The notion of a customer success department sounds like something sales types, not content creators, should concern themselves with. But there's a case to be made that creatives should not just comprehend customer success teams but even emulate facets of how they think and operate.
To explain, Ryan Roberts from Pixelz joins The Creative Operations Podcast. Ryan's role as customer service director for North America has him constantly evaluating customer touchpoints and customer retention, so he's the perfect voice to talk with host Daniel Jester.
For the full episode, stream from Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or our website. But for only an overview of what this department does and why creatives should care, read on.
What is Customer Success?
As Ryan understands it, the term "customer success" came from the sales software industry, where a company team celebrating a year of tremendous sales was actually admonished by their chief operating officer because, despite the high volume of sales, a deeper look at company numbers showed a concerningly high churn rate.
"There was this realization that sales are great, but if you have churn, which is the polarity of closing the deal—you've got people leaving on the other side—then eventually a company would run out of prospects," he says. "And so then, they started really paying attention to, 'How do we retain customers?' How do we keep them happy? How do we keep adding value to them? How do we keep evolving?'"
To answer those questions, a customer success team needs to have intimate knowledge of customers' experience, which is why Ryan describes this work as being the pulse.
"We read the pulse of our clients," says Ryan. "We speak directly to our clients. We help them out any way we can, as far as finding additional ways to add value to their company."
And to Ryan, this disposition should be evident in all sorts of industries—including content creation.
"It's closely tied to the SaaS industry and software industry," he says of customer success. "But the truth of the matter is, any subscription or contract business should be thinking about customer success, and really should be investing resources and making sure they are providing success for customers. Because at the end of the day, subscriptions and contracts have renewals. And so you're always in the sales position with those types of businesses."
Customer Success Starts with Onboarding
Customer success is about understanding the customer's logic, and a lot of that listening and observing happens during the onboarding phase.
"We have an onboarding team," says Ryan, "but then customer success gets in towards the later portion of the onboarding end of the sales process."
It's about understanding what the customer views as success, both in end result and in the experience toward that goal.
"Onboarding is like the introduction to their logic," Daniel adds. "It's also a little bit of, 'Are we asking the exact right questions to make sure we meet or exceed this customer's expectations?'"
While that might sound rather ethereal, an experienced customer success team can turn those observations into more of a science.
"The needs are relatively subjective if you look at them loosely," says Ryan. "What Pixelz has really been amazing at doing over the last 10 years, is defining how to objectify this hugely subjective process. That's through a lot of questions."
Customer Success is About Understanding the 'Why?'
An effective customer success team isn't going to be bashful, Ryan says. He's always looking for people who are good at asking a particular question.
"The favorite question is, 'Why?', and it's not because we want to be challenging but because we want to keep digging until we uncover the root cause for the ask," Ryan says.
"We just had this the other day—we had a large client asking us to update some templates for paths," he goes on. "And the way that they needed the templates updated was a little bit strange—strange enough to throw a flag up where I invited the client on a call. I said, 'Well, why are you asking for the path exactly like this?' And her response was, 'Because I end up masking all this hair out and then putting the models on different colored backgrounds. And whenever the path has any background in it, it's harder for me to subtract from a path versus add to a path.' And so as a result, if there was any background in the hair, they wanted us to path inside of that. What we uncovered there was that she had masking needs, and Pixelz does amazing jobs at masking hair."
By talking with the client, Ryan was able to improve satisfaction by teaching some best use for the Pixelz platform. That's why he thinks people in technology, regardless of position, should grow comfortable teaching others—because introducing and explaining the capabilities of your technology helps you improve customer satisfaction.
That teacher's disposition helps with the internal onboarding of new hires too, Ryan points out. "I think that, with software and technology companies, there's going to be a steep learning curve for any new employee, because even if they were users of the product prior to coming in and being hired, they've only seen the front end; they don't know the back end," says Ryan. "And the back end is where all the complexity is. I mean, the goal of a good front end is to have it very user-friendly, and you wouldn't have to understand the complexity that's occurring. No matter what technology company, anyone you bring in, you're going to have to teach."
So really it's a cycle—teachers teaching so that the taught can grow into teachers too. And then everyone is working together to teach the customer. And, while teaching customers, gauging their prior knowledge of the product sometimes means returning to one simple question during support and troubleshooting conversations.
"Asking the questions of 'why' we uncover an additional need," he says. "This happens fairly often with clients that have been with us for a longer period of time. We're developing new capabilities so quickly, but a lot of those clients don't necessarily know that."
Customer Success is Guided by a Mindset
Being a customer success professional—and remember, we can all be, to our own small extent, customer service professionals—depends on mindset. It's that teacher's outlook Ryan describes, but to be a teacher, you first have to be a learner.
Of prospective hires, Ryan says they need to be, first and foremost, a learner—never satisfied with their current knowledge, always eager to see the next YouTube tutorial or read the next book. Constant curiosity is a personality and character trait of the person who can obsess over understanding and satisfying their customers.
If teaching means learning, then learning means listening. Ryan looks for a patient listener, "someone who truly wants to understand a situation before prematurely offering solutions," he says, noting that in today's culture, people are too quick to opine and not patient enough to absorb and observe.
It's especially in the creative production industry, he says, where so many people are self-made. "There's a lot of entrepreneurs in it. People who have gone out on their own, whether they're photographers, or makeup stylists, hair—they've gone out on their own, they've had their name on a product. And as a result, a lot of them have this mentality, because they just can't survive otherwise."
So if there's a takeaway for the average creative production professional to take from this look inside the customer success field, it's this: listen so you can learn, and learn so you can teach. Understand that, no matter how good of a product you have, customers need to understand how to best utilize it. That means knowing the customer's logic and being able to communicate to that by asking the ever-reliable root-cause analysis question: why?
You're ready to think like a customer success professional, but for the full chat, including slow-motion bear hugs in the rain, and the power of please and thank you, catch this episode of The Creative Operations Podcast on Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or our website.