Guest: Deborah Andrews – The Acceleration of Customer Success Operations
Join us when we speak with Deborah Andrews. Deborah (aka “Debs”) currently works across all post-sales functions at Unit4, alongside leading the Customer Success Operations and Digital teams.
In this episode, Debs is going to talk about the world of customer success operations and why it’s critical to businesses today.
Guest: Deborah Andrews - Director of Customer Office Operations, Unit 4
Having a varied background in IT, Support, Operations and Customer Success Management for companies such as Sage, Gainsight and Salesforce, Debs actively collaborates to drive the awareness and implementation of customer centric initiatives that are intentionally designed to drive a seamless, leading-edge and sustainable customer experience. Success for All is her favorite mantra.
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[00:00:00] Jason Noble: Good evening, good morning, good afternoon, all in the wrong order. Welcome everyone to another episode of the Jason’s Take on podcast with myself, Jason Noble here in London the 1st of December, and my partner in crime, Mr. Whitehead, over in the us Say hello, Jason.
[00:00:14] Jason Noble: We are today talking about the world of customer success operations or customer operations and why it’s critical to businesses and why we’ve seen I think in the, for the right reason, the right shift and priority given to it. And we’re really lucky. We’ve got another guest with us today.
[00:00:30] Jason Noble: We’ve got Deborah or Debs Andrews. Deb’s is the director of the customer office operations over at Unit four, where she works across all the post-sales functions alongside leading customer success operations and the digital team. She’s a customer success leader that I’m sure lots of our listeners will.
[00:00:47] Jason Noble: She’s been got around 15 years or so, experience building out customer centric corporations, management, innovation and customer success, performance management. She’s also worked with some really big names in the world of customer success, the [00:01:00] likes of gain sites, which we all know. And Salesforce, her mantra and I love this cuz this really aligns with my way of thinking is success for all.
[00:01:09] Jason Noble: And her approach is really focused about enabling others to be successful and. That just aligns with my way of thinking about us being responsible for someone else’s success as CS leaders. So Deb’s a big welcome fan to see you again. It was great to catch up a few weeks back. How are you doing?
[00:01:26] Deborah Andrews: I’m very good. Thank you. Really excited to be talking to you today.
[00:01:30] Jason Noble: Excellent. Well, could you just tell our listeners a little bit about your own journey in CS operations, why you’ve made that move and the different areas that you are focusing on today?
[00:01:38] Deborah Andrews: Yeah, no, definitely. I’ll give you a little bit of background into how I’ve evolved along my career, because as we know, CSMs and now CS Ops, you can come from a varied background and that, that explains how I’ve gotten to where I am today. I think, my career history to date, I started my career in sales management, moved on to support management, then operations [00:02:00] management. So it was already, all encompassing. It was around about 2007.
[00:02:04] Deborah Andrews: I actually stumbled across this seemingly unknown company. I dunno if salesforce, right? So they were a bit smaller back in 2007 than they are today. But I say that was pretty much when everything changed for me. So I went from being very function specific to becoming a hands on techie, analyst, administrator, project manager, literally everything.
[00:02:25] Deborah Andrews: Self. Yeah. Self developed every skill that I could under the sun to be able to implement a CRM system across an organization single handed. It was quite a small organization, but such a varied, expansive role that actually, I think that experience spoiled me in a little way. I basically find it now quite challenging to operate just within a specific function.
[00:02:48] Deborah Andrews: So this whole philosophy surrounding, customer success management not just being a function actually resonates really strongly with me. And it’s an opportunity for me to go, yes, I wanna have all of my fingers in all of [00:03:00] the pies and help consolidate and transform organizations. Yeah. So I think that was the changing point for me.
[00:03:06] Deborah Andrews: But I transitioned from working in that capacity in end users to the ISV space, as you mentioned working with gain site, Salesforce and SAGE within customer success management. So progression into CS Ops just felt it was perfectly natural to me to go back to my operational roots and combine that with, experience on the ground of being a CSM.
[00:03:27] Deborah Andrews: It just added value behind being able to focus on operations and digitization, but with a degree of empathy, having engaged from an end user, from a vendor perspective, and a broad spectrum of function.
[00:03:41] Jason Noble: I love that story and that natural evolution into role. I think a lot of us that have got a bit of experience here, that’s how we’ve come into it.
[00:03:47] Jason Noble: But it, you get that particularly with organizations like Salesforce and joining there. Wow, you must have seen some growth to where they are now. The same with Gainsight, but that broader experience and like you say with your sales hat on as [00:04:00] well, seeing everything and then seeing the value that, that the world of customer success can bring to a business.
[00:04:06] Jason Noble: But also this newer area around customer success ops. Absolutely phenomenal. If we take a step back and going back to basics what do you define customer success ops as and how do you see us having come about over recent years and how do you think it fits the wider revenue ops and commercial
[00:04:23] Deborah Andrews: ops?
[00:04:24] Deborah Andrews: Yeah, I think, CS ops really for me answers the question that most businesses raised when customer success management functions were formed, CSMs were performing one to one activities and driving value for each customer on a case by case basis. And I think businesses generally asked at that point as it was gaining traction, how on earth can we scale?
[00:04:45] Deborah Andrews: And how can I measure, how do I know if it’s actually working? It seems to be doing a good job. But, I think most companies at that point actually decided rightly or wrongly, that investing into a CS tool was the solution to all of their problems, right? They needed to [00:05:00] scale things so the technology will do it.
[00:05:01] Deborah Andrews: And I had again, like the privilege of partnering with some customers as a cs. On that basis back in 2018 I remember thinking back then that most of the customers that I was engaging with would actually benefit from having someone in place, helping them make the changes needed to be able to take full advantage of the tools.
[00:05:21] Deborah Andrews: Turns out I wasn’t the only one thinking that at that point. But yeah, and I think it’s widely accepted now by businesses. It’s most certainly a combination of tools, people and processes that have to be in place and working in harmony across an organization to be able to realize those value points, both from a human and digital perspective.
[00:05:40] Deborah Andrews: And I think that’s ultimately what CSOPs works to achieve, right? They are the interface between customer success function and the end customer. And the business operations.
[00:05:51] Jason Whitehead: Yeah, absolutely. think it’s interesting, like even back five years ago, very few people were even talking about CSOPs as a separate discipline.
[00:05:59] Jason Whitehead: It was like, oh, we need to get [00:06:00] some processes, or let’s get some playbooks done. But they weren’t really thinking about it in the same way that they are now. And it seems like now there’s been a big shift where there’s a lot of acceleration. For CS Ops. What’s your take on what’s driving that, that change in that pivot?
[00:06:12] Deborah Andrews: I think. Yeah. For me, CS Ops is transformational. It’s not just about, change management, et cetera. It’s really, aligned with the philosophy behind customer success be putting the customer at the forefront of the business. And I think Jason, back to your point on, what’s the difference between CS ops and revenue operations, difference it has as compared to a standard operations role. And why it can transform organizations is because it actually services the customer’s needs over and above the business needs. Which I actually think is a bit of an oxymoron really, because we’re talking about the same thing. The customer’s needs are actually the same as the business needs.
[00:06:51] Deborah Andrews: Both want to work in partnership. Both want return on investment, both want to be successful with the product and use it in anger. Both want to [00:07:00] grow, both want to innovate, right? And I think businesses are now questioning why we weren’t actually doing that before, because it makes complete sense. It, and I think, this is where CS ops leans into revenue ops.
[00:07:11] Deborah Andrews: It helps. It helps bring that customer centricity to the organization and tie it to the overarching business outcomes like net revenue retention. In my case at the moment CSOPs tracks the retention and expansion motion KPIs, but they are linked to churn rates and net revenue retention that revenue ops reports and analyzes.
[00:07:31] Deborah Andrews: So we complement each other. We meet in. Middle, and if changes and enhancements are needed, then we collaborate on those initiatives together. So it really is actually making the business stronger and connecting all of the dots internally, which is in itself transformational.
[00:07:46] Jason Noble: I think that’s the key thing.
[00:07:48] Jason Noble: It really is. Like I say, this isn’t, it’s not a standalone service. It’s a key part of a broader function and is, I’ve seen businesses where it. Part of a wider operations team, like you say, with [00:08:00] revenue ops, with commercial ops, and even marketing or sales ops or whatever we call them. What do you think, I I’ve also seen businesses where CS ops maybe starts as, oh, we just need to put a person here to just install the customer success management platform or something.
[00:08:14] Jason Noble: But how do you, for you, what do we need to to do customer success ops? What, what makes a customer success ops team and function really
[00:08:21] Deborah Andrews: stand? Yeah. Yeah. I think to me, in my experience and my background, I’ve been there. Got the t-shirt and put all of those different hats on.
[00:08:30] Deborah Andrews: So for me it feels like common sense now. But I get a general sense from what I’ve seen and heard. CS ops roles can be anything in between a broad and narrow in scope. Some are more data admin focused, some are more technical solution focused. Purely management focused.
[00:08:45] Deborah Andrews: And it really does depend on the business needs and existing resources that are in place. But for me there’s three sort of key learnings I’d say in my experience. And the first one would be awareness and alignment. And one thing I’ve learned particularly over the [00:09:00] past few years you can achieve great things in CSOPs when you have access to the right resources, right?
[00:09:05] Deborah Andrews: But if it’s not visible and accepted across every facet of the organization, it immediately becomes siloed. There’s limited capacity to scale, and it’s often unsustainable. Someone changes something, some. Didn’t realize you were doing something with the tool, the infrastructure changes and you’re on a break fix basis, and it’s just a vicious cycle.
[00:09:24] Deborah Andrews: So I’d say make sure that you share the love across your organization. Identify stakeholders and take them on the journey with you. Focus on this upfront and then it will, your life will just become so much easier down the line as you look to mature and drive. Further transformations and innovation.
[00:09:41] Deborah Andrews: Have
[00:09:41] Jason Noble: you gone through a similar journey there at unit four? Did you come in, it was unknown and you’ve helped build it up?
[00:09:47] Deborah Andrews: Yeah, I think I’ve worked in varied types of organizations, so not industry specific. I’ve worked in very small companies where. You literally, Bob next to you is doing PS and you know exactly what each other are doing.
[00:09:59] Deborah Andrews: You’ve got [00:10:00] sales just over the way and your got support just around the corner. So in that environment, it’s just everything is just seamless by nature. But I’ve also currently the, in the role that I’m in today, it’s a very complex matrix organization. So we have, global functions of, you around about 2,500 people.
[00:10:20] Deborah Andrews: Regional presidents as well that have their own level of operations work across verticals, et cetera. So to actually align and engage and keep everyone up to date with what’s happening can be a real challenge.
[00:10:34] Jason Noble: Yeah, absolutely.
[00:10:34] Jason Whitehead: How big do you think an organization needs to be before they have to, before they can justify having a dedicated CS Ops role or.
[00:10:40] Deborah Andrews: I think it depends on how customer centric they are. And I do feel like some, I’ve seen some revenue operations roles or sales operations role. When you look at the descriptions they really are talking customer success thoughts, right? Because it all depends on the kind of organizational structure really that ties.
[00:10:58] Deborah Andrews: But yeah it’s [00:11:00] very vast, very varied. I think I wouldn’t say there’s any particular recommendation. know from a an administrative perspective, they say, oh, for 80 users that you have in a tool that you should have one administrator. But that’s pure administration, right? So I, I think, The velocity and the degree of change needed within your organization, irrespective of the size of your organization, should indicate whether or not you need or what level of investment and support you need from a CSOPs capacity.
[00:11:31] Jason Noble: When companies are starting to think then about it, so say, you’re starting to see the metrics come in, the data come in, that suggest you need it. How? , how do you go about taking that first step and building a team and actually getting the right people? Cause it requires a certain type of individual.
[00:11:46] Deborah Andrews: Doesn’t. Yeah, it requires a superhero, especially for your first Ops hired. And I think, this is where CSMs were back 10 years ago. It’s prove the value. Prove the value and you are constantly trying to make good, get the references from [00:12:00] the customer. If they buy more, then you are hugely successful and rewarded for that.
[00:12:04] Deborah Andrews: Same goes really for operations. If there was gonna be one superhero ops person that. In your company, they’d need to be one of five parts. A fifth leader leading the vision across the company, a fifth manager managing the execution of that vision and journey, a fifth techie to actually build the solution and configure the tools or the resources that you have.
[00:12:28] Deborah Andrews: A fifth analyst evaluating the results, making sure. That you’ve defined what success looks like and that it’s measurable and then a fifth administrator to really ensure that it carries integrity and consistency through governance and controls. Easy to find then Oh yeah. Like a unicorn and csm.
[00:12:46] Deborah Andrews: But it is,
[00:12:47] Jason Noble: I love the way you, it is, it’s like what CSMs, that department of everything. Yeah. What we shouldn’t be, but what we’ve started off some years back as, and I can imagine as well that’s. Say it’s five ways must vary and change over [00:13:00] time. It fluctuates depending on what the need
[00:13:01] Deborah Andrews: is.
[00:13:02] Deborah Andrews: Yeah, definitely. And also depends on the resources around you. So as I said, you’ve gotta be resourceful, right? If you haven’t got the answers or the skills you need to find answers and skills because it’s just as we’re in scale mode, we are proving the value of it. There are moments where, I’m.
[00:13:16] Deborah Andrews: An amazing data analyst. And quite frankly, I haven’t got much time to be doing that. So wherever I can if I need some detailed analysis done, I will call in favors, I will ask people and tap into the resources that we’ve got around us to help support those aims.
[00:13:33] Jason Whitehead: Wow, that’s great stuff. With all the focus on that and bring up data as well too, what role does data fit with CS ops and how do you think about it relative to the other platforms and tools and what does an organization need to do to make sure they’re successful with their data and getting the information they need?
[00:13:48] Deborah Andrews: Yeah. Data. We all love it, right? Love it and hate it. It’s like Marmite . It’s gonna make or break us. I put you on that . I love Marmite, so I’ll go with the love side. I’m
[00:13:59] Jason Noble: another [00:14:00] one. I’m a big friend of Marmite.
[00:14:00] Deborah Andrews: I think, data underpins all digital transformation and that’s where companies are headed right now.
[00:14:06] Deborah Andrews: Without definition, without governance, without measurement, without course correction, what would your level of confidence be in your customer? 360 view? Would you be confident in automating an unsolicited journey or an interaction that helps not hinders the customer experience?
[00:14:21] Deborah Andrews: I think this. All part of the digital hesitation. And again, where CS ops can come in and really add value. I think CS ops needs to drive scale efficiency insight, and it just can’t be achieved with poor, incorrect, or missing data. think this was the biggest turnoff actually for most companies straight out of the implementation of a CS tool, right?
[00:14:40] Deborah Andrews: So their expectations of their own data was really high. And they’d been sold the dream. It can do this, these amazing things if only you have the right data, and I think the reality actually sounded a bit like yeah, our customer 360 s pretty rubbish. I can’t trust any information in it, or our health [00:15:00] measures only tell us part of the story or the information.
[00:15:03] Deborah Andrews: Looks good, but it doesn’t match up to our finance system or our CRM system. So I think, or it could actually be that the data was so great and insightful but it was actually just confined to the CSM function. Yeah. And the CSM function weren’t sharing it across the organization. So that’s another perspective on it.
[00:15:22] Deborah Andrews: Or maybe lots of insights were produced and shared, but the culture is so what, or I don’t know what I’m looking at to be able to leverage it. And so I’m just gonna go back to what I’m, the way I’ve always done it before. CS Ops, it starts and ends with data, quite frankly. We need to be governing our customer information, making sure that it’s accurate and relevant at all.
[00:15:42] Deborah Andrews: For all business stakeholders who were expecting to rely on it our robots and our humans will be taking action on it, and our customer experience will most certainly be impacted by it. So yeah, I think We need some integrity to start off with. But again, the next layer as we unpeel the onion [00:16:00] and look at more root causes behind the insights that we’re generating I’m certainly investing more of my time at the moment into performing root cause analysis from our customer listening posts and actually having that.
[00:16:11] Deborah Andrews: Root cause analysis played back to key stakeholders across the business as part of the voice of the customer council. And we tie that back to the financial impact of this feedback, and it really resonates across the organization and helps to drive accountability for the action that people need to take.
[00:16:28] Deborah Andrews: So I think you. CS ops can govern those processes. Really drive the insight production, yes, the technicals behind it, but it really does need strength behind driving it across the organization.
[00:16:43] Jason Noble: I think the insight that you’ve got there, working from organizations like Gainsight in, in the customer success kind of role and implementing these tools is actually quite phenomenal.
[00:16:53] Jason Noble: And I’ve. At the, you’ve got something that’s quite unique. Having seen these challenges that customer face [00:17:00] customers are facing and I think gives you a really powerful perspective on the value of this role and function. Deb’s this has been a superb conversation really insightful.
[00:17:09] Jason Noble: We always like to give our lit, our guests a bold challenge question and the one for you is, as CS leaders, what’s the one thing that we should be. To focus really on CS ops as we go into 2023.
[00:17:22] Deborah Andrews: Oh. Can I think
[00:17:23] Jason Noble: about that? Yeah, you can think about now we’ll narrow it down to one we like. We like one.
[00:17:28] Deborah Andrews: Okay. What I think today might change tomorrow, but you never know. I was, you do that. I would. Sponsorship. One thing that I’ve really actually been challenged by is the sphere of influence. And I’ve worked really hard to build up a profile and persona surrounding what, what CS ops is and.
[00:17:47] Deborah Andrews: How it should be elevated in the organization. So when we try to drive accountability it can often be a challenge because we can get pushback to say, you are just ops, right? So why should I listen to [00:18:00] you kind of thing. So I think sponsorship. CS leaders should absolutely sponsor, get behind CS Ops and really help, fight the cause and challenge the organization to do better in, in the face of the customer’s needs and expectations.
[00:18:15] Jason Noble: Fascinating. Absolutely brilliant. Deb’s a huge, thank you. This has been such a, for me listening to, just hearing you. There’s so much passion about it as well. So big thank you. Thank
[00:18:25] Deborah Andrews: you so much.
[00:18:26] Jason Whitehead: Before we go, we always like to invite our guests to do a shameless plug and Jason always forgets, so I’ll throw it out there.
[00:18:32] Jason Noble: I’ll wait for you to prompt me. Jason, always wait for you to.
[00:18:36] Jason Whitehead: So sometimes though, please go ahead and plug anything of a passion or excitement to you and let people know that they can get in touch with you
[00:18:42] Jason Noble: if they have
[00:18:42] Deborah Andrews: questions. Yeah, no. Feel free to get in touch with me on LinkedIn. You can just search for me.
[00:18:48] Deborah Andrews: I’m more than happy to mentor people. I realize I’ve got vast and buried background and some experience that I hope I can share the love with some other people. So feel free to get in touch with any questions. [00:19:00] Also, if you enjoy yoga and you’re around the Redding UK area, I’m more than happy to spend a bit of time meditating.
[00:19:07] Deborah Andrews: Always my best idea, come out when that happens. Yeah. ,
[00:19:09] Jason Noble: do you combine the two Cs ops and
[00:19:11] Deborah Andrews: meditation? Yeah. Oh, it’s essential. Sorry, I couldn’t put that in my Toppi .
[00:19:19] Jason Noble: Super Debs, thank you again, a really great conversation with you. Thank you.