Uberflip helps over 1,400 marketers to create, manage, and optimize content experiences every day. Uberflip's intuitive and powerful platform helps marketers tailor and leverage content to engage with their audience at every stage of the buyer journey.
Amity sat down with Sam Brennand, VP, Customer Success at Uberflip, to discuss Uberflip's company-wide culture of Customer Success, the growth and segmentation of his team, and the ways in which they consistently create value for their customers.
Can you tell us about your responsibilities at Uberflip?
I’m the VP, Customer Success here at Uberflip. Our team’s responsibilities fall into three broad categories. The first is product adoption, the second is customer retention, and the third is customer expansion.
It might help to start with a bit of a history, given that, relative to other teams here at Uberflip, Customer Success is still very new. Uberflip has always had a strong marketing team (because, after all, we’re a content marketing platform), the sales team has grown a ton over the last couple of years, and we have an amazing, fast-growing engineering team that’s built an amazing platform. We’ve had a customer support team right from the founding of the company in 2008 and from the start, our support team has been wowing customers with their dedication and passion. It’s always fun for me to look back at customer reviews from those early years as all of them mention how amazingly reactive and supportive our customer support team was (and still is).
In 2012, our Co-Founders realized it was time to transform the customer support team into a true Customer Success team. We wanted to transform our team from one with a reactive approach to customer service into a one with a proactive approach to making our customers successful.
That’s when I joined the team. At the time it was only three of us: myself and two tech support reps. Almost immediately, we started to scale the team to enable us to be more proactive to ensure we were able to drive adoption, retention, and expansion: onboarding, coaching, renewals, upsell, support, and services.
How did you personally get started in Customer Success?
Honestly, I kind of stumbled into the role! When I was in University I would not even have been able to tell you what Customer Success was.
I went to school for brand communications and marketing. I graduated wanting to go work as a Brand Manager for a big fortune 500 company. My first roles out of school were in consulting for a small company in the city called Venture Accelerator Partners. I worked with startups and small and medium size businesses that needed part-time help with marketing and sales. It’s fun for me to look back on that experience now. At the time, my role was to help organization's build marketing strategies, help them to execute those strategies, and to ensure their success. We were doing Customer Success without really thinking about it or calling it "customer success". I did that for a few years and as part of my role I happened to meet one of Uberflip's Co-Founders, Randy, at a marketing event in the city.
I chatted with him for around 20 minutes about what Uberflip was doing, added him on LinkedIn, followed him on Twitter, and over the next 6 to 12 months I was regularly in touch with him. He would post a great piece of content from Uberflip’s blog and I would go read it or comment on it on Linkedin. Because part of my role at Venture Accelerator Partners was to do our internal marketing, I would also regularly feature Uberflip content as part of our social media curation strategy. Over time I was able to build a relationship with Randy to the point that in 2014, just as he was looking to build out the Customer Success team, he happened to give me a call.
I think my first question to him might have been something like “what does Customer Success mean?”, to be honest. But as I learned more about the role and the idea, the more I realized it fell perfectly into what I was looking for. I still love marketing and that’s what I’m passionate about, so the idea of being able to do marketing at scale through a company that builds content marketing software was very appealing to me. I still get to work with small, medium, and large marketing teams all over the world to build marketing and sales strategies, make sure they are executing them the right way, and help them report back on whether they are achieving their goals. The most fun part for me is that I get to work with some of the smartest marketers in the world. It keeps me on my toes.
How is your team structured and how has it evolved over the past 3 years?
At the beginning, our Customer Success roles were generalist roles. We were doing anything and everything under the sun: onboarding new customers, scheduling regular check-ins, putting out fires on the tech support side, handling renewals, and driving upsell. We quickly realized that by doing everything we were doing nothing.
We got to a point where we were fortunate that the team had grown enough that we could start to specialize. We made the decision to split the team into onboarding, coaching, support, and eventually, to add a services component. We now have two full-time Onboarding Specialists, three full-time Customer Success Coaches, three Tech Support Specialists, and three members of our services team.
It’s been an interesting few years as we’ve gone from 3 people to 12. As the team has grown and been able to specialize, we’ve become a lot more mature in how we approach Customer Success. My role now primarily involves thinking strategically about how the Customer Success team can better serve our customers and help them achieve their goals. I oversee the whole team to make sure that any new customer is onboarded well, has the right check-ins and regular coaching, has access to world-class tech support when needed, and is able to productively work with our amazing services team.
Would you say segmentation is your team’s biggest advantage?
Definitely. Role specialization is something that I would advise other Customer Success leaders to do if they have the bandwidth and budget. I would say our team’s biggest advantage, though, is that we are fortunate enough to work in an organization that understands the value of Customer Success.
It’s actually one of our core values; we have it written all over the walls that we believe “Our Customers’ Success is Our Success”.
From day one, our goal was to transform from an organization that does support well to an organization that proactively ensures its customers are successful. And that mentality was already built-in when I joined the team in 2014. It’s amazing for me to have an executive team that is focused on Customer Success. It’s actually one of our core values; we have it written all over the walls that we believe “Our Customers’ Success is Our Success”. Everyone at Uberflip truly believes that.
I’ll usually draw this diagram (below) on the board for our new hires when explaining what our team does day-to-day. And I think it does a great job of highlighting how everyone at Uberflip is committed to Customer Success.
First and foremost, our entire company is built around our customers: a core group of people with a problem we know we can solve. So in order to solve this core problem, we start with a marketing team that creates demand and builds our brand, ensuring that prospects who are interested in what we’re are doing will come to us. Next, our sales team will take that initial spark created by our marketing team and turn it into a conversation, a relationship. Of course, we wouldn’t have anything to market or sell without engineering, and that’s how we actually solve the customer's problem. Our amazing platform is the key. And of course, there is operations: billing, HR, etc. Everyone who makes sure the wheels keep on turning behind the scenes.
When talking about where Customer Success fits in, I like to draw a circle around the customer because we are the guardians of the customer relationship. And that manifests in how we work with each of the other teams at Uberflip.
It starts with the engineering team: we want to build a product that doesn’t need us to tell the customer how to use it to be successful. It needs to be intuitive, easy to use, and it's value needs to be readily apparent. So we work with our engineering team to ensure we're developing customer-centric features and that customer feedback is being regularly incorporated into our platform.
We know that to have hockey stick growth, we need to start with Customer Success.
When it comes to sales, as I mentioned earlier, we are in charge of everything after the initial contract is signed. And that starts with the hand-off process between sales and customer success. We work closely to ensure there's no miscommunication or implementation hiccups that could potentially impact our customers. Our relationship with sales also extends to upsell and cross sell down the line as customers start to see value from our platform.
And last but certainly not least, the Customer Success team tends to be the tip of the spear for the Ops team in terms of changing agreements, facilitating billing, and other such things. Our unique relationship with our customers puts us in a position to facilitate that type of smooth communication.
What’s great is that everyone in every other department understands that Customer Success is not a cost center. It’s something that is extremely valuable and value-added. We know that to have hockey stick growth, we need to start with Customer Success.
What would you say your team’s biggest challenge is, and how do you address it?
The challenge from day 1 was scale. When I came on board, we had a very large customer base split up between a team of three.
Today, we have 1,400 customers split between a team of 12, but that still presents tough challenges. Scaling has always been hard: understanding who is healthy, who isn’t, where we should be investing our time, who needs our support, how we can be more strategic. We don’t want to be wasting anyone’s time and we want to add value whenever we speak with our customers.
Thankfully, that’s where a tool like Amity comes in. When we implemented Amity, I said that we were a team of 6 that was all of a sudden able to do the job of a team of 20. Now that we’re a team of 12, we’re probably doing the work of a team of 40.
From day one, we were able to bring all of our old 'whiteboard and sticky note' processes into the 21st century. By documenting our processes online and making them available to everyone in the organization, we were able to scale them as the team grew and add sophistication to our onboarding and coaching processes. It also allowed us to understand the specific sequence of events that needed to happen in order for us to demonstrate value come renewal time. This kind of process mapping is really what allowed us to scale up as a team. It gave everyone, at the very least, visibility into what's going on, but it's also allowed us to step back and gain additional insights. We've also found the traditional Customer Success management platform aspects of Amity to be very helpful: things like health scoring, segmentation capabilities, reporting tools, automatic email tools, and more. Each of these features helps us to continue scaling our efforts… it’s absolutely night and day! We can now work with that large segment of our customers who are not necessarily paying us enough to warrant 1-to-1 support by doing it with automation. Scaling is a challenge, and technology is, of course, the most effective way to deal with it.
What does the culture of Customer Success look like at Uberflip?
Great question. We have a company-wide culture of Customer Success. Everyone, whether in the sales team, the marketing team, the engineering team, or the ops team, wants our customers to be successful. We know that’s the only way that as a company, we will be successful.
More personally, we work hard to ensure that the Customer Success team itself is a fun team to work on. And that’s really important. I think there is a lot of potential for negativity in the world of Customer Success given that Customer Success is typically the first line of defense in dealing with problems that pop-up. I think it’s important that a Customer Success team feels heard, has fun at work, and is able to see the impact they have on the people they work with every day.
We work hard to ensure that the Customer Success team itself is a fun team to work on. And that’s really important.
Chances are you have a ton of advocates using your platform to do amazing things. Your Customer Success team needs to be able to see beyond the negative and be well aware of the positive impact they’re having so that they can paper over any hiccups and see the big picture. Our team is also very passionate about what they do, and that’s one of the biggest challenges I have when looking for new people to join our team. When hiring, I encounter a lot of ex-salespeople who want to see the rest of the customer journey, and I encounter people in tech support who tend to be more reactive than they need to be. What’s hard for me is that I need to find a middle ground of someone who is confident enough to sell the benefits of our solution but also responsive enough and customer-oriented enough to be able to focus on building long-term relationships, and that’s tough.
What makes it even more complicated for us is that since we are a marketing platform, we need marketing experts. We essentially need content marketers who love to help other people. And to date, we’ve been really lucky and fortunate in doing that. Most of my team has experience working in marketing roles in the past, so we understand the challenges our customers face and that helps us empathize with our customers, build trust, and foster great relationships.
Uberflip itself is also a fun place to work, and you can see that culture is really big here. On our walls, you can see the acronym HUSTLE: Heart, Unique, Skill, Tech, Lean, and Entrepreneurial. I think the most important one for our Customer Success team is definitely Heart: love what you do, love the team you work with, love your customers. I would say that our Customer Success team here does a great job of bringing Heart every day. We love our customers and we are fortunate enough to have amazing customers, making our job a bit easier.
How have you seen your user base change over the last few years?
Uberflip is not your typical startup story. We’ve actually been around for a few years, dating back to 2008. At the time, we were actually called “Mygazines” and we were geared around helping magazine publishers take their printed magazines online in an interactive and engaging way.
In just over four years, our Co-Founders, Yoav and Randy, were very successful in building a cool business around this idea and as a result, we still have a large segment of our customer base that comes from that time. Around 2013, we started to shift our focus. We realized that content marketers were a growing segment of our user base and that they were doing unique and innovative things with the platform. We recognized that they had an interesting set of challenges that we felt we could tackle well, and we started to build a solution to meet their needs. We ended up building our Hubs platform around Flipbooks, and broadening the umbrella to include two very different customer bases. The first one is Flipbooks based, and the other is Hubs based. Of course, those user groups have different needs, goals, and use different elements of the platform. We have around 1,400 customers today and we’ve scaled up in terms of our pricing. Naturally, we’re seeing a decreasing number of customers but with much higher average value. In terms of Customer Success, that’s presented some interesting challenges as we’ve transitioned from an SMB user base to an Enterprise user base. We’ve gone from “how do we service a lot of customers” to “how do we service fewer customers but with more personalized and effective service.” Going back to how we use Amity, having a piece of technology that allows us to work with both groups very well has been very helpful.
What does a typical day look like for a member of your team?
There really is no typical day, but the common thread is that everything we do is geared around our customers. Customers have quarterly business reviews, regular check-ins, onboarding calls, renewals calls, tech support calls, upsell calls, on-site meetings, and more, and we are always going to be there first and foremost to support them and make sure they get what they need.
Bigger picture-wise, we work closely with our engineering team to make sure that we are building a better Uberflip. And that means channeling feedback from our customers to our engineering team so that we are building the features they need to solve their problems. We also work with our marketing team, because we need to collaborate to make sure that we are in tune with how they are going to market with content. We also publish content and conduct webinars with them, and we use the tools they use, like Marketo. A lot also happens with our sales team. Historically, we haven’t had a Sales Engineering function so we’ve relied on Customer Success to fill that gap. We look at ourselves as the guardians of the customer relationship but also as the guardians of our platform, so to speak. Because of what we do all day, no one uses Uberflip as much as we do and that puts us in a unique position to help our sales team when it comes to technical challenges and questions.
So, the typical day could be all over the map.
There really is no typical day, but the common thread is that everything we do is geared around our customers.
What metrics do you watch closely?
The metrics we watch are continuously evolving as a result of the unique nature of our customers, but overall we do tend to watch a lot of metrics. We have our health scoring model and as part of that, we closely watch a mix of activities, measures, and outcomes.
Activities are the series of things we know make our customers successful. We actually did a big study when we first implemented Amity to try to understand what our best customers were doing that led them to be so successful. Honestly, I was disappointed that the results were not quite as fun or unusual as I expected them to be. I thought there would be a hidden secret that would tell us that if a customer does A, B, C, and D, that would be the secret to success. What we found is that while there are absolutely a series of features that customers can use that lend themselves to success, far and away the most telling sign we have of customer success is whether or not a customer is actually using the product. Who knew? Our activity metrics include things like how often customers log-in and how often they perform certain high-value activities that lead to successful outcomes, such as editing their content, editing CTAs or running metrics reports.
In terms of measures, as I mentioned, there are definitely a few features that are more telling than others. While the depth of the usage isn't incredibly important to us (i.e. 3 vs. 4 widgets used) it is still important for us to understand whether a customer is using feature A or B, or whether they are using a specific series of core metrics. If something’s sitting at 0% utilization, that’s definitely useful information and presents, at the very least, an opportunity for our Coaches to reach out to start a conversation. We can also use this information to drive automation and personalize coaching. So we do still measure the depth to which customers are using key features, and we use that information as a means to understand customer health, identify upsell opportunities, and to inform product development.
The last group we look at is the most important in my mind, and that’s outcomes. When we first implemented Customer Success at Uberflip, I have to admit that I was guilty of thinking that Customer Success was all about product usage: if a customer uses 10/10 features we offer, they’re healthy! But we've found that’s just not the case. A customer doesn’t care if they are using every feature you offer on your platform, they care about whether those features are helping them achieve their goals.
We have a lot of customers who use small amounts of features but are over the moon happy because those features are helping them to achieve their marketing goals. Here at Uberflip, we are blessed to have a platform that readily surfaces key metrics when it comes to this type of outcome-based data. And best of all, we can export all those metrics: leads generated, page views, visits to a Hub, click-through rates, into Amity and run reports to find out who’s killing it and who could use a helping hand.
We know whose page views went up by 50% last month and we can automate congratulatory emails. On the flip side, we can identify areas of concern and can jump in with customers to say “what’s going on, and how can we help you?”. With this kind of outcome data, we know how our customers are thinking about success. It’s less about us and more about them. Honestly, we’ll occasionally show our customer’s our Customer Success platform and Amity’s outcome tracker as part of the onboarding process, and that helps us position ourselves as sort of "marketing guardian angels".
What blogs, newsletter, news sites or books are you reading at the moment?
I actually use Uberflip to aggregate blogs from all over the web into my own content Hub. The Amity blog is definitely at the top of that list, but I’m also an avid reader of Gainsight, Totango, Frontleaf, the SaaStr blog (I also listen to their podcast). In terms of newsletters, again, Amity, but also the Customer Success Journal Weekly, which does a great job of aggregating content from all over the web.
In terms of books, Jay Baer’s book Hug Your Haters is a very interesting read about Customer Service and about the massive opportunity that lies in paying attention to the people who you’d otherwise tend to brush off and slink away from. Jay found that if you “hug your haters”, or always answer questions, concerns, or complaints, even when it’s uncomfortable, then the benefits can be massive. We’ve actually known Jay for a long time (he’s an investor) and we were fortunate enough to have him speak at our conference, The Uberflip Experience, back in August. His first book, Youtility, was also a great one. It’s one of those smack-yourself-in-the-face marketing books that makes you think, “how did I not think about marketing like this forever?”
I also try my best to read psychology books; it’s often said that marketers in the 21st century are educators, so I think that it goes without saying that Customer Success’ role is also to be an educator; understanding how people learn is key. So I try my best to follow blogs about education, which are not always the most fun to read but can be very intriguing. A lot of what you can take from that can become useful when you start to think about how to build Customer Success processes.
It’s often said that marketers in the 21st century are educators so I think that it goes without saying that Customer Success’ role is also to be an educator.
What is the most powerful part of your Customer Success process?
The answer is two-fold. First and foremost, I think that any great process starts with great people and I'm lucky that I get to work with some of the best Customer Success professionals in the business.
We segment our Customer Success team into onboarding, coaching, support and services, and I tend to always go back to the idea of coaching as the key. To me, that’s really what Customer Success is all about. Even though we're specialized internally, every member of our team has a coaching mentality - in onboarding, coaching, support, and services. For example, during our onboarding process, the goal of our Onboarding Specialists isn’t to tell new Uberflippers how key features work, but instead to coach them on why they should care about them and how they can use them to best achieve their goals. So we regularly share best practices and conduct webinars and reviews with customers. Our tech support team always goes above and beyond to make sure they get to the root of the problem and work to coach customers on how to avoid future challenges. Our services team is primarily a team of front-end developers (they work with our customers to customize the look and feel of their Hubs), but they are very proactive in making recommendations and coaching. The idea of coaching is there through everything and that starts with our people. We want to be trusted advisers that make marketers better at their jobs.
The second part of the answer is technology. Going back to Amity, I think having a tool that allows us to add value instead of putting out fires is important. Before we had Amity we used to have the craziest, most backward and least scalable processes and that led to a perpetual state of confusion. Now that that’s all been automated and streamlined in our Amity platform, we can focus on making our customers better marketers instead of putting out fires.
What role do you think Customer Success has played in developing the overall strategy for Uberflip as a business?
It’s played a major role. Customer Success is one of our core values. Here's a great example. We recently sat down to plan our 2-year roadmap from a product perspective and Customer Success had one of the most important seats at the table. And I think that’s how it should be.
Most of the amazing features that we build have been at the urging of our customers, and that’s not to say that they dictate our roadmap, but they consistently point us in the right direction.
We are lucky enough to have some of the smartest content marketers in the world using our platform and they are not shy about telling us how we could improve. We’ve been really successful in listening to our customers’ feedback and incorporating it into our platform. Most of the amazing features that we build have been at the urging of our customers, and that’s not to say that they dictate our roadmap, but they consistently help to point us in the right direction. Customer success is a core part of every other team, and we make sure our customer’s voices are being heard at every single stage: whether that is sitting down with our marketing team to see if we are creating what we should be creating, sitting with our sales team to make sure the right expectations are set or collaborating with the engineering team to ensure we're building the right product and approaching problems the same way that our customers are.
How can you tell that you’ve made your customer successful?
The customer success answer would be that they renewed with us! We do a couple of things to monitor that, such as regular check-ins and reviews with our customers. A key part of that is what we put it in our system as coach sentiment: “how are you feeling about that account based on the relationship you have with power users, executive sponsors, and everybody involved?”
We also do regular outreach like NPS surveys and CSAT surveys to make sure that our customers have a voice. That’s probably the best way for us to know if our customers are happy or not. Because we track outcome data so clearly, that’s usually a good signal for us too: if an Uberflipper's page views or leads are consistently going up month after month, the chances of them being unhappy are relatively slim. It's rare to be be unhappy about achieving your goals, so we work with our customers to very clearly define what their goals are so we can ensure that Uberflip is properly embedded into their marketing processes. Right from the first onboarding session, we try to get a sense of what their quarterly marketing processes look like to see how we can get involved. We want to ensure our customers are pulling the right data out of out the platform and using it in the right ways.
We also use Influitive to power our advocate community and we've found that keeping tabs of our advocates is helpful in measuring customer success. Overall, our customer’s success is usually a mix of outcome data, voice of the customer, and how our coaches are feeling about an account.
What does success mean to you personally?
When I started at Uberflip, I was a doer. I had to come in to get the strategy mapped out but also make sure it was being executed. It’s been an interesting 3 years in that I’ve had to take a step back from that. And that’s tough since I am one of those people who likes to do everything. That’s definitely been a bit of a challenge for me. But I think it’s also allowed me to look at success a bit differently. When you talk to customers all day and you can see how happy they are, it’s not hard to go home and feel like you’ve done something awesome. If you come in and your job is to build a workflow in a marketing automation tool, you have something tangible at the end of the day so success is easy to identify. When you’re job is less about doing and more about managing, it’s a different type of success. As we’ve scaled up and we’ve grown the team from 3 to 12, my role has become more strategic and a key part of that involves thinking about how to make sure our team is happy, loving their roles, and moving the needle for our customers. If I can go home at the end of the day knowing that my team is happy and helping our customers, that’s a pretty successful day.
If I can go home at the end of the day knowing my team is happy and helping our customers add value, that’s a pretty successful day.
Do you have a piece of advice for Customer Success professionals who are in the position you were in 2 years ago?
It’s never too early to start planning. Even if you are in a small business, planning for scale is something you should start right away. Starting from day one, sit down and map out -- in detail -- what your processes are, start finding out what your customers care about and what they need to do to be successful. Map out the different strategies and processes you need in place, including the onboarding processes, coaching processes, escalation processes, upsell processes, renewals processes, etc. Putting it all down on paper is a lot of work up front but it makes everything else run so much more smoothly down the road. Once those are in place, I would also say it’s never too early to implement a tool like Amity.
In many cases, when you plug a tool like Amity into your platform, it could take a bit of time to get the insights out of it to help you make informed decisions. So starting with a tool early on will give you so much more flexibility to scale your team, automate scalable processes, and ensure you’re able to keep people focused on what they should be focused on (adding value). It’s a no-brainer. If the budget’s there, do it.
Photos by Setti Kidane
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