PODCAST 115: Improving Customer Experience: Your Magic Key to Success with Leah Chaney

This week on the Sales Hacker podcast, we speak with Leah Chaney, the Chief Experience Officer for BetterGrowth, a customer support agency she founded.

Leah has been a pioneer for customer experience practices for the last two decades, focusing her work on putting customers at the heart of SaaS and service-based technology organizations. When not coaching teams on how to build a service-centric customer experience organization, she is snuggling her two pug mixes, re-watching The Goonies for the millionth time, or taking spins on her Peloton. Leah and her wife are anxiously awaiting the birth of their first child in July 2020.

If you missed episode 114, check it out here: Human Cognitive Bias and Why You Can’t Trust Your Impulses with Dr. Gleb Tsipursky

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Show Agenda and Timestamps

  1. Show Introduction [00:02]
  2. Who is Leah Chaney and what is BetterGrowth [1:30]
  3. How to put customer experience into the DNA of an organization [5:23]
  4. Micro-thoughts on the evolution of customer success [07:08]
  5. The process for putting CX at the center of the business [13:52]
  6. Best practices for managing the renewal process [22:59]
  7. How to be honest about your churn metrics during COVID [28:29]
  8. Sam’s Corner [41:49]

Show Introduction[00:10]

Sam Jacobs: Hey everybody, welcome to the Sales Hacker Podcast. We’re really excited today to have on the show Leah Chaney. Leah’s the Chief Experience Officer for a customer support agency that she founded called BetterGrowth. We’re going to talk all about the important tenets of customer success and how to think about customer success from an integrated, holistic customer experience perspective. So, it’s a really important conversation, particularly now, as so many companies are focused on how to keep your customers, how do you engage your customers in the right way.

Now, before we get there, we want to thank our sponsors. Our first sponsor is LinkedIn. Sales teams have had to quickly adapt to a new normal. With limits on in-person meetings, it’s even more important to double down on your digital selling strategy. Sales leaders must shift their focus to empowering talent, strengthening customer relationships, and acquiring new opportunities in order to survive and thrive in this environment. LinkedIn Sales Navigator is a relationship-based digital selling tool that is designed to help you do just that. You can help your sales teams increase their pipeline, win rates, and deal sizes. Go to sales.linkedin.com to try it out for yourself.

Our second sponsor is Outreach, the number one sales engagement platform. Outreach revolutionizes customer engagement by moving away from siloed conversations to a streamlined and customer-centric journey. Leveraging the next generation of artificial intelligence, the platform allows sales reps to deliver consistent, relevant, and responsible communication for each prospect every time, enabling personalization at scale that was previously unthinkable.

Now, without further ado, let’s listen to this interview with Leah Chaney.

Who is Leah Chaney and what is BetterGrowth [1:30]

Sam Jacobs: Hey everybody, it’s Sam Jacobs. Welcome to the Sales Hacker Podcast. Today, we are incredibly excited to have on the show Leah Chaney. Leah’s the Chief Experience Officer for BetterGrowth, which is a growth agency based in Portland, Oregon. She’s been a pioneer for customer experience practices for the last two decades, focusing her work on putting customers at the heart of SaaS and service-based technology organizations. In Leah’s words, “having the customer experience built into the DNA of your organization is your magic key to success.”

When not coaching teams on how to build a service-centric customer experience organization, she is snuggling her two pug mixes, re-watching The Goonies for the millionth time, or taking spins on her Peloton. Leah and her wife are anxiously awaiting the birth of their first child in July 2020. So, first of all, congratulations on the arrival of your pending child.

Leah Chaney: Well, thank you. Yeah, I mean, it’s probably going to be a little bit of a life-changer, we’re thinking, but yeah, I appreciate that….. Yeah, you know? I mean, I assume they’ll be very similar to the pugs. We’ll see.

Sam Jacobs: All right, well, I’ll be cheering for you. So, Leah, welcome to the show. Your title is Chief Experience Officer; the company is called BetterGrowth. We start the podcast typically with what we call your baseball card, which is really an opportunity for you to describe your company in whatever way you want to, and give you the opportunity to give a little bit of a pitch for what you do. So, tell us about BetterGrowth, and tell us, I’m also curious, when you say that your title is Chief Experience Officer, that’s obviously not a title that is super common, so tell us, when you think about what that means, why you chose that title as it relates to your personal business.

Leah Chaney: Yeah, so, to start with that, BetterGrowth is my company, so I got to give myself that title, which was a pretty cool thing.

The first couple of titles definitely wouldn’t have resonated with anyone. But yeah, I mean, to start with BetterGrowth overall, so, I’ve spent the last couple decades at this point being in customer success. I got into it really early on, I worked for some amazing companies, and basically spent the last couple decades building customer success teams or fixing them. And then I found that oftentimes, I’d work myself out of a job, because once things work, I get pretty bored.

So, my wife and I moved from Austin out to Portland, Oregon, about two and a half years ago, and when I finished setting up a company’s customer success team that was getting started here in the States, I just decided, I was like, “You know, it’s time. What if I did this at scale? What if I just helped companies start, fix, or grow customer success teams?”

So, BetterGrowth is an agency here in Portland, Oregon, that myself and my awesome founders, one of which is my wife, work to help companies with their customer success needs. So, we have a training platform that we’ve built where we work people through making customer experience a holistic approach within the organization, so very focused on combating churn as a full organization, versus just a customer success team, and just working to get great synergy between different departments in an organization to make sure that the customer experience journey is first outlined and then executed on.

How to put customer experience into the DNA of an organization [5:23]

Sam Jacobs: Let’s dive into that. Because it’s a topic that I’m really, really passionate and curious about, and I run a business that is a recurring revenue business focused on, obviously, our customers, who we call members, and I want to put them at the center of everything. So, when you talk about customer experience, give us the tenets, give us the basic principles. Let’s say a founder comes to you and says, “I want to do that. I want to put customer experience into the DNA of my organization. How do I do it, Leah?”

Leah Chaney: Well, first I’m going to start by saying what you did. The first step is humanizing the customer, right? And so, not even calling them a customer, but calling them a member. You know, Target in their early days called them guests, and continued to do that throughout time. That’s the first step, is considering them something beyond just your bottom-line number, just a data point. So that’s the first step, so great job in doing that. I’m sure you do a lot more than that as well.

But the next basic fundamentals of it is that you take what made you passionate about your platform, or what your company stands on, and you find a way to make sure that you serve that purpose to your customer. So, that is basically making sure that every aspect of every team focuses on what that stands for for the customer. Some greats, some companies that have done it right have done things like having a chair of a different color in any meeting room with more than four people, so somebody’s always sitting in the customer chair. Some companies have written it into their mission statement. But whatever you choose to do, the main important thing is that in every major decision, from a product feature to even your branding, that you’re considering how it’s going to impact your customers and what you’re going to do to help your customer’s customer.

Micro-thoughts on the evolution of customer success [07:08]

Sam Jacobs: Some people say that customer success should be a separate direct reporting line up through to the CEO. There should be a Chief Customer Officer, and that person should oversee customer success, and even perhaps, but I’m curious on what you think, that that team should not have a revenue responsibility. Maybe there’s a churn prevention responsibility, but maybe the actual key performance indicator is like NPS, net promoter score, or some kind of engagement score, as opposed to revenue. And then there’s another world where a lot of revenue leaders, a lot of sales leaders are used to having responsibility for the entirety of the revenue journey of the customer, which includes their retention and expansion, and so they want to run customer success. Where do you sit in that debate?

Leah Chaney: Okay, Sam, so you opened up a whole can of worms here. You have to be prepared for my response. No. Listen, I’m really passionate about this, but you didn’t ask me a question that’s black and white, you asked me a lot of questions that should be dissected into micro-thoughts.

Sam Jacobs: Cool.

Leah Chaney: So, let’s start with your first question that is basically like, should the customer success team report in to the CEO? It really depends on the organization. Like, if it’s my company, they’re going to report to the Chief Experience Officer, and that might be your CEO. One of my points that I’m trying to argue out there is that the most powerful Chief Experience Officer is the CEO, and that they should drop the CEO title. If you really want to be successful and you really care about your customer, why do you need the title of CEO? Why can’t you be the Chief Experience Officer, which includes your internal experience and what you’re trying to grow?

The second thing I want to talk about is this seat at the revenue table that is such a big conversation. So, just to get to the part that everybody in sales wants to hear me say, absolutely, CS should be at the revenue table. They actually should have a huge seat, and probably be around 25% to 30% of your monthly or quarterly revenue. But taking it back a step at how you get there, first, you have to look at the fact that customer success has evolved. Just like marketing, when you used to say “marketing” to someone, you would picture somebody doing advertising, right? And over time, marketing and advertising kind of separated, and marketing had more seats at the revenue table. The same thing has happened to the evolution of customer success that came about later.

When we started in customer success, back when I was working for a rocket ship out of Austin, Texas, we didn’t even know what to call it. I have had so many titles in the early years of my customer success journey that made no sense. But we just knew, smart companies… It’s not “we”; luckily, I worked for someone that knew that, and I learned this trick and wrote it down. But basically, if you spent time on building a relationship with your customer, you would have more success.

And so, when that first started, the mindset was that it was all about the relationship, and just like a friendship, you don’t ask your friends for money, right? But over time, as that evolved, what we realized was that was… We as the organizational leaders of customer success teams, that didn’t make sense, that it was a… If your product was good, and if your customer success team was showing them how to make your product make them successful, why would that be shady, for lack of a better word, to ask them to continue, and to actually do more, to have more of a result?

So, I think along the lines, a few years ago, it started to be very apparent that it was actually awkward to just pass that over to a sales member, who probably hasn’t had that relationship, to come in and ask for money. So, through coaching and training customer success teams to have a seat at the revenue table and to have those hard conversations, and to… Or actually, have those easy conversations, if they’ve done their job, then yes, they should have a seat at the revenue table. So, sorry, again, I know I spoke a lot there, but again, we’re really passionate about the fact that there’s an evolution here, it’s not black and white.

Sam Jacobs: Well, Leah, you’re the guest, we want you to speak a lot, so just… You don’t have to apologize for that.

Leah Chaney: Well, you don’t have to ask me to speak a lot twice.

Sam Jacobs: Well, good, good. I’m asking you once. I think a lot of people listening will feel refreshed to hear that. Does that mean, in your opinion, does that… Like, do you believe in the concept of the Chief Revenue Officer, and that customer success is one input, and that there’s one person that oversees all of the revenue, including customer success, which, to your point, also includes the experience of the customer? Or do you believe that the revenue organization should maybe have different chiefs, different people that are responsible for it?

Leah Chaney: Yeah, I mean, I think that’s a great question. I do think that there’s a seat for a Chief Revenue Officer that is focused on the financial of it, but they should either report to or be very close to the Chief Experience Officer, versus something else, so, yeah.

Sam Jacobs: Another challenge that people have had is they feel like sometimes people that want to go into customer success are not money-motivated or sales-oriented. Have you found that the archetype for the prototypical customer success person needs to evolve to the point so that it can include people that are comfortable not just delivering great experiences, but also asking for money or for, you know, in consideration of those experiences?

Leah Chaney: Yeah, listen, again, I think the thing here is, you’ve got to treat customer success like you would a sales team, and realize that there’s different aspects of it, right? Like, you’ve got your tech team that’s probably answering support questions, that’s more technically mindset; you’ve got your customer success manager, who’s managing the relationship; and you’ve got, you know, just like in a sales team, you have your SDRs, you have your account executives. You’ve got to treat it the same way.

So yeah, your support rep’s probably not going to be great at going in there and upselling the customer. But your customer success manager is who you’re focusing on, and you should treat them the same way you treat a salesperson, and that’s train them to do that, and make sure that your interview process includes people with that mindset. So, if you hire people that are capable of wearing both hats of the relationship and sales mindset, you’re going to have success there. It’s just simply the same way you would handle hiring somebody that’s an SDR, so if you’re a company that has more entry-level people in that role, you train them like you would an SDR. You train them on the tactics of sales and relationship, and how they work in tandem with one another. If you hire someone senior, they should have that experience, and you just make sure that your interview process is weeding out people that might not be capable of having conversations that are revenue-centered.

The process for putting CX at the center of the business [13:52]

Sam Jacobs: So, let me ask you, when BetterGrowth is going into a company, and first thing, as you mentioned, there are first principles, and one of them is that they’re not the customer, they’re something other than that, they are the guest, they are a human being, and we need to give them a great experience and make sure they have a seat at the table. But what tactical steps, I’m sure you have some process by which, when they say, “Okay, Leah, I want to put customer experience at the center of the business. Tell us what to do from a step-by-step perspective.” Do you have a methodology, do you have… What is the process by which you deliver that, and you potentially help them reorganize so that they can put customer experience at the center?

Leah Chaney: That’s a great question, Sam. And it’s different for every organization, just like the customer success metric is different for every customer, right? Like, I think if you try to blanket things, it gets really hard. Where it gets scary is, like, you want to scale. So the tricks to do that at scale, in my opinion, are to start internally. There needs to be internal conversation; the company needs to understand that they’re bought in. One of the things that BetterGrowth does immediately, before they touch on churn and everything else, is they help the company to create the customer experience journey. So, what is every step that the customer goes through? BetterGrowth, to help that along, has created different tools and tricks to do that. One of those is just simply identifying different areas, like if it’s a relay race, that everybody would be responsible.

So, we’ve broken it up, in our case, to what we call the four As: so, acquisition, activation, adoption, and advocacy. And so, basically, that is the journey that most companies have. Acquisition is the marketing outreach, right, the brand image you’re putting out there, outbound sales. Anything that’s going to acquire a customer is the first step in that experience. So, as your collateral out there, like if it’s a theme park, right, is it representing what their experience is going to be? Are you just putting things out there that’s going to be clickbait or get people in, and then they sign up for it and feel like they’ve been bamboozled? Right? So that’s the first step in a good customer experience, is making sure that the outreach is true to what the experience is going to be.

From there into activation of it, that’s where the customer is signing up, they’re paying for it. That’s where sales is involved, that’s where the baton passes, back to that relay race, is going to go from sales to customer success and to the customer support team. That’s where they start getting onboarded. The adoption phase, which is the red-hot, most important phase in the customer journey, is when the customer has actually started using it. And unfortunately, this is where a lot of people get super lazy and go into what I call “maintenance mode,” right? And then from there, the last phase is advocacy. This is where most companies fail, because they panic and ask the [inaudible 00:16:40] questions in this last 90-day window, when customers have already made their decision at that time. So that’s why, instead of calling it renewal phase, I call it advocacy, because they should’ve already made up their mind, and you should now be using them to bring on more customers with their customer stories, or their reviews, et cetera.

Yeah, so I think that that’s one of the main things. I will tell you that there’s some things that are really handicapping companies right now, and that is relying solely on metrics, like NPS. I’m not saying they don’t have their place, but in my opinion, it’s a vanity metric in its own way, right? Like, you’re only looking at how the customer feels about you, and you’re not looking at what the customer needs. And that’s why, oftentimes, I find out that companies that are just relying on a simple metric, or even like a five-star rating, it doesn’t have to just be NPS, whatever you use for customer sentiment, now the renewal comes up and you’re like, “But you love us.” Yeah, but that’s not what makes a customer renew, right? So, I know that’s long-winded, but hopefully that touched on your points enough.

Sam Jacobs: You have no reason to be self-conscious about being long-winded again.

Leah Chaney: Can you tell that to my wife? Can you write that out?

Sam Jacobs: You are the guest. I don’t want to be talking, I want to be listening, because this is of great interest to me. I have a bunch of follow-up questions. One of them is that you mentioned that adoption is the white-hot phase. I’ve always sort of been told that onboarding is the most important phase, because that’s when you set them up to be successful. Do you disagree?

Leah Chaney: Totally disagree….That’s the honeymoon phase.

Sam Jacobs: Tell me why.

Leah Chaney: That’s the honeymoon phase. Are you kidding me? Sure, you might have some complicated questions; sure, you can make a lot of mistakes in that, right? This is where customers can have to repeat themselves if there’s not a great handoff document or some way to communicate that. This is where technical challenges can go wrong; this is where you can drop the ball on training the customer to actually understand how to use it. But for the most part, this is the honeymoon phase. This is where you can really just get things going, and if you have a good process for onboarding, which I always, as a CS leader, made it its own team.

So, again, speaking to customer success not just being one role, I’ve always said that there’s four main points to customer success, and that is your support team, that’s your technical-oriented support ticket guru; there’s your onboarding team, or your activation team, as I always titled them, because I’m big on to these four As that I love; and then you’ve got your customer success managers; and sometimes, and this is the one that I say, you have a liaison between sales and CS, if you’re not a baby startup. And then that role is your customer success engineer, or your sales engineer, whatever you want to call it, and I always say that that person should have a tie-in role to both the CS leader and the sales leader.

Sam Jacobs: Wow, okay. This is interesting. I thought what you said about advocacy is really, really interesting, and that people are asking the tough questions leading up to the renewal. And you also mentioned that too many companies, they go through the onboarding process, or the activation process, as you call it, so that we can align with the four As, and they forget about adoption. You say that they put them into maintenance mode. So, when you think about the best companies, how do those best companies handle both adoption and, as you mentioned, advocacy when it comes to ensuring the renewal, preventing churn? Are there things that you see that are best practices, that you really are making sure that all of your customers do, that you don’t see prevalent out there in the marketplace?

Leah Chaney: Yeah, absolutely. You know, I think I was really lucky, but also kind of scared too; one of the first companies I worked for is one of the best success stories I have in this. Working out of Austin, I worked for this little rocket ship that was a ratings and review company called Bazaarvoice, and their leadership team was all about the customer. And I just assumed that’s how everyone was, but one of the things they did that I’ve always brought with me throughout coaching, and that I’ve seen the most successful companies do, is during that “maintenance phase,” which I call the adoption phase, instead of just walking away and being like, “Well, you know, they’re paying, they’re good, we’re just going to focus on more money,” they made sure that they had communication, and when I say “they,” not just the customer success manager.

So, tiering out those customers and making sure that they were getting helpful tips from the product teams on how to use the product. For top customers, the top-tiered customers that were most important from a logo or revenue standpoint, that the senior leadership team would reach out and check in or give advice. They were always front and center. And for me, when I think about my first experience with customer success, one of the things we did was have regular communication that was valuable to the customer. And somewhere along the lines, it became about you. Communication was just like, “Hey, I want to make sure that you actually show up,” as opposed to us being like, “Hey, here’s a great way to get more ROI on your product. We just looked at benchmark data, and customers that do this have more success.” So, looking at that WIIFM, like, “What’s in it for me?” and then sharing that with your customers to make them successful.

And not just sending that to the signature person, the person that signs the contract and gives you more money. Yeah, sure, add them on that collateral, but actually setting up your counterpart as a customer success manager at the organization that uses your product the most, to look really good at their job, you know? And somewhere along the lines, that value add just dropped, and it became about companies, like, “Hey, tell me if you’d recommend me.” Are you serious? That is so selfish. I don’t know. I’m really passionate about that. It doesn’t mean you can’t have a check-in or get your scores, but, man, when did we become all about ourselves, you know? It’s really hard to watch that, to be honest with you.

Sam Jacobs: I hear you say that they need to deliver value, but they also need to know when things are off track or on track. Would you agree with that?

Leah Chaney: Oh, a hundred percent.

Best practices for managing the renewal process [22:59]

Sam Jacobs: When you think about how to manage the renewal process itself, what do you think are best practices?

Leah Chaney: it’s so important to realize that there is no blueprint, and I realize a lot of people probably want one, but there are some great tools that you can adjust to your organization. So, kind of starting with the red flags, that’s the first thing with renewals, so you’re a hundred percent on the mark with that. So, basically, going back to your onboarding, what I call activation phase, that is where you can drop a ball. That’s another spot you can miss the mark there, in setting up what’s important to them and then tracking that.

So, this is where customer success management tools are really important. And one of the first things I note, especially with early-stage companies, is I understand that you have a budget crunch, but there’s three or four or six tools for sales teams, and then CS is working on a spreadsheet, right? That’s just dumb. You need to either understand the complications of Salesforce and how they can work for collecting important data, if that’s your CRM, to track certain milestones in CS, like usage drops, et cetera, or you need to dig into your pockets and find a tool. You don’t have to get the most expensive one; in fact, those, usually, you have to work for the tool, versus the tool working for you. But you need to implement some kind of tool that connects to your API that helps you successfully track obvious red flags for you.

For most people, that’s going to be not logging in, or it’s going to be a drop going from using the product a lot to not at all, or not using the product at all. And to scale your customer success efforts around that, to prepare you for renewal, there needs to be alarms that go off, right? Most customer success managed tools are going to send you, if you set up these parameters, are going to send you a notification. Your CS team now knows to prioritize that customer. One of the best ways that I’ve been able to find that a customer left an organization was because somebody went from using the platform daily or weekly to not using the platform. Right? And then you should immediately be like, “What’s happening there?” Because obviously, one of the biggest risks of churn is losing your champion, which is why you should never have one champion. But again, these are all very important tools.

And then, for the renewal, the renewal conversation should be taking place on a regular basis. So, if you’re doing quarterly business reviews, every quarterly business review should be like, “If you were up for renewal right now, Sam, would you renew with us? And what can we do to make sure you do when renewal time comes?” Are you going to be offended if I ask you that question, Sam? Like, if you were a BetterGrowth customer, and I was like, “Hey, it’s three months in. If your renewal was today, are we crushing it? What can we do better?” Are you going to be offended if I ask you that?

Sam Jacobs: No. I think so many people bring their own self-limiting beliefs into commercial and business conversations. I’m never offended about any of it. I mean, I understand exactly… And I probably appreciate it, to be completely honest, because you’re showing that you care about me.

Leah Chaney: Exactly, and you’re a hundred percent right. And if you don’t, you’re showing that you’re scared. Fear is what leads the majority of churn, and it usually starts with the CEO, who’s worked their tail off, right? She’s built this, she’s designed it, she’s implemented it, this is her baby, it’s taking off, she’s got funding, and now renewals that are important are coming up, and she doesn’t want to know, she doesn’t want to talk about it, she wants to put that on customer success. Customer success renewal comes up, it didn’t happen, now there’s somebody that can be blamed for it. But I’m here to tell you that that’s the opposite of what needs to happen. You can’t be afraid to ask. What do you think, people are just going to sleep through the renewal and forget about it, and wake up and be like, “Oh, I had a renewal, now it’s too late, it’s fine”? You’ve got to ask.

And what most people do wrong is they ask the question at the 30-day mark, like 30 days before a renewal. I don’t know about your last few relationships, but I knew if I was going to stay with someone 30 days before I made the decision to not, or vice versa, right?

Sam Jacobs: Yeah, absolutely.

Leah Chaney: Same thing with a company. You’re asking people when they’ve already made up their mind. And if they’re angry, they’ve been resentful for a while, and if they’re happy, you missed out on a lot of marketing collateral that you could’ve collected. So, again, I think that the minimum is 90 days, minimum, and for most companies, you should literally be asking every 30 days. Not with an NPS score, if they’d recommend you, or a five-star rating. Those have their places, those have their places, but it’s not in that. And you’ve got to have that hard conversation, and if you have 60,000 customers, that hard conversation needs to be phased out in different tiers, and you need to find a way to automate that question, and you need to ask the hard question. So, instead of asking people, “Would you recommend me to a friend?” you need to ask people, “Your renewal is coming up in six months.

How to be honest about your churn metrics during COVID [28:29]

Sam Jacobs: All right, I have another question, and this is very timely. It’s timely for a lot of companies, and it’s timely, to be honest, for my company. COVID-19 hits, companies are going through difficult times. Customer success teams reach out, and the people say, “You know what, I’m not sure if I’m going to renew, because we’re having a lot of difficulty.” In the customer success team, we’re all reading, and we say we need to be flexible, we need to be accommodating, and we need to be nice to our customers and our guests and our members. The point is that the customer success team says, “Let’s defer the decision for some period of time.”

There’s a world, and I’ve been at companies like this, where you keep deferring the renewal. They say, “I’m not happy,” and because you don’t want to accept it as a closed-lost opportunity, you don’t want to accept to write churn into the book, so what you try to do is you keep pushing the renewal date out. You say, “Let’s try another three months,” versus… There’s a point, probably, at which companies say, “As much as I want to… I understand you’re going through difficult budgetary times, I understand that maybe things will change, but at some point, it just doesn’t feel like you want to pay us anymore, and we need to absorb the difficult pain of losing you as a customer.”

So you can tell where my head’s at, but what’s your recommendation to companies that are struggling with their customer base going through difficult economic periods, and trying to ensure that they maintain a relationship through COVID, while also not lying to themselves about what their true churn metrics are and recurring revenue metrics are?

Leah Chaney: Yeah, listen, this is such an important question at this time, and I want to just say that, again, it’s different for every company, but the thing that’s the same across the board right now is that we’re in a challenging time, right, as a nation, and companies are having to really take hits, and those companies are your customers. So this is where I say C squared comes in. This is my… You know, again, I have my little talking points that I work with.

Sam Jacobs: I’m very excited to hear what C squared means.

Leah Chaney: This is the customer’s customer. The first thing you have to do as an organization is stop thinking about what you need to survive, and you need to think about what your customers need to survive. Because right now, your customers, they already did probably sit in a room, and they said, “What products and tools and services do we have right now that we can cut?” And the first question that went through all of their minds was, “Which products do we have right now that might help us keep customers?” So, whatever you do, you need to ask yourself that question for your customers. “What does my tool do, what does my service do, what does my agency do, what does my job do that keeps customers’ customers?” And then you need to send out a message, you need to not be afraid and say, “We understand these are trying times,” you know, whatever the message is. I’m not the best person to ask that. Research what the best message is that will resonate on that front.

And then from there, the answer needs to be, “This is why you should continue with us. We are putting full effort into making sure that your customers are healthy during this time and can stay with you.” You need to have that question, but mainly, you need to ask, and you need to get on the phone. So your C-level team needs to now become your frontline customer success managers. Your VPs, directors, any manager, needs to now be a customer success manager with, do not fire your most important team, which is the customer success team right now. While they’re out there asking the hard questions of their customers and what they can do to keep them moving forward, your customer success team needs to be working incredibly closely with sales right now to be watching those red flags, to be watching those indicators, to be tagging in with the customers that might not be as big of a financial impact and reaching out to them.

So, the main thing to know is that using that same model I talked about before, with the four As, you need to roll out your map, you need to say, “You’re responsible for this, you’re responsible for this, you’re responsible for this,” but everything is the customer experience right now. Going after and trying to acquire new customers, sure, of course, you should try to continue to do that. I’m bringing on new business in this; it’s something where, if people need you, just like the customers are saying, you can do it. But your most important revenue source right now is going to come from renewals. That is your new quota.

And going back to that customer that I worked for, what they did successfully, I worked for this company during the last recession, and I did not know what a recession was at the end of it, because they did the right things. All of a sudden, sales was literally sitting next to me in my cubicle, and we were coming up with game plans to reach out to customers together. Like, instead of being in silos on other sides of the office, which we were before, we now shared a desk. And that is how sales and CS need to be right now. They need to be hand in hand, working together on outreach and making sure that customers are nurtured and taken care of at this time. So, hopefully that helps, but it is definitely a “make it or break it” for companies. And don’t be afraid to ask. Don’t let fear come in. If they’re going to leave, they’re going to leave, and you at least have that number ahead of time so you can add it into your expansion in other areas.

Sam Jacobs: There you go. That was my last question, which is, all of that said, sometimes they’re still on the fence. And my experience, I guess I was leading the witness a little bit, my experience is that deferring the pain doesn’t make it… You know, bad news doesn’t get better with time, and if they’re going to leave, telling them that they have three more months of free service, if they don’t want to pay, I just… I personally have found so much connection between just people’s simple willingness to pay for something and whether they truly value it, and if they’re not willing to pay for it, that you can tell them they get a year free, and that’s how they’ll value it. They won’t value it at all, because it’s free.

Leah Chaney: That is actually very, very, very important, so we need to repeat what you just said, because it’s a hundred percent. If you give it away for free, they’re not going to value it. In addition, I call this the cell phone conundrum. Remember back in the day, where it was like AT&T and Sprint and all those were like, “If you switch over, you don’t have to pay for your cell phone for three months, and we’ll get you out of your contract”? Well, guess what: Three months later, you’re going back to the other one, right? Now you’re in this spot where you never have to pay. The value, you devalue yourself. The only time, in my opinion, you give something away for free, as opposed to saying, “We understand, we’ll reach out and see when you can join us again,” is if it is a high-value customer that you’ve had a conversation with, that you know is bought in, that needs a break. That is totally different than just offering it up in some marketing collateral, because you’re going to lose the buy-in.

Sam Jacobs: Agree. Leah, we’re coming to the end of our time together, but we’re going to talk to you on Friday for Friday Fundamentals. But before we do that, we like to pay it forward a little bit, and we like to know who… It doesn’t have to just be people, it could be books you’ve read, it could be podcasts you’ve listened to, it could be any ideas that you want to propagate and promulgate. Who are the influences? Who are the people or the ideas or the things that you think we should know about, that have informed your perspective on the world?

Leah Chaney: Yeah, listen, it’s such a great question. I’m sure you heard me mention my wife. I’m a big advocate of the LGBTQAI community. My wife Katie and I were very lucky, when we were in Austin, to run a group there that got to work with helping members find jobs in the tech space. Here, we do our best to try to advocate where we can. But there are so many great leaders out there in the tech space that are making just great moves, right? And so, I don’t know them personally, but some of the powerhouses that I watch include Jen Wong, who’s the COO of Reddit, Emma McIlroy, who’s the CEO and founder of Wild Thing here in Portland.

So, I’m a big advocate for anybody who speaks up and helps to make sure that the tech space is diverse, and for me, that’s the LGBTQ space, and in addition to that, just anyone who’s out there trying to make the world a better place, and working for diversity and inclusion for people of color, for underrepresented communities. Portland has some great leaders that help across the board with refugees, helping to place people in amazing tech companies. But I think as passionate as I am about the SaaS space, if there’s anything that just kind of bums me out sometime, it’s our lack of progress there, and we’ve got to be better. I’ve got to be better, everybody’s got to be better there. So, that’s something I’m really big on.

Other than that, I love working with sales teams. If there’s one thing I can leave us on that I’m passionate about, when I look at my extensively long resume, because like I said, I get bored when things work, of companies that I’ve worked for in the startup space, larger companies, I’ve got about… I’ve got a pretty good win rate for companies that have made it successfully, but I have some that have failed, that have failed miserably. And I think one of the keys outside of just making customer experience the DNA of your organization, is the synergy between sales and customer success.

The first thing I did when I accidentally made my agency successful, because I never thought this shit was going to work, is I hired a gentleman that I had worked with that was the leader of a sales team at a company that I was the leader of a CS team with, and I said, “Hey, can you come join me?” And it’s because when sales and CS, starting with the leaders, have great synergy, the company works. Like, these teams should be hand in hand. I think that sales and CS is like, those silos need to just go away immediately. You’ve got to just bust down that wall. There’s so much finger-pointing where we can work together to make sure that renewals are successful, to make sure that new customers coming on are supported early from the customer success team, to make sure that sales isn’t flinging an account over and just trying to get more numbers on the board for the quota. When you figure this out in an organization, it is literally the difference between success and failure.

I really appreciate you letting me say all that, Sam. I just really enjoyed our conversation. I think we’re proof that sales and CS can work together, right?

Sam Jacobs: Leah, if folks want to reach out because they want to get in touch with you, I’m sure there are a lot of people that are trying to solve this problem of customer success, and they probably want to hire BetterGrowth. So, what’s the best way to reach you?

Leah Chaney: Yeah, absolutely. Listen, I’m a huge fan of LinkedIn. I think it’s just one of the great tools of our time for communication. I wish I could say the same about Facebook; I personally am not doing that anymore.

Sam Jacobs: Me neither.

Leah Chaney: I spent too much of my time on it. But yeah, I think LinkedIn is a great way to reach out. I encourage people to reach out. I would like to say that if you are… You don’t have to reach out just for BetterGrowth; if you would like to speak to somebody who is in the LGBTQAI community, and if you want to have an advocate or advice, I offer free career advice to anybody that needs it. I also would like to offer free advice to any companies that are looking for better ways to build out their benefits platform to include top surgery and other things that are oftentimes left off of the needs of the LGBTQAI community as well. And then, of course, for any companies that are looking to do some awesome things and to combat churn, I’m your person. I’m the person to come to for that. I live and breathe that every day.

Sam Jacobs: We believe you. Leah, thanks so much for being on the show. We’re going to talk to you on Friday for Friday Fundamentals. It’s been great talking to you.

Leah Chaney: Okay, awesome. I appreciate it, Sam.

Sam’s Corner [41:49]

Sam Jacobs: Hey everybody, it’s Sam’s Corner. What a great conversation with Leah Chaney! She’s clearly so passionate about customer service and customer success, and just making your customers the center of the journey. One of the things that jumped out at me is that, for me and my experience, I’ve always been so focused on onboarding the customer, but she talks about how that’s the honeymoon phase, and really, there needs to be a lot of work post-onboarding but before renewal, where you are regularly checking in and getting feedback from the customer on whether they would renew if that renewal was today. I thought that was a powerful insight.

The other thing that she mentioned is that she doesn’t really believe that there should be the money person and the customer success person that doesn’t handle money. In the modern world, you can combine those functions and have one person that is capable of having a financial conversation, at the same time they’re capable of doing a great job on customer service and customer success. So, I really liked that conversation, and she’s clearly super insightful.

What We Learned

  • Who is Leah Chaney and what is BetterGrowth
  • How to put customer experience into the DNA of an organization
  • Micro-thoughts on the evolution of customer success
  • The process for putting CX at the center of the business
  • Best practices for managing the renewal process
  • How to be honest about your churn metrics during COVID

Don’t miss episode #115

Of course, we want to thank our sponsors before we go, those sponsors being Outreach, the revolutionizing customer engagement platform which helps you leverage the next generation of artificial intelligence, allowing sales reps to deliver consistent, relevant, and responsible communication; and, of course, LinkedIn. LinkedIn Sales Navigator is a relationship-based digital selling tool that is designed to help you do just that. It can help your sales teams increase their pipeline, win rates, and deal sizes. Go to sales.linkedin.com to try it out for yourself. I’ll talk to you next time.

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