How to evolve your Customer Success approach from reactive to predictive

Maria Blakeway


Senior Vice President of Customer Success


Maria Blakeway
Maria Blakeway

Episode Summary

Today on the show we have Maria Blakeway, Senior Vice President of Customer Success at Pushpay.

In this episode, we discussed the reactive nature of customer success teams in hyper-growth startups and how Pushpay evolved its customer success approach from reactive to predictive.

We also discussed the importance of a cultural shift and mindset change within the organization, grounding the customer success team on a mission and vision for success that is shared widely with the entire team.

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.

Mentioned Resources




About Pushpay00:01:18
Enabling and accelerating customer success by acting as trusted advisors to them00:08:58
Making the move from reactive to proactive reality00:10:25
The power of data in being able to predict customer behavior and to head off issues is immense today00:13:44
Customer experience is a company imperative, not an organizational imperative00:16:58
Start with mindset00:20:32
Data is the means to motivation and acceleration00:22:18


00:00:00 VO: How do you build a habit forming products? Don't just gun for revenue in the door.

00:00:08 Andrew: 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 recension to fuel their growth.

00:00:21 VO: How do you build a habit forming products? We crossed over that magic thresholds to negative churn. You need to invest in customer success. It always comes down to retention and engagement. Completely bootstrap profitable and growing.

00:00:35 Andrew: 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.

00:00:45 Andrew: Hey, Maria. Welcome to the show.

00:00:47 Maria: Thank you, Andrew.

00:00:49 Andrew: It's great to have you. For the listeners, Maria is the SVP of customer success at Pushpay. Maria is invested in a career in helping brands improve their customer experience, leading global teams at several Fortune 100 companies in the past 25 years, including Microsoft, GE, Intuit, Mitel and more. She is currently the executive leader at Pushpay's Customer Success organization, which focuses on support and service delivery of source giving engagement solutions for mission driven and nonprofit clients. So excited to have you today on the show, Maria, My first question actually was could you explain a little bit more about what Pushpay does?

00:01:27 Maria: Yeah, so Pushpay is really focused on mission based organizations, whether they're in the space or the nonprofit vertical. And the idea is to bring people together with our staff portfolio and to help them create community, connection and belonging, which I know sounds a little bit lofty, but when we focus on that, we realize that the outcomes that those mission based organizations are driving for come naturally.

00:01:57 Maria: Very interesting. And what is sort of the offering in terms of the platform source? What tools are you providing to these organizations?

00:02:07 Andrew: Yeah, so they're digital SaaS based offerings and our portfolio today includes church management software as well as donor management software and also app based donor management software. We also recently had an acquisition where we've added a streaming component from a video digital aspect as well to flush out the full portfolio.

00:02:32 Andrew: Very interesting. And as a business then as well, like, how would you say your organization typically operates? So in Startek we have obviously the product led approach and we have sales. Is your team predominantly focused on product led or would you say you lean more into the sales lead side of things?

00:02:51 Maria: Let me propose a different answer solutions orientation. And I say that because Pushpay's journey has been one where founded in focusing on trying to figure out how to close the gap between in person and online giving, but then expanded as mission based organizations told us about other needs that they had. And so we've really been focused on what are the solutions that those mission based organizations are looking for and how do we provide that digital solution for them for that engagement?

00:03:23 Andrew: Yeah, obviously, you're part of the customer success or you're leading up there, what does that look like? What is the team makeup today?

00:03:34 Maria: So the Customer Success Organization that I have the honor to lead is actually comprised of four disciplines. We have an operations team, we have a support team, an implementation team, and then the Customer Success Management and account Management relationship team. So all in the CS organization within Pushpay comprises service delivery for the back book operation. And so once the customer has made the decision to purchase one of the offerings in our portfolio, they then begin the relationship engagement with our back book services.

00:04:14 Andrew: And what sort of size is the team today?

00:04:17 Maria: Yeah, so we have 140 colleagues within the Customer Success Organization, and it's actually the largest in Pushpay, which I think speaks a little bit to the focus on engagement.

00:04:29 Andrew: Yeah, I can imagine that. So it's quite a large team and you've been with the team now for a while. Where did you get started and where are you today? What does that growth look like for you and the team?

00:04:42 Maria: That's a great question. So I think about this in terms of as I joined Pushpay, and again, my background has largely been in Fortune 100 companies. And so fairly well established, lots of best practices. But joining Pushpay really opened me to a really different experience in terms of a company that's really in rapid growth and scale mode. And this you can see from if we look back at the history just recently, in 2019, the acquisition of Church Community Builder for the addition of that Church Management software in the portfolio, and then in just 2021, the acquisition of Rosie Media so that we added streaming.

00:05:28 Maria: And so this has created a lot of change management that's happened very rapidly within the organization. And as I joined Pushpay, I realized that we were really in this evolution of attempting to move from a reactive type of stance to looking at how we move into a proactive mode and then ultimately a predictive mode.

00:05:53 Andrew: And how do you do that?

00:05:55 Maria: Easier said than done, actually. But the bones of that framework are really the same. If you think about when a company is in growth mode and they're in this period where there's rapid growth, a lot of market opportunity, you find yourself in this reactive, almost firefighting state where colleagues are acting as utility players. And because of that, you're not really focusing on subject matter expertise or maybe the consistent delivery or maybe even the most efficient way to go about things. So as you focus on this reactive mode that you're in, you begin to realize that it starts with mindset and you really have to start thinking strategically with your planning and end to end in terms of the mindset that you're helping people to understand. So you really are focusing on the people pillar of your strategic operating system.

00:06:56 Andrew: Sure thing. And so just to double click into that interactive mode. In the early days, you're just really responding to customers requests and being very reactive in the response in that sense. And then the proactive phase when you kick in is really trying to say, "Okay, what can we proactively do to sort of maybe prevent customers from ending up having to reach out to us or not getting to that success date?" And what you're saying this is more like a cultural thing that needs to be managed and adopted. So how did you do that within the organization like taking your team? And what sort of stars were there at this stage? Because it's 140 today. What sort of stars were there when you decided, "Okay, this is something that we need to now start moving towards." Like how big were you?

00:07:42 Maria: Yes. It's about 85, maybe 90 colleagues. As we focused on the reactive nature of where we were, we realized that most of the things that we were doing on behalf of customers were transactional in nature, which means that there's a short engagement and there's also the focus on that net result. So, as I mentioned, it starts with an end to end mindset. So really talking with colleagues about linking what they were doing to the corporate mission and vision was essential. In other words, what are they doing in their area of subject matter expertise that contributes to elevating the customer and the colleague experience?

00:08:26 Maria: So we spent quite a bit of time grounding on mission and vision and that line of sight that folks have, as well as starting to help with professional development programs that help them hone in on their specific subject matter expertise areas. As well as beginning to talk about things like continuous and rapid improvement methodologies and focusing more on the long term solutions orientation that we wanted them to get to which meant elongating the relationship engagement.

00:08:57 Andrew: Nice. And what did some of those you mentioned the vision and mission as part of the team. What was the vision and mission that you set out for the team? How did that help influence this change in mindset?

00:09:11 Maria: Yes. So we realized that colleagues understanding the top level corporate mission and vision and purpose wasn't enough to help them link what they were delivering to the customer, to the corporate mission and vision. So we realized that we had to go click down and say, what's the mission statement of the customer success organization? Why do we exist? What are we delivering? And so where we landed was the sense that we realized that we were enabling and accelerating our customer success by acting as trusted advisors to them, which helped the entire organization begin to lean into what does being a trusted advisor mean? Which then led us to more of that proactive state of if you're going to be a trusted advisor, you're looking beyond just this answer. You're looking to what is the customer attempting to do and how do you help engage with them to help deliver the results they're looking for within your portfolio within your experience?

00:10:14 Andrew: That's so interesting and I like the way it's phrased is all the trusted advisors really get you thinking, "Okay, I'm not here just to support, I'm not here just to respond, but I'm here more to advise." How did you then manage this transition as well? Because it is quite a shift in the market, it is quite a shift in the way that you operate. So was there anything you specifically did with the team to like measure or encourage or to actually be able to understand if you were actually moving in this direction and if you're becoming more of an advisor as opposed to a reactive state?

00:10:50 Maria: So admittedly this is a journey that we're on and we haven't completed it. But what I will tell you is that as we talked about the concept of trusted advisor, what we realized was that we had to help colleagues understand what trusted advisors looked like, what they sounded like, and what they acted like. And so we literally began to create content so that we could share, "Hey, this is how a trusted advisor talks with customers, this is how they represent, this is what their mindset is about." And then we began to provide education with respect to that, to help people be able to lean into that.

00:11:32 Maria: And not only were we focusing on that, we were also trying to tie processes that would help the colleagues as they were using that trusted advisor methodology, backing up with processes that were making the move from reactive to proactive reality like standing up a customer portal and creating a matrix for topic space ticket routing to make sure tickets got to the subject matter expert, as well as other processes that helped us in terms of making sure that the right contact got to the right representative to have the best conversation with the customer.

00:12:15 Andrew: That's a very interesting approach, having those subject matter experts and then reaching messages accordingly. I think we also had some previous guests on the show went through a similar transition trying to figure out, "Okay, how can we get our teams more proactive as opposed to sort of reactive." And one of the things I think I found interesting in cases was Maria from [Helpscart] talked a little bit about support driven growth and the idea that when somebody reaches out to you with support, this is one of the best moments to actually drive growth for your business. So it's like you had an issue with product X. Now that we've solved this issue, did you know you can also do Y with this product and introducing these sort of use cases?

00:13:01 Andrew: And similarly as well, I think Ziv from AppsFlyer, what they introduced within the Customer Success Team was like a metric that the team could measure themselves against to see what was the activation rate of their specific customers with specific features that they knew led to retention. So as a goal for the customer success, it wasn't about retaining customers, really about how can we get them to expand to different use cases and use different features, which was an input which ultimately leads to the output metric. So I think there's quite a lot of organizations that try and move through the stage where they realize, "Okay, we're in an active state now. We can be adding a lot more value to our customers if we move and shift to become proactive as an organization." When we started chatting a little bit of the show though, we talked a little bit about this nature of being predictive as well. So you're going through three different stages, which is reactive proactive and then becoming predictive. What does that mean from your perspective? So what happens when you're in a position to be predictive?

00:14:03 Maria: So the journey of establishing the appropriate mindset and the concept of a trusted advisor persona. When you're in the rafted stage to help you move to the proactive stage, where you start leveraging process and technology to support that. And then what comes next in that predictive stage is use of data and really exploiting the technology because data allows you to begin to predict customer behavior, which essentially allows you to determine where you can add the best value and to set up that engagement to do so.

00:14:42 Maria: And so when you get into focusing on predictive, you really start focusing on data science. You start looking at all of the data that you have within your organization historically that will allow you to predict customer behavior and you start creating data science projects that allow you to exploit that. An example might be if you were to realize that maybe billing the process was a pain point for customers. And your data historically showed you that if a customer contacted you about a billing issue more than X number of times in a six month period, they were 85% more likely to churn, then you would want to use that data in a predictive way. So that the second time a customer reaches out about a billing issue, you know that there's a call to action that your customer success managers need to put in place to prevent that turn issue and to retain the customer. So the power of data in being able to predict customer behavior and to head off issues is immense today.

00:15:56 Andrew: Absolutely. I think in a lot of organizations as well, the data team is like an individual team business intelligence set up to serve the organization, and different teams operate and they interact with them in different ways. So there's obviously, there's the embedded model where you might have an analyst working with your team and then they report, they become subject matter experts. You have the center of excellence model where you just have the team and you submit requests and then you can have a hybrid model between the two.

00:16:27 Andrew: What have you seen most effective as well that enables customer success themselves to maximize the use of data? Because obviously, I think in most companies data is given that it's a product thing and in product you have the luxury of all the data that you once and need and sometimes I think other roles within the organization tend to take a backseat. So how do you prioritize data within your organization? How do you make sure that customer success is getting what they need in order to move to that predictive state?

00:16:58 Maria: So I need to go back to a comment you made from one of your previous guests where they were talking about the fact that each team or discipline has an opportunity to impact the customer experience. You were talking about support as an example. Well, I absolutely ascribe to that thinking in the sense that customers don't distinguish between different departments and a company, right? That's not the way they think. They think when I call Pushpay, Pushpay is my partner regardless of who I'm calling. So when you think about it that way then you need to think about the fact that customer experience is a company imperative, not an organizational imperative.

00:17:36 Maria: And so then when you think about that, you realize that data science in terms of the predictability of customer needs has to be a corporate wide imperative as well. At Pushpay, we do have a corporate business intelligence team but they are informed by data gathering that happens across the  journey line across the company. And so that really helps to inform the types of call to action plans that our customer success team works and partners with other departments on.

00:18:07 Andrew: Yeah, I really like that framing of the customer experience team and I think a lot of times we talk about the product, people think that it's the actual piece of software in a day. But from my perspective I tend to agree as well. Like the product that you're delivering, that your company is the product and you're a product company and each part of the experience is just part of that product. So unlike I'd say, like the customer success or the onboarding period is almost like the unwrapping. You're opening up the box for your gift and you're reading the instructions, you're getting figured out how to get going. That's your customer success team.

00:18:41 Andrew: And I think you can go through a task like that experience of the physical to digital and see how just like we are a product company and everything that we do should be treated that way. That it's the end user experience that we care most about. But saying that still I do think that there is biases that do tend towards different teams within the organization and prioritizing like how does your team then like how does customer success now operate and work with the corporate level business intelligence team.

00:19:10 Maria: Yeah, well, the first thing that we did to make sure that we had alignment with them is that we actually documented what we wanted our future state to look like for customer success. So basically, we really intentionally thought about documenting who we are, trusted advice, who we serve, what our vision was for that, what the mission was and what our focus would be. Value, delight, loyalty, growth. And then we helped steer with the BI  that what we wanted to be about, kind of the pervasive idea that we wanted them to understand was that we define our success by customers achieving their outcomes in their interactions with their company. And so we challenged the BI team to help us find those moments of truth touch points along the customer journey that we already had a lot of data about that we could mine for information for the predictability that we were looking for. And so far that partnership with BI has just been wonderful.

00:20:15 Andrew: That's very cool and I like that you sort of given them a map in terms of where you're heading, what are expectations. I think that's always super helpful as well from a data perspective, knowing where the organization is heading, what's going to be most important so you can plan effectively around that. I see we're almost running up at time, so I want to make sure I save time for two questions I ask every guest of the show.

00:20:37 Andrew: First one is, let's imagine a hypothetical scenario that you join a new company, turn your attention is not doing at this company and not doing great at the company. And this here comes in and says, "Maria, you're in charge. You really need to turn things around. You have 90 days to do it. What do you do?" The catch is you're not going to tell me. I'm going to go speak to customers and figure out the pain points or speak to the team and see what the customers are saying. You're really just going to take a tactic that you've seen work at a previous company and run with it blindly, hoping it works at this new company. What would you implement?

00:21:11 Maria: It's got to start with mindset. I haven't ever worked in a customer experience organization where starting with the mindset of the organization hasn't led to the types of outcomes you're trying to achieve. And by mindset, I mean talking about things. We just talked about things about becoming more strategic in your planning, thinking more end to end leveraging data, thinking about how you use continuous improvement, as well as thinking about how you appreciate a customer back type of view or what the customer is looking for. So for me, great retention and churn prevention results with mindset of the colleagues that are working directly with those customers and getting into that persona of acting as trusted advisors. That's the test that we take.

00:22:04 Andrew: Yes, definitely. One of the biggest impacts you can ever have when it comes to general attention is having really strong alignment throughout the organization and having a really strong mindset around it, I think is one of the greatest ways you can do that. Last question then is, what's one thing that you know today about gender attention that you wish you knew when you got started with your career?

00:22:26 Maria: That sometimes you need to start with data that's just directionally correct, and that's okay. And that the goal should be to take the directionally corrected data and to continue to refine the fidelity of it with each path of information that you learn. I find that many times, leaders become a little bit paralyzed because they don't have all of the data that tells them all of the information that they need. And my point to them would be don't try to boil the ocean. Try to get data that's directionally correct and then continue to test and validate and increase its fidelity's ego. It gives you impetus to start and gets you on the learning journey that allows you to then say, "Ah, we need to pivot. Oh, I didn't understand that. Oh, that didn't work. Let's try something else." But data is the means to motivation and acceleration. It's not the end. All right.

00:23:28 Andrew: I love that, and I've definitely seen that play out in the past as well, where teams sort of get paralyzed in analysis paralysis and we can't trust the data or it's not there. But really, you don't need to have 100% accuracy in your data, and it's almost never I'd really be surprised. If there's companies that have product data, there's obviously certain circumstances where you need to have 100% accuracy, and that's like in banking and finance and things a little bit more strict. But most of the time, just having that directionally true data is more than you need to make the right decisions and move forward with the business and not get caught up in analysis paralysis. So I love that as a previous business intelligence leader or like, I mean, I really love hearing that. Nice. So before we wrap up today, Maria, is there anything you'd like to share with the guests before we drop off today?

00:24:22 Maria: Well, first I want to thank you for this opportunity. I really enjoyed the conversation. And I guess what I relieved, if folks who are listening to this podcast to think about in terms of customer experience is that customer experience must be a corporate imperative. And I think that while organizations are named customer success and maybe it is their role every day to get up and think about customer experience, they also have to think about the fact that for customer experience to be truly a memorable one for your customers, you have to work with your peers and ignite their passion around that as well. So if I leave folks with anything, it would be just make sure that you're thinking about this corporate wide imperative and really working with your first team, your peers across the organization, as you focus on customer experience end to end.

00:25:18 Andrew: Very nice. Well, thank you so much for joining me. I really appreciate your time today and wish you best of luck now going into 2023.

00:25:35 Andrew: And that's a wrap for the show today with me, Andrew Michael. I really hope you enjoyed it and you're 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 podcast. 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 Lastly, but most importantly, if you enjoyed this episode, click, 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.


Maria Blakeway
Maria Blakeway

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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