With over 750 customers worldwide, Vision Critical provides a cloud-based Customer Intelligence platform that allows companies to build engaged, secure communities of customers they can use continuously, across the enterprise, for ongoing, real-time feedback and insight.
We sat down with Greg Elliott, Vice President of Customer Success, to discuss how Customer Success has evolved at Vision Critical over the last 8 years.
Can you tell me a little bit about your responsibilities at Vision Critical?
I head up the Customer Success Team in Toronto. Our team has about 16 individuals in total and we work with about 100 customers to help them with their Customer Intelligence Platform. A main focus of my job is on Sales, which is a combination of organic growth and partnering with the Sales Team to acquire new customers. Another large focus is making sure that I create an environment for my Customer Success Managers (CSMs) where they feel supported and valued. In my role, I’m focused on ensuring that our customers are getting the most value possible from our platform, that they are using all the tools available to them as we know that drives retention.
How did you get started in Customer Success and what was your path into your current role?
It wasn’t something that was a conscious effort but was something that just happened to evolve.
When I first started working after college, I started out at a Market Research company on the Operations side. I progressed and got into Management roles but I was always working with internal clients. After doing that for about 12 years, I had an opportunity to work with that same company and set up their first online community, and that really opened up a door for me at Vision Critical.
Joining Vision Critical was great as it’s been a fast-growing company. Also, the opportunity to be a part of a SaaS company really allowed me to progress, get new opportunities, and create new skillsets which has led me to this stage now, leading this team.
How is your team structured at Vision Critical?
All the customer-facing teams share a similar structure, where there is a VP who leads that Customer Success Group. Each team has one to two Customer Success Directors and they have a team of Customer Success Managers. Having this structure helps our customers understand who they have a day-to-day relationship with, and the larger support they have.
In the majority of cases, our Customers are introduced to individuals from their Customer Success team prior to the actual sale closing. They know that they are going to be their points of contact throughout the entire process and relationship with Vision Critical.
So it’s a really clear relationship, and makes it easy for our customers to understand who to deal with and all of the different focuses. The Customer Success Managers are very executional and they really do own the day-to-day relationship, whereas the Directors are really more focused on creating the relationships with higher-level executives and making sure they are getting the value.
How have you seen that structure change over the last 8 years?
8 years ago, it wasn’t even Customer Success -- it was Account Management.
A few years ago, we merged a couple of the customer-facing teams together and called that group Customer Success. Considering we are a SaaS organization and where we wanted to take those two customer-facing teams, we knew it was the right thing to do, and it has been.
Where we have evolved, even over the last 2 years, is we have spent a lot of time now creating supporting roles within Customer Success. Those supporting roles are looking at process improvement, training, documentation, and the development of playbooks. They are really helping the customer-facing teams be successful and that’s where I’ve seen a major change in our Customer Success structure.
So you have a Success Team for your Customer Success Team?
What’s the biggest advantage of your team structure?
It’s really the clarity that we’ve created with regards to people’s roles and communicating that to our customers. Also, having those supporting roles has allowed our team to focus on different things and have the Customer Success Manager role evolve.
For a lot of our customers, this is maybe their first time getting into the Customer Intelligence space because it’s still relatively new within the industry. They are kind of limited to their own experience, which is sometimes minimal. What they really rely on us to do is provide those best practices and say, “This is what you should/shouldn’t be doing” -- and our structure really allows us to accomplish that.
What’s the biggest challenge of your team structure? How do you address it?
We have Customer Success Teams globally, and one of the challenges we have is linking the communication between those teams so that people feel like it is easy to learn from each other.
We deal with over 750 Insight Communities, so there are tons of stories out there. It has always been a challenge for us to take that information, bring it together and make it easily accessible for the Customer Success Team to take advantage of.
We spend a lot of time trying to figure that out and develop some new communications systems, but it’s still something we need to really focus on.
What does the culture look like at Vision Critical?
We really try to create a very fun and enjoyable environment. People are spending a large portion of their day here, so we want people to enjoy it. We’re really focused on that.
One thing we always talk about is that title does not dictate the opportunity you have. Some organizations are very hierarchical, but we definitely have an open door policy.
We also really want people to take advantage of the skill sets they have and give them opportunities to build new skill sets. So one of the things we have done recently, is create cross-functional teams. Some within Customer Success, and some that take you outside of Customer Success. We are really trying to give people the opportunity to see progression and skill set development that is not necessarily connected to a title or a job change.
How have you seen the culture change over the last 8 years?
Where we have seen some changes is within understanding that we should look at our organic growth as a big opportunity for revenue. This has created a real partnership between Customer Success and Sales and more ongoing dialogue.
Customer Success is feeling more confident in what they bring to the table in acquiring new customers or growing accounts organically, and Sales is seeing what Customer Success can bring to the table in helping acquire new Customers. That’s a pretty big change that really started as a movement at the Executive Level.
What’s a typical day look like on your team?
When we hire people, we tell them, “it might be hard for you to believe, but two years from now, you will still be learning new things and you’ll still be tested by a Customer in a way you haven’t been tested before.” Our team is talking to their customers and supporting them by offering best practices, tips, and tricks. It’s really a relationship management focus and making sure that that customer’s voice is heard.
Sales loves to reach out and get references and Marketing might reach out and get Case Studies, so really Customer Success puts that all together and really makes sure that it’s a nice experience for our customers.
On a day-to-day basis we want Customer Success Managers to communicate with each other and support each other. We have a lot of people who have been in the Customer Success role for a long time, and that wealth of experience needs to help and foster growth within our entire team.
Our CSMs are always working to make new connections within their customer’s organization. They want everybody within that organization to understand the valuable customer learning tool that is available to them. CSMs help our customers to provide internal sharebacks across their organization, driving awareness and increasing usage. As relationships and the platform evolve our CSMs look to create even deeper insights for our customers by helping them integrate other data with their insight data.
What role does Customer Success have in enhancing the product?
We are very much into the Beta programs for our platform and we loop in our customers very early when developing new features to get their feedback. Our customers really enjoy being a part of that process. Customer Success plays an important role in that by partnering the Product team and the customer together and then being apart of those communications to make sure everything is progressing well.
How has your user base changed since you started at Vision Critical?
When I started, our traditional customers were Market Research Professionals who were focused on Consumer Insights. What we’ve been seeing over the last 12 months is that as companies change; other departments, not just Consumer Insights, actually want to have the ability to talk, engage, and interact with customers. We are seeing an uptake in Product Development, Customer Experience, and HR departments taking advantage of our platform. We are seeing a change and that is making our platform available to a broader audience.
What blogs or news sites are you reading at the moment?
I mainly read what is on LinkedIn because I am connected to different people in Customer Success and a lot of Customer Success Platform organizations. I find there is a lot of thought leadership and best practices. I do go to the actual Customer Success Platforms sites because they have blogs, webinars, and videos to watch.
When we are are talking about our customers, we follow them all on Google Alerts, just to see what is going on with their businesses. What that allows us to do is have conversations with our customers and say “I saw this in the news about you, have you thought about using our platform to gain this insight?” This is another way for us to help our customer find better ways to use the tool, as it has created business development opportunities and it creates a better understanding of our customer’s business.
What do you think is the most powerful part of your Customer Success process?
Probably one of the newest parts of our process is that we involve Customer Success very early on in the Sales process. That has been a very strategic and major change for our organization over the last year. 12 months ago, Customer Success didn’t get involved until the deal was signed.
Customer Success is now usually involved before the deal even hits 50%. What that allows us to do is set expectations properly for our customers and really showcase the value the Customer Success Team will bring to the relationship.
It allows us to have richer or fuller conversations with the customer during the Sales process. Before there was probably some hesitation to bring us to the table but they are now understanding the value we bring. That has been our single largest change that we have made over the last 12 months and we are seeing huge results from it.
This helps our customers feel confident with the investment they are making.
How do you think Vision Critical’s processes differs from your competitors?
I think where we differ from our competitors is we are not just focused on closing the sale, getting them onboarded and then talking to them only when they are at risk or upsell a new product.
We are focused on those aspects but where we really differ is everything in between in helping the customer be successful in getting value by providing best practices and use cases. That is where we have a major difference compared to our competitors who just don’t have that same relationship and that same focus. We develop a really close relationship and in some cases they see us as an extension of their team.
What types of metrics do you watch closely?
One that is near and dear to my heart is Employee Satisfaction. I believe it is the foundation for everything else because if you don’t have solid Employee Satisfaction, a lot of your other metrics will not be meeting their objectives.
Assuming that is in place, some of the other metrics that we are looking at is ACV Growth and Organic Growth compared to Churn. We like to look at our Net Revenue to our Labor Ratio and we use that to ensure that we are going to be meeting our profitability targets and as a trigger to hire new CSMs. We are looking as CSAT and platform usage. It important for us to look at the metrics that come out of our platform to make sure it’s being used to it’s full potential and helps us identify any possible customers that are at risk.
How important do you think managing your customer relationships is to the success of Vision Critical’s platform?
It’s played a major role because I don’t think any technology can be designed to meet every single need that a person would have using that technology. Customer Success is able to bridge any gaps and have that ongoing dialogue with the customer, so they get insight into where we are going as an organization and where our platform is going.
How can you tell that you’ve made your customer successful?
It's really through the stories they share with us and the stories they share back with their own customers. There is no greater satisfaction that I get then walking out of a meeting and understanding how our platform has fundamentally changed how these companies interact with their customers.
That’s how we know that we have made an impact on their organization.
What does Success look like to you in your everyday life?
It’s knowing that my team is happy, satisfied, and is looking forward to coming into work. I have been blessed because for the last 8 years, I look forward to coming into work every day and working with the great people I get to work with. That is something I want to make sure my team has.
Hearing them have those conversations with customers, and seeing them be excited by the success a customer has had -- that is something I really enjoy seeing.
What’s one piece of advice you have for Customer Success Professionals looking to scale their team?
I think the most important piece of advice is really setting the right expectations with your customers. It’s really important for Customer Success Managers to know when to say “yes” but also know when to say “no”. When you understand that and when you’ve got that mentality within your team, then things like becoming more scalable, and process improvement, efficiencies, and customers satisfaction will fall into place. It starts with setting the right expectations with your customers and then meeting them.