Myth: CSMs are superheroes who swoop in during renewal

With Neelu Shaikh, SVP Global Customer Experience at ZoomInfo

Munish Gandhi

In Episode 6 of this series, we are stoked to have Neelu Shaikh, a CS powerhouse with extensive experience driving Customer Success across companies like Google, ZoomInfo, Coupa, and others.  Neelu specializes in building and scaling customer-focused programs while leading all post-sale activities including, account management, implementation, customer success, support, and renewals. 

Here’s Neelu sharing her wisdom on a CS myth that needs to be debunked, the business case for investing in CS, the path ahead for CS, and how companies can leverage AI to help CSMs focus on value delivery.

1. What is a myth about Customer Success you think is due for a reality check?

That CSMs are superheroes who will swoop at renewal time and save the day. 

Companies need to first have clarity on the role of CSMs within the organization, their skill set, and how they've been enabled to succeed. They need to recognize the gap between onboarding and renewal, and leverage CSMs as trusted advisors who bridge this gap.

There’s a strong case to be made for measuring CSMs on leading indicators rather than lagging ones. This includes leveraging churn prediction tools and unified dashboards to provide CSMs with insights for driving adoption and engagement, so they can ultimately positively impact renewals.

2. How did you find your way to a career in Customer Success?

Now, I'll admit, back in my engineering days, the Customer Success phrase used to evoke the thrill of, well, watching paint dry. My nose was buried in code, focused on product launch. But then, something clicked. During one of the user sessions, I pulled up a chair next to the users, not just to troubleshoot, but to truly listen. Not to the technical mumbo jumbo, but to the anxieties, the frustrations, the glimmer of hope for what our product could do. And that's when it hit me: the real magic wasn't in the pixels on the screen, it was in the connection.

That's when I traded in my toolbox for a pair of listening ears and curiosity. No longer just a problem solver, I became a problem empathizer. From enhancing member experience for healthcare, where every bug fix meant a healthier heartbeat, to building a global customer success machine at Coupa, I've walked miles – or ten! – in customer shoes. We didn't just meet customer needs, but exceeded their expectations. Revenue isn’t just a metric, it was a victory lap around the value we delivered.

3. What advice would you give to somebody who is early in their career in Customer Success?

Focus on these 3 areas to start with to be a good CSM:

Embrace Business Value Alignment: Immerse yourself in understanding the value proposition of your business. Take the time to deeply comprehend the intricacies of your product and how it directly impacts your customers. Position yourself as a staunch advocate for delivering value to your customers.

Master Customer Use Cases: Become an expert in understanding how your product serves various customer segments across different industries. Strive to be the go-to person for insights on how your product can address diverse customer needs effectively.

Leverage Tools: Invest in tools that provide actionable insights into your customer relationships. Look for solutions that offer visual representations of customer interactions, helping you identify areas for improvement and gaps in customer satisfaction. Choose tools that empower you to manage customer relationships efficiently and proactively.

4. Why does your organization invest in Customer Success? How do the CEO and leadership define or measure success for CS?

At ZoomInfo, our commitment to Customer Success (CS) isn't just a box to check—it's a fundamental aspect of our business strategy. But why exactly does our organization invest in Customer Success, and how do our leaders define and measure success in this crucial area?

The answer lies in balance—specifically, striking a delicate equilibrium between the customer acquisition cost (CAC) and the customer lifetime value (CLV). We recognize that simply making a sale or providing support isn't sufficient. Instead, we aim for something more profound: cultivating a relationship where we act as value-advisors, guiding our customers from the moment of contract closure throughout their entire lifecycle with us.

For us, being customer-centric isn't a buzzword—it's the guiding principle behind everything we do. Every decision, every innovation, and every interaction with our customers is underpinned by a singular question: Are we delivering value? This relentless focus on value creation is what propels our investment in Customer Success.

At ZoomInfo, our approach to measuring customer satisfaction is multifaceted and comprehensive.

First and foremost, we utilize the Net Promoter Score (NPS) to gauge customer sentiment. This metric serves as a robust indicator of our customers' loyalty and advocacy, reflecting not only the quality of our product but also the effectiveness of our Customer Success initiatives.

Additionally, we closely monitor product adoption Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that directly impact customer retention. By tracking these metrics, we gain insights into how our customers are engaging with our product and identify areas for improvement to enhance their overall experience.

Furthermore, we rigorously analyze changes in customer lifetime value (CLV) on a quarterly basis. This allows us to assess the long-term impact of our Customer Success strategies and identify opportunities for refinement and enhancement. By continuously monitoring CLV, we can ensure that our efforts are aligned with our customers' evolving needs and drive sustainable growth and success.

5. What is top of mind for you this year in terms of CS priorities?

One big thing on my mind is improving the insights we offer our CSMs, so they can better manage customer relationships. We're aiming for 70% of the work to be consistently handled by CSMs across the board – while staying true to our brand and ensuring consistency across all CSMs.

Secondly, I'm reevaluating our compensation structure to align incentives and clarify roles between sales and CS. An over-reliance on compensation to drive behavior can backfire, particularly when Sales owns renewals and growth. I’m focused on aligning incentives and clarifying roles between CS and Sales to motivate CSMs to do what they are doing – and do it better. 

6. What do you think is the future of CS, and how might AI impact it?

When envisioning the future of Customer Success (CS), it's impossible to ignore the transformative potential of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Companies like Klarna have demonstrated the remarkable capabilities of AI in revolutionizing customer engagement and satisfaction.

In the short term, our primary focus should be on harnessing AI to develop a more comprehensive and insightful customer health score. This score should encompass a multitude of factors, including product adoption, customer engagement, Net Promoter Score (NPS), Customer Satisfaction (CSAT), and more. By leveraging AI-driven analytics, we can enhance our ability to predict churn, drive growth, and elevate our Customer Success brand.

AI holds immense promise in optimizing various aspects of the Customer Success journey. From personalized customer interactions to predictive analytics, AI-powered solutions have the potential to revolutionize how we deliver value to our customers.

Looking ahead, the future of Customer Success will be increasingly intertwined with AI-driven innovations. By embracing these advancements and leveraging AI to its fullest potential, we can unlock new opportunities for growth, enhance customer satisfaction, and solidify our position as leaders in the evolving landscape of Customer Success.

7. Given this focus on technology, how do we put humans back at the center of customer value delivery?

There's a prevailing focus on leveraging technology to streamline processes and scale operations, particularly within the realm of Customer Success (CS). While technological advancements have undoubtedly enhanced efficiency and effectiveness, it's essential to ensure that the human element remains at the forefront of customer value delivery.

One noteworthy observation is the significant strides made in digital and scalable solutions, particularly concerning Small and Medium-sized Businesses (SMBs). However, despite these advancements, SMBs often exhibit the lowest renewal rates. This underscores the importance of reintroducing the human touch into the customer experience equation.

Indeed, customers crave human connection—a personalized interaction that goes beyond automated responses and digital transactions. Recognizing this need, there's a compelling case for integrating human-centric Customer Success practices alongside technological innovations.

That said, not all tasks require a human touch. Many low-value activities within the Customer Success realm can be automated, allowing Customer Success Managers (CSMs) to redirect their focus toward value-driven initiatives. For instance, approximately 40% of a CSM's time is spent on training, a task that could be effectively automated to free up valuable resources.

Moreover, strategic discussions, such as Quarterly Business Reviews (QBRs), present an opportunity to infuse human expertise into the customer relationship. By automating the presentation of data and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), QBRs can evolve into genuine business reviews that foster meaningful dialogue and drive tangible value for both parties involved.

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