Myth: CSMs have the bandwidth to handle ALL the activities they’re expected to do

with Gilad Shriki, Co-founder - Descope

In Episode 4 of our series, I am joined by Shriki, who has over two decades of hands-on experience engaging with customers across CS, Services, Product Management, and Engineering.

Before founding Descope, Shriki served as the VP of Customer Success at Palo Alto Networks. At Demisto, he built services, customer success, and customer support functions from the ground up. Shriki shares his journey and insights in a candid conversation on his career, his core CS philosophy, and the way ahead for CS. Let’s get right to it. 

What's a myth about Customer Success that you want to bust?

That in Customer Success,  you can throw people at the problem, and it goes away. That CSMs have the bandwidth to handle ALL the activities they’re expected to do – driving adoption, QBRs, deep-dive calls, renewals - the works. Not to mention that CS is mostly a loose term with no strict boundaries of roles and responsibilities.

The challenge in CS is the intensity of the work - there is just too much for CSMs to do.

The reality is that they need the right tools and automation to do their job effectively. Automation is key to ensuring that CS teams scale their coverage to many more customers with limited CS team members. It’s only then that the CS team can go deeper, provide greater value to customers, and be more effective at the top end.

How did you find your way into Customer Success?

I started my career as a software engineer. As I gained experience, I realized that I liked working with people more than I did with compilers. That's when I made my first move to become a technical system integrator. 

I then moved to product management, where I realized I enjoyed working with customers – specifically helping them realize the value of what we provide and how it helps them be successful. Eventually, it was about combining my technical skills with my interest in working with customers. 

What advice would you give your younger self making a transition to Customer Success?

Know how to drive an outcome-based model of engagement. When you work with technical people, it is easy to forget the end goal. My advice is to always remember that customers want outcomes –  product usage is just not good enough. You need to define goals and ensure that you create value that is tangible and quantifiable for the customer. Have a “Do Whatever It Takes” mentality. 

Learn to work with customers on a technical level. Far too many companies create their customer success motion from the project management /relationship management approach. I believe it’s not enough and has to be complimented with product and technical guidance in order to drive value for the customer.

On the topic of outcomes, why does your organization invest in Customer Success? How does the leadership team define the success of the CS organization? 

There are two parts to this.

One, when you build a highly technical product, you need a team that helps customers understand and use it.  At Descope, the CS team creates documentation, code snippets, sample applications, video tutorials, and webinars. The team is responsible for creating a self-service ecosystem to help customers derive value from our product.  

The core idea is to help 100% of customers without touching 100% of the customers.

Two. We are an early-stage startup. The role of CS at early-stage startups could be to deal with the shortcomings of the product. For example, a company can create 80% of a feature and hand over the remaining 20% to CS. 

That way, instead of spending excess time on a feature and taking focus away from other features, you leverage the CS team to help the customer. 

I fully expect the focus of the CS team on filling product gaps will change as we mature. We spend a lot of cycles perfecting the UI and UX to accommodate self-service customers. This has always been a top priority for us.

Looking at 2024,  what's top of the mind for you and your team in terms of Customer Success?

We are heavily investing in scale motion. The idea is to create an automated journey to detect, notify, adjust, and help the customer at every stage.  We want to monitor errors, warnings, and activities so we know exactly when and how to help them. 

That way, we ensure that customers move forward in the journey designed for them.  

This includes detecting both positive and negative situations in their environment. 

For example, if they turn on a specific feature, we want to deliver a notification that explains what it does and how to better use it.   On the flip side, if a feature remains inactive despite indications that it would benefit them, we want to deliver the awareness of the feature to them – at the right time. And obviously - raise the right flags for the CS team when they do need to pick up the phone and call on customers. 

Speaking of technology, how are you leveraging AI in CS? How do you think AI will impact customer success at large?

We’re using AI to help customers get the right answers – through better search and language processing. We want to leverage our documentation, product collateral, and knowledge base articles to help customers ask questions on chat and get the right answers – whenever they need them.

We're working with our support system vendor to make sure our docs are designed to be correctly consumable by AI models.  People do not like to read docs. We also want to provide answers to customer questions through Slack.

The other aspect is about personalizing our benefits messaging. Maybe we will want to tailor the messaging to each situation – as opposed to a generic one-size-fits-all approach. 

Do you think an increased focus on automation will reduce human involvement, potentially changing the role of Customer Success?

With automation, we will need fewer people and yet be able to drive better quality outcomes.  A lot of the work that CSMs do is repetitive – providing status updates, helping customers with common questions, building QBR decks,etc.

Automation and AI models can help you scale your offerings to more customers – without impacting the quality of service. AI is getting a lot of traction in the customer engagement world. We want to be part of this evolution that will drive better service in a much more efficient manner. 

Of course, there will be customers who need a human looking out for them at all times. 

But with the right technology, that human can have automation as a co-pilot. For instance, they can then support the customer with the right information or action item monitoring with the right automation, providing immediate and actionable insights

You said that you want to make 100%  of customers successful. But is that a world where zero percent gets touched by a human? Where would you place humans in the value delivery loop?

Customer relationships are always going to be human-centered. 

The awareness of customer dynamics is hard to automate - knowing your customers and having a personal relationship cannot be replaced by automation or AI. You need the human connection to gauge customer satisfaction and, often, push customers to meet their commitments.  An automated follow-up email may not be enough – you might need to call a customer and nudge them until they take action. You might even need to give them assurances or explanations as you do it.

Besides, large customers would still need someone to understand their use case and help design an architecture.  The key is to reduce the number of touchpoints while still making customers successful. There has to be an efficient process, though. For example, the number of hours needed per customer can drastically be reduced with the right system in place.

In effect, you’d be touching more customers – but at the touch points that automation cannot. 

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A huge shout-out to Shriki for sharing his learnings, advice, and inside insights. 

Watch this space for more conversations with CS experts, and their take on the new era of CS.

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