In Episode 14 of The inSide Scoop on Customer Success, we tackle a very important topic: The new QBR – Best practices for digital business reviews. Listen in as our VP of Customer Success and podcast hostess with the mostess, Anika Zubair, talks to Dickey Singh, CEO & Co-founder of Cast.app.
Digital Customer Success has to be the hottest topic of 2021, which is why today we’ll talk about how, as a CSM, you can give your long-tail customers the same one-to-one service, but leveraging technology to do so. We’ll discuss how the SaaS industry might be moving away from traditional QBRs into digital business reviews, the value these digital reviews bring, and if they are the future of how we do customer success.
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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Anika Zubair (00:59): Welcome, Dickey, to The inSide Scoop on Customer Success. I’m really excited to have you here with us today. Before we actually get into today’s topic, I thought it would be really great if you could introduce yourself to our listeners, maybe tell us a little bit about Cast.app, how it started and what you guys are doing there.
Dickey Singh (01:55): Absolutely. Thank you, Anika, for having me. Yeah, I am one of the co-founders of Cast.app, and Cast.app is a young startup, a little over a year old, and then we help B2B and SaaS businesses scale customer success by using virtual CSMs for the long tail of CSM unmanaged accounts. In other words, we generate interactive video presentations from data that are presented and explained by a virtual presenter or a virtual CSM.
Anika Zubair (02:30): Awesome. Awesome. And you’ve just piqued my interest there already with virtual and digital customer success. I think those are the hottest things talked about in customer success in 2021, which I know we’ll talk in more detail about digital CS and QBRs, but before we get into today’s topic, I thought we could have a little bit of a warmup round. Like any good sport, you need a warm up. So my first few questions I thought I would ask you is, are you Apple or Google person?
Dickey Singh (03:02):I am, I think 100% Apple person all the way. I mean, if I look around, I have my M1 laptop over here and then I have my iPad where I take notes, I’m talking to you via those AirPod Pros, and I listen to Audible when I walk my dog all the time, so I’m Apple 100%.
Anika Zubair (03:22): Awesome, awesome. I feel the same. Whenever I look around my desk as well, I’m like, “Apple has me so hooked into their ecosystem. There’s no way I would ever leave at this point.” But what great customer retention. We should all follow that model. The next question I have for you is, are you a dog or cat person?
Dickey Singh (03:44): I am a dog person. I’m on my second lab. She is a 100 pound English lab, and she’s a little less than three years old. I had another lab before that, she lived for 17 years. So yeah, we are in love with our lab.
Anika Zubair (04:05): Sweet, sweet. And I just heard the size of your labrador and I’m just thinking my dog, and I’m seeing her walk around, she’s tiny, she’s like three, four pounds that I’m sure your dog would eat that.
Dickey Singh (04:16): She is extremely caring, actually, when she goes to… We have a PetSmart over here. When she goes out, she takes care of all the little dogs. She’s got that mommy spirit going.
Anika Zubair (04:27): Too sweet, too sweet. Awesome. And my last question before we jump into the topic is if you were stuck on a desert island, which three things would you take with you and why?
Dickey Singh (04:37): This is a very interesting question. I want to know what the psychology angle is behind that. And I’ll probably ask you what responses you get from others if you asked the same question. The last time I checked, they did not have a pocket nuclear reactor on Amazon, so I’m going to go with a solar-powered satellite phone. I think that if I’m stuck, I need help, that’s the best way to reach folks. I would like to get maybe an endless supply of water or some sort of desalination device. And obviously, I think I’m going to carry a Swiss army knife with me.
Anika Zubair (05:20): Cool. Cool. Coming back to your psychology behind that question, I think it’s interesting because everyone that I do have on the podcast, and I ask this question of them, there are two groups of people I’ve seen. There’s either ones that go into super survival mode, like you just mentioned, a way to find water and how to contact people. And then there are other people who take the very leisurely, “Oh, this is just going to be an extended holiday, let me bring a book and my dog and just relax.” So it’s interesting to see where people end up when I ask that question. I think that’s why I ask it.
Dickey Singh (05:51): Interesting. So that’s the angle. Yeah, I wondering why you ask this question, but that’s very interesting. I’d be really interested in finding answers… You should write a blog post about what everyone responded.
Anika Zubair (06:02): Exactly. I know, right. I think it would be interesting content to share. I’m like, “So all these people I speak to, these are the two types of people I’ve noticed come out of this question.” But anyways, jumping into today’s topic, I think I would really love to know what inspired you to actually start Cast.app and what kicked off this whole journey of you guys going into the digital long tail of customer success?
Dickey Singh (06:30): Yeah, that’s a little long story, but in one of the previous companies that I founded, I found that it was impossible to get the executives or the customers to log into your portal or your dashboard. But they were on top of the email. And I also noticed that they have presented information all the time. And looking in the CSM world or the post-sales world, the CSMs are the reason why managed accounts thrive. They preemptively and proactively solve problems, but they’re never able to serve all the accounts. And I saw three major problems.
Dickey Singh (07:14): There are a lot of unmanaged CSM accounts, and CSMs themselves provide varying levels of service to their own portfolio. If they manage 50 accounts or so, they’re not going to provide the same service. And the third is digital CS reports. They do not really explain or convince users to take a specific action. And so we said, instead of asking those users to come into the product, what if we could take the product to the users wherever they are, whether they are in Slack, whether they are in a community or whether they are over text or email. They can also login into your product when they see that, and that’s what we had about when we started Cast.
Anika Zubair (07:58): Yeah, that’s really great. I think it’s something that a lot of customer success managers and leaders forget. Obviously that one-to-one engagement as well as making sure your CSM checks in with the executive sponsor and really feel them out and make sure that they’re really getting value from the product as you said, but sometimes we’re all just busy people and it’s really hard to convince someone no matter how great your product is to actually log in and to actually use the product the way we would hope someone would use it. So it’s really great that you guys thought of a way of bringing the product outside of the product by the sounds of it. And I know a lot of companies out there are probably thinking about using technology to give one-to-one service to the long tail of customers. I mean, you guys have some big-name customers already that are using your services, but when should a SaaS company actually start catering or moving towards digital or one-to-many customer success?
Dickey Singh (08:56): Yeah, that’s a very interesting question, and obviously we have a lot of opinions, but I… So there’s a blog post on our website. Actually, we interviewed Emilia D’Anzica. She’s the former CMO of WalkMe and Copper CRM. She actually recommended starting with a digital approach first and then building a white-glove service around it. But yeah, but I think slightly differently. If you unzoom and take a look at with the wide-angle lens, I think digital customer success works really well for SaaS and PLG companies, or product-led growth companies that serve several customers and the RPA or the revenue per account is lower. If you are a Palantir and then you have 10 million ACV, you can have six CSMs per account.
Dickey Singh (09:54): On the other hand, our common customer, Google Cloud, they serve more than 90% of their accounts using digital CS. And it’s the same is true with our other customers, Pure Storage, Comcast, Notion, and several others. When the revenue is lower per month or the MRR is lower per month, you cannot afford to have so many CSMs. You can afford to have them for the top 10% or 5% of the accounts. So the right answer is, I guess, segmenting your entire account-based by RPA and something else, and then selecting the right CS strategy for that segment, whether it is one-on-one CSM managed accounts or all CSM accounts or digital CS with the ability to talk to CSMs during onboarding or pre-boarding or when the customer is at risk or when they have a question. So one size fits all doesn’t work.
Anika Zubair (10:55): Yep. Totally agree. I think it’s super dependent on the market you’re serving, but also the type of customer you’re acquiring, and I totally agree. If you have thousands or hundreds and thousands of customers and they’re only paying you 100 or maybe 500 a month, are you really going to be able to get a CSM to actually service all those customers? And I think that’s when a SaaS company should really zoom out and look at what is your customer base really like, and what can you actually service them with and how can you cater them and all those other things that you mentioned earlier.
Anika Zubair (11:33): And we just talked about two different approaches, one where obviously you start with digital and then move to the white glove service. And then the opposite, which is like, “Hey, maybe you should just start with white glove, and then once you get to a point of where there’s a threshold you hit and there’s no way to service one-to-one you move to one to many.” My next question for you is really, should you hire a CSM that’s dedicated to handling the long tail customers, or should you just leverage technology to scale CS efforts? So do you still need someone in charge of all of that, really?
Dickey Singh (12:08): Yeah, this is a very interesting question. I think if you look at our customers, they’re all over the place. And the right answer could be a business should do what makes the most sense for them. Just like we switched from marketing to tech savvy marketers who rely on customer IO and.. You do have tech and business savvy CSMs these days. So I do several companies creating a dedicated role where… And they’re calling them digital CSMs or scale CSMs. A lot of times CS ops, customer ops, or full sales ops is using this in a dedicated role, but we are also seeing several companies where the CSMs are taking the initiative to first make their jobs easier.
Dickey Singh (13:05): If they’re serving 50 accounts or so, they are not providing digital QBRs to all the 50 accounts, or QBRs to all the accounts. And then move on to serve their entire portfolio and then extend the CS, extend to the currently unmanaged CSM accounts. So we see a combination at the end is… So digital help can be acquired. There are several marketeers that you can ask what to do. You can use third party products for that, like communities and products like ours as well as webinars and everything. But the customer knowledge that CSMs have is also essential.
Anika Zubair (13:48): Yeah, definitely. I think it always boils down to having a good mix of both, a good, healthy mix of both. I think you’re always going to have those top tier clients that definitely need the white glove service, and then you’re definitely going to have your longer tail customers that you can use technology to give them that one-to-one service, but you need to be very aware that there needs to be someone who’s actually guiding them and helping them and educating them and furthering their efforts through technology. But it can’t just be done one way or another by the sounds of it. It just doesn’t make sense for most business models. I’m happy to be corrected on that, but it sounds like there needs to be a balance.
Dickey Singh (14:25): Absolutely.
Anika Zubair (14:27): Awesome. And you mentioned the journey and you mentioned that it’s super important to map it out and make sure you’re really crystal clear as to who’s serving what, what type of customer you’re looking to service and how to service them, but how do you even start mapping out a digital customer success journey with technology?
Dickey Singh (14:47): This topic could be a podcast or a webinar by itself, and we actually did a webinar on this topic recently with Google’s Brian LaFaille and Sonam from Gong and Graham Gill from Accent Technologies, and we are in the process of putting the recording online. The general idea is to use technology where it makes sense. Productivity for CSMs or automation for CSM unmanaged accounts. If a CSM is managing 80 accounts, and we see that several times when I talk to customers. “How many accounts do you manage?” They say, “Oh, 80 to 100.” They’re not doing QBRs for all the accounts, as I was mentioning. And forget about making the QBR relevant for each user at the account.
Dickey Singh (15:36): I would go back to my original answer, which is, I would say, start with a segment that would benefit the most and pick what you want to drive. And it could be anything ranging from product adoption to Net Dollar Retention. Obviously, you don’t drive Net Dollar Retention, but you drive the components of Net Dollar Retention. But that’s how I would say, pick a segment and you look at the long-term goal, what you want to drive, and then just nudge every user to the next most relevant step in their journey. So I think that would make the most sense.
Anika Zubair (16:16): Yeah, that sounds great. It means you’re just focusing on each milestone one step at a time, and then whether it’s digital or one-to-one, it’s really making sure those milestones are traced out, and what do you need to actually do to go from one milestone to the next, by the sounds of it.
Dickey Singh (16:33): Absolutely.
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Anika Zubair (16:35): Amazing. I know that we are talking a lot about how Cast.app does a lot of digital QBRs, and a quarterly business review, EBR, executive business review, whatever you’re calling it, or whatever anyone says it is these days, is a pretty standard practice or commonly used practice across customer success managers, and they’re super important. And Cast.app obviously digitalizes that. So what are some of the changes from a traditional EBR to a digital EBR? What changes?
Dickey Singh (17:08): Yeah, actually, if you look on LinkedIn they’re calling it digital business reviews or continuous value providing. I think there are several names. But there are quite a few differences between, let’s call them traditional QBRs or Digital Business Reviews. One thing for sure is the focus changes from account-based QBR to a user-based QBR or account-based QBR to each user-based Digital Business Review. We know that every user at your account is different. All the way from the CEO or the CRO to the director, to the VP down to the intern, they’re different. So one of the things that we are hearing a lot, is user success is the new customer success. And that’s what we are providing… So what is CSM really doing? They’re providing recommendations to the users. So in a Digital Business Review, we can provide recommendations based on where the user is in their journey versus where the account is in the journey.
Dickey Singh (18:18): And traditional QBRs are 45 minutes long and obviously they are once a quarter, and then we hear things like, “Oh, it’s too long, and they’re too infrequent.” But digital business reviews are much shorter. They’re three or four minutes. They’re highly relevant. They can be consumed asynchronously. You don’t have to set up a meeting to get the people. And a lot of times, when you invite a C-level person, they don’t even show up. You’re talking to the same champion again and again. And the last thing is the cadence can be based on the role of the person. So you can reach out to the champions on a weekly basis, the operators on a monthly basis, maybe the C-level executive on a quarterly basis. And the users can look at this digital business review on demand. Every time they log on, whenever they feel like, they go into your product and then they can click on a button and they can see this business review, which is always up to date. So that’s what changes from a formerly presented traditional QBR to a digital business review.
Anika Zubair (19:27): Wow. I loved hearing all of that and I have so many follow-up questions, now that you’ve just said all of that. And I love that you said that the traditional to digital moves from account-based to end user-based QBR or Digital Review because you’re now personalizing everything exactly based on the user, rather than the company that’s actually using your product. Because at the end of the day, we’re all humans and people are actually using the product, not the company, so I really liked hearing that. But how can you actually make sure your end-user is getting value from that actual digital QBR?
Dickey Singh (20:05): Yeah, so think of it this way. When you make a recommendation to a person… So what the CRO may be looking for is different from an intern… So a CRO may be looking at what’s the difference between the commercial business and the enterprise business or this segment versus this segment, or whether this product providing value? Whereas an intern, or… I’m just using the term intern loosely, but they could be looking at like, “Hey, I did this email campaign and what results did I get?” So everyone’s usage of your product, depending on what your product is, could be different, and the recommendations you make for them could also be different.
Dickey Singh (20:45): Currently what we do is we make like, “Oh, you should look into this product.” We make very high-level recommendations to drive product adoption during the QBR. Where digital business reviews, you can go down to the level of what you want to drive. Are you driving product adoption? Are you driving retention? Are you driving some particular feature that the customer is not using and they would get a lot of value from that feature? So it comes down to what you want to drive.
Anika Zubair (21:15): Interesting. And you mentioned that the frequency of these digital business reviews can be once a month, once a quarter, and it’s always there whenever the end-user logs in, which is great, but that sounds like a lot of work, to be honest, I can only imagine as a CSM when you’re preparing an QBR, that could be hours, if not days of work sometimes to really make sure you’re gathering all the data, having all the account information at hand, and making sure you’re really delivering value to your customer. Does that ring true or the same for digital?
Dickey Singh (21:50): That’s spot on. If you think about it like how are these QBRs created today? A customer would have a template with their fonts and everything, and the CSM would go into three or four systems, for example, they would go into Looker, they would go into Amplitude, they would go into Qualtrics, and they would maybe go into Snowflake or run some queries and get the data and fill in the QBR template in a PowerPoint or Keynote. And then they would find time to talk to people and present it to them.
Dickey Singh (22:28): Whereas a digital business review is generated directly from data. So the amount of time a CSM would spend, maybe three to eight hours, creating one QBR for one customer, you can create these digital business reviews for every customer in a perpetual manner. And these are always up to date. You’re just basically telling them where to get the data from and if the health score is between 0 and 20, these are the recommendations you want to make. If the health score is between 20 and 60 or the usage is such, these are the recommendations you want to make. You capture that once, and then you just generate these for various customers and various users, depending on what data you have about them.
Anika Zubair (23:19): Wow. That sounds so much faster than what, obviously, like you said, pulling data from so many different places. It makes your CSM’s life so much easier and also way more data-driven because I think everyone in the digital space or in one to many or the long tail of customer success is always looking at data points and it sounds like all the data is just aggregated and then just presented nicely in a short format, like a video or a little few slides that just show you exactly what you need to see and hear and nothing more, nothing less.
Dickey Singh (23:50): That’s correct. I mean, if you think of it this way, if a CSM has, let’s pick a number, 60 accounts or so, and let’s say they work five days a week. If they were to generate QBRs for those 60 accounts, that’s all they will do the entire quarter. So think of it this way. But if the system is helping them… And I’m not saying they have to use the virtual CSM. A lot of times our customers use our product to create these presentations, and then we create the talking points and they pick and choose which slides they want or which talking points they want, and then they can present it themselves. But in other words, it helps them become productive and also automates for the long tail.
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Anika Zubair (24:38): Yeah. It seems like there’s great value for both like you said, where you can definitely customize it for your high touch or white glove, and then you can automate a lot of points for your long-tail customers and really using technology to actually leverage your customer base, which is what I think a lot of people in SaaS are seeing more and more of. But data is super key and important and having the right data I’m sure is what fuels these digital QBRs. But what are some of the basic metrics that you need to put in place to understand how to actually deliver these digital QBRs? What are some of the things that are normally presented?
Dickey Singh (25:23): So some of the basic metrics are how many people received it, how many people opened it, and how many people watched how many scenes. So all that is standard stuff, and we have figured out ways to take one key usage point and bring it down to the subject line of the email, for example. So we can drive people to click on the QBR. But at the end of the day, what you want to measure is the actions you want to drive. Do you want the customer to adopt a feature that they would benefit from? Then measure that.
Dickey Singh (26:01): But let’s step back, and what is the goal of a QBR in a way? So for the business, we would say drive Net Dollar Retention. It conveniently covers both churn and expansion. For a managed account, it is showing what value a customer account is getting and what value they can get by using all of the products you offer. So it really depends on what feature, what product, what you want to drive, that will add value to what the customer is using, and just measure that, which is much better than measuring the open rates and how people are… Which scenes are being watched and which scenes are being skipped.
Anika Zubair (26:45): Yeah, I totally agree. I think a lot of times whether you’re delivering a digital or a one-to-one QBR, a lot of times, I’m like, “It’s not what’s actually in that QBR that matters.” I mean, of course, it matters in some contexts, but it’s really what your customers do with that information. What are they going to do after? What are your recommendations? Are they actually going to go adopt a new feature or functionality? Are they going to go and then become an advocate for you? Or are they going to possibly stop using your product, and then you have to do another EBR? But it’s just so important to track all of those metrics and everything that your customer does after the delivery of all of this, because if they’re not going to do anything, then it’s dangerous.
Dickey Singh (27:31): Our most sophisticated customers know what key customer outcomes directly correlate with retention or Net Dollar Retention. And what they would do is measure that key customer outcome as a metric. For example, if you look at Looker, our common customer, if the number of support tickets falls below a certain level, they can predict that the customer might churn. Or if the number of support tickets are higher than a specific brand, then they can say, “Oh, the customer hasn’t fully adopted the product yet.” So they’re very sophisticated in the way that they figured out what key metric to measure that leads to looking at some other metrics that they really want to drive like or so.
Anika Zubair (28:27): I know we’ve talked a little while for… I know we’ve talked a little bit about the digital QBR now and also how to deliver it and the metrics you should be tracking, but do you have any other ways that a CSM can give the same experience to their long-tail customers as they do to their high touch customers outside of a digital QBR?
Dickey Singh (28:47): Yeah, we are all very aware of… We went from one-on-one for high touch to one-to-many, and then webinars, and then also communities where the customers are helping each other — other customers. So one of the things is, as I was saying, we went from one-on-one high touch to one-to-many, and then we switched to personalized tech touch, which is replacing the name and saying the same thing… I think we can go back to one-on-one tech touch and can go back to using technology to make every communication that we have highly relevant.
Dickey Singh (29:34): What I really mean is instead of using personalization, we can generate these business reviews or every communication, which is highly relevant for the person that we are sending to. if you want to keep it three to four minutes, then you are forced, just like on Twitter, we are forced to keep the character count low. If you say, “I only have three to four minutes of customer’s time,” then you come up with things that are relevant to that particular user. I think that’s what we can also do in addition to communities, webinars, emails, SMS, ways of communicating with the customers.
Anika Zubair (30:19): Yeah, definitely. I think there are just so many ways that you can rethink your long-tail strategy, because, as you said, it’s now all about customizing your customer success journey for your customers, but using technology to leverage that. It doesn’t all have to be technology. It doesn’t all have to be catered to white-glove service. But you definitely should be leveraging technology. We live in a technology era where companies are starting and apps and different ways that we optimize our time is picking up day by day. I mean, now I just look at my screen and I’m like… I have so many windows open and I’m trying to multitask and that’s a technology for you. So I’m just thinking that with customer success it’s just about giving that digital experience, but making sure you’re using and leveraging technology that your customers still feel the love and the excitement and the joy of using your product, but it doesn’t necessarily have to come from a human. It can be digitalized.
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Dickey Singh (31:15): Yeah, and the right technology for the right segment. I think that’s the only thing I would add for the high touch, one-on-one, just use technology and then provide the information yourself, for the lowest touch you can use digital CS in various forms.
Anika Zubair (31:33): Awesome. Yeah, we could keep going on and on about this topic, I know we can, but I do want to wrap up with our quick-fire questions and I’m going to challenge you to try to answer the next few questions in a sentence or less, but let’s see how we get on. Are you ready?
Dickey Singh (31:47): That’ll be hard.
Anika Zubair (31:51): Okay. So my first question is whom do you admire in customer success or in technology?
Dickey Singh (31:57): It’s hard not to admire Nick Mehta and what he has done for customer success, but I really admire Elon Musk for his passion, innovation mindedness, and optimism for a better future.
Anika Zubair (32:10): Great examples. I was also just thinking the same when you said about Elon Musk. I was like, “Yeah, his innovation is unreal.” Next question is, what is your favorite customer success resource to find more on customer success?
Dickey Singh (32:24): Several. I think the Seven Pillars book by Wayne McCullough is amazing. And I love blogs by Tomasz Tunguz of RedPoint and Dave Kellogg. I actually plagiarized a bunch of their work and put together a blog. It’s amazing. Also, I learn so much every time I read S-1 statements. You find so much information, but I