Since 2014, Loopio has been helping hundreds of companies win more business by supercharging their response process for RFPs, RFIs, and Security Questionnaires.
From the day the three co-founders started the company, its business plan, and its culture, Customer Success has been at the forefront of all things Loopio. We sat down with Loopio's Co-founder and CEO, Zakir Hemraj, to discuss the genesis of Customer Success at Loopio and the effect it’s had on the company as a whole.
Can you tell us about your responsibilities at Loopio?
I am the Co-founder and CEO of Loopio. Along with my two Co-founders, we created Loopio in January of 2014. In the beginning, I was heavily focused on Product and Development, but my primary focus over the last two years has been to serve as the VP of Customer Success. With the help of my team, we are responsible for building a repeatable and methodical framework to ensure our customers stay customers.
How did you get started in Customer Success, and how has your path led you to your current role?
It was very unexpected. I started my career as a Developer, and I also worked in Sales for a couple of years. When we started Loopio, my Co-founder Matt and I were building the product, and our third Co-founder Jafar was selling and getting initial traction in the market. It wasn’t until we closed some deals that a couple of our customers started to ask about implementation, onboarding, and best practices. Being the keener that I was, I volunteered to work out an implementation plan, and that’s how Customer Success was born at Loopio. For a while, I was working in those two worlds: coding features for the product, and managing customer relationships.
A mentor once told me a terrible, but effective, analogy —“you can’t sit on two toilets at the same time.” Eventually, that’s what happened. It got to a point where nothing I was doing was at the level of quality that I wanted it to be. I did a bit of soul-searching, talked to a few mentors, and I realized that the best thing for me personally, and for the future of Loopio, was to focus on Customer Success.
In retrospect, nothing was more valuable than understanding the pains and needs of our customers. It helped us make better decisions for the business. As a CEO, having the ability to speak to customers every single day, especially in those early stages, helped us lay the foundation for a feedback-driven culture.
How is your team structured, why, and how have you seen that structure evolve over the past 2/3 years?
Well, 3 years ago, the team didn’t really exist. It was a team of one! We’re still a pretty small team of 5. We’ve seen the structure evolve slightly, but not drastically, over the years. The reason is that we decided to invest in Customer Success very early on. Outside of myself, we have two types of roles: the first one is Customer Success Management which includes Managers and Associates. They manage different types of customers and focus on the proactive “coaching” activities. The second role, on the reactive side, is the Support Specialist role. They focus on responding to user inquiries (call and emails), but also spend 20% to 30% of their time on projects to help reduce ticket volume — For example, writing Help Center articles, and conducting training webinars. We made this distinction in roles very early on, as our first ten hires included a Support Specialist and a Customer Success Manager. We over-invested in Customer Success early, and we used that to differentiate ourselves as a company.
We over-invested in Customer Success early, and we used that to differentiate ourselves as a company.
What is the biggest advantage of the way your team functions?
You can’t act too much bigger than you are! We take advantage of the fact that we are a small team, by having daily stand-up meetings and embracing spontaneous conversations. On the flip side, it’s also important to separate proactive and reactive roles early on. Some CS Leaders I’ve talked to created a hybrid Success/Support role in the early stages of their team — this includes support tickets, roll-outs, strategic planning, feature adoption, churn prevention, and everything in between. I feel like this approach leads to competing priorities, and gives you no room to work on the proactive stuff. Having very clear boundaries and structured roles helps us function very smoothly.
Secondly, with my background in software development, I’ve been able to apply a unique perspective on Customer Success. I always try to take lessons from my past and apply them to the present, and I see many parallels between the Customer Success world and the Software Development world. For instance, mature Dev teams have a strong culture of Work in Progress (WIP) limits. I worked with my team on a capacity framework to help CSMs understand exactly how many customers they can be managing.
Lastly, as a small team, it’s important to build redundancy early, and ensure there’s some overlap between team members’ skill sets. If your only Support Specialist is away, the rest of the team needs to know how to handle support tickets. A big part of this is making sure everything is documented, training everyone on those core responsibilities, and ensuring constant communication between team members. That’s definitely a huge advantage of the way we function at Loopio. We’re a little obsessed with process.
We take advantage of the fact that we are a small team, by having daily stand-up meetings and embracing spontaneous conversations.
What is the biggest challenge facing your team, and how do you address it?
Scaling. We’re a fairly “high touch” CS team that focuses on strong customer relationships. I’m constantly thinking about maintaining the quality and consistency of our customer experience as the CS team continues to grow.
One of the things we’re doing to address this is building out CS training modules, and getting the entire team to take ownership of this. We’ve started to define everything we do — from how we write emails to how we manage the customer lifecycle. But like everything we do at Loopio, this will be an iterative process.
Another thing we’re doings is focusing heavily on “refactoring”. This is another inspiration from the software development world and usually applies to code. Things get stale as products, companies, and teams grow. This applies to Customer Success because the resources we develop — documents, processes, templates, videos — can get stale very quickly. If you don’t think about how you’ll keep these things up to date from early on, it will fall apart and you’ll end up with a huge repository of very stale information and resources. We do these things called “CS Power Hours” where we come together and pick one piece of documentation, or even just an email template, and we review it in a collaborative fashion. Everyone on the team gets to run these sessions, too.
What does the culture of Customer Success look like at Loopio?
The culture of Customer Success at Loopio is a reflection of Loopio’s culture. It’s been an integral part of the way we do things from the very beginning. Even when it was just the 3 founders, if a support ticket came in, we knew the importance of those interactions. We invested in this very early on, from a process perspective, and it slowly evolved to become the culture of the entire company, revolving around the nucleus of Customer Success.
A lot of problems in Customer Success result from misaligned expectations at the beginning of the customer lifecycle. The first place to look to solve those problems are in the sales cycle, and I think that having a clear definition of who the right customer is, rejecting business when it’s not a good fit, and working on clean handoffs from Sales to Customer Success is crucial. From a Development perspective, we make sure that all feedback is logged in a repeatable, methodical way, and gets fed into our development process. Even in Marketing, customer advocacy is a huge part of our strategy. We have a “ladder of advocacy” that we try to guide our customers through, and it’s important for us that Marketing relays and amplifies these stories.
Customer Success culture is the culture of Loopio, it’s not a separate culture. There’s a famous Gandhi quote that says “actions express priorities”. For us, our actions in Customer Success express where our priorities are as a company.
The culture of Customer Success at Loopio is a reflection of Loopio’s culture.
What does a typical day look like for a member of your team?
Let’s focus on a Customer Success Manager (CSM). The beauty of a CSM’s role is that there are so many different facets to their skillset. One day they’re delivering a presentation on ROI to a C-Level executive, the next day they’re doing a debugging session with a user on a very technical issue, and the next day they’re going through large amounts of data to research trends and health scores. Every day is different, but there are some core activities — user training, check-in emails/calls, engagement data analysis, best practice consulting — but everything is done with the intention of delivering value to the customer.
The way we keep control of all of these activities is with a lot of communication within the team. We have weekly meetings which we call Customer Priority Refresher (CPR), where we go over a standard agenda, including key metrics. That’s also when we set our Weekly Top 1, where everybody in the CS team has to set a top priority for the week. On top of that, we do a Customer Success Sync (CSS) daily. It’s a 15-minute stand-up meeting where we communicate what we’re working on for the day. That’s also when we share potential roadblocks and ask for help. That constant communication helps us bring some control to the chaos.
That constant communication helps us bring some control to the chaos.
What metrics do you watch closely?
There are so many metrics you can look at in Customer Success. To understand what metrics are important, we go back to our three main goals as a team:
Retention: Making sure that our customers stay customers
Growth: If our customers are successful, they should be investing more in Loopio
Advocacy: The voice of our customers is a critical part of our Sales and Marketing strategy
Those are the three outcomes, or goals, that we are trying to drive and the key metrics should bubble up towards them in some way. The one metric that all SaaS companies look at is churn, and we look at that religiously. But churn can be looked at in many different ways. We look at net revenue churn, gross revenue churn, and logo churn, which helps us paint a very clear picture of how our team is doing. We also have a health scoring framework where every customer gets ranked from 0 to 10. This allows us to know exactly which customers are performing well, and which ones aren’t. It also allows us to drive action based on data. All users are also polled for NPS automatically, and that number helps us understand overall customer happiness.
With that being said, I think that the most important thing about Customer Success metrics is context. Metrics will tell you something, but if you get lost in a number you might forget what the essence of real Customer Success is. If a customer is sending you 10 support tickets in a week, does that mean that they’re unhappy, or on the contrary, highly engaged and curious? Well, it could mean both. It’s a combination of data, and of a culture of “digging deeper” and always asking questions that will give you the answers. I’d like us to maintain that curiosity as we grow.
The most important thing about Customer Success metrics is context.
What is the most powerful part of your Customer Success process?
Storytelling. Stories are very powerful, they’re emotional, they mobilize people. People connect with stories. Our Customer Success team tries to be the primary storytellers within the organization, as they are the voice of the customer. This is for both positive, and negative situations. For example, we do “Customer Love Fridays”, where we share nuggets of success stories and customer quotes with the whole company. Think about a Developer who’s worked very hard on a feature, and what it means for them to hear about the impact that feature had on a customer’s business.
On the flip side, and I think this is where a lot of teams struggle, you have to be the voice of the bad stories. Every time a customer churns, we do our best to do an exit interview with them. We have a standard set of questions that we ask, and we try to learn from the answers. Afterwards, we have a debrief with all the people that were involved with the customer from the Sales Reps to the Support Specialists. In this meeting, we recap all of the reasons why the customer left, and what we could do differently going forward. The CSM summarizes the discussion and shares the notes with the entire company. Everybody at Loopio needs to know why customers are churning. That’s been a very powerful part of our social fabric — our ability to tell stories consistently, both positive and negative.
Everybody at Loopio needs to know why customers are churning.
What blogs, newsletters, or books are you reading to stay on top of Customer Success and to make sure you’re constantly learning?
We’ve worked very hard to build a culture of learning at Loopio. One example of this is our Loopio Book Club. The whole company reads a new book together every 6 weeks, and we’ve now read 19 books as a company! Some books we’ve read include Rework, Delivering Happiness, From Impossible to Inevitable, and The Hard Thing About the Hard Things. A lot of those books have influenced our Customer Success processes. I’m currently reading a book called Customer Success by Nick Mehta, Dan Steinman, and Lincoln Murphy. And of course, I follow the Amity Blog and go to the Toronto Meetups regularly. I also go to a couple of conferences a year solely for the purpose of learning — SaaStr in San Francisco, and Business of Software in Boston. However, my main source of learning is our customers ;)
At the end of the day, how can you tell that you’ve made your customer successful?
There’s all the metrics we talked about earlier, including high health scores and NPS scores. One of the things that’s most important, though, is getting aligned on the customer’s definition of success. When we launch a customer, one of the first things we ask them is what success looks like to them. The power of knowing this from a CS point of view is that everything can be driven by this one piece of information. We need to understand what success looks like to the customer, and if it’s aligned with what Loopio offers. If we need to address a misalignment of expectations, we do that right away. In the end, asking and having that discussion with the customer gives us context around metrics.
Oftentimes, casual discussions with customers can teach you if you’re moving in the right direction, and a great way to do that is to visit your customers in person. If it makes sense for your business, based on average deal size and other factors, try to visit your customers whenever you can. Every single time I’ve met a customer in person, I’ve learned something new about “success” in their eyes.
When we launch a customer, one of the first things we ask them is what success looks like to them.
In your everyday life, what does success look like?
As a co-founder of Loopio, I’m pouring my heart and soul into building this company, so the success of Loopio is very much tied to my personal happiness.
However, I once read some advice that said “on a scale from 1 to 10, try to rate how you feel when you wake up in the morning and when you go to bed at night.” This is a good indication of how happy and successful you are. If it’s hovering around 8 or 9 in the morning and at night, you’re doing something right. If you’re waking up tired and going to bed anxious, that may be an indicator of churning away from success. Those are the kinds of things that I try to focus on these days. It all goes back to happiness — you can’t be successful if you’re not happy.
Do you have a piece of advice for Customer Success professionals who are getting started right now?
I may offend some people here.
There’s a lot of fluff out there, in the world of Customer Success. I often draw a parallel between Customer Success today and Product Management 10 years ago. Back then, in my experience, everybody from every background wanted to be a Product Manager: Sales, Account Management, Developers, MBAs. But I felt there was no clear definition of what a good Product Manager was. Now, Customer Success is the new and fresh, but still very immature, industry. My advice is to go below the surface and get to the core of what makes customers stay customers. Try to become very in tune with what these things are, and cut through the fluff. You can do that by going to meetups, reading books, and networking. But remember, the core of Customer Success is about delivering value, and this could mean something different in every company. So keep an open mind wherever you end up.
Secondly, you need to find the right company — one that has prioritized Customer Success and made it integral to the way they do business. This is the type of environment in which you can learn and grow to see the fruits of your labor. In some early stage startups, you might be in a position to help the company make the shift if it’s not already the case. However, if you join a growth/established company that isn’t Customer Success driven, you’ll get hammered with work that’s very reactive, and you might feel like you’re always playing catchup. When interviewing, try to ask the right questions to know if Customer Success is at the nucleus of the organization, or if it’s moving in that direction. Remember that Gandhi quote that I mentioned earlier — “actions express priorities”? A lot of companies talk about how much they value Customer Success, but if they can’t tell you tangible and meaningful actions they’ve done to make that true, their actions don’t express where their priorities are.
When interviewing, try to ask the right questions to know if Customer Success is at the nucleus of the organization.
Photos by Setti Kidane
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