Customers + Success: #2 Successful in Success, Observations from Singapore
Join our learning journey as host Kate Fleming explores all aspects of Customer Success with guests from across the industry.
As co-founder of Singapore's Customer Success Meetup Group, JingDa Lee has built up a strong network of Success professionals from a wide range of businesses over the past two years. Join us as we talk about his own journey as a Success professional, as well as trends, and behaviours that JD has observed from other community members who are successful in success.
Good morning to everyone in Singapore and friends in far-flung places right across Asia and in the States.
I think our friends in Europe would be asleep right now, but for everyone else, thanks for coming.
And with me, it's a great pleasure.
Someone I've known through a really strange process for a couple of years now, JingDa Lee from Elastic.
So, welcome and thank you for being guest number two.
Right. Thank you very much, Kate, for having me today. So, I'm JingDa, you can call me JD.
And I started Customer Success Singapore, which is our inaugural customer success community of professionals with more than 300 CS professionals now in our community.
We meet up every month to talk about top of mind topics about customer success.
So, if you're not too sure about what customer success is, it's essentially kind of like a post-sales account manager role.
But I think Kate and many other CS professionals would debate me on that, saying that it's an account management role.
But just to make things more brief and simple, we ensure that customers are deriving value out of their investment with any solution.
It could be Cloudflare.
It could be Elastic, where I'm from. And I'm really glad to be invited on to speak at Cloudflare today, because I know that Cloudflare, being a free and open company just like Elastic, we are strong partners in the whole open source community.
And I'm really glad that we're bringing value to each other and also to the community who's listening to us right now.
Although we can't tell who's listening to us right now.
That's right. That's right. So, we're going to assume that we've got the Singapore CS massive dialed in.
So, JD, you've already touched on a couple of cool things that I really want to pull out today.
So, we're going to spend the next half hour really thinking about going through your experience, your views on success.
And you're in a really unique position because you've founded and run this community group, 300 people in Singapore.
You've been able to observe a lot of trends. So, we're going to go into some of the trends that you've seen, some of the changes, things that you've seen make people successful.
And then, you know, really maybe delve a little bit more into the comment you just did there about, you know, success being the team that delivers value to customers and even what that means.
So, if I step back from that, can you take us through how you got into success as a career person?
Yeah. Thank you.
So, success was actually the first job I got out of college four years ago, right?
Previously, I've always engaged in customer-facing roles. And I thought that it was a lot of satisfaction to me to actually see my customers getting value out of whatever service or product that I was delivering.
So, I always saw that as success as a bridge between the technical and non-technical aspects of a client -vendor relationship.
And it's been a great journey. I'm really enjoying myself and I see myself doing it long-term.
And so, yeah, as I said, I'm currently in Elastic.
I'm a customer success manager based in Asia. And we help other companies make use of their data and derive valuable insights out of it.
Yeah. And you talk about this, you know, CS being this technical and like this bridge between the technical and non-technical.
And also, would you agree that, you know, maybe CS is also the bridge between the customer and the company in trying to find a happy medium there?
How do you handle that? Yeah, exactly. So, I think it's all about balance.
And we are the main point of contact between the customer and the company and sometimes the company with the customer, right?
Whenever the customer requires something, they reach out to their CSM to ask.
It could be a billing question.
It could be a technical question on the solution. But they always see the CSM or the customer success manager as the trusted advisor on what they need from the company.
It could be Cloudflare. It could be Elastic. It could be any other solution, right?
And I do agree that it is, as I said, the bridge between the non -technical and the technical aspects of the relationship.
Because the CSM, although sometimes not very technical, they have empathy.
And I believe that that is something that I've seen across the board.
More, on average, more empathy than, I guess, the average employee in the company, right?
So, being able to understand, let's say, where the developers are coming from when they're trying to explain the technical product to the customer, and also being able to understand what the business objectives and business needs of the customer are trying to achieve from the solution, helps them be that very strong pivot for the company with the customer and for the customer with the company.
And I think that's something that comes up whenever there's conversations around customer success.
It's almost like a director's role. So, we don't necessarily have the answers to everything, but we need to be able to pull in the right groups that can help provide that to the customer.
And so, if I think about director roles and I think about customer success, I do want to also just find out, one of the things that can give you such great insight about success is your role with Customer Success Singapore.
Can you talk to me on why did you found the group and what need were you meeting for the success community?
Yeah, so I think this need is not just unique to Singapore, but it's actually global, right?
So, when I started out in Customer Success, I realized that there was a knowledge gap in the industry.
I was trying to figure out how to be a good Customer Success Manager, how to do well in the role, and how to make sure that I was doing my best for my customer, right?
So, I was looking for resources online.
I was speaking to people, including yourself, Kate, trying to find thought leaders in the industry in Customer Success to teach me the best practices.
But I realized that there was no platform, no single platform, no knowledge base like Customer Success Wikipedia, which is a great idea, by the way, to get information from, right?
To get best practices from. So, I thought, why not start a community?
Because I've seen it done overseas. I've seen it done in Silicon Valley.
I've seen it done in Australia. So, I emulated that. I said, you know, this is a really, really good platform.
I actually attended some of their meetups overseas.
And I thought that, you know, this is a platform where all the Customer Success professionals who need help or want to share their perspectives could come to and also build relationships within the networks and build a sense of belonging, right?
So, this is what we wanted to deliver a type of CS resource to the community.
We are actually voluntary. We have had no funding at all.
It has been run by me and Yi, whom you also personally know, my co-organizer. Just making sure that we can share ideas and build our own perspectives and mature the whole Customer Success landscape in Singapore, even Asia.
I love it. I love it.
And, you know, it's one thing that I think you see a lot in companies like ours is there's this real encouragement for people or there's a real attraction for people to go out and start their own projects on the side of what they're doing on their day-to-day.
And I know that this is something that we spoke about before we went live, but you're also looking at broadening that knowledge base by getting a podcast up and running.
And is that going to be the same thing as just sharing best practice in Customer Success?
Yeah, that's right. So, myself and Elena, who's the Senior Manager of, I think, Director of Customer Success now at Zendesk APEC.
We both wanted to start a podcast because we wanted to deliver more mediums or channels of information to our fellow CSMs or even just, you know, SaaS founders, other professionals within the technology space who are interested to find out more about Customer Success.
And I think this pandemic season has actually modelled or changed the way people consume information a lot more.
So, podcasts has been on the rise.
You know, getting information via digital channels has been on the rise. And we wanted to make sure that our resources are available to people.
Previously, our meetups and Customer Success Singapore were mostly physical and the panels were mostly physical, but we've also recently pivoted and done our first online panel.
So, we just wanted to make sure that all the resources are available and accessible, right, and in a format that is easy to consume.
Yeah. Well, I think that that's one of the common themes that we see as well, is this knowledge gap or this sense of Customer Success is still really quite a new function.
Even though we're using the fundamentals of account management and other things, there's still no silver bullet for how to do it right.
And, in fact, let's segue then into your background, because you've worked in Customer Success roles now in two different organisations.
And, you know, let's just start back with the definition. How do those companies define success?
And have you even seen differences between those two groups?
Right. Great question. Actually, I'll be thinking about how Cloudflare also defines success, but let me start on mine first.
So, in my previous role, I was actually the first CSM in my company with a company called Harangi, which is a cybersecurity software as a service company.
So, I more or less was able to define what success is, but I needed to make sure that it was not too far from the actual thing, right.
And, eventually, I realised that success is all about ensuring that you deliver value to the customers according to their investment, right, making sure that they see that their investment is returning value with the solution that you're providing.
So, that is the fundamental to both the companies that I've worked at for now.
But I think the format in which and the approach in which both companies did it were very different, right.
So, in my previous company, it was more about making sure that the customers are adopting, are using the solutions and making sure that, because we also have professional services, right, making sure that the services engagements are successful, you know, the implementation is successful in the same terms between the customer and the vendor, right.
But currently in Elastic, I think we're more towards the approach of making sure that the customer is, I guess, using our technology because we're open source, right.
They're already using our technology, right. So, when they come on to a subscription, they are already mostly power users of our technology.
So, how do we, you know, become the force multiplier for that? How do we help to expand their use cases and make sure that they're doing things that they've never been able to do, you know, without the subscription, right.
I would say that Elastic is on the edge of our technology, right.
We are on the front edge and it's not necessary that people know all the use cases that you can do with Elastic.
It's also in our role to inspire the customers to make sure that they know that they can do so many things, so many more things with our solution than just what they're doing, which usually doing, which is search, right.
So, yeah, the format approach was different, but I believe that the fundamentals are always the same.
It's always about understanding, delivering value back to the customer, yeah.
I think, and I'll add in a little bit from our experience at Cloudflare, and certainly what I've seen, value just comes up so often as the key focal point, but it's funny how many organizations and groups I've seen where they think of value as themselves or the price that the customer's paid rather than actually going to the customer and actually finding out what value is in their eyes, because that's the thing that we can help the customer to get more of, and that's the thing that we can do to make them successful.
And I always joke that the answer's in the title, customer success.
It is. So it's about making the customer successful, and that's where it is.
But it's interesting because we talk about adoption and retention and expansion, and some companies are heavily KPI'd on that.
So at Cloudflare, we sit as a success group in the sales organization, and in other companies you don't necessarily, and so there are financial metrics with what we do.
But if you boil back from the financial metrics, if you're not delivering value to the customer or the customer is not feeling like they're getting value and they can't articulate internally to their other stakeholders the value that they're getting, then none of the other things are going to happen.
You're not going to get the adoption, you're not going to get the retention, and you're not going to get the expansion.
So they're the metrics, but what you said I think holds true is that it's still that value piece, and it's the secret for that.
And then can I ask from your observations with the community, the success community in Singapore, have you come across any quite different definitions of success or quite different views on how it's done?
Right. Or we all hold to value.
Right. So I think a lot of it is about, as I said, still delivering value, but there are different approaches.
And I think success is maturing over the years since we started the group.
I think it has reiterated itself many times. So like us, right, like Cloudflare and Elastic, I think we have a kind of similar approach from what I hear from you to success.
But I've also seen companies which are hyper-focused on adoption, companies which are hyper-focused on making sure that technical support is, you know, up and running 100%, meeting their SLAs.
So there are different approaches, you know, back to your question. But coming back to how success is maturing over the years in Asia, I think because of the presence of our community, we do have more companies taking up success and understanding success a little better.
I wouldn't say it's mostly just because of us, but it serves as a platform and whenever there's a source of knowledge and wisdom, people do go tap on that and, you know, form kind of like their own understanding of what they want success to be within their organization and what is the best way to tackle that business function according to their solution, right?
So I still think that there is a yardstick or benchmark of what success is, and that is, you know, back to our previous conversation about delivering value, right?
But it's also about being open to sharing your ideas, right? Taking in other ideas of what success should be in a particular organization, right?
And this actually helps to facilitate the maturity and the progress and understanding of what the state of success is and what it can be in the future.
Some of the changes that I've actually seen is that more people are actually joining Success as a Career, which is very happening, right?
Because people see that it's a huge opportunity, especially now, you know, it's a pandemic.
We have had, you know, people being made redundant, but then they see success roles are opening up left and right and center, right?
So we are making sure that people also have this platform where they can reach out and understand more about success.
And if they do want to pivot into a role in success, we can actually help them.
I've talked to, I think, more than five people in the past few weeks who've wanted to enter Success and never been a Success role and helping to understand, help them understand what it entails and what it could be and helping them keep an open mind on what success is in different organizations, right?
But overall, I think there's been a positive development in the career, the Success as a Career, and also as a community here in Singapore, in Asia, and even globally.
Some similarities I've seen is people who enter Success are, as I said, you know, very empathetic.
They generally have an above-average level of empathy, and they're very, very effective communicators, right?
So doing a webinar like this is fairly easy for someone who's done customer success, I feel, right?
And lastly, I think it's something really, really valuable, and that's the ability to build strong and lasting relationships.
And I think this is the first principle in Success, being able to build strong, lasting relationships, because as I think you mentioned previously, it's not just building a relationship with the customer, it's also building a relationship with our internal stakeholders, right?
And making sure that we have accesses to all the resources that the customer needs, right?
If I need to reach out to support, I make sure that, you know, I have a really strong relationship, and I say like, hey, you know, could you help me do this for the customer?
Because they will really value it, right?
And they will really, really appreciate it. So, yeah, I think technicality and tenure become secondary in Success, at least over here in Asia.
But building lasting relationships, having empathy and, you know, being able to communicate effectively are currently our first principles here for Success in Asia.
And you've touched upon a whole bunch of really great stuff there, and I want to delve in a little bit more to, you know, managing internal stakeholders.
But before we do that, can I just go back?
You talked about people looking to transition into Success, and I think there's some really practical advice there.
You know, certainly the people that we see, there's people like myself, so I'm an account manager from the olden days.
And so that might be an obvious transfer path. But what type of roles are you seeing people coming from into Success?
Or looking to come into Success from?
Yeah. So I've seen folks, like you said, like yourself, in an account management role who transits into Success, and I think that's fairly common, right?
But I've also seen folks who have done service delivery before or in a consulting role, or they could be not even in a technology company, right?
So it could be just a customer service role in the past, or they could have been working at your local Starbucks, and just fresh out of college looking for a job.
There are many folks out there, I would say, looking for jobs right now, and many of them are considering Success, because it seems to be that thing that a lot of folks want to do, because it chimes in with their personality of wanting to make sure that they communicate effectively and understanding that everyone has different needs, right?
If I'm able to serve the needs of different people and make sure they come together as a team, to communicate effectively with each other, that being between the customer or support or the consultant, services, delivery, I think they really appreciate that, and I think a lot of people have this strong suit, especially when you have a high level of empathy.
So yeah, I've seen many different backgrounds coming into Success, mostly from account management or consulting, but it is a high growth sector, I would say, here in Asia.
So it sounds like, if I was to paraphrase, it sounds like pretty much the skills background might not matter so much as the personal attributes of the individual and their soft skills around human interaction and being able to collaborate and be patient and trustworthy and transparent.
Yeah, like I mentioned, right, technicality and tenure actually become secondary.
But I'm actually also very interested in your thoughts because you're a manager in Cloudflare and you've seen success develop.
You've probably seen success develop over the years in APAC or even globally, right?
So what are your thoughts in Success here? What has changed or what has kept the same in the past few years?
Oh, okay. So that's a great question.
I think – okay, so back to the envelope of observations. One, we had – it depended on where companies were building their success teams in.
So companies that have built their success team functions sitting in their sales organisation have traditionally brought in account managers.
So people that have come from a sales background but more about long-term relationships.
And then the organisations that I've seen that have success sitting in engineering or support or a separate organisation completely, they seem to have brought in more people that have come from that – like service delivery, more of a technical side.
Consulting, technical consulting and all that, yeah.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly right. And so what I've observed is that over the – gosh, like over the past few months, certainly from the Cloudflare experience, we're now – as the company grows and matures and we're getting – we're working with different types of customers in different segments, definitely in APAC, the background that we need changes and it almost changes with the micro market.
So the type of personality I need or the type of skill set I need for our Japan customers is actually quite different to what I need for my Australian customers.
Because there's slightly different expectations. So some markets really, really are looking for success to be that technical advisor, that TAM, the technical account manager or the customer success engineer.
And then other markets are looking more for someone who can just be more of like, I want to know, JD, I can go to with my project manager and I don't expect you to give me the technical answer but I expect you to find me the people who can.
And so I've seen, I think – I've seen that start to spread out.
As companies mature and footprints get bigger, I've seen that the one-size-fits-all model doesn't work so much and we have to hire slightly different skills for different markets.
That must be really – yeah, must be really challenging for you as a hiring manager, right?
Well, it is. I mean, luckily the team that we've got, obviously I'm a little bit biased, but yeah, the customer success, the 75-odd customer success people that we have around the world are like rock stars.
So they're managing to wear different hats.
But that is something that we as a leadership group and even us as a CSM team are looking at, well, for 2021 and 2022, what are the skills that we're short on and what are the skills that we're long on?
And we've got a lot of people that come from business backgrounds, great on the business side, but maybe we need to get some more technical people in different markets or maybe we need people to be more commercial in some markets.
So yeah, it is hard because you've always got a limited number of headcount.
Luckily, we've got a very versatile team.
But the other thing too that I think is fundamental and you've touched on it is the thing that stays the same is that people that do well in success are people who actually care.
And nice is not always a good word, but then they're actually nice people, number one.
And number two, I would love to one day, in fact, if there's anyone out here who's in research from a business stream, this is what I want to know.
I want to look at people who are successful in success and find out how many of us had awards at school for being conscientious.
Because I bet pretty much everyone who's in success and who's doing well or who's liking it was at one point or another in their life recognized for being a conscientious worker.
Because I think that people who do success are conscientious. We want to do the right thing for the customer, for the company.
We want to follow the rules. We want to get it right.
We want to say yes, but with honesty rather than just saying yes because we think you can go with it.
Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. A hundred percent. I've never won an award for being conscientious.
I don't think there are awards like that here in Singapore.
Maybe not. You should come to Australia. I would be giving it up.
Right. Okay. Sure. Definitely. Someday. Yeah. We talked a little bit about hiring and the challenges of trying to fit different markets.
But if I think about your observations on the community in Singapore, you would have seen some people progress in their careers.
And I know you said, JD, that you coach people pretty regularly on how to get into the industry.
Are there any other attributes apart from people who are conscientious and patient and caring and whatnot?
But are there any things, maybe not attributes, but skills you've seen or behaviors you've observed that make people maybe more likely to be successful or more likely to get that next big job?
Right. So I think I'll start with the fact that a lot of companies have opened up a lot of success roles in Asia.
Right. So over the past two years, I've seen Google have an opening for customer success.
I've seen Microsoft, which is traditionally a distributor model, a company with a distribution model, open up success functions here.
And I know many folks who have joined them and really amazing rock stars like you mentioned.
But coming back to what you mentioned, people who have progressed in their careers, they generally, like I said, you know how they care, right?
They communicate effectively, great relationship builders.
One other thing that I did want to say, and it's not a hard skill also, but people are mostly very motivated, self-motivated.
I would call them like we usually call them go -getters, right?
People who are very enthusiastic and passionate about finding out more about this role, making sure that they learn all the tips and tricks and making sure that they have what it takes to take on the role and grow the function, right?
Because essentially a lot of the roles that are opening up here are for the first CSM or the first team of customer success managers here.
So you need to know and you need to find out how to do that, how to scale the function, how to build the processes on top of having, you know, on top of being, you know, on top of having a high level of empathy, communicating effectively.
I think being able to build that, the processes and understand that this is the first CSM role, this is the first team of CSMs that's going to be here.
You're going to need to be a builder, right? I wouldn't say it's a hard skill, but it's more of understanding that the type of role that you're in and what the company is trying to achieve and making sure that you fit that and you serve that function really well.
I think it's also, you know, like we always say, customer success is actually not just serving the external customers, but also your internal customers, right?
The other business functions that are looking to you and expecting that you bring value to them also.
Right. So, so yeah, folks who are generally very proactive, they do their job really well and they do really, they progress on and they generally become team leaders, managers.
I've seen them go from startup to Microsoft, you know, or these large companies that everyone, you know, wants in their resume.
Right. So, yeah. Okay. Okay.
So it sounds like I've not been making notes here. So, you know, we talk about obviously the fundamental soft skills, which is a person's got to have it in their heart to be the right type of temperament, but also, you know, being energetic and being a go-getter and really understanding that there's still a lot to define.
And I think you've touched on that, you know, before in our other conversations, but the fact that this is customer success is still pretty new.
It's still a new muscle and a lot of companies are trying to work out how to do it.
Yeah, definitely. And I think in previous conversations, you mentioned that customer success is not just, just not for technology companies.
And you've seen a lot of other organizations that are starting to work down the subscription model, like media companies.
Yeah, I've seen, I've seen media companies. I've seen print companies or even, you know, hardware companies.
Right. So any form of company that has some form of technology, not just software, it could be something that you use on a day to day basis.
I would say I know that Grab has a customer success function also for their ads team.
So really in any role where there's a form of technology, be it hardware or software that the customer needs to learn or use.
That is where the CSM comes in and helps them to adopt and make sure that they're using it, using the full features.
Right. And I would say, you know, even companies like Apple, they don't have to date.
I don't know they have customer success managers, but I know they do do a lot of enablement sessions at their Apple store.
Right. To teach you how to use your iPhone or iPad to the best of its ability. There's so many features.
How do you know what's necessary for you? A lot of these technology companies or companies that have new inventions out in the open have this sort of role where it's all about enablement.
It's all about helping you realize the value of your purchase.
Right. So it's definitely not restricted to software companies only.
We're literally about to run out of time, so I just want to quickly say thank you so much.
But also, you know, if I think about Singapore, loads more opportunities opening, chances for people to be the first hire or build a team.
And more and more companies looking to bring some type of a success capability into their organization.
And people should organize to come along to your meetups, whether they're virtual or in person, to learn more about being successful and success.
Right. Right. Right. And thank you very much for supporting Customer Success Singapore.
You have been supporting us since its early days.
So I really want to thank you also, Kate. And thank you for this time.
I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts and you allowing me to share my thoughts on such a platform.
I think it's really beneficial for the community. Anyone who's interested, feel free to reach out to me or Kate.
We could have a chat and share some more of our thoughts.
Yeah. Great. Thank you. Thank you so much.