Customers + Success: On the Hunt for Retention
Exploring all aspects of Customer Success, and how organisations approach, and strive for, customer retention, adoption, growth, and success.
Interviewees are be a mixture of external guest (leaders in Customer Success, SaaS business growth, or understanding the customer journey), and Cloudflare’s own Success team members.
This week: Customer + Success: 1. The Quest for Value
This week’s guest is Steph Owen, Senior Director APAC Success at Zendesk
All right, well let's get started and I hope that this is it. So I'd like to welcome everyone today to the inaugural episode of Customers Plus Success.
It's a new series that we're going to be piloting on Cloudflare TV, exploring everything to do with customer success, talking to both practitioners, people from within Cloudflare outside of Cloudflare, as well as people from peripheral teams.
So that could be people that are in pre-sales, people that are in marketing, or people in customer support, and how we all work together to deliver value to our customers.
Joining me today as our very first guest is Steph Owen. So thank you for coming today, Steph.
Steph is Senior Director of Customer Success at Zendesk for the APAC region and she's got a lovely background today on Zoom, which is showing us the office that they could go into if it wasn't shut due to COVID.
And for those of you who don't know Steph and I, and that's probably the majority of people watching this, we're both relatively high energy and we've both consumed a fair amount of caffeine this morning.
So this could go one or two ways. It could be informative or it may not be.
So Steph, welcome and thanks for coming today. Thank you so much, Kate.
It's a little bit risky because Kate knows me and she knows I am prone to the use of expletives and we have not rehearsed.
So this truly is live and she's been very risky with this first one.
So hopefully I don't surprise her in crazy ways.
That's all right, get us kicked off. All right. So Steph, I think before we delve in, the byline for today is talking about value.
What is value? Who can define it?
And then how do we, from a success lens, deliver it? But before we do that, I'd like to step back a bit and ask you to share people your background.
You've had a number of roles in success and consulting and can you talk me through how you came into success or your current role?
I am like the fish that's really just gone with the current in my life.
I'm actually a scientist by education and academia was never ever going to work for me anyway because I don't like to do write-ups.
So that's pretty tricky as a research scientist.
So I'm a cognitive neuroscientist by education and just my love of numbers and analysis is just going with the current led me into business.
And you're right, Kate, I've had so many different incarnations, but for most of my adult career, I've run professional service teams.
So all across APAC for 13 years in APAC, where we are truly delivering, I hope, potent and meaningful solutions to our customers.
So throughout that journey, I've also had customer success report into me.
I've led teams that were customer success before we had that word for it.
I think we made that word in 2008, but we used to call them technical account managers or we would do managed services.
We did a lot of things that look like parts of customer success. And so now I get to do it full-time in my job.
I have the best job, I think in the world.
And it means I get to really interact with so many different customers. Sometimes I get to be their voice and my team is responsible truly for delivering value for their purchase.
It seems very, very altruistic. We want them to love Zendesk, but it's actually a little bit hedonistic and actually it's just good business.
So that's my journey in a nutshell from scientist to the best job ever.
Fantastic. And you know, Steph, you've touched on topics that are so relevant to customer success at the moment and topics that go around and I want to call them out.
So, and we'll go through them in order, but one, what is the difference?
Where does professional services stop and start? And then where's customer success?
That's the first one we're going to go into. The other one is talking about the reporting structure and where does customer success sit in an organisation?
Because you talked about how there've been different structures in your background.
And then the third one, which I really want to focus on too, is this value piece, right?
And I like the fact that you say it's partially hedonistic because there's an exquisite tension between advocating for your customer back to your employer and then advocating for the position of your employer back to your customer.
And I think that customer success feel this really keenly. And so trying to get the value piece right makes that a lot easier.
So if we can go through those in order, let's talk about your professional services and success.
And in your experience, what is the difference?
Say for people who don't know the success function.
Wow. I'm actually going to start a little bit with this and just say, what is success?
Because I think Kate, it can be different in different organisations. I've worked at organisations where success is kind of inside sales, like sneaky sales.
Success is your team. Success could be a paid for. When I was at one company in particular, success was a chargeable service.
And you could do QBRs and really sort of help your business transform, kind of like change manager slash business guru.
And it was a chargeable service. I think so starting with the notion of customer success, truly at Zendesk, customer success truly exists for our customers to maximise their value in Zendesk.
And again, it's good business, because if they like Zendesk, they purchase more Zendesk.
So it has ties with expansion.
We also know that if our customers love Zendesk, they're going to renew on Zendesk under subscription.
So it is complicated. I think the difference in my current incarnation and most of my past incarnation is my team don't do things.
That seems very like, well, what the hell do they do?
By the way, Kate knows my user experience.
I'm going to try to keep it like PG rated. Like a sailor, not for this one.
So my team don't hands on configure the system. We are not chargeable. We don't do configuration.
We are advisory services. In our recommendations, in our optimisation, in our vertical expertise, we might suggest those services.
We might not.
We might suggest our customer get trained up. I always love that suggestion. So we're advisory in nature.
We are not chargeable. And so that is the main difference in this incarnation.
We are product experts, but we're not the SWOT team.
We have to know the product in order to help our customers use it in meaningful ways.
And we'll get to that value because that's the thing I'm most passionate about.
But again, we're not the one who's going to go create a trigger for their self-service.
We're not going to automate their chats. We're not going to help them put in chat bot.
That's not us. That's professional services. So that's the difference.
And nor are we sales in Zendesk. If we do our job, that can have positive outflow and a customer might uncover a new feature that transforms their life.
And hopefully they renew, right? Or, if I don't have any customers, then I have no customer success to me.
Yeah. All right. Thank you. And you've actually answered a couple of questions there about that difference.
And I like how you've said, we're not the doers.
We were the advisors or where the project managers or where the advocates or where the trusted advisor, like everyone throws that term around, but that's what we are.
And it's interesting that at Zendesk, there's one model, which is you've separated success or success doesn't sit in the sales organization.
So you feel that you can maybe keep that separate in your customer's mind.
There's healthy tension and I love healthy tension. I mean, you know me, I'm scrappy.
I don't shy away from healthy tension or batters. I learn something or I get a win and at my age, okay.
I think that healthy tension is so important.
It helps us have a long game and not a short game. So I think, you know, we are that customer advocate.
There are times, and this is, you know, this is live and this is just true.
I have too many people that might call me out. We might advise a customer to unadopt a feature that they're not using any value from and put more focus into self-service.
I mean, I have to always plug self -service, right?
Because your customer is loving, it's 24 seven. And I think some of those building blocks will help inform some of the more sexy features like answer box.
But if you don't have a sort of base, you're not going to get value. So sometimes that healthy tension even looks like refocusing a customer to the basics before they can get super fancy.
I work hand in hand with Sayers. I think the team at Zendesk, Sayers, and this is just true.
It sounds like a Sayers pitch for me, for Sayers, but they all play a long game.
From our CEO down, we developed a COVID sort of directive.
We have five pillars. I won't bore you with all of them, but one is protect our customers, right?
And so that is instilled in at least APAC Sayers where sales truly do the right thing, but in doing the right thing, our brand improves.
We can sell more eventually, but it's a longer game. It's not a short, getting quick, start anything, even if it doesn't fit game.
And even if we start to go down that path, I think our job is also to pull back and make sure we're realizing value for the customer.
If we can't give value for the customer, and it's not necessarily ROI, ROI is a type of value, but if we can't get a customer to value that's meaningful for them, we don't deserve their business.
And I feel strongly about that, whether I'm running professional services or whether I'm running success teams.
I love that quote. No, but I mean, this is such a glorious quote, right?
So if we can't deliver value, then we don't deserve to have you as a customer.
And then let's now go into this, because we've talked about, you know, we've already talked about the difference and where professional services say stops and starts and, you know, how the reporting structure is at Zendesk, and there's been a conscious effort not to have you part of the sales team, but really to keep you as a neutral party.
But value, I mean, let's talk about that because there's the debate.
And we've had this conversation, you know, in every organization, sales organization, I've worked and people going, the value is a hundred bucks or 500 bucks.
And actually, that's not the value.
The value, we have no right as a vendor to define value. I think from a customer's perspective, a customer success perspective, it's the customers who have the right and it changes each time.
But can you, do you agree?
Do you feel differently? Talk to me about your definition of value. Value is something that has meaning for the customer.
So I totally agree with you. I think you can't always assume value is even money.
It's not always money. I have a customer, I'm going to name them Circles Life.
They provide phone services, Internet services for their customers.
Their single KPI that drives everything, and you won't believe what, it's CSAT.
CSAT score. They have like a 98% CSAT score, maybe even 98 and a half.
It is ridiculous. And their goal is 100. So, you know, they're, again, what is valuable to them may not be valuable to someone else who's looking to actually open up more channels for the customer, who's hoping to focus on self-service, who's hoping to optimize and make their agents SWAT team and then the low paying for self-service to have chat.
You know, those, some customers are in huge transformation.
I have another customer who is Bricks and Mortar, beautiful Bricks and Mortar store in Australia, the Accent Group.
And, you know, with COVID and the shutdown, they truly had to change some of their objectives and go online.
And Suzanne went from going to stand down some agents to truly flourishing and online.
So values also change over time. What I feel very passionate about is we have to ask the right questions to figure out what value is for our customers.
We can't assume no value for customers. And then only when we understand what's valuable to them, can we make a prescription.
And I like to be a little bit colorful with this.
Again, Kate, you know how I am. You never know what I'm going to say.
I think that prescription means you first have to do some diagnostic work.
And the diagnostic work is, you know, you have to check their pulse.
You have to check their breathing, height, weight, sugar levels, full blood workup when you can.
Not every customer needs the same prescription. They don't all need antibiotics.
Most need a multivitamin. Some just need a blood Xanax.
I need a Xanax sometimes, you know, just like one Xanax, that's fine. But we can't know unless we give them physical.
And we have to be curious and ask the question.
We also cannot, it's a pet peeve of mine when we assume the customer is going to connect the dots and understand why Chatbot is so fabulous.
Understand why Answerbot is so wonderful.
That's crazy. It's only wonderful if it impacts them from a personal value threshold.
And it is personal because our customers' businesses are personal to them.
And so we have to make it personal with everything we do. And I think whether it's success, pro services, or sales, it has to be personal to be effective.
So that's my soapbox. I'm going to get off it now. No, no, I want you to stay on that.
And in fact, I'm writing notes because it's so pertinent to so many of the conversations that we have.
And so if someone's, you know, sitting and listening to us, and maybe they're starting success, or they don't know success, or they're in sales or another organization, and they can say, okay, right, so value is important, and value is going to be defined by the customer.
Okay, so we've got those two.
But then the thing that you've, you've lit on next, which is important is, how do you work out what is valuable to the customer?
It's, we can't assume I bought a security product, they want security.
No. So how do you get, how do you and you get, so how do you and your team start to pull that out from the customers?
Because if you sat down and said to me, Kate, what value do you get from Zoom?
I'd be like, handy to make calls. But that's not the real value to me.
The real value is, it means that I can work remotely and be effective during COVID.
So, so what type of questions do you use or angles do you use to get that information from customers?
So I love the question. First, you know me, I hire well, you know, I hire well.
And that's, I'm most proud about that from any job I've ever had, where I'm putting together teams.
So first, you need to hire the right people.
I like to hire, my first hire is always different from my 50th hire, from my 15th hire.
I like to hire a team that dovetails these expertise into each other.
And so I like to hire out of the box thinkers. I like to hire vertical expertise.
One of my employees used to be an HR director. And so you can imagine the growth task she can have when she walks into a customer and wants to do HR transformation.
I have another one who's PwC and has helped customers with complex financial solutions.
I have like the whole gamut. I hire, I've had two time customers before.
So they know what it's like to be a Zendesk customer. So they have that empathy muscle.
And so I hire support center managers. I hire the full spectrum and it starts there.
I also, I also encourage my team to, to be curious about industries, about what's going on in different verticals and to be curious about customers.
So it starts just with hiring well, and that's my superpower. That is my true superpower.
It's not invisibility, hiring well. And then I like to promote curiosity and trust, but also fearlessness.
I think you have to be, until you make the muscle, you know, that muscle is dormant.
You have to learn to have fearless conversations, meaning asking a customer that might be in trouble with COVID, what is important to them?
And develop that trust that sometimes comes from asking those human questions in a fearless way.
And so I like for my team to get involved early, pre-sales, like pre -sales so we can start that partnership early.
It's a partnership. I also told customers, we can't do it for you. That's we're, you know, we're not here always at 3am.
We can't do it for you, but we're the umbrella over the life cycle of their journey.
And we can pull in the right resource at the right time for what is needed.
And we can be that trustee advisor, but we have to have fearless conversations that empower our customers.
We need to empower them with choices.
We need to empower them with options, and we need to empower them with the best practices.
And I love to even empower them with each other.
I think customers can learn more from each other and their own business challenges than just, you know, listening to me prattle on, right?
So asking fearless questions, getting at the heart of what is important to our customers, and being that constant in their evolution, to me, that's, again, just good business.
Yep. Yep. So hiring the right people, people who in particular have got that industry experience can be really powerful because they're coming from that authentic position.
And then promoting or encouraging people to be curious and fearless and asking those human questions.
And maybe sometimes also addressing the elephant in the room.
I think sometimes we might go into a customer that we know, even from the media or from common sense, might be under financial duress.
And we don't want to talk about it because we're trying to be polite, but maybe that's the best thing to raise.
I think, I feel so strongly about that.
I had a really tough conversation with a customer who was really going through a hard time.
You know, COVID has hit people hard. I think, particularly in APAC, India is part of my patch.
And so I think no country has been more hard hit than India.
I had a new starter and I didn't know how I could get a laptop to him.
Like literally, no delivery. So we have to be empathic. We have to understand our customers going through hard times.
And then you have to ask questions to help, you know, diagnose how we can help.
And that help might look different for different people.
So depending on the situation, it might be, all right, we're going to focus so much more on self -service, but having those fearless conversations.
And it's certainly around COVID. COVID has afforded us the opportunity to be human, to be real, to ask people and care how they're doing.
So COVID has afforded us that empathy muscle in this extraordinary time.
But it's not just limited to COVID.
I have never worked for any company. I mean, I've worked for some big ones.
You can see it. You know, I've worked for Oracle. I've worked for right now.
I've worked for some really great HP companies. Every company also has customers wanting features that aren't yet developed, right?
So there's, there's always features someone wants that we have yet to develop.
And even, even addressing that elephant in the room, Hey, you know, you, you want this feature and having those conversations about when something is coming, if it's coming.
And if it's not coming, we have to be very fast.
No, Hey, it's not coming for the next five quarters.
Here are your options. One, two, three. And, you know, and empower the customer to make those choices.
And also not precluding a choice just because we think it's low probability.
So telling a customer, you know, I'll be very, very extreme in my right now days, telling a customer, sure, we can do that.
We can create a visa application arm that sets on a PHP portal.
And we said yes to that. We didn't assume that it was too crazy or they wouldn't want to pay for developmental hours.
We know that it's possible that PHP portal met everything was a yes.
And then you leave it up to the customer to decide if they can budget for it, if it's feasible, right?
But these are the kinds of conversations with options that we, we must have with our customers.
And these are the kinds of fearless conversations.
Bad news doesn't get better when you sit on it and you have to respect your customers enough to, to tell them quickly if we, if we can't meet their demands or objectives.
So I feel very strongly about that. Those are the kinds of fearless conversations, not just COVID conversations.
And it can be tough for people with those huge empathy muscles too.
We don't, we don't like to say no to our customers.
But sometimes we have to, and we also have to advise a customer when we think something may not work.
Hey, I get it, but you know, I might put it in writing, put your concerns in writing.
And then if the customer wants to go ahead, you know, we, we support them with it, but be very, very clear about if we think they're heading into trouble, we owe them the truth, even if it's painful.
That's the antibiotic in the prescription.
Which is, which is glorious, right? And that's the altruistic part of it.
And I think that's the thing that that's one of the things that people in success really believe in and wanting to do the right thing for the customer.
However, just for a moment, take us through that situation and imagine that you're, you're sitting in, well, imagine that you're, you're explaining to your, your colleague in the sales team, who's potentially was, was banking on getting that upsell that, look, I don't think that that, that this product is right for the customer based on X, Y, Z, or imagine if that you were based in the sales organization.
Do you think that you could have those same kinds of conversations or does it get harder?
No, we do. And we, we do it all the time. Firstly, I truly work with an exceptional sales team, and that's actually no bullshit.
There's my second experience. And so we have those conversations, even, even with, you know, a new customer who's trying to get a sale across and even maybe wants to discount.
I, I might sometimes be like, wait a minute, that's not necessarily valuable to the customer.
Let's find out if that's valuable to the customer.
So we have these conversations in multiple ways, and this is a kind of healthy tension.
I am biased. I mean, some of the sales people I work with, Katie Pross and Tom Backman, Steve Bray, they, they're, they're like brothers to me, as is pre-sales.
And they're brothers, not because we don't have disagreements ever, but we, we might have different perspectives, but we can have those conversations without knives and guns.
And we usually, I would say, I can't think of a time where we haven't erred on the side that we believe is truly best for the customer.
So even if we might want to pull back and repurpose on a particular feature, we, we might say to, to them, hey, maybe we can help find value in using one feature more than another to help cover the cost.
Because I mean, we can't, clearly we're in a software business, right?
We're not a consulting business. And it hurts my own feelings to say it. We're not customer success business, except we are customer success for our customer's customers.
So, you know, once we have that dialogue, it, it truly usually resolves itself because we, we do tend to play a longer game.
And it hasn't always been like that at every sales organization I've worked in.
I think, you know, I think it's how we incent from the top down.
Again, you, you won't have a business if you can't sell software.
So, so we can't, we can't just go in and tell customers not to use something.
We have to maybe be creative about how we can get them value with, with a particular feature.
Hopefully I'm not going to get fired.
I think you're doing a great plug for, for, for Zendesk. Surely you're not going to.
So Steph, we've got, we've got about three minutes left and I've got, I've written down about 15 questions that I want to ask you.
So clearly we're not going to get through all of them, but if you don't mind, you know, we've talked about, we've talked about doing the right thing by the customer.
We've talked about how you, you build a team to look at value and what value is defined as.
Can you talk us through a little bit about how you then go and articulate that back to the customer?
So you've had your fearless conversation. Do you understand what matters?
How do you do, you know, renewal time? Do you say, and by the way, we've done these five things for you, you know, to people that are practitioners on the call, share some tips.
I really love, thank you so much for asking the question because you, you got into my other passionate piece.
I think we owe it to the customer to put that information in, in a narrative that puts the customer as the main character, right?
In other words, right? We have to play back in a narrative that the customer relates to.
This is where I get on my soapbox about, we can't, we can't just leave it to the customer to connect the dots.
We need to connect the dots and hopefully do it in a fun way.
I am now on this big thing about storytelling.
I mean, I love a good tale, right? Sorry. And I'm going to, and I'm going to have to cut you off from that good tale, but we might have to come back to that, the storytelling, because we've got only one minute to go.
And I want to thank you before we get cut off.
Sorry, you're cutting off my storytelling about the story.
Oh my God. There's some irony in that. I know there's irony, but we should, we should tell a customer oriented story that is consumable.
And that's probably from cognitive neuroscience, what I get.
We just got to put the context into something that's reachable by the customers.
And that seems easy to do. And it is, if you're curious and you ask the right questions, then it should all fall into place.
All right. Thanks. Gorgeous. That was brilliantly succinct. And we've probably got a couple seconds to go.
So, Steph Owen, thank you so much for that. That was very informative.
And we've already spoken a few times. So, this was informative once again.
And nice to see Eugene the puppy behaved himself throughout the call.