Did you miss the arrival of our new interview series Between Two Churns back in October as part of our Halloween campaign? Well, we’re back!
Less gory, equally horrifying story! This time, told by Ashna Patel, co-founder CS Insider & CS Ladies, and Manager of Customer Success & Customer Support at Ascent Cloud. As always, hosted by our very own Remco de Vries and his impeccably styled hair.
Watch or listen to the conversation below to find out how to handle a renewal when all your contacts get laid off.
Forgot your headphones? No problem. Check out the transcript of the conversation below.
Remco De Vries (00:10): Hi, Ashna, and welcome to Between two Churns. This will be a quick interview about a customer success or a customer story but with a twist. We will be focusing on only the most horrific, frightening, and ghastly situations that are out there that are either leading to or almost leading to customer churn. We all love it, right? It’s like a good soap opera retold by the person that lived it and, most importantly, based on a true story. And I’m super happy that this time that person is you. We finally meet. Yay!
Ashna Patel (00:48): I’m so excited. I’m so excited to be here. You’re right. I’m so happy to be here. And I’m just pumped. Yeah.
Remco De Vries (00:55): No, it’s good.
Ashna Patel (00:55): Can’t wait to share mine.
Remco De Vries (00:56): These stories need telling. Briefly, tell us who you are and also how you feel.
Ashna Patel (01:03): I feel scared. I’m just kidding. To be able to relive something that went through and so I’m feeling … emotions are all over the place. Hey everyone, this is Ashna Patel. I am the manager of customer success and support at Ascent Cloud and I’m also a co-founder of CS Insider and CS Ladies, some of the organizations that you might have come around on LinkedIn.
Remco De Vries (01:27):
Ashna Patel (01:27):
So, here I am.
Remco De Vries (01:28):
Which are awesome, so if you don’t follow those, go do it now. And I also have to say that you’re super brave because you’re now one of the few that basically venture out into a knowledge-hungry world telling the stories as they are, the terrible tales as they happen instead of the usual, “Let’s double NRR, and this is how we did it,” type stories. Those are important, as well, but these, I think …
Ashna Patel (01:54): I agree.
Remco De Vries (01:54):… Are a lot more fun.
Ashna Patel (01:54): It’s not always pretty. That’s what it is.
Remco De Vries (01:56): No, and it shouldn’t be. No.
Ashna Patel (01:56):It shouldn’t be.
Remco De Vries (01:56):Exactly.
Ashna Patel (02:00): And the pretty wouldn’t be there without the ugly and whatever.
Remco De Vries (02:04): Exactly. 100% true.
Ashna Patel (02:06): Yeah.
Remco De Vries (02:06): So, shall we get to it?
Ashna Patel (02:09): Let’s do it.
Remco De Vries (02:10): Awesome. Okay. I said this last time and I love it so I’m going to do it again. Let’s assume we’re at a digital campfire right now and please set the stage for us.
Ashna Patel (02:20): All right. This was … What was it? October, November of 2019 I want to say? This was around the Halloween time a couple of years ago so I think it was just meant to be happening at this time. But this was the time when I was a customer success manager. I had a book of business and I was … We also have … We used to have renewals back then, so I was working at renewals, too.
Ashna Patel (02:48): The story is about a renewal that I almost lost but … That gives a little bit of a … I almost … almost.
Remco De Vries (02:58): It’s going to be good.
Ashna Patel (02:58): But there’s more to it. There’s more to it because … I think I was mentioning earlier, this is a story about when it rains, it pours. So basically, when it comes at you it just comes at you with all arms and everything that it can.
Ashna Patel (03:12): What happened is I had this customer … It wasn’t really the top of my book of business, my ARR customer, but it was still an important customer. We have been renewing with them multi-year for the longest time, so it was a long-time customer. We had a good relationship with them and I actually ended up going to visit them. I think it was a few months before the renewal time … the period. And I think they were in New York or Texas; one or the other.
Ashna Patel (03:41): Anyways, I visited them and I think on the site when I [inaudible 00:03:45] them, and it was me and the account manager so we teamed up and we talked to the team, our main points of contact, some of the champions. We talked about the drill when you go visit them. You talk about all the fun stuff. And we walked out pretty happy with everything. They were looking good, they were happy and the usage was good. All stats were … Everything was looking good.
Ashna Patel (04:08): We had some follow-up items that we needed to work on and we decided that we’ll come to those. We wanted to give them a little bit of time. “Everything is looking okay so let’s just pause for a little bit, you guys do what you need to do and then we’ll reach out again.”
Ashna Patel (04:24): I think it was after a month or so of visiting and the account manager tried to reach out for the check-in … I’m saying check-in. Never say check-in.
Remco De Vries (04:36):Oo. Oo.
Ashna Patel (04:36): But they tried to reach out and we didn’t hear back from them so then … We work as a team so part of the strategy was, “Okay, fine. Now I’ll try and I’ll ping my point of contact,” and other things. Again, usage is still looking okay so we weren’t really concerned but the renewal was around the corner. It’s one of those things, so I reached out again. Nothing. And this went on for almost … I think we usually reach … We used to reach out 90 days in advance. That’s when we start our cycle.
Remco De Vries (05:11): Yeah.
Ashna Patel (05:12): With the renewal. So this reaching out, reaching out went on for, I think … Almost, I want to say, a couple of months. And we just couldn’t … It’s just like nobody was responding. And we tried …
Remco De Vries (05:22): Getting increasingly stressed.
Ashna Patel (05:23): Yeah. Yeah. To give you some ideas, I was expecting another multi-year with this because that’s what they’ve been doing with us. We had a good meeting with them. I see a good potential with them. So, fine. And then we reach out and somehow after trying, trying, trying, trying … I think this is 15 days before the renewal, we got ahold of someone. And they said the main point of contact had left the company.
Remco De Vries (05:50): Oh, no.
Ashna Patel (05:52): But then I was like, “Okay, fine. It wasn’t the only person we talked to. There are more people. So get us connected with someone else.” And they said, “All the people that were a part of and responsible for this were let go.”
Remco De Vries (06:05): Oh, no. And this happened right after your meeting?
Ashna Patel (06:08): Yeah. And so I was like, “What did we do?” And now my … I tell you, I remember this. I had a 30-second pause. I was on a call with them and I literally had a 30-second silent pause because I was like … In my mind, I was like, “I’m screwed,” basically. Renewal is gone. I was expecting a multi-year. I’m not even going to get a one year because I… Thinking about a situation in a way that i was expecting something thinking they know what they’re talking about, they know what that did. But now not just one person, the entire team, is let go who are really our main people to work with.
Remco De Vries (06:51): So you have to start over.
Ashna Patel (06:52): I’m putting … Yeah, start over. And this is 15 days before the renewal or something along the lines of those. Keep in mind where we are right now. I’m going to tell you another part of the story real quick. In the beginning, one of the reasons why we went to visit them was also to give them a little bit of a thank you. They referred us to another branch earlier and our salesperson was working on that pilot or another deal with them, which was a different branch, different people, but it was somehow affiliated or associated with this company that we used to work with.
Ashna Patel (07:31): The reason why I bring this up is, because again, the timing has to be perfect because at the time of renewal when this was happening we weren’t getting hold of anyone. I had to find out from the salesperson that they had closed the deal; the other deal that we were working on. It was small … It was a pilot but that was closed. And then they had some struggle even in the sale cycle with them because they were high-demand customers, whatever, whatever. There’s a lot of situations. Maybe they wanted something more custom and X, Y and Z.
Ashna Patel (08:07): I think what they did is like, “Well, it makes sense, Ashna, for you to be on this because not only you had a relationship with this other customer as a CSM, which are related even if they’re not the same thing. It’s just that high, up in the chain kind of customer who would love for you to be on it.” I was like, “Fine, let’s do it.” We had a little bit of a hand-off call and then in the hand-off I explained … It was explained to me that they had some struggle in the beginning and that it might be hard because the person that we were working with, they did do a pilot but it was really … It was hands-on for them. Our team didn’t really get so involved, so there wasn’t much that we knew what was going on on their side. But still, they wanted this solution, they went with it and all that good stuff.
Ashna Patel (09:00): Now, coming back to the previous story about the renewal … Again, I’m taking us to two different places but bear with me.
Remco De Vries (09:06): Yeah.
Ashna Patel (09:06): Coming back to the renewal story, I got off a call … That call that I had about them basically let me know that everybody left, basically. There was a weird situation, I guess. But somehow I bought some time. I told them, “It’s okay but we would still like to have at least one with the new person that we’re working with here or looking at all your vendors and who your solutions are and what they are and all that situation and we would like to just get a chance to talk to them just to understand where are you, what your expectations are, what you’re trying to solve and then see if this really fits in or not. Starting fresh, basically.”
Ashna Patel (09:54):I was trying to buy time. I was trying to buy time so I can pause, reflect, create a plan, strategize with our team, and …
Remco De Vries (10:02):Smart.
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Ashna Patel (10:03): Yeah. Go in with what we can. So, I bought some time, and on this other side, around the same time, I was getting ready for this hand-off with this other customer, the branch. The different branches. On a hand-off what happens is … Here’s a disclaimer. Salespeople … And everybody, actually … Try not to joke around with customers that take your relationship seriously because it doesn’t go well. It doesn’t go well sometimes.
Ashna Patel (10:38): What happens, though. We get on a call and I was already … I was a CSM but also transitioning into being a team lead and some other things that were going to happen. And again, even with being a CSM, I’ve always had my schedule … My calendar, it’s just crazy book. And I think … I believe there was a place where our salesperson tried to maybe joke around about it, that, “We were trying to schedule time with you but Ashna here is always so busy.” That didn’t go well. They took the joke in that time but what happened is I went through the whole … my kick-off deck and everything and the hand-off was great but then we realized that because they did the testing and all of it, they thought that we were supposed to give them something that we can’t, I guess.
Ashna Patel (11:30): There was a bit of a … Expectations weren’t set right and all that and it just … Not a good start because they wanted to start yesterday and they started today and from a customer standpoint, it’s just like everything came together for them.
Remco De Vries (11:47): Yeah.
Ashna Patel (11:49): Keep in mind, back in my mind I’m thinking, “Well, maybe even if I’m losing this other customer, the big one that I wanted to have a multi-year, I still might have some chance to go back to them using this new relationship that we’re trying.”
Remco De Vries (12:04): Exactly, yeah.
Ashna Patel (12:04): “That we’re building.” This was in the back of my mind. When I’m onboarding a new customer, it’s important for me to set a good … start a good relationship with them. But it was even more important because that could potentially help me save, today or in the long-run, this other one.
Ashna Patel (12:27): What happens is … All of this is going on so basically, this other customer is potentially … I’m losing. Technically, it could have been two or three years. And then this customer here is just not happy with all of this. And the last thing that happens is to put my anxiety level to … I don’t even know. It’s just shooting up in the sky. We send out a survey. And this is … Again, we have different surveys we send out to our customers for the onboarding ones and for the other customers. Somehow …
Remco De Vries (13:04): So the survey was to rate the onboarding experience, then?
Ashna Patel (13:06): Yes. There is a different one for that.
Remco De Vries (13:09):Yeah.
Ashna Patel (13:09): And we weren’t ready to send that out yet.
Remco De Vries (13:12): Okay.
Ashna Patel (13:13): Because onboarding had just started. So I was like, “Wait a minute. Let’s not rush into this. This customer is not 100% happy so let me at least try to make them happy and then …”
Remco De Vries (13:23): Send the survey.
Ashna Patel (13:24): We want to get feedback but maybe sometimes a better story. And then we had another customer survey that goes out to the customer at a certain time in a cycle. I think it’s just like, “How are you feeling? How are you doing? Is there anything that we can do better?” Along the lines of those. Somehow … And again, I don’t know how and what happened, but that other survey went to this customer …
Remco De Vries (13:47): Oh, no.
Ashna Patel (13:47): … Who was not supposed to receive … Like I said, when it rains it pours. And we get this survey back with this customer that he’s just basically expressing, “My expectations are not met.” I had one call with this customer. I’m telling you, one call. And everything. “They weren’t set right. The person we were supposed to meet, her schedule is always so booked up.” It’s coming back. And all of that.
Ashna Patel (14:17): And that survey actually goes to, I think … We have a small company so it goes to our marketing team, I believe. A lot of people can see it.
Remco De Vries (14:26):Yeah.
Ashna Patel (14:26):That’s how it’s built in the company. So a lot of people saw it and I’m telling you … I’m not even trying to praise or product or solutions or services but we don’t get negative surveys that often so when it does …
Remco De Vries (14:40):So, it was a shock.
Ashna Patel (14:40):… It’s a big deal. Yeah. It was like, “What?” And especially from a customer that’s just starting out. And people know about what’s going on and then all of a sudden I just start getting all these messages. “What happened? What happened?”
Remco De Vries (14:57): Exactly. So the new customer was like, “Okay, I had one call with her and she’s already sending me this survey so that’s all I’m going to have so I’m going to let loose in the survey.” And then everyone internally was like, “Okay, Ashna. I don’t know what you did on the call with this customer but this is not great.”
Ashna Patel (15:16): No, no, no. Yeah. And then in my mind now I see it and I am … That’s when I was … I think this was around the end of the day so there wasn’t much that I could have been able to do anyway that day. And I remember that night I was stressed. I was pretty stressed because I’m not only losing a customer, a renewal that I could have had for two … And I’m even losing hope to win that renewal and also there’s another customer that could be a renewal. So, this is a …
Ashna Patel (15:53): So, what happens the next day, the first thing I do is … Well, not even the next day. The same day, I reach out to the customer and … The new customer. For the new customer, I reach out to them and be like, “Let’s schedule a call tomorrow, first thing. I know it’s late for you.” I think they’re on East Coast. “I know it’s late for you. Let’s get on a call tomorrow and let’s talk about this,” as in we got your review and we’re sad that you’re feeling this way. That was not the intention so let’s just get on a call and talk about this. So, that’s done.
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Ashna Patel (16:24): And then on the other side, I create a plan, as in work with the account manager who’s like, “Okay, well now we only have one chance to win this renewal and that is not going to be by this other customer. It’s got a long, long shot. We’re just going to have to come up with something and let’s put together …” We put together a slide deck thinking that we will have to present the solution thinking that we will have to talk about why is it important for them? Thinking … We tried to do all the research that we can in the next … whatever. And put together a plan before our half-hour call that we got with this customer. The customer that was already … That I was working on a renewal with.
Ashna Patel (17:06): There are two different ways … plans going on. The next morning I did get on a call with the new customer and you got to go with the feelings part first; empathize and all that. All the things that we talk about. I did and I genuinely felt for … I tried to put myself in their shoes. Like what would you think if you were trying to get help …
Remco De Vries (17:30): Of course, yeah.
Ashna Patel (17:31): … To try to resolve something and he could … they could be under certain pressure and they needed some … And they’re not getting the right help. They don’t even think this is the right product for them after purchasing it and now it’s … And put in a place where they’re asking to write something. So, I went with empathy, and then I was completely honest that it was a mess-up. “This is what happened. It wasn’t intended for you but I’m glad that you got it and I’m glad that we had the review because now I know exactly what you’re feeling. I can help you.”
Remco De Vries (18:06):Yeah. So you owned it. That’s good.
Ashna Patel (18:07): Exactly. Exactly. We did that and I think he really liked it… Yeah. They really liked it. And we worked it out. We worked it out as in, “Here’s what you need. Let’s backtrack a little bit. Expectations weren’t set but here’s where we are, here’s what we can help with, here’s how I can support, here’s the plan, and all that. And I’m telling you I will clear off my schedule for you so you don’t have to worry about my schedule and I’ll work that out.” I had to …
Remco De Vries (18:39):You had to say that. Yeah.
Ashna Patel (18:40):Yeah.
Remco De Vries (18:40): After the joke.
Ashna Patel (18:42): And I did. And I did. I actually did. And I think within a week … I believe we got another review from him and that was all positive. That part worked out well but it was a moment of … It’s just not … I think for me was that we don’t typically get negative reviews but when you do, it is a shock but also, it’s going out to everyone basically.
Remco De Vries (19:12): Yeah.
Ashna Patel (19:12): And it’s just a question.
Remco De Vries (19:15): Yeah.
Ashna Patel (19:15): Of what’s happening.
Remco De Vries (19:17): I think there’s a super important lesson in there already because I know that a lot of SAS companies actually usually do these types of reviews, submit them to their Slack directly through their ops person or something else and everyone gets to see it because basically, everyone needs to see customer feedback. It’s important for everyone. But I can also imagine that if you’re the CSM on an account that gets really negative feedback that can also put you down, in a way. But for you, it didn’t. You actually owned it. You turned it around. Then you get that positive review a week later. That’s probably even better than getting the positive review immediately, right?
Ashna Patel (19:56): Exactly.
Remco De Vries (19:56): That’s you show your worth to the entire company.
Ashna Patel (19:59):Exactly.
Remco De Vries (19:59): It’s like, “Okay, look at how negative this guy was. Look at how good I am that I got him to turn around.” That’s awesome.
Ashna Patel (20:05): Exactly.
Remco De Vries (20:06): Yeah.
Ashna Patel (20:06): Yeah. Yeah. So that’s done and then the other side, this other one, the other renewal that we had that was pending is … I want to say it took us at least six-seven months or even eight. We had to do some extension to be able to prove them because what happened is when we did get on a call with them and he was really happy that we had a plan to talk to him about it. But I think before even presenting our plan and just going in there with, “We can do this and that,” and whatever, whatever, we took time to understand, “Why is it not important for you anymore that used to be? And what changed? Now, we know something big must have happened because you let go of so many people. Are you changing the way that you work? What are the changes that you’re adding and how can we support them?”
Ashna Patel (20:57): And we were flexible with how we can support in terms of the renewal-wise, too. We weren’t so … I think we didn’t want to force them to be closed into something. We wanted to give them a chance, but at the same time, we also wanted to make sure that for us to be able to give you a chance, you give us a chance to work with you to see if this could still be a solution for you.
Remco De Vries (21:21): Yeah.
Ashna Patel (21:22): I think that’s the approach that we went with, which is … Typically when you’re trying to negotiate, that’s where you give and get an approach that you go with.
Remco De Vries (21:32): Yeah, that’s awesome.
Ashna Patel (21:33): So, it took us seven-eight months but we did … One thing, we didn’t get a multi-year but at least we secured them for another year, so there’s that.
Remco De Vries (21:41): There you go. Did you feel like you had to basically re-sell them on the value of your solution? Or was it more so that they had gone through such a big organizational change that value didn’t really matter anymore. They just decided that this didn’t fit anymore.
Ashna Patel (22:04): Value, I think, mattered but I feel like when you … Imagine when … If you’re put in a place where maybe you’re starting out something new or taking over of something and you have all this … They might have had 50 vendors that they used to work with or this team was working with. And more than half of them were just … People had no idea why they were there. They were maybe being renewed or whatever reason.
Remco De Vries (22:32):Yeah.
Ashna Patel (22:32): It’s just like you go in as a new person trying to … cost, budget, all of that matters to you and even the human resource that’s being used. I think for them it was more around … I think we had to prove that even for a few users it was valuable that they can … I don’t even think we were proving … we were trying to prove the value for them to renew everything. We were just trying to prove that this is something that you used for a reason and even if you don’t have that reason anymore, today, there are other reasons that I’m sure … We were sure that you’ll find it and this is why it’s useful for you. And because we had that relationship in the past, let’s just at least brainstorm on how you can use it and go with it.
Remco De Vries (23:20): Yeah. Exactly.
Ashna Patel (23:21): That was the approach.
Remco De Vries (23:22): Awesome. I think there’s a super valuable lesson in there. Maybe as a final question, because this story basically started with multiple stakeholders leaving … Obviously, in customer success stakeholder management, always a thing.
Ashna Patel (23:38): Yeah.
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Remco De Vries (23:39): And then usually … At least what I’ve seen or read or heard about stakeholder management, usually the advice is more so like, “Don’t make sure that you only work within our case.” For example, the community manager but also makes sure that you know the VP of this. So, basically, go a couple of layers deeper.
Ashna Patel (23:58): Yeah.
Remco De Vries (23:58): Don’t always stick with just the person that is using your tool or the person that has been there for the project.
Ashna Patel (24:04): Yeah.
Remco De Vries (24:04): Would you say in this story that there was a different way to do stakeholder management? Or was this just an outlier and this is basically worst-case stakeholder management for CS ever?
Ashna Patel (24:18): I think it was a bit of an outlier because … And why I say this is because there were multiple people involved and it was just the situation where we were out of luck of getting hold of any one of them because of what happened; the change that happened. And change happens. But I think what I would say is … which is a little bit different than the stakeholder … is that we could have done a better job of hearing them.
Remco De Vries (24:41): Yeah.
Ashna Patel (24:41): And what I mean by that is we visited them. We looked at the stats. We were right on all the information. And it’s good and stuff but I’m sure there was something that I … I can try to sit here, go back to my visit with them. I’m sure there was something that we missed out on because we were focused on how happy they were with everything that was going on that we just didn’t. It’s like hearing them when they’re not even talking situation, I think. That, I feel like we could have done a little bit better. Yeah.
Ashna Patel (25:15): But I think with the stakeholders I feel like … I don’t think it was the worst. I don’t think. I mean we were a couple of layers here and there. We had multiple people. But at the same time, maybe because we didn’t hear them we weren’t really aware of what was really happening in the company.
Remco De Vries (25:31): Yeah, exactly.
Ashna Patel (25:32): I think we were just aware of what was happening with our solution and how it was helping them and all that. But even when … Even though we knew so many people, we didn’t know what was going on with them.
Remco De Vries (25:44): Yeah.
Ashna Patel (25:45): Or not that much. So I think that’s the part that I think we could have done better.
Remco De Vries (25:49): Awesome. I love this story. I love this story as someone that hears it, not someone that lives it. I probably wouldn’t want to be in your shoes, basically, being stressed about this for …
Ashna Patel (26:03): No.
Remco De Vries (26:04): In your case, eventually, months.
Ashna Patel (26:06): Yeah.
Remco De Vries (26:07): Because you spent a couple of months on actually securing the new deal on the old contract, as well. So kudos to actually solving that and not losing them because I think that’s really difficult, I feel, in this situation. And also, kudos on actually sharing it with us.
Ashna Patel (26:23): Of course.
Remco De Vries (26:25): And everyone. I think this is such an amazing story so that was super cool.
Ashna Patel (26:27): Thank you.
Remco De Vries (26:29): And thank you for coming on.
Ashna Patel (26:30): Thank you.
Remco De Vries (26:32): I really had a lot of fun. This is the second episode so they’re getting better and better. I love this. Super awe