Wolf-Mode Activated: Planhat's CCO Unveils Their Secret to Driving Exceptional Customer Outcomes

Chris Regester


Chief Customer Officer


Chris Regester
Chris Regester

Episode Summary

Today on the show we have Chris Regester, the Chief Customer Officer of Planhat.

In this episode, Chris shares his extensive wisdom on the growth journey of a successful SaaS company and the critical role of recruitment in scaling businesses.

We then delve into the concept of "wolf-mode" customer success, highlighting an aggressive approach to customer objectives and the significance of seasoned expertise within the team.

We wrapped up by discussing current trends in the customer success industry, like the shift toward efficiency and CS accountability in revenue growth.

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

Mentioned Resources



Scaling Insights from Meltwater00:01:32
The Exponential Impact of Hiring00:03:51
Customer Success Realities00:06:09
Embracing Wolf-Mode in CS00:09:14
Planhat's Outcome-Focused CS00:14:06
Efficiency and Accountability Trends00:22:27
Global Metrics and Compensation00:30:39
Qualifying Customer Objectives00:37:10


00:00:00 Chris Regester: It's long-term customer management. It's that recognition. That first sale you get from your customer is likely going to be 10 or 20% of the total revenue you receive from a customer over time. And so it's that recognition of how do you maximize that over time? And what do you do? You have to deliver value.

00:00:20 VO: How do you build a habit-forming product? Do you need to invest… We saw these different… You don't just gun for revenue in the door.

00:00:27 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.

00:00:40 VO: How do you build a habit-forming product? 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 bootstrapped, profitable and growing–

00:00:53 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.

00:01:03 Andrew Michael: Hey, Chris, welcome to the show.

00:01:05 Chris Regester: Hey, Andrew, thank you for having me.

00:01:07 Andrew Michael: It's great to have you. For the listeners, Chris is the chief customer officer of Planhat, the modern customer platform built to give insights, manage workflows, and drive customer experience. Prior to Planhat, Chris was the VP of revenue and custom operations at Meltwater. So my first question for you, Chris, is what was your biggest learning over the 16 years you spent at Meltwater as the business scaled to over 400 million in revenue?

00:01:32 Chris Regester: Yeah, there are a lot of learnings. Meltwater is an incredible company and helped grow it from a very small organization, typically selling into SMB, to a larger organization selling multimillion dollar deals. So you kind of get to experience and learn all aspects of building a business. I also worked in Europe. I helped build up Asia Pacific and I ran San Francisco office in the US for a while, as well. So I got good global experience.

00:02:00 Chris Regester: But I think, probably the most important lesson I learned would be why, I guess one, you know, developing really strong SaaS companies takes time. But two, you only do it if you have awesome people. And it is the people that build the company. Which I don't think is any new, profound wisdom for the audience today. But it's always a healthy reminder that recruitment is the most important role of anyone in your business. And it's absolutely the thing that will make or break your company long term.

00:02:30 Andrew Michael: Yeah, I think you hear it so often, but when you see it in reality and you see it in practicality and how it actually works, it is really unbelievable. I think I was fortunate to get to join Hotjar in the early days, and it's still one of the things for me, I feel like the level and the quality of people that are surrounded by there, everyone that joined end up feeling like they had impostor syndrome. Everyone was amazing in their own right, but just because it was this collective group of people that were brought together, and hiring was something that was taken extremely serious at the company in terms of the candidate response rates and how you dealt with candidates all throughout the process. Everything like hiring, I think, was really key to the business.

00:03:12 Chris Regester: Yeah, it's the hiring. And obviously the bigger impact is when you hire someone fantastic, the impact they have on the business is just exponentially greater than when you hire someone who's average. So it's not a kind of someone's an A grade, and they're one point better than a B grade. It's just absolutely exponential. And what that does is it frees up all the bandwidth of everyone around them to get on and do their work. And typically, when you hire the right people, that feeds very well into culture. And culture is kind of the rocket fuel you need to build a good company. So it hits everything.

00:03:51 Andrew Michael: Everything. And I think obviously, maybe making assumptions, but it might seem that they have really good retention as well. Then at Meltwater, from your side, spending over 16 years at the company, you're one of the rare cases where I've looked at someone's backgrounds, trying to understand what they've been working on and seeing actually such a long-stand in the company. What do you think it was that kept you there for so long?

00:04:12 Chris Regester: I think the people, like I said, right? If you're working with great people, but it's also exciting when you're building a company. Everybody wants to be part of a winning team. And being in an organization that's growing, you're getting lots of opportunity. And that's something that Meltwater has always done, is given people opportunity. One thing they did that I thought was really inspiring was they focused a lot more on people's potential rather than their experience. So I was 23 years old, and I was asked to go and set up the business in Hong Kong. That isn't a normal decision for a lot of companies, but it was really empowering, and it helped build a really strong entrepreneurial culture.

00:04:49 Chris Regester: So I think that was very interesting. Going to retention, Meltwater’s retention has got better and better and better over the years, but it's such a great case study in retention, and they were a public company for a long time, so their numbers are public, but they had really strong retention at enterprise, they had weaker retention at SMB. And one of the things that's really interesting in CS, when you look for customer success, practitioners and people who've done it is you don't always want people who've had outstanding results forever, right? Because that means that most likely, they've actually not had to experience all the real world challenges of managing customers over time.

00:05:27 Chris Regester: So as a good example of that, and I don't know this person and all power to them, but if you were the head of customer success at Zoom from 2020 to 2022, you probably had outstanding net retention, right? But did you really learn that much about customer success and long term customer management? Absolutely not, because money was pouring in. You just had perfect product market fit, and the stars had aligned, whereas in many other organizations, it's a fight. And Meltwater, Martech is typically low-switching costs, not particularly sticky technology, particularly at SMB. So to have good retention in that segment, in that vertical is incredibly difficult.

00:06:09 Chris Regester: So I think that some of the CS people who've come out of Meltwater are incredibly talented because they've had to fight everything on every side. And what does that mean in CS? It means that you realize that every single day you're focused on generating value for your customer. That's the only reason you exist. You've got to find value. There's a lot of things around CS that are very interesting, but in particular, kind of analyzing different segments and verticals and churn is really interesting.

00:06:34 Andrew Michael: Important. Yeah. And I love that as well as, like, a hiring note in terms of who are good candidates. I think someone else previously on the show, as well, mentioned this around hiring marketing candidates and their feedback sort of was like, I would hire the marketer from tier two, tier three company every day if they're showing good results over the market-leading marketer, because they've had to sort of get those great results or even in sales or drive those exercise, not being the market leader. And yes, in the market leader, if you're working for that company, things come too easy. But if you've still been able to achieve results in adversity when you're not the clear leader, it's similar to what you're saying, I think, in this context of, have you been through that fight? Do you understand what it means to maybe at times get scrappy and sort of deliver results even in challenging times?

00:07:22 Chris Regester: Right. And in particular with just to say one more thing in particular with CS, what's really interesting there is when many companies, if we talk about SaaS companies or many companies are selling today, they're really selling two things, right? On the one hand, they're selling talking software companies. They're selling software, but they're also selling an element of services, right? And if you have absolutely perfect product market fit, and your product is straightforward enough that anyone can just click the buttons and figure it out, then the services are less important.

00:07:54 Chris Regester: But typically you need someone to help derive value from the product, and that's partly what customer success has become. But if you're doing that, you're not the leading player in the market, or maybe you don't have perfect product market fit, then the services are incredibly important, right, because they're having to overcome the challenges on the software side. And that's where hiring someone who's not been a CSM at Zoom from 2020 to 2022 will benefit you, because they'll have had different fights, different battles, and had to think in different ways, not discounting the efforts of Zoom’s CS team, of course.

00:08:28 Andrew Michael: Now, very interesting, you mentioned that actually a very recent episode was with Becca Weiss from Flatfile, and they sort of went under this process where they started out as a product-led business and they went purely sales-led. They started adding on the services layer and actually adding on that service layer helped them learn a lot faster, and now they've gone back to the product-led approach with all these learnings and the new service layer. So, very interesting sort of journey that they've gone through and the lessons learned along the way. And definitely if you're listening, I'd recommend there's another episode to check out.

00:08:59 Andrew Michael: Today, as well, I was very interested. We chatted a little briefly about this. At the beginning of the show, you mentioned inception, and you're currently at Planhat. You're doing customer success for customer success leaders, must be incredibly intimidating. How do you deal with the role that you're in today?

00:09:14 Chris Regester: Yeah, I mean, you talked about impostor syndrome at Hotjar. That's what I live and breathe. So customer success is so interesting because on the one hand, lately, it's been a somewhat fashionable space to work in. It's been very fast growing. On the other hand, it's as old as time, right? You go back, like, what is customer success? If you're a hairdresser in Roman Times, what are you thinking about? You're thinking, Well, I got to give a good haircut, otherwise this guy won't come back. And if I give a really good one, maybe next time he'll also want the perm. And that's an upsell. So it's like this is the oldest form, it's the oldest thing in business. So what is customer success? Or really, it's like it's how you operate your business. It is your business. It's not this sort of fashionable rainbows and unicorns thing that's sort of developed over the last 10, 15 years.

00:10:02 Chris Regester: But the leaders we have in CS today, they're really interesting people, and they're coming from lots of very diverse backgrounds. For a little while, you had lots of CS leaders who were coming in from support. And I'd say that this is when it was very early because support had been around longer, and you'd see more CS leaders who came from a support background. But now we're starting to see people come from everywhere. So we see management consultants as CS leaders. We're seeing more engineers as CS leaders. We're seeing sales leaders pivot and say, hey, you know what, actually I think about, you know, I don't care so much about the first sale. I care about all the subsequent sales. So I want to know the CS function, that it's becoming a far more diverse and interesting group of people.

00:10:41 Andrew Michael: Yeah, absolutely. I think definitely, the show highlights that, as well. Often as well, when I start the show, I'll go through the guest background and see if there's any dots that connect them in. There's just always so many weird and wonderful ways like that people get ended up in CS. There's never sort of like the straight path where I knew this is what I want to do, I studied this and then I got my entry level role here and that was it. It's always sort of like I was in the Navy and then decided I enjoyed serving people. So I was out there and it's always these weird and wonderful stories that keep popping up. So I love it.

00:11:12 Chris Regester: It should be. And I think that should happen more, just to say one more thing on that, that should happen more, because again, what is customer success? Well, right now it has this label, customer success, which has got these associations. But fundamentally this is long term management of customers, which is basically managing your business over time. And so to be a CS leader, it's very hard to say, oh, there's one path because really what you need to be is a business generalist. You need to understand sales because of course you're always trying to deliver more and more value and selling more value to your customers. You need to understand project management and process management because this is over time, it takes time.

00:11:48 Chris Regester: You need to understand marketing because you got to think about how are you messaging and communicating to all of your customers. You've got to be analytical because there's so much data flying around you've got to think about. So this really is a function for business generalists, which I think is very inspiring for the future of CS, as well. I think you'll see this huge pathway of current CS leaders becoming CEOs of companies over the course of the next 5, 10 years. And we're seeing that a little bit now, but I think that will accelerate massively.

00:12:15 Andrew Michael: Can you repeat your definition of customer success? Then again, so you mentioned managing customers over the long term, but if you had to describe what CS is, how would you describe it?

00:12:24 Chris Regester: So customer success, what is it like? It's a company goal, that's what it is. It's not a department or any of that. But customer success, and when you take it a layer deeper, it has all of these associations because of a lot of the marketing that's been done by players in the space and some of the thought leaders. But really it's long term customer management. It's that recognition that, first sale you get from your customer is likely going to be 10 or 20% of the total revenue you receive from a customer over time. And so it's that recognition of how do you maximize that over time and what do you do? You have to deliver value. So I think it gets a little bit, the term customer success in itself is, I think, very reductive of all the work that is going on in this part of the business. And that leads to some of the cynicism that is out there around customer success.

00:13:12 Andrew Michael: Yeah, I like that notions of the long term customer management and really putting that emphasis on the long term thinking that okay, it's like the success of the business is really the success of our customers and it's up to us to be able to manage and extract that excess and value from them. So, very interesting. In terms of your own customer success practice then at Planhat, and you mentioned sort of that impostor syndrome needing, I remember similarly at Hotjar providing conversion rate optimization tools and for digital experiences, we always felt internally we needed to have the absolute best digital experience if this is what we're selling to our customers. And it turned out not to be true in the end, actually, like, people didn't really care that much.

00:13:52 Andrew Michael: But I'm interested to sort of hear your approach to customer success at Planhat and are there anything that you think you do typically that are unique at the business or would you say it's just run-of-the-mill and how would you position yourselves?

00:14:06 Chris Regester: Yeah, I'd say first of all, what we try and do from a customer success perspective is be extremely outcome-focused. And so we think about this from the moment there's a first sales engagement, is we're talking not about the software, not about the features, not about the buttons, we're talking about the outcomes the customer wants to achieve and that tracks all the way through. So that we've created what we call the value delivery framework for how we can deliver clear outcomes to our customers. We've broken out what we think is the whole world of customer success into these very clearly defined outcomes and then we can track that all the way down to the very operational level and map it all the way back up to kind of metric driven outcomes that our customers experience with Planhat.

00:14:47 Chris Regester: So it's a very, very intentional and outcome-based form of customer success. So I would say in a less mature CS organization, your CSM are showing up and answering questions and whatnot. Perhaps they're trying to drive QBRs and EBRs and feel that they're being proactive. Perhaps they're responding to data signals and being proactive. Whereas we're trying to say we're going to focus very, very much on the outcomes the customers achieve and we're going to do all of our work around them. So there's sort of a big framework and strategy that we're working around. That's only possible though, if you have the right people. So from a culture point of view, we talk a lot about wolf-mode customer success.

00:15:33 Chris Regester: And I have said for a long time, and I feel this so passionately, that customer success people should be the most aggressive people in your organization, right? And they shouldn't be aggressive in terms of stereotypes of bad sales and cornering the prospect or cornering the customer or any of that rubbish, but they should be aggressive and that they're extremely assertive on what they're trying to achieve for the customer. And that in many organizations today, that's not the kind of people who are working in CS. I refer to it as wolf-mode. And I think that in a lot of organizations, CS people are a little bit more like sheep. They're busy, they're wandering around, they're doing stuff, but they don't have the courage or the conviction or they're not encouraged correctly to go out and be aggressive.

00:16:22 Chris Regester: And to give a good example of that, if you talk to your customer and they say, hey, Andrew with you guys, I want to climb that mountain, then wolf-mode is you say, okay, get behind me, I'm going to take you up that mountain. We're going up the mountain. And then if halfway up the mountain, the customer's like, oh, look over there, there's a lovely river. Let's go and have a picnic by the river. You turn to them, you say, no, we're going up the mountain. You told me you want to go up. Then they're like, oh, but I really want a picnic. Then you say, okay, stop. We now need to realign, we need to reset objectives and if we want to go and have a picnic, so be it, but otherwise we're going up the mountain.

00:16:55 Chris Regester: And it's that mindset of the CS person is, they have to be aggressive and assertive towards the customer's objective. So what we've tried to do at Planhats is really map out, define specific outcomes, break them down to very operational levels, and then develop this culture within our team that says, hey, we're going to ensure our customers achieve their outcomes. So the number one outcome in customer success is to retain and grow your customer revenue, right? That's why this function exists. So we say to our customers, look, if you work with us, we are going to do everything in our power to ensure you retain and grow your customer revenue. And I think those two things, I feel that we've matured them fairly well. There's always more we can do, but that's very much where we're focused.

00:17:39 Andrew Michael: Very interesting. I love the analogy as well of the wolf and sheep, and I tend to see that, as well, in terms of, and I think it's also a culture thing perhaps at companies of how much customer success is valued and how much influence customer success can have within an organization. And perhaps the sheep mentality is due to the nature of the culture internally. But obviously being at a place like Planhat that really values customer success, you can see how, okay, that can be a thing. And you can have these wolves in the company that are there fighting for the customers wants and needs and getting them to where they need to be.

00:18:12 Andrew Michael: How do you go about finding these people as well because we've chatted quite a bit now about building and growing your CS team and some important aspects of what leads to success. But how do you go and find these wolves? What are some of the key characteristics you're looking for when building out a team?

00:18:28 Chris Regester: Yeah, so one thing that's really important for us, and I don't think that this is applicable for all organizations, but certainly it is for us, is that we're dealing in a relatively immature space. I still think there's customer success in its current form is a relatively immature– so what we're looking for, one of the first things we're looking for is people who've walked the walk. We are typically looking for people who've been a director of CS at another company. So they've led a team, they tried to build out a CS function, and they understand how challenging it is, because then when they're working with one of our customers who's a person in a similar situation, they've got empathy and context and they understand what's going on behind the scenes. They understand the why behind the questions that they are receiving. So I think it's very hard for a company like Planhat to say, hey, yeah, we're hiring these CSMs and we train them for six months on Planhat, and then they work with you. Like, we need someone who's got tenure and experience to back it up.

00:19:22 Chris Regester: So we've got this really strong group of people with just incredible knowledge. I think we have over 300 years of customer success experience within our team, which is amazing. That's one thing. And then if you look at the underlying skill sets you're looking for, I think that CS we spoke about before, right? People can come from many different backgrounds, but you've got to be someone who's broadly a business generalist. And what does that mean? Well, I think you have to be intelligent, you have to be really curious, and you've got to be really, really driven. And it's something about those three things, like the ability to quickly synthesize data, understand what's going on, the ability to ask questions and why are they asking why do they care about that? Why do they care about that objective? What's going on in their company? Who are the people that matter here? You've got to have that curiosity going on and then the drive, because this thing is really hard. Customer success is so hard. And if you've never been a CSM, you'll never understand how hard it is. It's hard, hard work because you've got to have that internal engine to push it.

00:20:25 Andrew Michael: And sort of the experience. You say it doesn't really matter about the background itself, but making sure that they've had that experience building out success itself. You mentioned sort of like director-level roles, and that's sort of got my mind thinking, like, are you hiring directors as CSMs at Planhat? And they need to have that experience, as you say, to be able to build that empathy. I think some of the greatest conversations I've had with CS leaders on the show, they started out as customers of that product. They were the users, they understood it. And then when they came in, they had this immediate understanding. But sounds like you're hiring a very senior level of CSMs onto the team.

00:21:00 Chris Regester: Yeah, absolutely. And several of them have been customers, as well. So the same logic. And for us, that obviously helps because more than anything, it helps with the acceleration of them as a contributor to the team because they know the product inside out as well. No, we're hiring very senior people. So if you work with Planhat, you get really senior people to help you.

00:21:18 Andrew Michael: Yeah, interesting. I can see as well, it goes back to those expectations as well. You're a customer success, the customer success platform. And then when your customers are coming to you, they have these sorts of expectations that they're like, okay, what is Planhat doing? How can we learn from them and adopt these practices? And then naturally, as you say, like having really good experience CSMs, it makes complete sense.

00:21:42 Chris Regester: And just to say as well, there's a lot of things in customer success where they sound so easy. Someone can write a blog post and you see this stuff on LinkedIn all the time or on blogs all the time. Ten Tips to Improve Your Onboarding and all this fluffy stuff. There's so much fluff in this customer success space, and the reality is that doesn't teach you anything. The real things is doing, experiencing, understanding why if you turn left, it influences it this way, if you turn right, it influences it that way. And so we don't want a team of CSMs who've just read all the blogs and can therefore kind of say generic stuff. We want people who deeply understand what you're trying to achieve and then can say, look, this is the right way to do it. This is how we're going to get to the top of the mountain.

00:22:27 Andrew Michael: Very cool. You have as well, then, like, this unique perspective, obviously. So you're speaking to a lot of CS leaders at some really good companies as well, and you're developing your own CS practices. What are some of the trends you're seeing in the current market when it comes to customer success? Are you seeing any new practices being adopted? Have you seen anything interesting, sparked your curiosity to explore and look into further?

00:22:52 Chris Regester: Yes, the obvious trend, and I don't think this will be a surprise to anyone, but the obvious trend of late has been around efficiency and really the kind of the macro trends following businesses. It bleeds into customer success because customer success is your business. So when the macro trend is growth at all costs, then the emphasis in customer success is net retention, net retention, net retention. But when the macro trend is more profitable growth, then customer success becomes do more with less. How do we have more accounts managed per CSM? How do we do pooled CS? How do we do more scaled CS? How do we do more digital CS? And so on and so forth. So naturally, the macro trends drive what is the key trend in customer success because it is so central to your business.

00:23:42 Chris Regester: But I think that when it comes to, maybe I should say this, that what is really positive and a very positive trend now, is that CS is being forced to really justify itself. And for a long time, there were CS people out there who would say things, you know, I can't be responsible for revenue. How can I be a trusted business partner if I'm also trying to sell stuff to my customer? And that, to me, was always totally backwards. The best person to buy from is someone you trust because they deeply understand what you're trying to do. So customer success now is, as a function, one of the things that's happening is it's being forced to justify what it is and recognize that everything you do in CS must have purpose and value behind it. And typically, that's meaning you've got to show how you're influencing revenue, whether directly because you're owning retention and growth, or you're indirectly influencing it, and it's being measured across the business.

00:24:51 Chris Regester: So I think that this is really kind of a seminal maturity point for customer success. What's going on there, right? Everyone who works in a function is being forced to grow up. The CFO is analyzing what's going on, and we're seeing some CS functions get reduced as a result of maybe they were really just dedicated support, and now they need to prove that, actually, no. We're here to drive revenue through value realization for our customers. So I think that's one of the bigger trends, a more tactical trend, which is very interesting, is much more focus on how the input of a CSM has an output on the customer. And so people are trying to be much more granular in their measurement. So, as an example, if we're as a company, if we decide we want to start doing EBRs, we want to start doing EBRs every six months, maybe that's what you want to do. You want to do an executive business review every six months. What is the impact of that EBR and over what time?

00:25:50 Chris Regester: So if we have all these resources, gathering information, prepping for this thing, at what point does that EBR realize real value? And how does it show off? Is it that the health score improves? Is it that underlying usage improves? Is it that customers that have an EBR are more likely to renew and sell more and buy more stuff? So we're seeing much more of this at the high-level, customer success needing to justify itself internally through efficiency, and at a more tactical level, more people wanting to show that specific activities of their team members truly lead to results with their customers. And I think these are fantastic. Like I said before, this is a fantastic maturity moment for customer success as a function.

00:26:31 Andrew Michael: I definitely see sort of us being that interesting moment. And definitely as well, the conversations we've had of late have really been around how to become more efficient with less, and then also, how can we become more accountable, like, as you say, how can we prove our value to the business, how can we show an ROI for the work that we do? And it feels like this is the first time where this has become really table stakes now and everybody's starting to talk about it, where in the past it was maybe the top tier CS teams that were doing this, now this has become a part of the practice itself. And obviously I think we are probably biased as well in the bubbles that we live in. So there's probably still companies out there not thinking about this stuff. But I think the majority of people who are speaking today are there at this point in time.

00:27:16 Andrew Michael: And I think this is similar actually in my mind as well to the onset of COVID And I was looking, as well, at the podcast metrics and sort of saw how we grew quite fast as soon as COVID came out. Everybody started caring about it more and more then. And similarly now starting to seeing one of those inflection points again. I think it just really goes to show the attention now to churn and retention itself and then through that, being more efficient with the CS team and realizing the value and then getting them out there. You must be seeing as well like this in the data from that perspective and working with customers, you mentioned that they're measuring specific actions like the EBR and then going out and seeing what that impact is. What are other areas where customers of yours or your own team now are actually measuring the results that your CSMs are delivering?

00:28:03 Chris Regester: So, I mean, as you said, there's always a big range, right? And there's certain people who were, although certain organizations are still less mature at this and others that are more mature. But clearly nowadays there's much more measurement tied to revenue than there was before. I mean, for a long time there was this debate of should CS own revenue, should it be comped on revenue, should it just be seen as somehow influencing revenue? And I think that argument's been put to bed now and everyone recognizes, yes, CS is clearly a revenue driver, though in some organizations it will be more indirect than others. But we're seeing far more of a pattern towards measurement on revenue. And then I think the other side is the challenge with measuring on revenue, is it's such a lagging indicator, right? If you're selling multi-year subscriptions and you're comping all your CSMs on retention? Well, you don't know if they're doing a good job because you got to wait for these multi-year subscriptions to turn into, kind of come to a decision point.

00:29:00 Chris Regester: So we're seeing more talk of leading indicators and some of them are the leading indicators that you would historically expect. We have customers who even pay, they'll develop an algorithmic health score in Planhat and they'll pay their employees based off of that health score. I think that's a very progressive move. We see others that focus much more on objectives. So if you have clearly defined objectives with your customer and then you're tracking that those objectives are met and those objectives are measurable and proven in your product, then that's a great way as a leading indicator to focus your team. We're also starting to see a little more around global measurement of CS metrics. So there have been times when, say, if you take a fairly generic metric like NPS, that it was only in the CS team where they're comped on NPS or they measure it, but we're seeing more organizations take more of a collective view and say, hey, retention is now a global KPI.

00:30:01 Chris Regester: That has a bonus implication for everyone in the business or NPS the same. And that to me, I think is just wonderful, right? I think that if you want to build a modern business, you absolutely have to build your company around the customer. And that's two things, right? That's aligning your operating model with the customer journey and it's ensuring that everyone's time and how people invest their time is centered around the customer. So by putting some key metrics as global KPIs for the entire business, you reinforce that through compensation.

00:30:39 Andrew Michael: Yeah, I've not heard of tying that back to compensation in terms of making them global. But I've always found it very odd that customer success would own retention, especially in a SaaS business where you're basically a subscription business and if people canceling subscriptions, you don't have a business. It feels like it's a metric that everyone in the organization should have a say in and should be working towards. The only good argument for it I had as well, like, why customer success should own it was actually around, you want somebody who's going to own that end to end experience, that's going to go to product, that's going to go to marketing, that's going to go to the entire organization and make sure that everybody is delivering that experience across the board that matches.

00:31:23 Andrew Michael: But I think I don't know in terms of, how do you track this at Planhat yourselves? Is this a global metric? I think, as I said at GitLab, this was David's sort of championing this. David Sakamoto was saying, no, as customer success leaders, we can be that champion, we can be that wolf that goes to everyone in the organization says, hey, sort this shit out. We need to make sure we're delivering a good experience.

00:31:45 Chris Regester: Good. No, that's good. Wolf-mode. No, I mean we talk about that as well, right? That when I talk about wolf-mode generally I'm thinking about it towards your customer, right? This is the attitude you need to have, but it's equally applicable internally, as well. You should be ferociously going after the other functions and making sure that they're doing what they need to do. The way I always describe it is that it's like that internally, customer success has to quarterback that your business is customer-centric. right? How many businesses today have on their website something like, oh, we're customer-centric? And it's just a sort of generic thing that people say. But how do you operationalize that? It doesn't happen by itself and it happens because someone in your business drives it. And that responsibility needs to be on CS, ensuring that on the one hand, every function has access to data, has access to the data they need to understand the customers. And two, everybody knows what activities they need to do based on that data towards the customer to lead to the objectives our customers have.

00:32:44 Chris Regester:  At Planhat, one of the things we've done since the very beginning is we gave all of our customers unlimited users. We've given every customer, always unlimited read users, unlimited write users. Because we said, how can you possibly build your business around your customer if you're siloing data? It just doesn't make any sense. You have to democratize your customer data. If you want to build a customer-centric organization, totally on board with that.

00:33:09 Chris Regester: Then a second point would be, Frank Slootman, CEO of Snowflake, who was formerly CEO of ServiceNow. He wrote this great book, and in this great book he said, I don't want a customer success department, because if I have a customer success department, then no one else cares. No one else cares about the customer. And we could not agree more, right? From a Planhat point of view, that's absolutely spot on. And whether you have a CS department, whether you don't, I think that's a business decision you need to make. But philosophically it makes the right sense. It's that, customer success is your business, it's everybody's responsibility in your company. And whether you want a metric to kind of have a north star that everyone's comped on to really drive it is one thing, but you need that culture that everyone in the business is very involved.

00:33:54  Chris Regester: And if you think about it, really, the modern business should be turned around. It should be run very differently, where in many companies today, it's the sales leader who's the CEO's best friend, right? And then sales and marketing are driving a lot of the strategy. But let's just take one example of that ICP, right? Who really should define ICP? Well, shouldn't be marketing, probably shouldn't be sales. It should be CS. CS actually understand what is ICP. They understand the kind of customer that's easy to work with. They understand the kind of customer they can grow, and they understand the kind of customer they can truly deliver objectives to based on the maturity of their product right now. So it really should be the whole business model. The whole operating model we have today in a lot of businesses needs to be spun round where CS is put much more strategically, centrally. So something like ICP, you go to the CS leader and you say, hey, what is our ideal customer profile? And they know. They inform marketing, marketing and then markets to them. Sales can sell to them more easily, and you have a much healthier funnel coming through to CS. So there's a lot of ways CS should be more influential.

00:34:58 Andrew Michael: I agree to some point, and I disagree a little bit on this in terms of the ICP. And I think the reason as well, is because the customer success team is working with the customers that marketing has bought in, and they don't necessarily represent the best fit customers for the business. So you sort of fulfilling the self-fulfilling prophecy, then at the end of the day, is if the people that marketing have bought in may not necessarily be great, and you're finding the best of the not so great fit customers, and you're feeding that loop back in, it works.

00:35:27 Chris Regester: But that argument is reversible, right? Because the sales finds ones that's easy to sell to, but they always churn. Sales is like, oh, marketing gave me these great leads, and they all churn. It's like, you've got the same problem. But at the moment, we say, hey, it doesn't matter about retention. Marketing and sales can define it. But in reality, what does matter is retention. And only CS truly sees that. And obviously nothing's black and white something. There should be some, the answer is a hybrid, but it's a great example where CS should be influencing the running of the business much more than it typically is today.

00:35:59 Andrew Michael: Yeah, for sure. I think from the ICP perspective, if they're not heavily involved, it's a big mistake. And I think most of the time, it's marketing that does this exercise, does the research, and maybe involves a bit of product. But I think for the ICP specifically, because, one, the customers that you have today are direct results of the marketing you've done and the sales that you've done up until now and the product that you've built, but they don't always represent the best opportunity for the business. And that's why defining the ICP, I think, is a strategic initiative that everybody needs to have input on and needs to understand, okay, where's the market going? How are things trending? Are we meeting the market where it's moving, or are we not? Are we building the right products that delivers the best opportunity?

00:36:38 Andrew Michael: So I think, yeah, in this example, customer success has the closest relationship, though, with existing customers, and they can feed that information back to the business. But I think that's one big missed opportunity in the alignment. It's similar to the retention thing. Sort of like before, it was just customer success, but as you said, more companies are seeing this now as a global metric, a global KPI. I think this is one of those things that also should be at the global level, where everybody has an input and understanding and brings in those different variables. What's one thing that you know today that you wish you knew when you got started with your career, when it comes to channel retention?

00:37:10 Chris Regester: Good question. It's very hard. I'd say this is maybe interesting. You have to qualify the objectives your customers want to achieve and that's so clearly called out. In a more challenging economic environment. If your customer has an objective which doesn't really impact the P&L of their business, it's not a real objective and you can't just rely on the customer, say, oh, I want to achieve this, and then say, oh, if we achieve that, they're going to be customers for life. You have to really understand how what they want to achieve is going to benefit their business and be able to prove it out all the way. And I think that's an enormous kind of hidden cause of churn is that people are going after the wrong objectives for their customers and there are the right objectives there, but perhaps they've not been articulated or they're not properly qualified. But you need to qualify objectives to make sure they're measurable and impact the P&L.

00:38:08 Andrew Michael: I love that. And it's an easy way then as well, when it comes round to sort of retention and the discussion for renewal, is that, okay, these are the objectives, this is how we measurable like, this is how we measure them, this is the impact we expect to have in your business. You can come round at that end and say, okay, did we hit them? Have we seen the results as expected? And then it becomes a no-brainer discussion. It doesn't become a discussion, just becomes an automated renewal.

00:38:31 Andrew Michael: Awesome. Chris, it's been absolute pleasure hosting you today. Some really, some great golden nuggets. I'm excited to share this episode and is there any sort of final thoughts you want to leave the listeners with today? Any way they should be keeping up to speed with your work?

00:38:44 Chris Regester: No, I think, listen to the Churn.FM podcast. Planhat has a podcast, too. Join our webinars. And yeah, we're always here to help. We have a great team, we're here to help. If you have CS strategy questions, we are more than happy to jump on and chat.

00:38:58 Andrew Michael: Amazing. Thanks so much for joining for the listeners. Everything that we discussed today will be in the show notes, so you can pick it up there. And thanks again for joining, Chris. Wish you best of luck now going forward.

00:39:08 Chris Regester: Thank you, Andrew. Bye.

00:39:08 Andrew Michael: Cheers.

00:39:16 Andrew Michael: 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 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@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.


Chris Regester
Chris Regester

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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