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15 June 2021

Scaling Customer Success With The Right Team, Technology And Data Processes: An Interview With Stephen Keogh

by Rida Ahmed Reading time: 9 mins
data processes

Team, Technology And Data Are The Foundation Of A Strong Customer Success Operations Organization

Customer Success (CS) Operations is the high-performance engine that runs your CS organization. To operate smoothly and effectively, your CS organization needs to be built on 3 fundamentals: team, technology and data processes. Implementing all 3 pillars simultaneously is crucial to optimizing the efficiency and impact of your CS Operations engine.

To find out how forward-looking software leaders can operationalize technology, data processes and a team effectively, I interviewed  Stephen Keogh, Customer Success Technology Consultant at Valuize. Stephen is a certified Gainsight admin who has spent the last decade working in technology roles mapping processes and advancing organizations’ use of technology, business intelligence and analytics, and the last 5 years growing Customer Success Operations. During our conversation, Stephen discussed the fundamentals of a strong Customer Success Operations model and how to optimize it using people, processes and technology.

Read the full interview for Stephen’s expert advice on how to strengthen your CS Operations motion and make the most of your technology investment.

Q: What was your first job? How did you get started in customer success?

My first job was as a phone support agent for Microsoft Xbox while I was still in college. I did that for about four years and it definitely made me more comfortable talking to people over the phone. When I moved to Canada from Ireland, I ended up at an environmental health and safety software company as a Help Desk Analyst and was brought into their Customer Success team shortly after. That was my first taste of Customer Success and since then my CS roles have always been a hybrid of strategy, processes and technology. This eventually led me into a CS Operations role and to becoming a certified Gainsight admin.

Q: What excites you about working in the customer success domain? How do you think the domain will continue to evolve from here?

The most exciting part for me is that Customer Success lets you build technical skills and relationships cross-departmentally. If you like helping people, Customer Success is one of the greatest roles to come into because you work alongside a diverse group of stakeholders, both internally and externally, to solve problems and deliver tangible value to customers. 

We’re at a point in the industry where every organization, from start-ups to enterprise, is realizing that they need customer success. I think this demand for CS professionals will continue to grow within companies clamouring to get and keep the best CS strategy and technology experts. To keep up with shifting market realities, I think the core values of the Customer Success domain will continue to evolve, as will CS roles and responsibilities.

Q: In your opinion, what are the most important elements of a strong CS Operations model?

The most important thing is understanding what your customer outcomes are. I’ve seen a lot of Customer Success organizations buy a CS tool, throw a lot of money at it and invest in expensive training without first defining what their customer outcomes are. That approach creates confusion and puts undue burden on your customer-facing teams, especially your CS team. Leaders need to start by identifying their processes, determine if the technology can handle those processes and establish if they have the right data to help the technology do what it needs to do. Without this clear and strategic direction from leadership, the CS Operations team can’t build out effective and impactful strategy, processes or s technology roadmap for the organization. 

Q: What is the intersection of technology and data in a successful CS organization? How do you see the relationship between CS strategy, technology, and data evolving as a company grows and scales?

Data is what truly tells your story and without it, your CSMs are doing their jobs blindly. Data let’s you know which customers really need support and which ones have the biggest potential. With CS technology, you can automate this process and drive large-scale success. Technology, coupled with reliable data, increases your CSMs capacity to support customers and help them grow. 

Strategy forms the foundation of Customer Success. Technology and data are aimless without a thoughtful CS strategy that outlines how the organization needs to engage with customers and your entire Customer Success organization will feel the pain of a lack of strategic direction. To combat this, I recommend developing your strategy first, then figuring out what data you need to support that strategy and finally integrating that into a Customer Success technology provider like Gainsight.

Q: What are some of the most common challenges that software organizations are facing when it comes to the implementation and operationalization of their technology and data?

A scattered data structure is a common challenge among B2B software organizations. Simple mishaps, such as names not being properly tracked resulting in customers being identified incorrectly, can add up and leave your CSMs without the reports and triggers they need to drive impact with customers. A common problem is that core systems in an organization are implemented in isolation and without a strategy that governs data or a plan to unify them into a single source of truth for the entire company.

Q: Why do you think a dedicated customer success technology platform is an important investment for organizations? How can B2B software leaders maximize the ROI of their CS technology investment?

It’s important to remember that while Customer Success technology is a great investment, it shouldn’t be the first investment. You need to start with a baseline understanding of what you want your Customer Success team to do and what they’re accountable for. If that vision is well-defined, your technology investment will have a real impact on your CS organization and provide true support to your CS team. Employee success is an important concept that often gets neglected. While it’s important to prioritize the growth and scale of recurring revenue, it’s equally important to make CSMs’ lives easier by empowering them with the right tools and resources to be successful. If you bring in a technology that’s well thought-out and configured, you will have higher employee satisfaction and experience less customer churn.

Q: Customer data is a critical component of a strong customer success organization. What role do you see data playing in an organization’s customer success strategy and operations? How do you recommend that software leaders make the most of their customer data?

Data can help define your Customer Success strategy. Use your available data to find trends and patterns and make sure that feeds into your processes and strategy. For instance, if your data is telling you that customers get annoyed if a support ticket is open for more than two weeks and that affects your health, then you can build provisions in your strategy to address this and mitigate any future issues. Clean and timely data lets you get ahead of potential issues and identify improvement opportunities that will drive the greatest impact with customers. 

Q: In your experience shaping Customer Success teams, what are the most important elements of building a CS Operations function? Where should companies begin and how can organizations ensure its scalability?

It’s important to find someone who understands your industry and also knows what Customer Success is, whether that’s a CSM who has a technology background or someone from Professional Services who’s been working in your organization for years and really understands your company and industry. If you’re starting your CS Operations team, I would begin with a CS Operations Manager who understands Customer Success, data structures, technology and the industry your company operates in.

Q: As a certified Gainsight admin, what’s your favourite outcome that the Gainsight product enables?

Gainsight gives organizations the ability to touch a lot of customers in a short period of time using the Journey Orchestrator functionality. You can realistically survey 3,000 customers in a structured way around predetermined events, such as a customer’s one-year anniversary with your company. This only needs to be set up once and it runs forever, allowing you to see how engaged your customers are and use that data to plan bigger campaigns and increase their engagement with your organization.

Bonus Q: What’s your favourite way to spend a Sunday?

My ideal Sunday includes going out to a nice dinner and then going to see a musical. Only problem is, the restaurant I really want to go to is in Ireland and the theatre is in Toronto! For an ideal day in Toronto, I’d sit at the patio at Cafe Diplomatico and then go down to the Royal Alexandra theatre to watch Come From Away.

Maximize The Impact Of Your Customer Success Operations

Optimize your organization’s technology, data processes and team with Stephen’s top 3 insights: 

  1. Before you implement, or even invest in, a piece of CS technology, you need to start with a solid strategy that outlines what your CS team is responsible and accountable for. If your strategy is well-defined, then your technology investment will have a real impact on your CS organization.
  2. Use your company’s available customer data to find trends and patterns and make sure those feed into your processes and strategy. Your strategy shouldn’t be a one-and-done initiative, it should evolve with your data, customers and organization. 
  3. Create a single source of truth that your cross-functional teams can use to effectively engage with customers. Data governance is crucial to ensuring your organization is working with accurate and complete data and creating the greatest impact with customers.  

If you’re ready to strengthen your software organization’s Customer Success Operations, read our article about the top 7 qualities to look for in a first-rate Customer Success Operations Leader.

Rida Ahmed

Rida is Valuize's Content Specialist. With a multi-channel marketing approach, Rida works to share Valuize's story as well as that of its team, clients and partners.