Kristi Faltorusso 0:00
So many things about your business are unique. And if you’re not taking time to design your program with the customer at the forefront, you’re going to miss the entire intent of the business.

Anne Bibb 0:10
Welcome to Unexpected Journey, the show where each week top professionals share work wisdom and life lessons about their careers and what they have learned about human experience in the workplace. I’m your host, Anne Bibb. Today,

Anne Bibb 0:25
we have Kristi Faltorusso. Kristi is currently the Chief Customer Officer at Client Success, which is a leading Customer Success Management Solution, where she leads customer success, technical support, and community consulting. Before we begin, don’t forget to subscribe and leave your comments below. Now, let’s get started. Thank you for being here, Kristi.

Kristi Faltorusso 0:54
I’m so thrilled to be here, I’m really looking forward to our conversation today.

Anne Bibb 0:58
I am a huge fan not only of what you’re doing but of you, you. I’ve watched you move up in the organization and what you’re doing in the Customer Success world. And I am just so excited to talk to you specifically about customer success itself, because it’s such the actual title and the role can be mistaken and misrepresented in organizations. And so I’m interested to hear kind of how you’ve, you’re tackling that misnomer in the world of business right now.

Kristi Faltorusso 1:37
Yeah, I mean, it’s a tough one, I think especially now with so many organizations who are making cutbacks, and they’re reducing team sizes, and just going through their own internal journeys as we navigate the economy coming off the pandemic. And what I’m seeing, unfortunately, is a lot of organizations, keeping the customer success title. And really just repurposing sales or account management or support or some other function, just to make the optics appear as if they’re maintaining customer success for the sake of their customers. But the reality of it is that what those organizations are delivering isn’t customer success at all. You know, it’s a, it’s a hard conversation to have. It’s one I’m often faced with when I speak with a lot of either VC firms or CEOs, where we just talk about customer success. And they’re like, Well, we have customer success. And here’s what I have them doing like but that’s not customer success. And so it’s a hard reality. But unfortunately, we’re still educating a lot of folks. It’s sad to think that customer success has been around as long as it hasn’t, even though it hasn’t been around forever. How difficult the concept seems to be for some folks. But you know, when I think about customer success, and it’s going to look and feel different, every organization, it’s really the group of folks who are there to help orchestrate value for the customers. And that orchestration is going to look very different. Alright, some organizations, it’s going to be more technically focused, more project management focus, more consultative, more product focused. And so every organization should take on its own feel. But the reality of it is that group should still be hyper focused on helping those customers go through change management to realize the outcomes, they came into the partnership seeking.

Anne Bibb 3:19
It’s interesting, you just said something. Now a while back, we talked with Jeff Sheehan, who is a Customer Experience Consultant. And he made the comment that customer experience is not one size fits all. And you just said, and we also talked about the difference between customer success and customer experience, which I just can tell, by the way, you just said, we’re probably going to talk about that too, which is great. But you just said Customer Success is not the same in every organization. So that leads into customer success is also not one size fits all. Can you go a little bit more into that?

Kristi Faltorusso 3:57
Yeah, I mean, unfortunately, you have, again, because it’s still seemingly new as a practice. You’ve got a lot of folks who think that it is a one size fits, all right, we’re going to come into an organization and my CSM is going to be responsible for having conversations with their customers with accordance to some cadence, we’re going to do these business reviews, whether it be an EBR or QBR, we’re going to manage the renewal rate, it just feels very boxy. When the reality of it is your your product is different, your customers are different, your market is different, right? So many things about your business are unique. And if you’re not taking time to design your program with the customer at the forefront, you’re going to miss the entire intent of the business. And so that’s why it does have to look different now. There are some elements that will remain consistent, right? Like you should be having strategic conversations, you’re going to onboard these customers, whether the CSM is responsible for that or not. TBD, right, like every organization will make that determination. But there will be certain things that will kind of run along from organization that we’re in sation but how things are done to the depth that they’re done the scope, the time that it takes to do these things should look and feel very different. Right? I always use the example my two favorite examples are like Calendly and Salesforce, right? I think those are like the two ends of the spectrum as far as I can see them for technologies, and I think almost everyone would be familiar with, right? If you’re a customer success manager at Calendly, your job probably looks very different than if you’re a customer success manager at Salesforce, right? Think about the level of complexity about the products alone, right, we won’t even touch the size of the organization, that complexity that products, upselling down selling roles, all that just the scope of the work that you would be doing based on a product is so different, right? Markets are different personas, who you sell to right, like you might be selling into it or engineering, very technical person personas, they might not need you to go to the level of depth on certain things, because they know, whereas other folks education, my favorite space to talk about, right? Their technical aptitude might be a little bit different. And so education enablement is going to require you to take a different level of approach to it right. So you’ve got to know your audience. It’s all about creating that program around your customers who they are they need.

Anne Bibb 6:18
So you just brought up two very interesting clients, clients, companies. But there are also so many out there, Slack, HubSpot, yep. You know, many organizations that have taken that CS role, and almost automated so much of it, to put that self service piece into it. But that doesn’t take the CSM roll out of the mix.

Kristi Faltorusso 6:55
Listen, I think everyone right now is focused on scale. I don’t know that I’ve read a LinkedIn post that doesn’t say, Yeah, our top priority for this year is scale, right? Like everyone is focused on that. And rightfully so. And not just because of resourcing issues and all that. But because that is the direction we all need to head. And when I’m talking about scale, and even if I introduce concepts like a I don’t like any of these terms, these are not my terms, but like a digitally led program or tech touch, which I hate both of those for the record. The ability to have a one to many strategy is probably I think a better way to think about it is how businesses are going to be able to drive more impact across their customer base. That doesn’t though, mean that there’s no human involvement. That doesn’t mean that at some point your customers journey, they’re not going to have one to one connections. But in order to facilitate that continuous learning, education, and to help drive adoption of your product to help with those value outcomes, you have to take a scaled approach and figure out ways to continuously engage with your customers through other channels in means. Now some companies I think, if they are less complex, if they are really a peel GE product might not require the level of hand holding is other solutions. And I think this goes back to what role does product play in customer success and impacting the scope of the work that we need to do

Speaker 2 8:14
so recently had a conversation with author Oz Benari. And she had, she said a term to me that I had not heard before that instead of a customer experience strategy, the organization should have a product lead strategy. And by having that product, lead strategy, customer experiences within it. And I thought that was incredibly interesting. And I feel like Customer Success falls into that product lead strategy. I wanted to hear what your thoughts were on that.

Kristi Faltorusso 8:49
I think elements of it does, right? The product is the biggest focus for your customers, right? That’s where they buy ultimately, but experience does span well beyond the product, right? Like let’s not kid ourselves. I’ve had customers who are up in arms and other organizations because they received the invoice before they even like had the kickoff call, right like that impacts experience, support impacts experience, marketing can impact experience, right? So the entire organization has an impact. So if you are a customer experience organization, hopefully you’re looking well beyond the scope of the product. But given that your customers are probably spending the bulk of their time in your solution. Yes, that is a very impactful way to drive a better experiences if you can get your product into a better spot.

Anne Bibb 9:35
So when you’re looking at overall and you, you deal with so many different clients, different types of clients, not just that you’ve built an entire community of client success managers. But when you’re talking to them about how they should recognize when things are Going well, going south are you looking at the revenue? What? What are the KPIs that you’re talking to them about about how they should be looking at these flags from that CS management viewpoint,

Kristi Faltorusso 10:21
as the CSM, if you’re only looking at revenue, we’ve got some problems. It’s like why see a lot of companies, right, they’ll create customer segmentation is based almost exclusively on Arr, which I always say is a really, really poor strategy. Because it doesn’t take into account your customers at all right? It’s a very self serving model, where you’re only looking to protect your revenue. And that influences your strategy, whether you believe it or not. So I do not believe that revenue is the key focal point for when you’re trying to figure out if your customers are happily engaged and getting value. In fact, I don’t think there is any one sole metric that you can look at, I’ve seen plenty organizations get false positives from product adoption and usage, right, just because somebody is using your product every day and in there doesn’t mean that they’re achieving their outcomes, and they’re getting value from it. I, you know, honestly, the best way that we’ve been able to do this at client success. Last year, we deployed a module in our product called goals. And it literally is that. So if we have the ability to identify with our customers early on, if they’re what their goals are, and quantitatively quantitatively, write them all down, document them, and track them. And our goal is module does that allows us to see how we’re pacing set all the time bound metrics around it. That is probably been the best indicator of whether or not our customers are are going to be satisfied and likely renew is if they’re achieving their goals. Now, listen, there’s other things right, I will look at how they’re pacing and onboarding, I will look at, I will look at product usage and adoption, because at the end of the day, if they’re not using it, that might be an indication of risk, but it’s not the sole metric to analyze. We will look at how they’re engaging. But again, engagement isn’t a great barometer of that either. I’ve got customers who are highly engaged, but they’re extremely frustrated. And I’ve got other customers who are disengaged, but just because they don’t need us, right, they’re happy as a clam, and they’ve got any product,

Anne Bibb 12:13
that engagement could actually be an indicator that it could be a negative indicator, correct.

Kristi Faltorusso 12:19
But the problem is, is that we’ve kind of created these these false narratives in our heads as leaders is saying that like this equals good. And that’s just not the reality. And I wish that there was a standardized way to say that like, A plus B equals C, but like, it just we just don’t live in that world, it is not so binary that we can see yes or no. Right. And the best way for us to truly understand that honestly, has been goals, but then conversations with our customers, we will ask our customers out, right? Are you getting what you need from this partnership? Are you getting what you need from the product? And sometimes we will like and just our regular engagement cadences with that question. Because sometimes even the dialogue we just had doesn’t indicate right, we wouldn’t be able to say, after the conversation, are they happy? Are they not happy? Are they getting value? Are they not? asking direct questions to your customers, and having that dialogue has also helped us on Earth, things we didn’t know. And so that intellectual curiosity and that deep innate care for your customers ability to drive those outcomes. That has been really the best way for us to understand that I know that that’s tough to scale. But all these other metrics, depending on what formula you come up with, I’m telling you that there’s no way to nail it up.

Anne Bibb 13:28
Well, that and it involves a lot of active listening, because you mentioned that you’ve put this new feature in called goals. And a lot of times, in my experience, getting to the actual goal is a true active listening exercise of really trying to dig in, because they might say their goal is is up here, when in reality, you have to dig a little bit deeper to figure out that the goal is down here. They just think it’s up here.

Kristi Faltorusso 14:01
Yep. Well, that’s that. I mean, who doesn’t love the five why’s exercise, but we love to go through with our customers and say, Okay, well, if we do that what happens? Right? And they’ll say, Okay, well, if I can do this, and this will happen, okay? And if we’re able to do that, what happens as a result of that? And usually by kind of drilling down with that line of questioning, maybe not that exact question, but some some variation of that, we get to this place where our customers are like, that’s actually what I’m trying to influence and takes time, right. And there’s a little bit of an art and a science to get into that. But your point is active listening, is that intellectual curiosity and that ability to ask thoughtful questions. And so yeah, I will tell you the hardest part about getting to goals is actually getting to the goal, particularly what their goals are, and it’s not their fault. It’s no one’s fault, right? But sometimes we’re so quick to make assumptions even about our own businesses that this is what I’m trying to achieve without allocating the proper time and thought to saying like, actually, that’s not what I’m trying to achieve. If it’s this, but I know that if I do that, it’ll help me lead to this. So it’s unpacking that with your customers.

Anne Bibb 15:05
Do you feel like client success? Christy, your CSMs, the organization as a whole has sort of taken on the role of educating CSMs across the globe, on how to take information back to their stakeholders on kind of, okay, so this is, this is now my my goal. However, I need to set realistic expectations with you, my boss, on either why it’s unreasonable, or how I need more time to achieve it. You’re, you’re almost teaching people how to do their jobs in other organizations is what it sounds like. Yes.

Kristi Faltorusso 15:49
Short answer. Yes. So that is what we do. And it’s hard. And I will tell you, because not every leader has the confidence and level of comfort to go back to a CEO or a board member and say, No, your assets are unreasonable. And here’s why. And so they oftentimes will push on their teams and push on their vendors like us are like, well, we’ve got to get this, we got to do that. And it’s like, well, it just doesn’t work that way. And as much education as we’ll provide. Sometimes, if they are not a strong, well educated, well experienced leader, it’s going to be challenging, because they’re not managing up.

Anne Bibb 16:27
But it’s good because they’re having these open and honest conversations with you, because you’ve built that relationship. And because they can talk to you, you can come in and you can say, okay, and I need to help you see, by looking at this information in our platform, this is the only way that you’re going to get here or this is the realistic, this is the reality, right? Even if you do all of these, you’re only going to get here. So you’re helping to give them the data points, to be able to have the conversations to be able to understand to have the conversations.

Kristi Faltorusso 17:02
Yes. And we will it’s leading a horse to water right. Even our best efforts there sometimes work sometimes don’t. But it is the scope of the role that we’ve taken on. It’s a big reason why I started doing my ces leadership bootcamp series, the webinar series I launched last week. Last week, I wish it was I was gonna

Anne Bibb 17:18
say, well,

Kristi Faltorusso 17:22
over 30 hours of webinar, I was with the CES leadership boot camp. And we did that because it came from a place where when I joined client success, I, the more conversations I was having with leaders, I’m like, people just don’t get it, we need to spend more time educating we need to help them, we need to take on this approach of like selfless giving, and give these leaders resources, and educate them at scale to help them drive their business in a different direction, right, take control and get in the driver’s seat. Unfortunately, for so many of them, they’ve been sitting in the passenger seat when they are the customer success expert, but letting folks who are just less knowledgeable about their practice their discipline, tell them what to do. And so it’s really about empowerment, right? And getting them back into that driver’s seat and helping facilitate them with data with that level of confidence to go back and say, yes, and yes, but here’s what we’re going to do. And here’s how we’re going to do it, and actually feel like they’re designing a plan that they can clearly and comfortably articulate up.

Anne Bibb 18:27
You mentioned the five why’s exercise. And I’m really curious, I actually have never heard that. Can you tell me about the five why’s exercise and what that what that is?

Kristi Faltorusso 18:40
Sure. I cannot off top of my head remember where it originated from or who was the person who came up with this concept. But the five why’s exercise is that is basically just that right? With every piece of information you’re given. Right? It’s usually the starting point for getting deeper and unpacking something further. And so the idea here is just like a child would always ask why, why, why? And then after five times, right, you usually can get to the real why behind something. And so it’s the concept of going that level deeper. And so we apply that, like I talked about earlier when we do our customer discovery, and we’re trying to help them establish what their goals are. Like I said, they usually start with something like well, we got out we have to go and create health score. Well, well, great. Wonderful. Yes, absolutely. I think I’m creating a health scores wonderful exercise. If we create a health score that allows you to understand where your customers are in both in either a risk or satisfied state. How is that going to help you manage your business? Well, if we’re able to do that, we’re going to be able to identify the risk factors and go target that. Well. That’s great. So now once we’ve done that, how are you going to be right? So it’s like the same concept of like the why or the how but like, it’s that idea of going that level deeper and really truly helping people unpack What they’re trying to articulate, because most of the time, we’re not so eloquent and so thoughtful enough to get to that bottom end statement without going through that exercise.

Anne Bibb 20:10
We have done that. So I’m a member of a women’s group, and we get together once a month or so. And in one of our sessions, we did that with each other, to try and figure out, you know, each of us were struggling with an issue. And so we did that with each other to try and figure out what the core what the root issue was. And several of us were like, wow, it was very interesting. It works. I

Kristi Faltorusso 20:39
mean, listen, it works for even like, creating personal goals, right? Like, if I, I always go back to like fitness and health, because those are like, probably my biggest passions outside of customer success. Like, for me, I had been hyper focused on like, trying to hit a certain body weight, we’ll just say that. And I kept asking myself, like, why am I why am I so why am I so hyper focused on that? Like, what is the thing like, if I get to that number, what happens? Right, and it wasn’t about the weight, it was, I’ll feel healthier, I’ll be able to run faster, I’ll be able to be more active, I will sleep better, right, like, so it was all of these other things. And if I do that, great, what happens there and I actually came to this thing is like, it really just came down to my health and like being able to like, live longer, and be healthier and not rely on medicines or anything, really, I am very anti, like taking any medications for anything. So it really came back to that it wasn’t this, this number on a scale that actually had nothing to do with that. And actually, as I started to have these conversations with myself, it came down to like me feeling better. And being the best version of myself, for me and for my family.

Anne Bibb 21:47
That is really, I think what a lot of us are trying to get to but we don’t realize it we have these targets, like losing weight, or getting into a dress size or getting somewhere. And it all is about those foundational goals. But we’re not. We’re not realizing it at the time. Now, you have been with several different organizations on customer success over the last several years. And how have you seen Customer Success change? And where do you see it going?

Kristi Faltorusso 22:22
Good questions. I think the biggest notable changes that I’ve started to see, I don’t know if it’s because I live this way in the discipline. But I do see that more organizations are realizing that customer success is not an internally driven exercise. It is an externally driven exercise, meaning you should not be designing your customer success programs to satisfy your internal metrics, you should be designing customer success programs for your customers and their ability to achieve their outcomes. And I do see in more companies that there is a little bit of this element of their shift in how they think and the design of their programs. I noticed something that over the course of my 11 years of customer success, and five companies, how I design customer success and how I think about things, right? It used to be Chris to come into an organization. And here’s the 10 things that we have to do, right. And I just know that we have to do these things, and I started doing them, too. When I joined client success. I didn’t come with any preconceived notions of anything we had to do, I went and said, I’m gonna go speak to 30 customers, and they’re gonna tell me what we need to do. And then I’m gonna go focus on doing what they’ve told me to do. That entire shift in how I approached coming into a business has changed my ability to drive impact my ability to be successful. So I think we’re seeing more of that. I wouldn’t say that everyone is there yet. But I do see that that is a trend that will start to shift to another one is going to be the one to many strategy. Right? I think historically, customer success was viewed as this very white glove, handheld and self guided one to one approach, right? You would never think of automating communication with GE if they were your customer. Right now, we’re at a place where everyone I think is starting to understand that we’re not saying you’re taking away the human engagement, this is additive, right? This is in addition to to continue to educate and nurture these customers, you need more than just a one to one connection. Right. That single threaded, this actually hinders partnerships, right it you’re almost isolating the partnership between accompany two companies to two people, right or one person and a few people. And so I do think that more people will start to embrace a one to many strategy and whether that is through automation and using technology, whether it’s through community, they will find their approaches but I do think that will be a big shift

Anne Bibb 24:49
to you. And whether this is your opinion or however you feel comfortable sharing it is customer success or revenue. Dip apartment. Is it a revenue generator?

Kristi Faltorusso 25:03
Yes. I love when you answer any questions, I can just be like, Yes, I think that’s

Anne Bibb 25:09
why. I’m curious because there are many organizations that I’ve heard be like, it is not a revenue, it is a support. It’s a cost one.

Kristi Faltorusso 25:17
Okay. But this goes back to the it depends being my favorite response to every question because it does depend, right? There is no right or wrong. No two organizations are gonna take the same approach, nor should they, right, if you’re selling complex enterprise grade software, where the motion is a true new sales strategy, if I’m selling to a different department with their own budget and different stakeholders, and it’s new product with different use cases. No, maybe I’m not going to have my customer success team who’s working with the core team, on this use case on this product, go drive that, right? From a bandwidth standpoint alone, forget all the other skills and strategies that are required for that, how they don’t get to the time a full sales motion takes time, which is why we have dedicated resources in net new sales. So no, in that organization, I might not say the CSM should be driving that. But in a company like ours at client success, we don’t have a full and an enterprise grade software where we’re upselling and cross selling and it’s not complex. Guess what if our customer needs more licenses, because they grew their team, we can sell them more licenses. It’s not a new sales motion. There’s no new sales strategy. There’s no additional education on new buyer new budgets. It’s more money from the same team around the same use cases, my team can handle that. We also manage renewals, my team can handle that. It depends there is no right or wrong and I get really frustrated people take a hard stance. I have run Customer Success teams where I’ve owned no revenue. I’ve owned Customer Success teams where I owned just renewals. I own customer success teams where I owned renewals and expansion but not upsell. I’ve owned renewals expansion upsell, but not cross sell. I’ve owned them all like, no, no organization is right or wrong. It was what was needed in that business with the resources. We had the skills that we had to do the things we had to do. Sorry, I get a little ranty No, no, I’m like, oh, preach, get off your pedestal and there’s no right or wrong. There’s no right or wrong with any of these things. You have to do what’s right for your business for your customers to do the things you need to do. But I will say I will say one

Anne Bibb 27:23
thing and just

Kristi Faltorusso 27:25
my one thing is if you’re going to give Customer Success teams commercial responsibilities, please train and enable them. Do not give people the responsibility to do a job that they are not qualified, trained, and know how to do invest in them. is investing in your business. Why is this a foreign concept? No one would go put me on a caterpillar tractor trailer like a construction equipment. I’m not equipped to do that. I’ve never done that before. That’s crazy. I

Anne Bibb 27:55
would pay money to see that

Kristi Faltorusso 27:56
I you know, I would probably look really cute in a hardhat though. Um, but why don’t we do this to Customer Success teams, what and then we set them up to fail. And then we say, Oh, well, this team, you know, we don’t need this. We actually just need sales teams. We literally are like, every day I see. Failure, I’m dying in the inside.

Anne Bibb 28:17
Invest in your PayPal, PayPal. I don’t want that. And people wonder why they hear the phrase the employee experience ties to customer experience

Kristi Faltorusso 28:26
every day.

Anne Bibb 28:29
So, but that also begs the question of How is customer success different from account management? Is it? It depends? It depends.

Kristi Faltorusso 28:41
It depends, right. I’ve also I’ve met with a lot of folks who are like I have an account management background. And they’ll describe what they’ve done or like, well, so you’ve done customer success. I don’t think like I think again, we get hung up on our, what we think we know about certain things, title practices, and we can’t see outside of the scope of certain things. That is an example of it. Honestly, I do think that I’ve seen account management be really embedded in the strategic partnership of a customer, where they were they’re responsible for making sure the customer achieve their outcomes. The nuance that I will say that I’ve seen is that usually when there’s an account management lead on the partnership, it’s probably because the product requires additional resources to support that. Right, you might have a technical resource because your product is extremely technical. You might have some consulting because there’s a level of consultation that’s required there. So I will say typically, when I see that motion, it is in a team approach, where additional resources are needed to achieve the objective. But that doesn’t say that their role is any less Customer Success he than somebody who’s got a customer success title, who’s also managing commercials. Right? I don’t think that there is a wide range of difference, depending on how the role is scoped. So I would say it’s not the title. It’s the scope of the role that is different.

Anne Bibb 30:17
Now, if somebody wanted to get in touch with you, why would they get in touch with you?

Kristi Faltorusso 30:25
It’s a great question. I asked myself

Anne Bibb 30:33
people want to talk to me, for goodness sake. But why and how?

Kristi Faltorusso 30:37
So I would say, Listen, the the number one, I think value add that I like to think that I bring to conversations and professionals, especially in the Customer Success community, is some experience, right? I’m able to leverage my experiences to help provide maybe guidance, maybe offer advice, a shoulder to cry on, I would say that those are probably the three most useful things I can provide for folks. Facilitating connections, I would say it’s probably another one, I get a lot of that now, especially with so many folks out of work, looking for jobs. I’m happy to facilitate connections and leverage my network to support anyone who needs it to the best of my ability. And I think the best place people can find me would be on LinkedIn. I am not present in many social channels, just because, gosh, I don’t have the bandwidth. LinkedIn feels like a part time job. So

Anne Bibb 31:29
absolutely does truly. And that link is below. For everybody who wants to find Christy. She’s not difficult to find on LinkedIn. She is super active and put some great content up there, as is the link to client success. And Christie, so grateful that you joined us today and really enjoyed the conversation and look forward to you being on the show again.

Kristi Faltorusso 31:57
Thank you so much. It was great. I had a lot of fun.

Anne Bibb 32:00
And everybody else we will see you again next week. As we wrap the episode up, we would like to take this time to thank you for joining us this week on unexpected journey. Our guests information will be linked in the episode description along with a link to our company website, remote, and our hosts website and Please don’t forget to like subscribe and share on your favorite podcast app and on our YouTube channel so that you never miss an episode and we can continue to bring them to you. Let us know your thoughts on what we discussed in the comment section. And once again, thank you for joining us. We hope to see you again next week for another episode of unexpected journey.

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