Launched in 2014, Typeform has already reached over 1.5 million users worldwide and is not planning on slowing down anytime soon. The Southern European startup based in Barcelona is on its journey to making things a little more human with game-changing forms, surveys, and more.
Amity decided to sit down with David Apple, Director of Customer Success at Typeform, to learn about the structure and culture of Customer Success in this fast-growing startup, and to find out how it has evolved since its beginning 3 years ago.
Can you give us a brief overview of Customer Success at Typeform, and talk a little bit about your team?
Our Customer Success mission statement is to “retain and grow our customers by helping them achieve their goals” and our metrics is Net MRR Churn. We are structured in 5 pillars which are effectively 5 sub-departments within Customer Success. There is Customer Support, Customer Experience, Education, Account Management, and Sales. Each pillar has their own mission statement and their own KPIs, all of which contribute to Net MRR Churn.
How did you get started in Customer Success and what was your path into your current role?
I got lucky! Before joining Typeform I was VP of Sales for another startup and I originally joined Typeform to be in charge of Sales. Acquiring new customers was never really our biggest challenge, our challenge was retaining our customers, especially since a lot of them use Typeform for short campaigns and then leave once those are over. In parallel, we weren’t really ready to build enterprise features, so the opportunity to make a big impact with sales was limited. Because it is a lot more expensive to acquire new customers than it is to retain existing ones our CEOs decided that we needed to invest in a Customer Success department at Typeform, and they asked me if I would be interested in running that team. So I was just at the right place at the right time!
How did you see your team structure evolve during your time at Typeform?
When we started, the structure was rather flat. I was the head of Customer Success, and we had a team of 5 people doing everything together. It eventually became a size which I was not able to manage on my own. At this point, I started to feel the need to create more structure and to have other managers. When I started, we already had a Head of Support who was doing a great job and has since become our Director of Customer Support. The Customer Support team is the pillar that has grown the fastest, we now have 12 people working in support, 3 of which are based in the U.S. to help us cover more time zones. Our Customer Experience team has 4 people, Education and Account Management are each made up of 3 people, and our new Sales team will consist of 2 people as of next week.
Like many teams, we started by focusing on giving great support. Giving great support also involved education because we created a Help Center to allow our customers to self-serve better. After a while, we started trying to understand where our customers’ pain points were to better serve them. As part of that effort we launched our NPS program, and we started to put together what is now called ‘Customer Voice’ where we gather all the feedback from all the different sources and aggregate it to identify trends. As we started to understand our customers better, we focused more of our attention on proactive engagement to improve retention. All of this now falls under Customer Experience. We introduced Account Management when we introduced a higher price plan. Customer Experience is focused on 1:many engagement with all of our lower value customers, and Account Management focuses on providing 1:1 engagement with our higher value customers.
What’s the biggest advantage of your team structure?
With 25 people in my team, structure is more of a necessity than an advantage! That said, I think the great thing about the structure we’ve created is that each pillar has their own mission statement and their own metrics. That way, everybody is focused and knows exactly what they need to deliver.
What’s the biggest challenge facing your team and how do you address it?
Our biggest challenge is tracking the impact of the actions we take on our metrics. We can see that overall our KPIs keep improving, but unfortunately, we have a hard time directly relating specific projects to a reduction in Net MRR Churn. I think that the biggest challenge with Churn, as opposed to New Business, is that since it’s a lagging metric it’s difficult to demonstrate causation.
What does the culture of Customer Success look like at Typeform?
Our Customer Success team is Customer-Obsessed. We are always thinking of ways to improve our customer’s experience. We empathize with our customers, and always remind ourselves to treat them as ‘humans’ as opposed to ‘just another user’. One thing I am really proud of in the culture of our team is that we are always pulling each other upwards. We never take credit for something that someone else did, and we are always giving credit where credit is due. I also believe in giving a lot of freedom, one of our team values is to "cherish your freedom" so that everyone can enjoy theirs, and hopefully, nobody takes advantage of it.
We empathize with our customers, and always remind ourselves to treat them as ‘humans’ as opposed to ‘just another user’.
What does your typical day look like?
My day is focused on 3 things: information gathering, nudging people along, and decision-making. I got those 3 themes from a book called High Output Management and I do my best to apply it. In order to achieve those 3 objectives I spend most of my time in meetings, in 1-on-1s, on my emails, and occasionally I even get some proper work done!
How has your user base changed since you started at Typeform?
When I joined we had about 1,000 customers and now we have about 18,000. I think we had around 100,000 people who had signed up in 2014, and we now have 1.5 million. Our growth has been crazy! Our customers have also become more sophisticated. They are constantly coming up with more and more ways to use Typeform that we had never thought of, such as creating workflows and building mini-apps.
What blogs, news sites, or books are you reading at the moment?
I read the Point 9 Capital newsletter which I always enjoy. I also always learn something from the Typeform blog which our Marketing team manages. In terms of books, at the moment I am reading about Management rather than about Customer Success. To learn about Customer Success I prefer networking because there aren’t that many books, and because I am lucky to have a pretty good network of Customer Success leaders from whom I have learned a lot.
What do you think is the most powerful part of your process?
This may sound a bit cheesy but it all begins with the hiring process. We invest a lot of time and effort in hiring the right people and we’ve been very fortunate with the team we’ve assembled so far. Our team has a great culture and an amazing empathy for users, which is the base for everything.
I also think that our internal processes help because they provide a lot of transparency and clarity in terms of who’s working on what. Each of the pillars works in 2-week sprints. At the end of each sprint, an email is sent out to the whole team summarizing the achievements of the past 2 weeks, and the plans for the upcoming weeks. On top of that, the leaders of each pillar and I meet every week to discuss what’s going on at a higher level and to make sure that everybody is aligned. In one of the Management books I’ve read, they argue that the biggest challenge when scaling a team is communication. The objective of our processes is to enhance communication and to ensure that everybody remains aware of what’s going on.
Our team has a great culture and an amazing empathy for users, which is the base for everything.
What role do you think Customer Success plays in developing the overall business strategy at Typeform?
Because Customer Success covers Support, Customer Experience, Education, Account Management, and Sales, we are basically responsible for the entire business side of Typeform besides Marketing. Together with marketing, we define most of the business strategy. Our Marketing Director and I don’t always see eye-to-eye since we are focused on different metrics, but at the end of the day, we both always want what’s best for the company so we always manage to reach a compromise.
What metrics do you watch closely?
Our Customer Success key metric is Net MRR Churn. Customer Support watches the 1st response time, customer satisfaction and cost to serve. Customer Experience focuses on Net MRR churn and NPS. Education looks at ticket deflection, help center satisfaction and help center SEO. Account management watches metrics for our PRO+ and enterprise segments only: Net MRR Churn, Expansion, and NPS. Sales will be looking at New Business MRR and Expansion MRR.
How important do you think managing your customer relationships has been to the success of Typeform?
To give credit where credit is due: I think our product is the main reason for our success. After product, I think that it is our focus on the customer experience which continues to make us successful.
How can you tell that you’ve made your customer successful?
If they’re still around, that’s usually a good sign! To be honest, we don’t really have an issue with unhappy customers at Typeform: our NPS score is high and we get a lot of positive feedback. Our main challenge and focus have been how to inspire our customers to do more with Typeform, because a lot of our customers sign up to launch a specific campaign, and churn once their campaign is over.
Unfortunately, nothing you will do will reduce your churn rate by 90%. The only way to get there is persistence and a lot of hard work.
What does success mean to you?
Success is very subjective. There is an expression I like which is:
Disappointment = Expectations - Reality
In my opinion being successful is a combination of achieving your own personal goals while setting the right expectations for yourself. You could never be satisfied if you set unrealistic expectations and try to reach unattainable goals. That said, there are also people who get everything they ever wanted, but somehow still feel dissatisfied… I hope I get to feel that way someday!
What would you tell Customer Success Professionals who are in the position you were in 2 years ago?
I recently gave a presentation in which I suggested the 3 following pieces of advice:
- Focus on data. In order to solve a problem you really have to understand it first. You need to understand what features and/or behaviors are driving churn in order to understand where you need to focus.
Always deliver value. Everything you do should be focused on delivering value to your customers.
- There is no silver bullet. Unfortunately, nothing you will do will reduce your churn rate by 90%. The only way to get there is persistence and a lot of hard work.
Photos by the Creative team @ Typeform
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