CSM Chronicles: Do Right by the Customer, Even When it’s the Tough Choice

With Madhavi Katikaneni, Director, Customer Success at Persado

Madhavi is a seasoned Customer Success leader with over 10 years of experience in customer success and account management roles at SaaS startups. With a keen focus on value-driven customer engagement, Madhavi has mastered the art of developing scalable processes to enhance retention and drive expansion. Her focus on fostering cross-department collaboration has helped her grow CS teams across multiple orgs while crushing team and company goals. 

Here’s Madhavi sharing insights and inspiration from her CS journey.

How do you define Customer Success? 

It's about understanding what success means to the customer and guiding them towards achieving it using your product or service – from start to end.

One of the biggest myths about Customer Success is that it's solely the responsibility of a single department. But customer success is a whole organizational effort – and different parts of the organization need to align and contribute to it.

CSMs play a key role in anchoring these efforts, ensuring smooth transitions, and fostering a virtuous cycle of communication and feedback within the organization. 

What does it truly mean for a customer to be successful?

Success is unique to each customer.  If the customer is successful in how they define success, then you've achieved the goal of customer success.

What is one of the most difficult things about being a CSM? 

A lot of behind-the-scenes admin work that goes into CS – like preparing for those Quarterly Business Reviews (QBRs), gathering data from different parts of the company, and communicating those insights effectively both internally and to customers.

 I wouldn't say it's difficult, but it’s definitely challenging.

Are there any things that you dread when you open up your calendar?

The sheer number of meetings, sometimes.

I ensure that every meeting has a clear purpose and agenda, so I'm not just spending time sitting in meetings for the sake of it. I've made it a point to minimize the number of meetings I schedule and try to make them as efficient as possible.

Any tips, tricks, or hacks you'd like to share with fellow CSMs that helped you or your team?

I’ve found Gong to be incredibly useful for tracking phone calls and email threads. It gives me visibility into what's happening with an account even if I'm not directly involved. Plus, the feature that summarizes conversations along with the transcription, while not perfect, helps me stay on top of things.

Another tip: block out time on your calendar. It helps ensure you have dedicated time for tasks that require deep focus, without getting bogged down by too many meetings. 

Tell us about a CSM you admire and why. 

I admire CSMs who are incredibly organized, thoughtful, and with a knack for balancing and tracking everything effectively.

What sets them apart is their ability to consistently reassess priorities, both with customers and within the organization. Their clear and impactful communication ensures that everyone is aligned and focused on the most important tasks at hand.

Another trait I admire is genuine curiosity. The best CSMs are not afraid to ask probing questions and let customers talk. It's this curiosity that really sets them apart and makes them effective in delivering value to customers.

Can you recall a time when you went above and beyond the call of duty for a customer?

It wasn’t heroic as much as it was about doing right by the customer.

We had a situation with a customer looking to significantly increase their spend with us, almost tenfold.  But when we finally got to the buyer at the company, things hit a roadblock – they were hesitant and unsure about such a big investment.

Instead of just accepting their hesitations at face value, I dug deeper with the buyer to understand what was really going on. It turned out it wasn't about the money; they were concerned about their capacity to implement all the features and services we were offering at that level. 

By asking those probing questions and getting to the heart of their concerns, we were able to find a solution that worked for everyone. We scaled back the plan to a level that the customer felt comfortable with.

This helped us win their trust and set the foundation for a more fruitful long-term relationship. 

How are you leveraging AI across your work as a CSM? 

At Persado, where we focus on generative AI for marketing, It is a central part of what we offer to our customers. We use it to create compelling content/copy that resonates with our audience, understanding what language drives customer engagement.

In my day-to-day CSM tasks, I leverage AI mostly through tools like Gong and ChatGPT. I use ChatGPT for email assistance and language suggestions – it's especially handy for those repetitive types of emails.

If you were to wave a magic wand to do your job better or provide more value, what would it be?

It would be to have a seamless and sustainable way to organize data and analysis. While tools like Salesforce are incredibly useful for tracking customer health and forecasting, they can become cumbersome, especially if the inputs aren't consistently maintained.

Ideally, I'd love a system that streamlines this process, making it easier for CSMs to input data and ensuring that the results are still accurate and insightful.

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