Jul 2, 2020

Read Time 8 min

Q&A: How Your Organization Can Achieve a Customer-First Transformation


The term “customer-first” gets thrown around and cited often in the B2B world. SaaS organizations aspire to be it, but many don’t know how to transform this highly touted phrase into a practical application.

The challenges to becoming a customer-centric company are not easy to overcome alone. It takes a village to raise a customer-centric company. Your entire organization must invest in rallying around the customer.

To understand the why and how behind putting the customer at the center of your business, we hosted a webinar with two founding team members of customer-first organizations: ChurnZero’s Chief Customer Officer Abby Hammer and inSided’s CEO/Co-Founder Robin van Lieshout.

During the webinar, Abby and Robin shared their firsthand experience on building customer-first organizations from the ground up as well as covering:

  • How to structure your teams to better serve the customer
  • What processes should be put in place to drive customer engagement and adoption
  • What data can be leveraged to get a 360-degree view of your customer
  • How to understand if your organization is successful in your customer first efforts

If you missed the webinar, you can watch it on demand.

Q&A Recap:


  • Abby Hammer, Chief Customer Officer, ChurnZero
  • Robin van Lieshout, CEO & Co-Founder, inSided
  • Megan Macaluso, VP of CS & Operations, ESG

Abby Hammer Customer Success as a Service

To kick off the webinar, we polled the audience to find out how many organizations considered themselves to be customer centric. The good news is that over 80% of customers said they were either somewhat or highly customer centric, with only 15% ranking their customer-centricity as very little.

Q: How do you know if you’re successfully putting the customer at the center of your organization?

A: [Abby]: There are a couple of hallmarks here. First, you have organizational accountability at all organizational levels, including the highest levels. Make sure that the pursuit of customer centricity goes all the way up to your leaders. Bring them closer to client experiences. Having an established customer community – whether built through a dedicated platform like inSided or through your team’s collective actions – is a real sign that customers enjoy and benefit from what you’re doing and want to communicate with one another.

Second, you need consistency in what your customers experience. You don’t want one customer telling a wildly different story of their experience than another customer. Consistency is a sign that you’re getting to a good place where you’re not just creating one-off projects or moments of customer centricity, but rather company-wide networks and systems that support it.

Customer centricity is never a “set it and forget it” effort. You don’t reach a point where you’re there, and then you’re done. It’s constantly evolving, so you need to treat it in a way where the topic never dies out. We don’t just decide we’ve made it. It’s an idea that keeps re-inventing itself as things change around us.


Q: How do you tie employee compensation plans to the customer to promote customer-first behaviors or expectations?

A: [Abby]: Compensation is a great way to make people care about a goal or task and stay focused on achieving it. I’ll broadly say that I think the idea of tying employee compensation to some degree of customer centricity is important. But you need to make sure it’s something people can actually influence. That can be the tricky part. If a metric feels beyond their grasp and like something they can’t directly influence, then people become less and less invested in trying to do something about it. Even if it is part of their compensation. So, regardless of what you pick, it needs to be specific to the team member and be a measurement within their control so they can see and affect change.


Q: Who should handle renewals at a customer centric organization?

A: [Abby]: As Customer Success continues to mature, I believe owning the renewal becomes a natural part of Customer Success. In many organizations, there’s this idea that if you’re focused on adoption, then you can’t ask for money or need a different type of brain or person who that does that. But if you’re focused on bringing a customer value and building a relationship with them, then talking about renewal and money is a natural extension of that. There’s also a practical reasoning for this too. If you want to vouch for resources, technology, or whatever it is that your CS team needs, you want to have bottom-line business metrics – and renewables are certainly a huge part of that.

There are variations in how that can work. Customer Success may queue up the renewal for another team to close, or they may only be responsible for upsells. I don’t think there’s necessarily one best way to handle that. But having Customer Success tied to and compensated on that renewal means that they’re tied to something that ultimately determines whether the business is successful.

A: [Robin]: If I were leading a Customer Success organization, I would try to get that ownership too. Because if you tie yourself to overall business P&L metrics, it makes so much more sense, and you can get so much more done. If you’re a 10,000- or 20,000-person company that’s really growing, some specialization might make sense. But you’d need to have a really large Customer Success organization. If you’re not there, I would definitely keep it under the responsibilities of Customer Success.


Q: How do you define your customer journey in terms of systems and processes?

A: [Abby]: When many teams map their customer journey, they often end up defining the journey in their internal terms. We don’t want to just consider the customer; we want to think like the customer and build a journey that is in the customer’s terms. What do they need to experience? And at what points? They purchased for a reason, so how long does it take to get us to that reason? To some people it feels like a subtle mind shift, but it’s a major change to go from defining journeys as a series of meetings or trainings you want the customer to attend to marking specific points where you expect a customer to experience value. And if they haven’t experienced value at that point, then you have something that needs to be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to fester and grow in a way you don’t want in the months and years ahead.

Incorporating the customer’s voice into the journey is so important. It leads into a lot of what Robin’s focused on with communities. Because that’s not just customers having an idea of a voice, it’s literally the customers’ voice. A big part of the journey that many struggle with and are still figuring out ways to operationalize is how to enrich the customer experience outside of working with the customer as their vendor. How do we enrich their experience and introduce them to a community of people who are thinking about the things they’re thinking about, and can help with mindshare? When we talk about the fit between Customer Success and community, I see this lovely way of an online community building an actual network of people that play an important role in whether they feel successful in their journey.

A: [Robin]: We really make sure that the community is the number one platform from the get-go. As soon as customers sign up with inSided and become a customer, we immediately introduce them to our platform because that’s the centralized place for all content, interaction, and engagement. Even most of our onboarding happens in the community because there are a lot of best practices and how-to content. But even before that, to be honest, there are a lot of companies who are looking for a community. They become active on our own community. So prospects who are just browsing through our portal see how we interact with our customers and react to their feature requests. They see the thought leadership content and best practices we share with our customer base. The journey for many of our current customers actually started way before the day they became a customer. It’s super powerful if you have an open, transparent public platform, which is part of your own digital experience.


Q: How do you organize and operationalize the data you surface from a community?

A: [Robin]: Customer engagement data should play a big role in health scoring. We really see engagement as a leading indicator for retention. Monitoring the events or webinars your customers attend, if their executive team reads product roadmap updates, the best practices your customers are reading, or what feature requests they’re submitting. There are so many things happening outside of your product. You should tackle and gather all those signals, and use that to fuel your health scoring, playbooks, and call to actions. Because if your customer is not reading your roadmap updates anymore, when they’ve been reading them at steady pace over the last two or three years, then you want to know about it and give the customer a call.

A: [Abby]: A few years ago, we were talking about the need for data. You can’t know your customers if you don’t have data. As a Customer Success industry, we’ve moved forward from that, which is great. The conversation around platform usage data is increasingly becoming more table stakes. You absolutely need to see how someone uses your platform to assess if they’re getting value and using it in a way that will lead to their planned outcomes. I think we’ve gotten more comfortable with this idea around different usage personas. For example, these customers use these features because they want these results. These other customers use these other features because they want a different set of results.

But there’s still a lot of work we can do around engagement personas. Often, we’ll have a reaction when someone goes dark, and think that’s bad. Well, were they ever engaged? Are they someone who is more self-service, and therefore, is going to react better to different program types that match their preferred way of consuming information and engaging with us – versus someone who loves that one-to-one touch? You have to balance that with your Customer Success team resources, but I think that’s where we’re headed next. Figuring out how to manage this combination of contrasting personas. Defining how someone uses and succeeds with your product and with your organization – and how those two intersect.

To hear more from Abby and Robin on what really goes into building a customer-first organization, watch the webinar on-demand.

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