Customer Success 40 min read

Podcast: Data-Driven Customer Success Teams

Anika Zubair • July 12, 2021

In Episode 13 of The inSide Scoop on Customer Success, we tackle a very important topic: Data-Driven Customer Teams. Listen in as our VP of Customer Success and podcast hostess with the mostess, Anika Zubair, talks to Pat Phelan, Chief Customer Officer at GoCardless.

Making sense of data isn't an easy task for any manager, but how do you choose the most important metrics, what sort of KPIs should a company that has 70,000 customers be looking at, and how to stay on top of all that data? These are just some of the important questions that we'll be covering in today's podcast.

Forgot your headphones? No problem. Check out the transcript of the conversation below. Don't forget to follow The inSide Scoop on Customer Success over on Spotify!

 

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Show Notes + Links:

  1. Connect with Pat Phelan on LinkedIn
  2. Looker
  3. Looker community
  4. Open Book of Customer Success

Anika Zubair (01:44): Welcome Pat to the podcast. I'm really excited to have you today. Before we get into today's topic, can you please tell our listeners a little bit more about yourself, how you started in customer success and how you ended up as Chief Customer Officer at GoCardless?

Pat Phelan (02:01): Yeah, happy to. Great to be here, Anika. Thanks for asking me. So yeah, I'm Pat. I'm the Chief Customer Officer at GoCardless, as you mentioned. GoCardless is a recurring payments platform that operates on the bank to bank reel. So we help, gosh, over 70,000 customers now collect recurring payments from their customers around the globe. My journey in customer success, as I've said many times before, I was in customer success before it was a thing. I kind of started really in the on-premise software world, which gives an indication, I suppose, of how long I've been in the game. Started in sort of client relationship management, account management before we really knew that customer success was an actual concept. It was very much more on the commercially-oriented side of things and then really evolved into it and sort of had rules at IC level and for a second-line management into VP level, and ultimately ended up where I am now at GoCardless. Been with the company for two years now and loving every minute of it.

Anika Zubair (03:09): Awesome. Wow. 70,000 customers. We're definitely going to talk a little bit more about how you're handling that many customers at scale and how you're collecting that data. But before we get into today's topic, all around customer success teams and the data that they need, I thought it would be good for us to warm up, like in any good sport.

Pat Phelan (03:27): Absolutely. Yeah.

Anika Zubair (03:28): Let's start with some warm-up questions. My first question for you is, are you an Apple or Google person?

Pat Phelan (03:36): Yeah, that's an interesting one. I want to be Google, but I'm totally Apple. They've got me sucked into the ecosystem. I simply can't get out anymore. I tried to get an Android about probably seven years ago and it was absolutely disastrous, couldn't operate my life at all, was complaining about the graphics on the phone. They just looked crap compared to Apple. So yeah, I've succumbed. I'm actually in the process of buying just an obscene amount of Apple tech at the moment for the family. It's kind of depressing how much of... I mean, I'm drinking the Kool-Aid now. So I definitely have to say I'm reluctantly completely an Apple person.

Anika Zubair (04:15): I love how they just get you in. They just hook you in.

Pat Phelan (04:19): It's amazing. But it just shows you the value of... There's a guy called Scott Galloway. I don't know if you've ever come across him. If you haven't, he's worth following. He calls it a rundle and Apple have this rundle recurring bundle that's just impossible to break out of when you throw TV in there, your phone in there, your iOS, your music. Like it's just, you can't get rid of them. It's impossible.

Anika Zubair (04:45): That's the new SaaS, a rundle.

Pat Phelan (04:45): Absolutely. A rundle, yeah. Yeah. I really like it. Absolutely love it. I love the term, really resonated with me.

Anika Zubair (04:51): Yeah. That's really great. It's going to stick with me now too.

Pat Phelan (04:53): Yeah. Yeah.

Anika Zubair (04:53): Awesome. Next question, dog or cat?

Pat Phelan (04:56): Neither.

Anika Zubair (04:57): Oh, wow. Okay.

Pat Phelan (05:00): I'm not an animal person. It always gets weird looks from people. It's amazing actually, how judgy people get when you say you just don't like animals, as opposed to which one you like or don't like. But yeah, I grew up with dogs and cats in Ireland. And yeah, it's never done it for me at all. I'm fighting that fight here at the moment, constantly with a 12-year-old daughter and an eight-year-old son who are literally at the point of doing PowerPoints to try to convince me to get a dog, but I still haven't cracked. I still haven't cracked.

Anika Zubair (05:31): I love that they put together a PowerPoint

Pat Phelan (05:32): Oh, yeah. I got a presentation two weeks ago downstairs. My daughter came down with her presentation. It was seven slides, very compelling. It finished with the quote "remember, a house is not a home without a pet", which I thought was pretty impressive and when a seven-year-old and an eight-year-old and a 12-year-old say that to you, it wobbles you, but I stood firm. I stood firm.

Anika Zubair (05:58): It sounds like she has a really strong future in sales, if she's closing with strong closing lines.

Pat Phelan (06:03): Do you know what, she's pretty... I would say more probably the PR potentially the kind of marketing world, because she's certainly locked on the emotive angle. That's for sure. She did that naturally. That had nothing to do with me.

Anika Zubair (06:17): Oh, that's too good.

Pat Phelan (06:19): I know. I know.

Anika Zubair (06:19): Awesome. One more before we jump into today's topic. If you were stuck on a desert island, which three things would you bring with you, and why?

Pat Phelan (06:29): That's a tricky one. Probably, being completely practical, a water desalinator probably just purely because-

Anika Zubair (06:37): That's pretty practical.

Pat Phelan (06:38): My mind goes to survival. I think the second thing would have to be my golf clubs and there's no rhyme or reason on a desert island other than I just wouldn't be able to survive without some interaction with golf in some way, shape or form. I was going to say my family, but when I think about the consequences of that, it's probably better that I didn't bring them all. So I think the third one would be probably something around music, the ability to play it and listen to it to keep me sane.

Anika Zubair (07:11): Awesome. I was going to say, maybe it's tough bringing all those kids without the dog or cat because that could drive you crazy.

Pat Phelan (07:17): Well, this is it. Yeah. Yeah. And even though it sounds like, oh, that's very sweet to bring your family, conceptually taking them away from their life to survive on a desert island is probably not the best decision I could make.

Anika Zubair (07:29): Probably not. Awesome. And before we jump into today's topic, what inspired you to work in customer success or get started in the customer field?

Pat Phelan (07:39): Yeah. Yeah, that's really interesting. I wasn't inspired. It was a journey. I never consciously made a decision to work in this industry. I was very much, I found myself in the industry because it aligned very well with my own natural talents, if I'm being totally frank with you. So it wasn't necessarily something that I kind of woke up and thought, I'm desperate to be part of. I just actually found myself at every step in my career, going more and more towards that because I was just very good at it.

Pat Phelan (08:20): Again, I'll play the Irish card here, I think it took a long time for me to acknowledge that these were actually skills that I had as opposed to just being good with people, if that makes sense, because the common preconception of Irish folks is we are very adaptable. We are pretty friendly people and we can engage with multiple types and different types of people at any time. But as soon as I realized it was something I was actually very good at and that I could leverage as a skill, then customer success really became, okay, this feels like the right world for me. So yeah, it was something that evolved over time rather than being a very explicit decision on my part.

Anika Zubair (09:06): Well, that's a unique story as well. And I think it's really awesome to hear everyone's story about how to get into CS, but it's nice that it naturally evolved for you and that it just seemed to fit with your personality type. And also what drives you and your behaviors-

Pat Phelan (09:18): Exactly.

Anika Zubair (09:18):... which is also really, really unique in CS, because I think you need to have certain behaviors to be able to be successful in customer success in the long run.

Pat Phelan (09:26): You do.

Anika Zubair (09:26): So glad you figured that one out.

Pat Phelan (09:29): Yeah. Yeah. By default, if nothing else.

Anika Zubair (09:32): Awesome. So today I want to talk more about data-driven customer teams. And I know you mentioned that you guys have 70,000 customers at GoCardless, and I think you have a pretty diverse customer success or customer team as well. And data is becoming more and more critical, more and more important as SaaS companies or any tech company scales. And I would love to hear from you, how did you guys actually start becoming more data-driven at GoCardless? And when do you think a company should start building data analytics into their customer team?

Pat Phelan (10:10): Yeah. Yeah. I kind of look at this from a couple of lenses. So if I look at the evolution of GoCardless, when I joined two years ago, we were a super analytical company. I mean, we had instances and environments that I've not seen before in any organization that I've ever worked with. We had product data that you literally had at the flip of a switch. We were using, I think it was Tableau at the time, but our actual product data and our usage data was the best I've ever seen. What we didn't have was the commercial data lens. So if you think about the standard and the CS commercial data that most organizations would use, we didn't know when customers renewed. We didn't know how to apply product usage to a risk metric, for example. So there was a very clear delineation between product data and adoption data versus actually commercially impactful data. And that's, I think the case in many organizations that I've seen, particularly ones that grow up around the product. Remember we started as a self-serve company, very much a long tail SMB type company that are moving into the enterprise.

Pat Phelan (11:32): So that was the initial kind of challenge for me when I came on board here, which was okay, we're bringing together a customer team. That customer team comprises of customer success, onboarding and support, let's say as the three core verticals. Each of those have different data requirements. None of those requirements basically live and breathe necessarily by adoption metrics alone. So there has to be different lenses on top of that. And I think that was where the first real challenge and opportunity was, how do we bring that data together outside of adoption, Plug adoption, obviously into it and usage into it and come out of it with the kind of metrics that I would classify as the north star, the ones that drive our decisions, the ones that drive the conversations and when a CSM logs in every morning, what are they actually looking at? Because there is the analysis paralysis kind of potential, obviously with data. And we were in a position where we were sometimes going down that path, too much data.

Pat Phelan (12:36): So the way I kind of operated when I came in was focus and simplification were the two kind of pillars of what I looked at. I feel like sometimes we can be like a kid in a candy shop when it comes to data, that all of a sudden you've got lots of it, so you just want more and more and more, and you want report after report, after report. And I'm guilty of that too. There's lots of people that are guilty of that. And I think from that perspective-

Pat Phelan (13:03): Lots of people that are guilty of that. And I think, from that perspective, it's one of those scenarios where you've got to be really specific, in terms of what you're looking for. And be very clear about what you're trying to achieve here. So, I think they were the initial pillars that we approached. So, when we went down that path, it became super clear as to what we actually need to see, and start to build the blocks, if you like.

Pat Phelan (13:28): From crawl, walk, run. 

Anika Zubair (13:31): It's really interesting that you guys had product data first, because most would probably have commercial data-

Anika Zubair (13:37): Because, things that are captured in your CRM, and then obviously filtered down to your customer teams. But, it's interesting that you had so much product data, and then the sales, or commercial data came next.

Anika Zubair (13:51):

And you mentioned that, that's all now in one place, which is great, but what were some of the basic metrics that you first started looking at, on the commercial side to maybe either understand churn or upsells.

Pat Phelan (14:05):Yeah, I think the first thing we did, was put together a very clear customer journey. And the challenge I have in my role, is there isn't all one north star metric in reality, there's lots of lagging metrics and leading metrics, and you've got to keep an eye on all of them. So, the first thing I always try to do, is to build a customer journey and be really clear about the milestones as part of that journey. And then, once you know what the milestones are, identify, what are the data points, that you need in order to track against those milestones? So, there will be top of funnel milestones. And then, there'll be, as I say, the end of funnel milestones. And end of funnel being, the traditional metrics, such as Churn Retention, Net Revenue Retention, Logo Retention, all of those things.

Pat Phelan (14:45): So, when I started out really, there was probably three things that I wanted to know. The first one, was how quickly are we onboarding our customers? That was the first metric that I cared about. Because, that accelerates everything else. And once you know how quickly you're doing it, the next question is, how well are you doing it? So, in the onboarding phase, they were the two metrics that I obsessed over. So, time to value and the actual CSAT around that time to value launch metric, let's say. So, if we know how fast we're doing it, and we're measuring that when it's done, how good it was, that gives me a fairly decent sense that we're doing something right, here. So, we had certain tools that were enabling us to do that, but not particularly well. So, we've undergone a massive overhaul of our onboarding tech stack, we're actually trialing the pre-launch today.

Pat Phelan (15:34): So, very excited about where that's going, because I feel we're going to get a lot of value out of that. The second metric, from my perspective, I wanted to get a sense of some activity. And I know, it's a very contentious topic, but I don't believe in time tracking CSMs necessarily, because I don't hire mid-market enterprise people to constantly spend their time in a CS piece of software. But, I do want to understand, what activities are we driving? And how regularly are we driving them? Because again, that will give me a good sense of, are we doing the right things? Or, are we just doing things? So, we launched and rolled out this concept of high-impact activities. So, we identified three activities ranging from QBRs to strategic engagement, to renewal conversation. And each engagement, if you like, would be classified under one of those lenses.

Pat Phelan (16:29): And then, we're able to get some good metrics around the portfolio, in terms of what percentage of our premium customers have had a high impact activity in the last three months. So, that lets me see how regularly, or not we're doing this. And then, the logic behind that then for me is that, that tells me, "Okay, if we're not doing it regularly, are we staffed enough? Are the ratios leveraged too much?" And those areas. So, that was the second one. And then, the third one, was really around Risk and Churn Management. And I used the term Churn, I know it's a negative and everyone says that, "We're always negative in CS, we need to be more positive." But, fundamentally the first thing any leader does when he comes into an organization usually, is to protect the base, right?

Pat Phelan (17:20): You need to understand how well do we understand the risk in our portfolio before we look at the upsell lens before we look at the expansion lens because I've seen too many times the net number hides stuff. If you're looking at net revenue retention and you're having a smashing up-sell quarter, the hole in the bucket could be ginormous, but it's being covered by a strong upsell. I believe in the separation of those metrics, completely. They have to be completely separate. So, they're the four, or five that we tackled first off the bat. And it was a journey. Obviously, our Salesforce instance needed to be completely overhauled, redone, we did it. But yeah, I think we're on a very good trajectory now, we've gotten to a place where I think we've got good control and most importantly, we know where the, as I would classify the whispers are, before they become screams. So, we get that sense of getting ahead of the game a little bit.

 

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Anika Zubair (18:16): Yeah, I really liked that you mentioned those high-impact activities, because I totally believe in that as well. You shouldn't just be doing something as a tick list item. You could definitely be doing something, to create impact and make sure you are driving outcomes and bringing value to your customers when you are having certain meetings, calls, yeah, QBRs, you name it.

Pat Phelan (18:36):

Absolutely.

Anika Zubair (18:38): And in regards to those high impact metrics, what are some of those things that you are tracking right now, that are considered high impact?

Pat Phelan (18:47): Well, like I say, I mean, it evolves very much, depending on what the focus of the org needs to be. But initially, as I mentioned, there was about four that we started off with. Because again, going back to my point about simplicity and focus, I want everything that we do to be super, super laser-focused on something. And a customer outcome ideally, but if not a customer outcome, a problem that we're trying to solve for, and then I want it to be utterly simplistic in terms of how we execute it. Because again, going back to, software is a good example, the more complex your instance, the less value you're ever going to get out of it, because it's just too cumbersome. So, the trade-off I had with my CSMs was, I'm going to ask very simple things from you folks, but the quid pro quo is that it gets done, right?

Pat Phelan (19:33):

And it's accurately done. So, high-impact activities for us, we separated them out, in terms of, some of them commercial, some of them strategic. So, we had a standard QBR/ EBR session. We had renewal conversations, which we classified as high-impact activities. We separated renewal from upselling, so expansion conversations. And then, we encouraged strategic engagements or audits. We have some health audits that we do with our customers. And those four were classified as high impact. Now, there was a lot of other conversations that happened, that probably, traditionally would have been, "Bucketed as high impact." But, they weren't really.

Pat Phelan (20:14): A catch-up is not high impact in any way, shape or form. A monthly check-in or review is not high impact. I want to really just limit it to that. And it's still a work in progress completely, but what we started to find was, the classification and the definition made the CSMs more focused and continue to do so, in terms of, "Okay, what about this engagement, is going to be the high impact?" Because, if it is a question, or if it is brought up in a team meeting, I need to be able to be very clear of what happened in that session.

Pat Phelan (20:47): And as we've evolved, as we've brought different things into the mix, we can add different things to that list of high-impact activities. So, at the moment, for example, we've just launched a new feature around open banking. That education of our customer is so critical right now. So, that's the fifth high-impact activity. So, we're tracking how many conversations are the CSMs having around open banking, specifically? So, that then encourages the CSMs to include open banking in the conversation, to surface it, to raise it and we set targets around it, so every quarter we review performance and they know, "Okay, well, 70% of all my portfolio need to have had an open banking conversation. That's what I got to achieve." So, they're the core metrics. And obviously, as we evolve, we've added things like NPS. We've always had a very strong NPS program separately, but we've brought that into the CS world, as well.

Pat Phelan (21:44): So yeah, I feel pretty good, in terms of where we are from the core metrics. The big challenge Anika, is not about the metrics, but how it's engaged and consumed. And we've done a lot of work around that with the CSMs, to make sure that they've got dashboards that are super operational, literally telling you, "These are the three things you need to care about today, now do them." Or, that's the next big iteration that we're working through.

Anika Zubair (22:16): Yup, you've actually just segwayed into the next part of the conversation that I really wanted to highlight today, is it's so important to actually leverage all that data. You just talked about five high-impact data points that you are tracking day-to-day. It's really important that your CSMs are focused on these data pieces, but you need to be able to empower your CS team to do something with this data and make sure they're making data-driven business decisions. So, curious, how you guys are going about doing this at GoCardless? It seems, you have a lot of data, all in different places. Did you make your data accessible in one place? Is there a downpour to CSM, looks like? What does it look like, when you have this many data points?

Pat Phelan (22:57): Yeah, so we're broken up into multiple different teams. So, we have what we call, an enhanced and premium customer success engagement model, which is the more high touch. And then, we move into what we call essentials, which is the middle layer. And then, we have small business/ self-serve, which is the bulk of the long tail set. That's probably about 55, 60,000 of our, of our 70,000 customers. So, there's different data points for different functions. And what we've tried to do, is primarily over-index for, how do we make our CSMs lives more easy and more efficient? So, we've built out very, very expansive dashboards for our mid-market enterprise CSMs. And those dashboards are very, very focused on the operational metrics of their portfolio. So, it integrates product data, and we finally got that integrated, which is fantastic, because now product adoption and product activity, is part of the risk forecast and risk score that's in their dashboard.

Pat Phelan (23:54): So, we use Looker, as our BI for our dashboards. And the great thing about Looker in my mind, is that it's hugely malleable and very alert-driven as well. So, if we want to set alerts, we can, and the CSMs can do it themselves as well. So, we've gone down that path from a CSM high touch perspective, and it's worked very well, because obviously that then rolls up into management, and that then rolls up into me, so I can share it with execs and we can see multiple views. And the beauty about the dashboard, is it can include multiple lenses from renewal to churn, to upsell propensity. And then, as you go down the layers if you like, into the low touch digital world, the dashboards obviously, become a lot more reactive than proactive, but because we have such expensive product data, we've been able to build algorithms that identified for example, propensity to upsell, at scale.

Pat Phelan (24:57): So, if a customer has repeatedly gone over their commitment in the last three months, it flags that customer to the scale CSM and the scale AE, as a customer who has a high propensity to upsell and they engage immediately, and that flow is pretty seamless. So, what we've tried to do there, is build a model that really has minimal human interaction, as much as we can. But, at the same time, be there, as an oversight and governance for the activities we want to drive, from renewal to upsell and all those areas. So, data is the concept and the quality of data that we've tried to drive in GoCardless, certainly in the CSM team is, I like to think, pretty advanced. But, the two drivers of that I would say, is number one, the governance around what it is you're actually trying to measure and being super clear about that. And that goes back to my point about the customer journey, making very, very clear what are you...

Pat Phelan (26:03): Back to my point about the customer journey, making very, very clear. What are you actually trying to get out of this? The second aspect is the consumption of that data that it's not just for managers, for example, it's not just to make you or me feel good that stuff's happening. It has to be with the CSM lens and by default the customer lens primarily, and then work back from that. And then the third one for me was the fact that I had operations is a non-negotiable as a role for me and always has been. I've always hired into that role. Probably my first hire in every job I've ever had has been an analyst or an operations manager. Yeah, not that I can't say how critical that role is in every organization.

Anika Zubair (26:48): Yeah, I totally agree. I've recently hired a CS operations manager and it's a game-changer and I think it's an underutilized role, especially in a PS organization. And I think leveraging the data that we were just talking about is super key and having someone to be there, to leverage it, to make sure there's data accuracy, to really look at the reports regularly and making sure they are being utilized correctly. And are they even the correct data points? And like you said, it shouldn't be a vanity thing for any manager or VP director, head of CS. It should be used data that is used by the actual CSM on a day-to-day basis which is so critical when you are-

Pat Phelan (27:29): But it's interesting how much I see that overlooked. And I don't know if you've had the same experience on [inaudible 00:27:34] it. I see a lot out on LinkedIn and social and so much of it is geared towards that level, the manager level, the exec level, the control aspect of it, as opposed to the actual efficiency from a frontline CSM perspective. And I think the leaders that do that will always get more buy-in to this kind of thing, because if you're not asking your CSMs, what do they need to see in order to be successful before you implement stuff like this, I think you're going to die a death and it is going to be vanity and it will be a box ticker it'll make you feel good because you've got it, but it will never have the full impact it can have.

Anika Zubair (28:18): Yeah and it's so important to make sure you are building something that is being used, utilized, and also driving value to their day-to-day. All these dashboards sound amazing. And I'm sure they're brilliant, but are they actually helping your CSMs-

Pat Phelan (28:33): Exactly.

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Anika Zubair (28:33): ... get things done every single day? Are they actually moving the needle when it comes to churn prediction or possible product adoption if your customer is doing really, really well?

Pat Phelan (28:42): Exactly.

Anika Zubair (28:43): So all of that's so important to reiterate and also revisit as you are building out any sort of dashboard or pulling in any sort of data fields. In regards to hiring people though, for these customer teams, it sounds like you guys are very data-driven, which I think a lot of teams want to be. Would you rather hire someone that has already that data mindset, or do you think it's something that's coachable, something that you can train someone on to be data-driven?

Pat Phelan (29:12): I think the former is the approach I would take. I think it's very hard to train somebody to be data-driven. You can train them to apply data in through the lenses of different kind of pieces of software. I've had many people who have never used Salesforce, have never used Looker, have never used Gainsight but have learned to really, really quickly, but because they were data-driven. So I think the two things I look for, probably three things, actually.

Pat Phelan (29:47): The first one is I want them to be data native. I want them to be the kind of people who thrive in front of a spreadsheet and can see stuff like beautiful mind kind of stuff when they look at this type of data. And you can see it in people. You know it the moment you meet them, if they get excited by it or don't get excited by it, then that's the first thing. I think the second thing I look for is just the passion to be able to drive things, to be better because of data.

Pat Phelan (30:15): And that's where you get the kind of discipline of quality of report, quality of dashboard. If risk metrics don't make sense, then don't wait for me to tell you they're not making sense. Fix it yourself, figure it out yourself. And they get quite precious about their data if you like. So they get quite protective about it. And then the last one is the toughest one, probably, which is the commercial lens of data. And one of the things that I'm probably more inclined to hire internally is if I need that lens more than I need the actual data itself, if that makes sense. So, there's so much of it out there. I need people who are able to extrapolate insights from it to guide the business and to put themselves in the shoes of a CSM, as opposed to someone who's literally just going to sculp a piece of work, do the piece of work and then consider that piece of work done.

Pat Phelan (31:12): And that's where that's the unicorn, right? And I've been so lucky, I've found two or three of those. I'm literally in the process at the moment of trying to try to convince one of those in my past to join me on this journey. So, once you find those people, honestly, as a leader, you hang on to them and you take them wherever you go, because they will just accelerate every experience you've had or will have in the future. No question, I've done it three times now, and it saves about three to four months to be able to have an operations person come with you and say, "Okay, off you go, you know what we want. You know what we got to do, go do it." And it's just invaluable.

Anika Zubair (31:53): It's so interesting because operations seems to be on fire right now, when it comes to roles being hired for, and it's not a new role, it's something that's been around since forever. But what's funny is that suddenly the value of operations within a customer-facing organization has increased tenfold because of the tools we're using, the data we're tracking, the accuracy we're looking for when it comes to making decisions for... Especially the long tail. You guys have such a large customer base of long-tail customers that you're probably not interacting with [crosstalk 00:32:26] and it's so critical to have those data points.

Pat Phelan (32:29): Exactly.

Anika Zubair (32:29): Absolutely.

Pat Phelan (32:31): I think it's a sign of the maturity of the customer success function as well. And I think, yeah, if you look at the evolution of the sales function, sales been around a long time, nobody will ever question the need to have a pretty chunky sales operations team. Nobody would. And in fact, if you didn't have one, people would consider you less than standard. And then if you look at marketing, probably about five years ago, maybe four years ago, marketing operations became a thing. So it moved out of sales operations into its own entity, marketing operations. And more recently over the last, probably two to three years, I've seen customer success operations now follow that trajectory because now that they're getting bigger, we're in the world of recurring revenue. We're in the world of lifetime value. So we realized, well, if we have it in sales, we have it in marketing, clearly customer success is an area where, we need to look at it, but what you'll find right now is still only one person, probably in most orgs, right?

Pat Phelan (33:24): One person will support a lot of people. I guarantee you in five years, time, seven years' time, it will not be unusual to see a customer success operations team that has seven to ten people in it. I absolutely convinced and sure of that. And the other areas product, you see a lot of product operations now kicking in. I see that a lot, particularly, even in GoCardless, how we just hired into a product operations team. So I think it's just the maturity of this really reflects the fact that we're now at that inflection point I think in CS that marketing and sales have been at and gone past over the last maybe 10, 15 years, and it's only going to get bigger and better. So I would encourage anybody who has had any interest in that area to jump feet first into it now, because this is where you're going to learn and evolve over the next couple of years and build your brand.

Anika Zubair (34:12): Yeah, I totally agree. And I think that even if you talking earlier, you had five different high impact data points that you're tracking, but that's just five of probably many other data points you're tracking. And then if you think about all the systems and tools you are using across your onboarding CSM and support team, that's a lot to support and you need to be really, really accurate with the data you are pulling in. But also, just keeping on top of all of that. And then an operations person is key to that. And it actually brings me to a little bit of a different conversation is data is difficult to stay on top of. It's a lot, like you said, you have a Salesforce instance, you have to revamp it. There's just probably data coming in from every different source, including product data. How do you guys stay on top of your data accuracy? And is there someone who's in charge of that? What are you guys doing to make sure data is the most up to date?

Pat Phelan (35:06): Yeah, so we're lucky in one respect, we have a very, very advanced BI team at GoCardless. We have a number of people whose role it is to maintain data integrity across the company, not just in any given function. So, straight off the bat, for example, Looker is a centralized tool. So we have a BI team who makes sure that the Looker data and Looker instance is absolutely fresh and accurate or constantly, which is amazing. It's an amazing resource. From a CSG perspective we have our Delivery and Insights team, which we call it. It's not operations. We call it Delivery and Insights because fundamentally that's what they do. And they own the governance around the CSG data. So we have clarity in terms of the data points that we have across all the teams, how it flows into our customer journey. And they're responsible for ensuring that those data points are accurate and that those data points more importantly are being used. So we have some good governance around that and that's not a big team. It's what two people, three people at the moment. So that's how we keep on top of it. And ultimately the best way to keep on top of it is to use it. And I think one thing we push really heavily on is I just want to get away from spreadsheets completely. That's my ultimate goal is just, I never want to see another spreadsheet again, as long as I live.

Anika Zubair (36:31): That'll be the day.

Pat Phelan (36:32): Yeah. Yeah. And when I see it, I get pretty annoyed and I want a good reason for us to be there and we're on that journey but what we have starts to do quite a lot of... A good example is our risk forecasting. We have calls at the moment. It's been driven by the Looker dashboard. So there's nothing that focuses the mind more in accuracy than having to present a Looker dashboard and that the data in that dashboard is wrong, right?

Pat Phelan (37:00): The easiest thing to do is to blame this, that, and the other, put it in a spreadsheet, but we're trying not to go down that path. If the data's wrong, we need to figure out why the hell it's wrong and fix it. So I think that's the natural constraints that we try to put in place to make sure that if everything else fails, if the data's wrong, then you got to go back to the drawing board. But I'm pretty rigorous around that. I believe very firmly in the mantra, only measure what matters, come back to my point around simplicity. So I don't want to make it cumbersome, but because of that, I expect it to be accurate and I expect it to be impactful across the board.

Anika Zubair (37:46): Yeah. I think it's bold that you guys don't move everything out into a spreadsheet because it's naturally to check everything.... check it in a spreadsheet but that's super bold and it's great that you guys aren't just using any of your data or dashboards for vanity reasons. We talked a little bit earlier about how it's so critical and key to make sure your team or your individual contributors or your CSMs are actually looking at the data and reports regularly. So I'm curious, what sort of reports do your team look at regularly?

Pat Phelan (38:17): Well, I mean, again, the dashboards are what drives the activity. From a CSM perspective, they have individually curated Looker dashboards. So, they know exactly, effectively in one report what their portfolio looks like. So that's where we spend the bulk of our time. And Ben who leads the global team has his version of that dashboard. So he can see what the upsell looks like, what the adoption looks like, what the risk is. And it's still a journey just to be very, very clear. There's lots of reports that I would still classify as vanity reports. The reality of it is a lot of them are legacy. And we're gradually sort of weaning people off those, but really what I've tried to do. And what we've tried to do as a team is just to figure out exactly what do we need and what are we going live-

 

Pat Phelan (39:03): As a team is just to figure out exactly what do we need and what are we going to live in? And that's what it is. I think Salesforce is, I guess the decision I made a while ago was that at certainly mid-market and enterprise-level we were going to operate in two environments. One of them is Looker, and Looker for me is about operational. And Salesforce is about commercial. So, I was very clear with the CSMs, I'm not bringing any tool in that can't very clearly outline both of those worlds. I'm not going to compromise one over another. It's got to be both and it's got to be high quality for both. So we're at a point now where, is Salesforce ideal? Probably some of it is, some of it isn't. It's not the most UX friendly platform when it comes to updating status calls or whatever. But at the same time, from a commercial perspective, it's very powerful and it's consistent with the rest of the org, which I quite like, personally. And you can see things from inception to completion.

Pat Phelan (40:03): So we keep the reports as minimal as we can, but like I say, as focused as we can. But we definitely started in the world of CS. From a support perspective, we've always had a very advanced support team at GC because we started almost like a B2C company with self-serve. So our supporting reporting is, I would say, absolute Grade A through Zendesk, and the work the team are doing there is practically fully automated. I don't often see spreadsheets knocking around that team. But again, that's more of a maturity thing. CS was kind of underserved when I came on board.

Anika Zubair (40:46): Yep. Yep. And you mentioned that there are so many different teams here and they're looking at different sorts of dashboards when it applies to, yeah, their book of business versus the support team. Is there a common, yeah, data point or common definitions across the teams? Meaning, are they all looking for a churn rate? Are they all working towards net retention? Is there one kind of thing across all these teams that you're tracking as the chief customer officer, but they're also very much tracking as well?

Pat Phelan (41:15): Yeah. Yeah. So I think there's not one, because obviously with multifunctional reporting line, there's going to be different things that matter at different times. But for me, as far as onboarding is concerned, it's time to value is the metric that we track there. And we've actually revamped that completely and we're going to be tracking that now on an ongoing basis. Hopefully the first-quarter data is going to be coming in in the next month. From a support perspective, it's all about SLEs. We have SLEs for each of our engagement models, and that's pretty much where the bulk of our reporting is focused. Are we hitting those SLEs? Are we doing it properly? Are they real? It's not simply just an email saying, thank you for your call, an agent to respond soon. That's not a response SLE, and being honest with that about ourselves. And then from a CS perspective, it's all about retention. But it's all about, for me, it's a combination of gross retention and net retention. And the key metric is gross revenue retention, because like I say, I firmly believe that's what we're in business to do, is to make sure that the investment that the customer has initially made for into us as a business is recouped for them and they renew at the same rate as they came to us at. And then upside obviously is a big driver, but we measure pipeline in that regard. So my team are work in tandem with sales for upsell, but they're heavily weighted towards pipeline generation. So that's probably the three metrics on the CS side are gross revenue retention, pipeline generation, and then net revenue retention performance in the quarter are the three that we go after it with a heavy bias towards gross revenue retention.

Anika Zubair (43:01): Awesome. Awesome. I think that's probably typical in most SAS businesses these days is just gross revenue, just making sure your base is as strong as it can be, which is what you already alluded to earlier. Which it's important to make the base strong without thinking of upsells, or cross-sells, or anything like that, because if you're just leaking out of your base, you're never going to hit any numbers, which is really, really important to keep on top of mind.

Pat Phelan (43:24): Understanding risk is huge. Understanding and mitigating risk, and having a process in place that allows you to do that quickly is critical.

Anika Zubair (43:33):Awesome. Listen, we can keep chatting for days about this, but I do have one more question, which I think some of our leaders would love to know, is if there is one data point or report a chief customer officer, like yourself, should be looking at, what would it be and why?

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Pat Phelan (43:49): I think the biggest one for me in our business is utilization. And we call that utilization is sort of adoption, is probably the best way to put it. So comparable to what our customer has paid, how are they performing against that metric? If that's a metric you can actually track. In many cases, it's not. But for me, that's the number one thing that I'm kind of obsessing about at the moment. So customers commit to us over the course of a year to a certain amount, and then on a usage basis, they transact over the course of the year. And it's the delta between those two things is my number one priority, because if they're not achieving those commits after, let's say six months, then we have a problem. If they're overachieving, then we have an opportunity. And if they haven't even started, then we have an onboarding issue. So it gives me a good lens of pretty much everything.

 

Pat Phelan (44:39): But I will be honest, this is the first time I've had that lens, because the product data lends itself to it, and the product actually lends itself to it as well. So it could be, for example, that the same metric is seats, or licenses, or it could be volume of whatever. That, to me, is critical. So it's kind of a hybrid of adoption and utilization. If I didn't have that, then my absolute sort of obsession would be something around NPS mid-life of a contract, some metric to be able to get a sense of how positively or negatively is the customer experience in the relationship enough in advance to be able to do something about it on renewal. I think that to me, that kind of six month mid-section should be an obsession for every CS leader. Because I get all the theory's great, but the reality of it is you don't have time and you probably don't have the resources to do everything you want to do. But you give yourself time if you know by that kind of midway point what trajectory the customer's on, at least you have a shot at renewal.

 

Anika Zubair (45:45): Yeah. That's so, so critical, I think, is really knowing at the halfway point, where do you really stand? What is the reality of the situation? And also very, very fascinating that you guys are using product adoption, but product adoption against their outcomes. Not necessarily just how well they're using it or how much, let's say they're logging in, but really what did they buy? What was their outcome? What did they want to achieve with the product? And then are they tracking appropriately [crosstalk 00:46:13] with a mix of commercial data meets product usage data?

 

Pat Phelan (46:16): Yeah. Absolutely. It's absolutely a hybrid of the meeting of those two worlds. Completely, 100%.

Anika Zubair (46:22): Awesome. Awesome. Okay. Let's wrap up. Let's do our quick fire questions before we sign off for today. So my first question to you is, whom do you admire in the CS world, or in tech, or business?

Pat Phelan (46:35): Oh God, that's a really difficult one. For me, I think it's more the technology itself, but I love how Slack have evolved over the last couple of years. I know at this point we probably get too many of them. But I just love the innovation and I love the kind of go to market that they have in terms of try before you buy, bottoms up, top down selling. And just the way they engage with their customers is fantastic. That's a piece of tech, and obviously Stewart Butterfield in tandem. But yes, I'm a big admirer of Slack.

Anika Zubair (47:12): Okay, awesome. I think you probably answered my next question, but I'll ask it. What's your favorite tool or software that you can't live without?

Pat Phelan (47:21): Yeah, I think at this point it would be Slack 100%. And I've spent years trying to get good at it and be productive with it. So I feel like I've finally gotten it to a point where I can actually have good to-do lists and stuff. But no, I just, I really, really, really enjoy that kind of, particularly in the last year and a half it's been a game changer, to be able to have that sort of interaction in an as and when needed basis, as long as you're obviously respectful in terms of people's [crosstalk 00:47:51]-

Anika Zubair (47:50): Yeah. I love how much you've talked about Slack, as well as Looker. I feel like you're a key [crosstalk 00:47:56] ... for both.

Pat Phelan (47:58): I will say Looker is close behind. Yeah, it's a great tool, but more importantly, it's a good company. Looker, they get what their job is, it's data. And they're bloody good at it, really good at it.

Anika Zubair (48:12): Awesome. Last question, what is your favorite customer success resource or place that you find more on customer success?

Pat Phelan (48:21): Honestly, I struggle on that one, because everyone's journey is different. And I'm very, very cautious, and I would urge everybody who might listen to this to listen to it in the context of, oh, that's interesting, rather than that's what we got to do, because everyone's journey is different, and every tech is different and CS is a hard, hard job. So I don't really dig deep, deep into things like best practices so much or playbooks. What I'm interested in hearing is people's journeys. So, our conversations I've always found incredibly enlightening personally, and speaking to other leaders just about challenges. But I think overall my favorite place is just generally LinkedIn. And more importantly, I love when I see CSMs particularly take in initiatives. There's one recently I noticed, I think it's a lady called Diana De Jesus over in New York, and a colleague of hers have put together this CSM excellence kind of area for people, the open book of CS, I think they call it. Really simple concepts [crosstalk 00:49:32]-

Anika Zubair (49:33): Yeah. Diana's great. [crosstalk 00:49:33]

Pat Phelan (49:33): That's right. Yeah. But you know what I mean, that to me is what I love to see, because it's not about personal branding necessarily, or inverted commas thought leadership. Because it's just like, jeez, we figured this stuff out as we go here. You play the ball in front of your face, and do you know what? If you get it right, then tell everybody about it. But that's not for everybody. And I just love that kind of way of operating because it's very natural. This is frontline stuff. And this is what leaders should be engaging with. It's like, how hard is it for CSMs to do their job? And how do we as leaders make it easier and make it better for them? And the only way to learn from that is by listening to the people who are actually doing the thing day to day. So that's where I spend most of my time, if I'm honest.

Anika Zubair (50:14): Awesome. I also love that hearing from CSMs, it's so, so critical and so important. And really, it's a learning point for all of us. [crosstalk 00:50:23]

Pat Phelan (50:23): Absolutely. Elisabeth Courland, that's it. That's the other lady. [crosstalk 00:50:27].

Anika Zubair (50:26): Oh, Elizabeth. Yes. Elizabeth also lovely. Yes. Well, thank you so, so much for all your insights, all about data, customer teams using data. Really appreciate it. I think all our listeners would also appreciate it. If our listeners have any more questions or want to get in touch, is there somewhere to get in touch with you?

Pat Phelan (50:45): Come to me on LinkedIn. Honestly, I'm absolutely open to any discussions and conversations. I love it. So just connect with me on LinkedIn, always willing to chit chat.

Anika Zubair (50:58): Awesome. And I'll put that in the show notes. But thank you so much, Pat, for your time. Appreciate it.

Pat Phelan (51:03): It's a pleasure, Anika. Great to speak to you again. Lovely to talk to you as always.

You’ve been listening to The inSide Scoop on Customer Success. For more episodes or webinars check out our Webinar & Podcast page and learn more about customer success communities.

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By Anika Zubair

Anika is an industry thought leader, CSM LDN community co-founder, podcast host, and a regular speaker at Pulse, the number one global CS conference. She’s scaled Customer Success efforts at B2B startups as well as scale-ups and built teams across the APAC, EMEA, and US regions.

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