really understand from the conversations, what the customer needs to sort of dictate and pull that back then. It was the content side of things that really somebody who's putting together great, uh, content around and material that can really help and engage.

And then the last one was like, sort of programs. Like how can you. Uh, give actual use cases and different programs. People can get set up and get running with. Um, 

Chris Hicken: [00:37:54] there's actually two more, two more roles. There's an, uh, I said, I guess not roles with two more skill sets. There's another one. [00:38:00] You probably want some, uh, someone with the skill set of upsell slash cross sell.

So someone who can think about how and when to promote new offerings to the customer and get introductions. And then finally, and this is an optional one. There's a community. I'm going to call it a community role, which is, uh, uh, a skill set around setting up and implementing a strategy for enabling customers to, to work in a peer to peer type community.

Not everyone does this, but it's appropriate for some businesses. Yeah, 

Andrew Michael: [00:38:34] absolutely. And it can also be a really, really powerful way to scale sort of the success component, like letting customers learn from each other's success and like that, um, at the moment, do you have any customer success enough said, um, or it's still too early.

Chris Hicken: [00:38:48] We're we're a little bit too early for full-time. We have someone who's doing part-time. We have two people that are doing part-time customer success. 

Andrew Michael: [00:38:54] And what are you got them focused on now at your stage? 

Chris Hicken: [00:38:58] Um, because we are, [00:39:00] um, launching right now to our beta customers, customer success. The customer engagement team is, uh, doing a lot of work around understanding, um, what types of problems the customer is likely to encounter as part of their onboarding, onboarding, and engagement journey.

And they are both creating content and programs to help mitigate those. As we onboard feature customers. 

Andrew Michael: [00:39:27] Nice. That's sort of getting the base foundation ready for customers and iterating on, right. That's right. Um, cool. I see. We're actually running up on time now. So I want to save time for a couple of questions that ask every guest.

Um, let's imagine a hypothetical scenario. Now you join in your company. Churn or retention is not doing great. CEO turns to you and says, Hey, Chris, we've got 90 days to turn things around. I'm counting on you. You're in charge. What do you do? 

Chris Hicken: [00:39:55] Well, there's a book called the first 90 days, which I actually, um, [00:40:00] uh, very much subscribe to it's core philosophy, which is you have to, um, It's very difficult to come in to a new set of problems at a new company and implement a playbook.

I'm a previous job or role because a lot of them, things that worked at your previous company just aren't going to work at the new company. And so this is a common mistake and I've seen executives make this mistake over and over and over again. So, uh, first I would say 90 days probably isn't enough. To turn to, to, I would say to the COO, if you want 90 days go hire someone else because, uh, everything that's happened over the last three years has led to the current churn problem.

And almost nothing that we do in the next 90 days will impact the outcome of that turn because all the turn that's happening is because the company's customers were poorly onboarded. They didn't use the product, they haven't been engaged with us along the way. They haven't done QPRs. They haven't engaged with our, um, You know, our [00:41:00] upcoming communities.

And so they're just, uh, um, it's it's um, It's a fire. If you're trying to change things in 90 days, it's just going to be a firefight. My preferred approach would be to hold it. I understand the product and the customer first to understand what needs to be fixed and solved. So I probably would hop on, I would actually personally call every single customer that's up for renewal in the next 90 days and ask them about their experience, what they've liked and not liked about the product, what they wished.

Uh, it would be different about their engagement and experience, uh, how, um, What the price, you know, is the pricing appropriate low relative to the value that they've received. Um, and so I need to understand first holistically, how the customers engage with the product, what alternatives exist in the marketplace, et cetera.

And then I'd also need to be a product expert, meaning I'd need to know how to use the product myself. I need to know where some of [00:42:00] its flaws are with respect to ease of use. And engagement so that I could help develop, uh, programs that will enable onboard, you know, better onboarding, better engagement, et cetera.

And then the last thing is I'd look at the team. So who, you know, who is managing, which accounts do we have? Good. Um, customer success managers teamed up with, uh, the right customers. Do we have the right skill sets on the team to effectively, uh, deploy the type of product that we have, uh, that we're selling into the marketplace.

Um, and are there any places where we need to skill skillsets? So. Um, that's probably what I, 

Andrew Michael: [00:42:40] I would say it's Todd. Yeah. I liked the response as well. Like the first 90 days that book that you mentioned, I might have to give that a useful, I think it is definitely, as you said, like, you can't really come into a new place expecting to solve new problems with old, uh, Thanks.

And that's actually saying the show a lot. I think like, um, best practices typically, like you should really be wary of [00:43:00] best practices, especially when it comes to churn and retention, because the, what works for your business and your customers, like previously doesn't necessarily translate into every single business, like serving different audiences, different, like ACVs different account values.

Like this sort of stuff really has an impact on the type of strategies that you're gonna impact. So just because something worked in one place doesn't necessarily mean it will in another, but yeah, I also really a hundred percent agree on the. Points as well, maybe 90 days is not right, like, eh, but there's a lot of things that people typically resort to, which are short term hacks that can maybe be reduced.

But ultimately if you really want to get to the root cause, uh, like you really need to get double down, understanding the pain, understanding the problem, and then going back and seeing like, where have you gone wrong on this path? I can typically it's normally somewhere on onboarding where you should give done a better job of religion hitting users.

So last question then, uh, what's one thing that, you know today about general and retention that you wish you knew you got when you got started with your career.

Chris Hicken: [00:43:57] Good question.

[00:44:00] Uh, this is going to be the, probably the most obvious one for everyone listening, but I don't think I really deeply digested how important, um, The churn number is to the overall unit economics of the business. You know, in the early days, I used to think that we could kind of outgrow churn, uh, just by onboarding tons and tons of customers.

So I didn't really pay that much attention to churn in the early days of my career. Um, cause I, you know, my thinking at the time was like, well, the customers that are turning out are the ones that aren't getting as much value. So let's not worry about that part of the market. Let's just focus on acquiring customers that really will get a lot of value from the product.

The, the problem with that of course, is as you start to get to scale, Um, you know, if you're churning 10% per year, maybe 15% per year, [00:45:00] you're talking now about tens of millions of dollars that you have to recover on the new business acquisition side. And so, um, the one, you know, once. You know, I think once I really grokked the importance and the value of churn, it kind of changed my mindset around even around customer acquisition.

Um, it became more important that we started acquiring not any customer, but just, you know, the right types of customers who we thought really could engage with the product. We invested a lot more in each customer's experience, uh, their onboarding. Uh, to make sure that they were successful. We actually put in place some support services.

We actually didn't think that we would ever have a professional services team, but we implemented at user testing, for example, a professional services team to help the customers be more successful with the product. And so we ended up investing more than double in customer success and services than I had originally planned, which an even, even [00:46:00] considering, uh, The the, um, additional amount that we're spending in professional services and customer success, it will still a lot less expensive to do that than to incur the natural churn that came into business without those two investments.

So. That's that's what I, if I could go back in time, that's what I would teach myself. . 

Andrew Michael: [00:46:19] Yeah. And it's very interesting. It's very like sort of natural progression. I think the interesting thing is like, when you first sort of see your growth ceiling, like looking at your current churn rates and you sort of see, okay, like if we don't fix things, there's no ways we going to see another step change to another move.

And then typically you sort of. Reverse engineering. Those thoughts in your mind, if the, okay. What if we had better customers earlier? What would the compounding impact have looked like today? Um, but yeah, absolutely. I think that is definitely something that beginning of that. And a lot of times like growth mosques churn as well at the same time, if you're acquiring customers faster than you're losing, obviously like, but at some point that really does start to catch up when you start to exhaust specific channels.

And, um, then it really, it. But she sometimes when it's too late and we've seen [00:47:00] sort of cases of this where companies have just had total flops in the end. Um, but yeah, Chris, I mean, it's been a pleasure. I sing in the show today. Like, uh, great chatting too. Is there any final thoughts you want to leave the listeners with anything they should be aware of before we log off today?

Chris Hicken: [00:47:14] Just the last thing is I'll point everyone back to our blog, blog, Denton, and We have a ton of really great customer success content. It's very well-researched and. We also have a newsletter, which you can sign up for on that page as well. And that newsletter is targeted to a customer success leadership audience.

So again, both, uh, um, appropriate for both, uh, directors, VPs, and chief customer officers. But also if you're a CSM and you're aspiring to grow your career, it's a great way to, uh, learn content that will be appropriate for you as you, as you grow and scale. 

Andrew Michael: [00:47:50] Very cool. Yeah. We'll definitely make sure to include that in the show notes as well.

So you'll be able to find that on Tinder from as well or this audio, uh, links should have them as well. If you want to [00:48:00] check that out later, but yeah. Thanks so much, Chris, for joining. It's been a pleasure talking today. I wish you best of luck now going forward. 

Chris Hicken: [00:48:05] Likewise. Thanks. Thanks Andrew. 

Andrew Michael: [00:48:07] Cheers.


Chris Hicken
Chris Hicken

The show

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.


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