Saas Trends 21 min read

Customer Success During COVID-19 with Jay Nathan

Danielle Juson • April 10, 2020

Episode 1 of The inSide Scoop is live! Today, we talked to Jay Nathan of Customer Imperative about the impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on Customer Success teams in SaaS, and ways they can adapt to keep results strong.

Grab a cup of coffee and settle in. For those who prefer to read rather than listen, you’ll find a transcript of our conversation here too.

If you'd like to join the CS Office Hours, head over to this link to register.  


spotify-podcast-badge-blk-grn-330x80

Dani Juson (00:23):

My name is Dani Juson, and I'm the Content Strategist here at inSided. We're going to be kicking off our first episode with a conversation with Jay Nathan, Customer Success expert and founder of Customer Imperative, a purpose-driven company that's focused on customer centric revenue growth for SaaS software and technology businesses. The team at Customer Imperative works alongside Customer Success teams to build, scale and optimize their key customer processes.

Dani Juson (00:48):

So, just a quick note here for listeners: We are recording this at the beginning of April, 2020 when I guess the entire world is consumed by the coronavirus pandemic. Unfortunately, many industries are significantly affected and the impact on each and every one of us has already been huge. So today, Jay and I are going to be talking a little bit about how Customer Success teams can and should be adapting in this current climate, how your typical customer engagement strategies might change during this pandemic, and also how new Customer Success tooling and technology needs could possibly be met. So, Jay, welcome! Thanks for joining me today.

Jay Nathan (01:32):

Yeah. It's great to be here with you.

Dani Juson (01:33):

Thanks for coming along for Episode One. So, these are pretty strange times that we are in right now. How are you coping?

Jay Nathan (01:43):

Yeah. Well, I'm in Charleston, South Carolina, in the United States, and in general we're in a pretty good spot relative to the virus and the spread of the virus. So, a lot of our neighbors up North and out in San Francisco and these larger metropolitan areas, they have much bigger issues to deal with than we do right now. But we're on lockdown like everybody else. Most of my team are based here in Charleston, although we have people all over, some in San Francisco. And so we're impacted. We're impacted just like everybody else—trying to figure out what our business pipeline is going to look like for the rest of the year and that kind of thing. But we're very optimistic about what happens after all this. But, just getting through it like everybody else is.

Dani Juson (02:32):

Good. Good. Are there any ways that you can already identify that this whole situation has affected your team's day-to-day? What kind of things are you having to do to stay on track that you maybe didn't think of before?

Jay Nathan (02:46):

Yeah, that's a good question. We've always been a remote team anyway. But we've always worked very closely with our clients, and we are primarily a consulting firm today. We do spend a lot of time on-site with customers; face-to-face with them. So that's been the biggest change that we've had to make: How do we do consultative things, whether it's customer journey workshops or segmentation workshops. Like, how do we do that kind of work remotely? And I think the good thing about—I mean, there's no good thing about what's happening right now—but the interesting thing is that everybody's working from home. So it's not like we have a group of people in the office and then a few people remotely—everybody's in the same situation, independently. And I think it makes the experience much more, everybody's on common ground, right? Everybody is on a level playing field to be able to participate that way. So we are reworking how we have run our entire strategy around how we workshop and engage a group of people at our clients’ to make meaningful progress on how they're doing their business and how they're doing work.

Dani Juson (03:57):

Yeah, absolutely. I think you're right. It's kind of a case of, as I say, every single person is trying to figure this out—and I don't want to say we're all in the same boat because I don't think that's necessarily the case—but we're certainly all in the situation of trying to figure out just how exactly we make things work that we perhaps didn't have to give much thought to before. So you mentioned you and your team at a Customer Imperative are more of a consultancy business. Just for our listeners, could you give us a little bit of background on yourself and your team and why you're the right person to be talking to us here today about some of these topics?

Jay Nathan (04:39):

Sure. Well, yeah, yeah, absolutely. So I've spent most of my career in B2B SaaS in software companies, running services teams. It was product management for a little while. I was an engineer at one point and then sort of made the migration to Customer Success and that was six or seven years ago now. And so after doing that at multiple companies, I decided that I'd like to start a business. And it's always been a lifelong dream of mine to run my own business. And so three years ago I launched Customer Imperative. Since then, we've worked directly with 60, 70 companies at this point, but we engage with literally hundreds of software companies. B2B SaaS is really the place where we focus; subscription.

Jay Nathan (05:35):

It's actually revenue companies backed by technology. And so we've literally had the opportunity to talk with hundreds of companies and thousands of leaders in the space, be it C-level executives or Customer Success leaders, marketing, sales, finance, HR. Yeah. So I feel like we have a pretty good context for the B2B SaaS landscape. And so I don't know if it makes me uniquely qualified to be here, I know there are a lot of people that do this work, but we do it nonetheless.

Dani Juson (06:14):

It sounds pretty qualified to me. What kind of advice are you giving to your customer success clients, customer success teams, the teams that you are consulting with at the moment? What’s some of the key guidance and advice that you're sharing with them on how they can navigate the current situation?

Jay Nathan (06:38):

Yeah. It's a great question and you know, my thinking on this comes from the common wisdom of literally a hundred. But I think the biggest thing you can do right now is sort of three things. One is you can communicate broadly with your customers, and that means try to communicate with every single one in some way, whether they're large or small. You're going to learn something from this communication. You won't maybe be able to get in touch with everybody on the phone right now. But you can certainly send them an email and let them know the steps that you're taking, make sure they know that you're still there for them as a provider. And how they can get in touch with you and how they can talk with somebody at your company if they really need to.

Jay Nathan (07:24):

So that's number one: Just communicate. Number two is to look for ways to pivot your value proposition. We've seen a lot of companies that are taking their products right now and solving new problems with them that we didn't have three weeks ago, which is amazing. It's amazing to hear these stories and to watch that happen. You know, we have a good friend whose company is in the food delivery business, but they were delivering to offices, right? Nobody's in their office anymore. So what they've done is they've pivoted that business to in-home delivery and like care packages, to delivery for employees so they can actually engage their employees still, but do it in their own home. So you gotta take what you've got and figure out how to make that valuable. If your product won't pivot, think about how you can provide value through community. One of the things that we've been doing at my company is something called Customer Success Leadership Office Hours. We're holding that every week, every Thursday at 11:30 AM Eastern time. And we're just bringing together literally hundreds of people on a Zoom call: CS leaders, Directors, VPs, Chief Customer Officers... to talk about the very specific problems that they're having that week. So provide value by convening your ecosystem in a meaningful discussion. Right?

Jay Nathan (08:49):

So that's number two: Pivot your value prop. And then number three, I think it's just be flexible figuring out how to provide flexibility in your contracts, fuel arrangements with your customers because you want to make sure you keep as many customers as you can afford to keep right now because they're going to be your lifeblood on the other end of this, right? And it's going to be a lot cheaper to keep them than go get new ones. So it was a little long-winded, but those are the three things that we're talking about a lot right now.

Dani Juson (09:14):

Yeah, absolutely. And I really have to say, I feel that's a good point that you mentioned there about focusing on how you can be more flexible with your existing customer base. I think, you know, we're all kind of aware that for the majority of SaaS right now, 

Dani Juson (09:33):

Q2 is going to be light on new business. I think, unless you are in one of those particular niche areas for whom this particular situation is boosting your new business, then we're kind of all very aware that Q2 is going to be difficult. So, you know, what better time is there then to really take that time to focus on your retention effort and focus on what we can be doing to actually help our existing customer base through this? How can we be a little bit more generous with them than maybe we would usually thinkl to be? So, yeah. Good points. I like that. So what would you say that the one most important thing for customer success teams to focus on would be right now? If you could narrow it down to one thing.

Jay Nathan (10:26):

Yeah. I think it's, it's maintaining your relationships with the people that you're serving; with your customers. And that, by the way, probably isn't any different now than it should've been before, right? Relationships and adding value to your customers. Our job—number one—always is Customer Success. But I think it's more important now that we are really having those conversations. That we're maintaining those relationships and we're learning from them so that we can, as a Customer Success team, take what we're hearing directly from the market, consolidate that, assimilate that, and make sure that our executive teams are hearing that from us. Right? So that they can incorporate the customer voice in real time into decisions that are being made back to the contractual flexibility. Right? Like what options do our clients need? Which segments of our customer population do we need to provide that flexibility for versus which ones can we sort of, kick the can down the road a little bit on that discussion. Because there are different customers impacted in different ways even within one company's customer portfolio. But to me, it's relationships. This is all driven by relationships.

Dani Juson (11:42):

Absolutely. Have you got any typical processes that you recommend your clients follow when it comes to gathering that feedback from the customer base and sharing that with maybe the leadership teams or the management teams?

Jay Nathan (11:54):

Yeah, I think one of the things—and this goes beyond just the current crisis—but I think it's going to be even more important now and after the crisis, which I know we're gonna probably talk about a little bit more later, but to me there's a big lack of just tracking of this kind of information and tracking the conversations and the touch points that we're having with customers there in the overall relationship health that we have with our customers. So I think as an industry or as a subset of the SaaS world, customer success has to get much better at going down a level. It's not just gross retention or logo retention. Those aren't the KPIs. I mean, those are important KPIs, but they're lagging measures.

Jay Nathan (12:49):

A good leading measure is, do we have good coverage on our accounts? Do we have the right number of relationships within our enterprise tier accounts? Right? Are we going high and wide with our customers? Meaning, are we talking to senior people and do we have users that are also, you know, part of our relationship map with a particular customer. So what we see a lot of is a lot of the right activities being done on the ground, but not being done consistently by all CSMs and not being tracked in the system of record, like your CRM to make sure that you've got that full 360 degree view of what's going on with a customer and be able to measure that holistically across all of your customers and customer segments.

Dani Juson (13:37):

Yeah, interesting. Something that we see, actually, with a lot of our customers is that when they first come to us they have a real focus on that activity. So as you, as you talked about, maybe the enterprise level stakeholders in accounts, but there's a lack of focus on the long tail, really, of users. And actually, there’s a difficulty in servicing those users, in a much more low touch manner. So I think it's really interesting that, the point you make around making sure that you have that clear relationship map across your customer base so that you can make sure that the right activities are happening with those various different stakeholders, with contacts in each relationship.

Jay Nathan (14:32)

Yeah, totally. Well, with a platform like inSided and I don't know the ins and outs of it, but in general, an online community platform is a great way to engage that long tail of customers. And their engagement in your community should probably be one of your health indicators that you're using; one of your KPIs for each customer's health. Because if they're engaged in the community more often, they're probably more likely to remain a customer—assuming their business is in good shape. So I think there's definitely some interesting long tail effects with customer community there.

Dani Juson (15:16):

Yeah, absolutely. And that's definitely something that we see customers coming to us for and using the platform for. You know, we have integrations with CRM tools (think Gainsight, think Salesforce.com) that really allow Customer Success teams to see how community activity is feeding into the overall health and happiness of the account. So you're absolutely right. That is definitely something that people are using the inSided platform for. It really allows you that sort of self sufficiency and self-service for the long tail base. So, obviously we touched on the topic of customer engagement because that's really a key indicator—a leading indicator for these, as you said, lagging KPIs. Have you seen in the past weeks / months that more and more companies are trying to find different ways to drive customer engagement? Is that something that you have seen this particular situation we're in now have an impact on?

Jay Nathan (16:29):

Yeah, well, let's be real fair here. We've only been in this situation for a few weeks. And I think if you look at the hierarchy of needs that companies are focusing on right now, it's probably number one, shoring up their own business positions. So, what does their cash position look like? You know, are they going to be able to stay solvent over the next three to six months, however long this economic slowdown is going to take? But then they're communicating to customers and a lot of companies working with right now are getting inundated with inbound requests. So they're just sort of chunking through that right now. And those inbound requests could be support requests for changes to how the product is working. I mean, for them based on their new situation or it could be contractual questions.

Jay Nathan (17:22):

So I think a lot of companies are just sort of trying to, to keep up. We had on our Office Hours call yesterday, we had a Customer Success leader from Zoom on the call, it was great to have him there. I'm surprised he even had time to join us for a little bit, I mean, I can't imagine a busier company and you know, they're just trying to keep up. Right? And so there are three categories of companies out there. You're either thriving, you're striving or you're surviving. Right? And those are like the three different segments that I've been thinking about a lot in terms of how to think about different companies in the market. And our software companies are no different. So so yeah, so long story short, I do think it's accelerating.

Jay Nathan (18:14):

I think there are some things starting to begin to happen faster. Like I said, people are pivoting their value propositions, but they're also looking for new ways to engage their users. And I think this little situation that we're in—it's not really little!—but the situation that we're in really is going to drive a lot of invention of new engagement techniques with customers. I've been on a couple of webinars just this week where it's not just like the normal panel webinar anymore. It's really a little bit of a presentation of some ideas and then it's a two way conversation. And I think the more we can get to a conversation with our customers, whether it be one-on-one or a one-to-many setting, I think that's really valuable. Because customers just get a ton of value out of hearing from one another, especially right now. So that's long. Long story short, I do think, yeah, that this is accelerating a lot of ways that companies are sort of being forced to communicate broadly and engage broadly with their customer base.

Dani Juson (19:20):

Yeah, absolutely. So, do you see that as being something that we need to do, to tide ourselves over?  Through, let's say, half one of 2020, (we hope!) or do you see this as maybe a bigger step-change in the industry overall? And, possibly as we come out the other side of this, that Customer Success teams will still probably be then utilizing different tools, different tactics than they may have done six months ago?

Jay Nathan (19:54):

Yeah, yeah. I do think it's going to change things in some ways on a permanent basis. And that's not just for Customer Success teams. I think it's also for sales teams, but there's a lot of people that instead of face-to-face business reviews that they would normally have with their clients, are forced to figure out how to do that remotely. And, and those customers may be realizing the value, the money, and the time saved of being able to do those things over a digital means like Zoom, as opposed to doing them face-to-face in the same room. So in some ways; I mean with face-to-face there's tremendous value in that and it's never going to be something that we want to do away with. But I think we get a lot more efficient after this—using tools that we're all using right this moment as the means to conduct some of that business down the road. I think it goes for Sales and Customer Success over time.

Dani Juson (20:53):

Definitely. So do you see the typical Customer Success tech stack / tooling stack altering then, on a long-term basis?

Jay Nathan (21:05):

Yeah, totally. In my mind, a lot of the tools that we are using for Customer Success today are back office in nature. So I think there's a whole new class of tools that probably either already exist and they're going to be adopted by Customer Success teams or that are going to be invented that help us really do two-way communications with our customers better, in a digital way. And I'm curious, I would guess that inSided probably has the same problem as many enterprise SaaS companies do. During customer onboarding, it's always a challenge to grab the data that you need from the customer and have them give you the right information so that you can provision their account and get a baseline configuration set up for them so that you can then engage with them and help them through the rest of the onboarding process. Like, that's a pretty common problem in a lot of software companies. And I can imagine there are tools that emerge and I know there are tools that already exist for this as well, but like, how do we solve that problem, right? And solve it in a low touch, seamless way with technology that facilitates the communication back and forth with the customer and not just gets tracked in the back office. So I think it has the biggest opportunity.

Dani Juson (22:36):

That does sound like a big opportunity as you say; making that initial setup / migration just more low touch, more seamless, less manual. And then also, from a Customer Success perspective, the onboarding in terms of product adoption as well for customers and how they can really get up to speed quickly with a product without actually having to sit through six hours of training sessions with the Customer Success team. Because let's be honest, your success team has higher impact activities that they could be working on for sure. Yeah. 

So, I just want to close off with asking you, Jay, what do you think—if any—lessons CS teams will be able to take from this experience in 2020 that they should hold onto in the future?

Jay Nathan (23:39):

Yeah, I wouldn't even limit this to CS, although I know that's the focus of our discussion today. But SaaS companies in general are all going to reap what we've sown relative to the relationships that we've created with our customers. Right? There are going to be some customers who will stay with us. There are going to be some customers who are going to go out of business, but could still be advocates for us. We have to remember that customers are made up of people and people can always be an advocate for you based on their experience they've had with you. So I think the lesson to learn here—or the key takeaway—is let's continue really focusing on building those relationships. And not only building them, but making sure that as a company we are keeping track of how strong our relationships are with our clients and what value that we're providing them in a systematic way so that we can go engage those customers that we don't have as deep of a relationship with. So to me it's really continuing to focus on relationships. And then number two is, is focusing on the systems behind all this to make sure that we have good knowledge and good visibility into how well we're doing that leading activity across our customer base. So that's my not-so-simple answer I guess.

Dani Juson (25:17):

Well, I think it sounds pretty straightforward. Maintain those relationships and also maintain a view of how those relationships are so that you can proactively address anything that needs addressing or work with any customers where relationships are breaking down or contact is not going as as you would want it to be. So really those backend processes; that makes sense to me. 

Can I add one more thing? 

Absolutely. Please.

Jay Nathan (25:48):

So I think the other thing is just the value of community. And I'm not saying that because I'm talking to you from inSided, but I think the value of many-to-many in the ecosystem is really valuable. And the thing that I think some of us may miss at times is that we don't have to have all the answers, but there's a collective wisdom across the customer base typically. And typically within a large customer base, there's a lot of willing participants in that community as well who will freely share what they know. We're finding that in the Customer Success community and I can only imagine of a lot of other communities that there's similar willingness there. So the power of community in many-to-many, whether you're serving large or small clients is really huge.

Dani Juson (26:40):

Yeah, you're absolutely right. I mean we see, particularly in the case of B2B software where the use cases can get quite complex; when you're talking about multiple different variations of use cases for software products, the peer-to-peer support element there, that sharing of best practices, you know: “we were trying to achieve X and these are the steps we took with the product in order to get there”, they’re just unparalleled, and that’s a level of support, that's a level of engagement, that's a level of discussion that your Customer Success team can't achieve on their own. There's no way that the customer success guys / managers that you have are able to think about the 557 potential different possibilities of what can be done with complex products like that. So having that peer community to bounce ideas off and to share best practices with is what many of our customers at inSided find the absolute most valuable thing.

 

Well, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today, Jay. I really do. It's been an absolute pleasure; we said we would aim for around 20 minutes. We hit half an hour, so that just goes to show I enjoyed our conversation, so I really appreciate you taking the time out! You mentioned that you run your CS Office Hours. Can you just briefly tell me a bit about that and how people can find that and I can make sure I add that in the show notes?

Jay Nathan (28:31):

Yes, definitely. So we post this on LinkedIn every week, but on Thursdays at 11:30 AM Eastern daylight time, it's a crisp hour: Starts at 11:30, ends right on time at 12:30. We have industry leaders from literally all over the world on that call. People from Israel, India, Silicon Valley, East coast of the US, Europe, Asia—you name it, they're there, and some really big names have been joining us. We use a tool called Sli.do to help us prioritize the topics for the week. People vote on the topics that are most prevalent to them. And then we sort of go down the list and we let folks talk about what they're doing practically today within their companies. Just sort of talk about that openly and share that with the community and then bounce ideas around across people.

Jay Nathan (29:31):

So it's not a panel. We tried that at the beginning. People didn't like that as much. We do a survey after every single one, so we get feedback and our feedback has gone way up in terms of how we're operating the group. And so we feel like we've hit on a really good format that's valuable to a lot of people. Cool. So we'd love anybody to join that and I'll share a link with you and you could throw that in the show notes for people to join.

Dani Juson (29:55):

Yeah. Fantastic. That sounds like a really invaluable resource. I'm sure people will be able to recognize themselves in the conversations that are being had there. So it sounds really valuable. I'd love to share that with our listeners.

Jay Nathan (30:08):

We would love that. Thank you.

Dani Juson (30:11):

Great. Awesome. All right then. Well, thank you so much again, Jay. I really appreciate it. I wish you a safe and healthy weekend in your home. Take care, Jay. Okay. Thank you. Bye. Bye.

Picture of Danielle Juson

By Danielle Juson

Customer success community expert and writer at inSided. Passionate about sharing the value and impact of community, and enabling companies to get it right. Connect on Linkedin

We’ll let you know when we publish anything new

Keep up to date with the latest in Customer Success communities. We send you a monthly round-up and promise never to spam! 

Stay in the loop