Customer Success

22 Min Read

Rav Dhaliwal on B2B Customer Engagement

We’re really excited to bring you Episode 3 of The inSide Scoop: inSided’s podcast bringing you the latest in customer success, customer engagement and user communities. This week we spoke to Rav Dhaliwal to get his unique take on B2B customer engagement.

So, grab a cup of coffee and give it a listen. For those who prefer to read rather than listen, you’ll find a transcript of our conversation here too.


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Show Notes + Links:

  1. Connect with Rav on LinkedIn
  2. The Effective Change Manager’s Handbook
  3. Listen to the Creating Customer Success podcast
  4. Who is Michael Ovitz?

Dani Juson (00:07):

Hello and welcome to The inSide Scoop, brought to you by inSided. inSided builds customer success community platforms that drive customer engagement, product feedback and ideation and customer self service. The inSide Scoop aims to bring you the latest in thought leadership and industry insights around customer success, as well as everything you could possibly want to know about online communities. 

Dani Juson (00:39):

Welcome to Episode Three of The inSide Scoop, brought to you by inSided. I’m really stoked about the guest I’m going to introduce to you today. We are having a conversation with Rav Dhaliwal. Some of you may be familiar with Rav. He’s something of a Titan in the customer success industry. He’s pretty active over on LinkedIn, so do be sure to check that out and connect with him there. I will leave a link for you guys in the show notes. Rav has held a number of executive positions in various enterprise software companies over the last 20 years. Most recently he was at Slack, where he was the first UK employee and responsible for establishing the London office, and he also founded the global Customer Success team over there at Slack. So you could say he’s no stranger to hyper-growth startups! He also built and led post-sales business units at Zendesk as well as at Yammer, which was later acquired by Microsoft. Rav’s published several books on Enterprise Software deployment and he’s a regular public speaker. Rav’s now an angel investor. He specializes in advising the portfolios of venture and growth equity backed firms on how they can best develop their go to market and post-sales strategy and operations. So grab a coffee and let’s get started.

Dani Juson (02:08):

Today we are going to be chatting with Rav a little bit about the topic of B2B customer engagement; particularly thinking about the overlooked power of peer-to-peer learning and just discussing why this is particularly relevant for our customer success teams right now. So really excited for this one. Welcome Rav. Great to have you here.

Rav Dhaliwal (02:28):

Thank you so much, yeah, it’s great to be here.

Dani Juson (02:30):

Thanks for joining us. So before we dive in, how are you doing today? How are you doing at the moment in these still-challenging times?

Rav Dhaliwal (02:40):

Oh, well thanks for asking, Dani. Oh yeah. Really good. Thank you. Happy, healthy. I’m feeling very sort of fortunate to have everyone that I know safe and sound and, and I hope everyone listening is also well and safe too.

Dani Juson (02:56):

Yeah, absolutely. No, we echo that. Fingers crossed people are adjusting to the new normal, but it definitely takes a little bit of adaptability, doesn’t it? So before I start asking you some of these questions that I’m excited to get your thoughts on, can you perhaps just give our listeners a little bit of background on yourself and you know, what makes you a great person for us to talk to here today about B2B customer engagement?

Rav Dhaliwal (03:20):

Oh, sure. Yeah. I mean in terms of whether I’m a great person, we’ll obviously leave that to yourself and your listeners to decide! I mean, I’ve been in the enterprise software business for about the last 20 or so years. And so I’ve seen a lot of changes and trends, but I think that the running theme in my experience has been very much around collaboration and productivity type technologies, whether they’re being used internally in an organization or externally with the customers and clients. And I think that that theme through a number of companies that I’ve worked for in a number of roles I’ve had, I think it’s sort of particularly relevant to some of the challenges Customer Success seems to have in general. But especially at the moment. And the kind of things that I’ve been focused on over the last 10, 12 years is now how do you use these kinds of technologies to effectively engage and onboard and nurture your clients? Because ultimately, you know, you want them to be successful so they can grow, you know; so they can be a customer with you forever.

Dani Juson (04:27):

Yeah, absolutely. Fantastic. Well, thanks for being here. So you’ve got some quite some years of experience with B2B SaaS, you know, customer success teams. So maybe you can just pinpoint for us some of the toughest challenges that you’ve seen these teams face. You know, when it comes to creating engagement with their customer base from themselves, from the company, but also, you know, amongst their customer base on a peer-to-peer basis?

Rav Dhaliwal (04:55):

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, there’s a whole load of challenges that Customer Success teams face on a daily basis. They stem from internal challenges of alignment or people actually understanding what the team does and doesn’t do. One that I feel like is particularly relevant in all sorts of companies in all sorts of segments. And the way I would describe the—what I see as one of the key challenges—is with the phrase: you as a CS team or as a vendor, you get paid to live and breathe your product. That’s what you do. But your customer doesn’t! Your customer has a day job. And essentially I think one of the major challenges that CS teams in particular face is that you are competing for your customers’ time, for their resources, for their mindshare—you’re competing with their day job really. And on top of that, you’re competing with a whole other bunch of SaaS vendors that are also trying to do the same as you, right?! Getting their product or service higher up in their customers’ priority as well. So I think that’s one of the key challenges all teams—I think no matter how big or small really—face.

Dani Juson (06:09):

That’s a really interesting one. I’ve actually never really thought about it from that perspective before. And that just goes to show, goes to almost prove your point, really, doesn’t it?! We live and breathe our product and it’s really sometimes difficult to remember that the customer doesn’t. 

Rav Dhaliwal (06:24):

Yeah, for sure. Absolutely. And I think, you know, we want to engage with our customers, we want to get to know them, we want to understand what their goals are, hopefully to have some goals—but that’s not always the case as well. I’m actually going to be writing a Medium post around that subject soon. But you know, the typical thing you’ll do is you’ll email out, you know, try to have calls, meetings. Obviously, hopefully we’ll all get back to face-to-face meetings sooner rather than later. But you know, if that’s quite high friction, that’s quite a big ask for a lot of customers. You know, they’re typically very time-poor, they’re resource constrained and they’re even more so now in many cases, you know, there are a lot of businesses hugely disrupted. And getting that ability to engage with them, you know, on Zoom calls, on phone calls, you know, it can be tough. 

Dani Juson (07:20):

And I mean would you say that, with regards to getting that, that attention really, is there anything that customer success teams can think about doing a little bit differently to perhaps almost stand out from the crowd when it comes to all these other competing priorities that customers might have? 

Rav Dhaliwal (07:42):

Yeah a couple of things. I think one of the ways to think about it, and this may sound a little odd, and hopefully I’ll be able to clarify, is one of the big parts of what CS teams are trying to do is to try to nurture and grow and educate customers, right? They’re trying to help them to understand: How does my product and service help you now? How else can it help you? What’s the best way of using it? Is it a real focus on teaching the customer? And I think the thing that I’ve come to learn is that there’s actually quite a big difference between teaching and learning. And what I mean by that is teaching is very instructor centric. It’s about the person who’s telling you things. Whereas learning is actually very student centric. And I think one of the things that CS teams can actually maybe rethink about doing is: How can I actually create more conditions now for the customer to learn?

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Rav Dhaliwal (08:38):

Because some of that learning can be prompted by you. Some of it can be guided themselves. And I think a really big part of learning, and this is something I’m consistently surprised about how overlooked it is (and you touched on this in your introduction) is the power of peer-to-peer learning. So one of the things I think Customer Success teams can do now, is realizing: “Actually, if I can tap into the knowledge of my existing customers and create conditions for my existing customers to learn from their peers, that’s an incredibly powerful way to not only engage them, but to help them to learn and to nurture and grow them.” And, you guys at inSided know this very well. I mean, that’s the power of community, right?

Rav Dhaliwal (09:28):

So ideally, you know, communities would have a physical manifestation; that’s not always possible. So if you could move that online, if you can create conditions where your customers are able to not just engage with you in a low friction way but with each other, and if you can prompt and nurture that engagement, there’s all sorts of advantages for that. Not just in terms of how you onboard or nurture them; way more than just: How do I get to a lot of customers at scale? It has huge benefits for customers and for you—your product teams are going to love it because that iteration that they’re constantly doing on the product is, you know—the engine for that iteration is feedback. And if you can get patterns and feedback in a really efficient way by having your customers all in the same place, that’s super powerful.

Rav Dhaliwal (10:21):

And certainly from my experience, one thing that I’ve seen again, which I’m always really surprised isn’t used as more of a lever: Having that community of peer-to-peer learning is an amazing sales tool. You know, if you’re talking to potential customers and you say, “Hey look, we’ve got this great product, not only have we proved how it will help you, we’re going to give you access to our amazing CS team, these experts. Oh, by the way, you’re also getting access to this sort of living, evolving community of hundreds of people who are all going on or have been on the same journey as you.” And so what that does from a sales perspective is it helps the customer or prospect to realize: “Well, actually the risk in me moving forward with this purchase is much lower because of the—potentially hundreds of—other people I’m going to have access to that have been through this journey as well.”

Dani Juson (11:15):

Yeah, exactly. I think that’s a really good point that illustrates, you know, that the benefit of connecting customers on a peer-to-peer level doesn’t just have benefits for the customer success team. It has much more far-reaching consequences for the rest of the company. And I think that’s a really nice indication now that you’ve given about how that can really help as a sales tool.

Rav Dhaliwal (11:45):

It is a sales tool. It can even, surprisingly, help as a recruitment tool. I mean in the past where I’ve managed teams where we’ve really doubled down on engaging with customers through online channels and synchronous online channels like communities—you know, that’s typically where you’re spotting the champions, and if you think about what you’re trying to do with it a champion of your customers, you’re really trying to turn them into a mini customer success manager. That’s what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to identify and empower and educate and nurture those champions that are your customers, so they’re like a force multiplier for your Customer Success team. Well, eventually, you know, those people could even make incredibly good customer success managers. You know, it’s not uncommon to hire at some point from your customer base because they’re typically the people who are most passionate and vocal and advocate for your product.

Dani Juson (12:42):

Absolutely. And you know, that is such a fantastic point, and as you mentioned that, I can already think of more than one example that we actually even have here at inSided, where we’ve indeed done that. You know, we have people on the team at inSided that that have come from the customer base because they genuinely have been so engaged with the product and a large proportion of that has really stemmed from our own customer community that we run.

Rav Dhaliwal (13:08):

And I bet if you guys went back and looked at the data and correlated, you know, the usage patterns of those customers; where you pull those people from… I would imagine that it’s probably very high, like the sophistication in product adoption.

Dani Juson (13:24):

Yeah, indeed. I mean, I don’t have the data in front of me, but from my first thought, I can already tell that you’re absolutely right with that point. Yeah.

Rav Dhaliwal (13:33):

Yeah. I mean, I’m someone who’s, you know, I think anyone who’s worked with me will probably tell you I’m largely obsessed with efficiency. You know, even extending to my personal life, I’m always thinking about what’s the most efficient way of giving an X or Y. And I think now more so than ever where it’s tougher to get people on the phone. It is tougher to get that mindshare. People are now adjusting to trying to work a full day and look after a family; many maybe not even having a proper office space. So getting on calls is really tough. If you can provide them an efficient way to get the information and the learning they need, but also to get access to people—that’s a huge benefit. And I think it’s something the teams that I’m seeing doing it now—understanding that actually this is something we haven’t thought about before, but this is really powerful—you can see that they’re going to make this part of the way they engage so it’s going to be part of their success motion, it’s going to be this style of engagement.

Dani Juson (14:39):

Yeah, no, that’s fantastic. And I mean, you know, you mentioned efficiency there and I think you’re absolutely right. You’re creating efficiency for your customers of course. But you’re also helping your own customer success team with their own efficiency when you do enable this peer-to-peer learning.

Rav Dhaliwal (14:57):

And I think what’s often been misconstrued, certainly during my time of being in software is, “Oh, well these kinds of tools are really good for scale or tech touch, right? Where we can’t put a person on them [the account].” And that is true; they’re excellent for that. But my experience has been that they actually work for all segments of customers. If you’ve got a giant seven figure customer they’re going to benefit from it as much as someone who’s maybe paying you a thousand dollars a month. And it’s interesting because the learnings that maybe larger customers share in an online setting are just as valuable and just as applicable as maybe your smaller customers. So I think it’s important to realize that all segments of customers benefit from this and all sizes of Customer Success teams benefit too.

Dani Juson (15:50):

Yes, definitely. You mentioned tech touch there, and I think that’s an interesting one for us to just dive a bit deeper into. I’ve heard you mention this idea of synchronous versus asynchronous tech touch. Maybe you can just explain to our listeners a little bit about what your thinking is around that?

Rav Dhaliwal (16:06):

Well, I must’ve been getting a bit technical there! Fundamentally, I think it’s just that most of our typical ways to engage with customers are one-way: You know, we typically send emails, we send newsletters. And I’m not knocking these—these are effective, that’s why people do them! But if you contextualize that with what most people’s inboxes look like on a given day… and especially now—I don’t know about you Dani—but it’s just full of emails from every single business I’ve ever done business with!

Dani Juson (16:38):

Absolutely. I can relate to that! 

Rav Dhaliwal (16:42):

So the synchronous nature of that I think is less effective in times like these, but it also doesn’t give you a mechanism for feedback. People don’t respond back to newsletters. A blast message goes out and typically you can’t even reply to it. So if you have some form of synchronous communication, which is really, you know, akin to an ongoing dialogue, it’s much more low-effort for all parties. I can dip into a conversation online, consume from it what I need, ask a question, come back a day later. So there’s synchronous and asynchronous elements I’m not required to be on all the time, but it’s a much more interactive medium and it’s a much more useful medium for sharing and learning. So if you think about a new employee, someone who comes on board at inSided, they have a huge advantage, right? Because they can come to your internal community and they’ve got all the history of every conversation and every question that’s been asked, right? If your customer is relying on a synchronous method of my email, someone that emailed me back, they’re missing out on all the wisdom from the hundreds of other customers at the same question or similar questions.

Dani Juson (18:00):

That’s so true. Yeah.

Rav Dhaliwal (18:02):

If you have a mechanism to communicate synchronously not only do you get access to all that information—and in real time—it’s just a lot less friction. “Oh, I’ll go ask a quick question or I’ll do a quick search”. Really powerful.

Dani Juson (18:18):

Indeed. And, you know, it’s not even just that two-way dialogue that enables you as a vendor to get the customer feedback. But it’s also that multi-way dialogue, you know, that really just kind of opens up a whole host of doors and opportunities for that learning that we talked about—for customers to help them ultimately achieve more success. So thank you for explaining that. 

Rav Dhaliwal (18:42):

And the most beautiful thing I’ve seen is where, you know, you’ve got your CSMs in an online community, you’ve got your customers in there, and a new customer posts a question… And what happens is either another customer answers it before you even get a chance or one of your CSMs says: “I know the answer to that question, but I know that there’s another customer that’s got a really innovative solution for that. Let me just loop them into the conversation. Let’s hear from them.” That’s really powerful in reinforcing the value that you’re adding.

Dani Juson (19:16):

You’re absolutely right. And we see, with our customer base, absolutely our most successful customers are the customers that are managing and running their communities in that way. It’s not about having all the answers as a customer success team necessarily. It’s just about facilitating the progress. Right? And as you say, if you can lean on your existing customer base to do that, not only are you creating efficiency for yourself, you’re also creating more engagement amongst your customers and it just feels like a win-win all around really.

Rav Dhaliwal (19:54):

Absolutely. And I mean there’s nothing stopping you as a CS team from having structured approaches there. I’ve seen some teams have office hours, for example, in a community or have technical groups which are staffed by very specific types of engineers, for example. So there’s a whole load of flexibility that you can do it. And certainly from my time at companies like Zendesk–customer service oriented companies—all the research, all the data shows that customers will always opt for self-serve as a first option if they can get it. It’s clearly a way people like to actually work. 

Dani Juson (20:40):

I think that’s a really good point. I’m glad you brought that up. So, we’ve mentioned, briefly, the elephant in the room! The situation that we are all facing right now, but I’m really curious to get your thoughts—at the risk of sounding like a broken record—I’m just really curious to get your thoughts about what customer success teams ought to be doing in terms of maybe being a bit more flexible right now. Are you recommending people review the way they’re working with contracts, contract extensions? Maybe the way that they’re looking at customer health scoring? What’s different about the approach that’s required at the moment and,  I’m curious to know, do you think that that’s something that we potentially are going to hold onto in the future? Could this potentially be more of an overall step change?

Rav Dhaliwal (21:38):

Yeah, that’s a great question. And I think I’ll probably just tackle the second part of that first: which is that I think that definitely some things will change and they’ll permanently change… the extent of that change, I think, will be very highly correlated with how long the current pandemic situation goes on for. I guess there’s two schools of thought. One: If it goes on for long enough, it will maybe result in some sort of structural change in how businesses work. Or the other school of thought is: We’ll get back to a hyper-normal state and… it’s probably going to be somewhere in the middle, I would imagine. I feel very fortunate because with the kind of work I do now as an investor, I get access to a whole breadth of companies doing all sorts of different things at different stages.

Rav Dhaliwal (22:27):

So, from the super early stages to the very mature. And I think overall, from a flexibility point of view, I don’t think it’s just CS teams. I think businesses as a whole need to have a lot more flexibility at the moment. And one thing that I’ve been encouraging the portfolio companies that I work with to do is have your toolkit of options for customers ready to go. Don’t try and deal with them on a case-by-case basis. Some of your customers are gonna need to talk about pricing, some of them about payment terms—potentially payment holidays. It’s far better for you as an organization to spend some time internally coordinating and deciding: “What’s our toolkit? What can we offer? And under which circumstances, what are the edge cases, what’s the process?”

Rav Dhaliwal (23:17):

Because if you’re going to have to deal with each of those one-by-one as a unique situation, it’s going to be a really bad experience for you and for your customers. So, just overall from a business flexibility perspective that’s super important. From a Customer Success team perspective, some of the things that I’ve been working with people on, and some of the things that I’ve been hearing from them: Really taking a lot of consideration around how they’re engaging. So in some cases it’s about dialing down the type of engagement versus dialing it up. Right? And what that means is actually what we need to do for certain types of customers is not do the email outreach—it’s the WhatsApp message or it’s the community post or it’s a phone call, you know… so identifying the channel, the audience, the relevance of the communication or the timing of it is I think an area where there’s probably a little bit more flexibility and rethinking that might be needed. And I think all of that stems from starting to segment your customers by their risk profile, because obviously different industries in different geographies are currently impacted differently. From a company level and a CS level, that’s where I see a lot of the flexibility being needed.

Dani Juson (24:38):

Yeah. That’s interesting. You mentioned relevance and that’s the point that really kind of stands out for me there, with regards to the risk profiles—I think we’re perhaps all a little calmer now—but certainly maybe a month ago, I know I was seeing a bit of a flustered approach. With relevance kind of going out of the window when it came to customer engagement, and there was this feeling of: “We need to reach out, we need to let our customers know that we’re here to help them and we need to give them options… We need to do this, we need to do that! We need to speak to them, see how they’re doing!”

Dani Juson (25:16):

But as you say it’s really important to just take stock of the relevance of that communication before we do that. Because depending on the risk profile yeah, sure—in some cases that may be exactly what you need to do—but in other cases, your best bet may be to dial it down a little bit for now. And of course it’s always important to make sure that your customers understand that you’re there for them, should they need you. But as you mentioned earlier, we’re all battling with a hell of a lot more inputs; digital inputs. So kind of trying not to add to the noise in some cases is probably the best way forward. 

Rav Dhaliwal (25:56):

Yeah, absolutely. I think, you know, it’s perfectly natural to do that in response to an almost overnight, very dramatic change. And as you rightly point out, there is a period of adjustment—people are still adjusting of course—but that initial shock, maybe it has passed a little bit. And I think that does provide an opportunity to think about channels; relevant tools. I’ll give you a really good example: One of the companies that I’m working with is a legal tech firm. You know, they’ve got a whole host of new features they’re rolling out, et cetera. But, what they realized is that while we could just share all of that information with all of our customers right now, actually, the most relevant thing that we can share with them is a use case for—they do contract analysis, right?—so, well, we could really share with them right now are use cases around force majeure clauses… really what lawyers are having to deal with right now! They looked at the way they’re communicating, the way they’re engaging, and thought actually that is probably the most relevant thing we can share right now. And maybe we’ll change the cadence and the channel for the roadmap stuff and do that slightly later or slightly differently. And I think that’s a really good example of a team being super flexible about engaging with their customer.

Dani Juson (27:13):

Yeah. Yeah. And with relevance. Absolutely as the key priority, so that’s a great job right now. So, kudos! So we talked a bit about relevance and we’ve talked about how tech touch and high touch, multi-way communication can be appropriate in different circumstances and how you can blend those approaches together. But I’m also curious to get your thoughts about creating what we call ‘sticky’ customer engagement experiences. So maybe you could talk us through, maybe you have some piece of advice that stands out to you—that perhaps you’ve given teams in the past or perhaps you’re thinking about right now—that teams can really use to help them create these sticky customer experiences? What kinds of things go through your mind?

Rav Dhaliwal (28:05):

Well, I think it’s a great question Dani. I think that it touches on a lot of the stuff we’ve already spoken about, but I would kind of wrap it all up and say that the