Guest: Harini Gokul – Why Customer Success is a Team Sport

Guest - Harini Gokul
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The Jasons Take On...
Guest: Harini Gokul - Why Customer Success is a Team Sport

Episode Description

Join us with guest Harini Gokul, customer success leader at AWS (Amazon Web Services), where she’s building and leading customer success for our Amazon’s next generation customers.

These include ISV (Independent Software Vendors), hyper-scale Digital Native Businesses (DNB), Private Equity, Games, and Small and Medium Business customers, helping them accelerate, develop, and scale customer success.

Guest: Harini Gokul

Harini is a technology executive, investor, and a civic leader, She’s a recognized thought leader in leveraging cloud solutions to accelerate customer transformation and has worked building growing and scaling cloud businesses. She is a strategic leader with extensive global experience and loves the challenge of building from scratch and navigating complexity.

Harini has spent time in leadership positions with Microsoft, Amazon and IBM and has worked with many global customers, ranging from Fortune 500 enterprises to startups.

In addition to her primary focus on customer success and go-to-market strategy, Harini has led numerous policies, programs, and outreach efforts aimed at building trust in the cloud and addressing data privacy, ethics, and security challenges associated with these emerging technologies.

Harini is also extensively involved in community leadership and the field of social impact. 



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[00:00:00] Jason Noble: Good morning. Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to another episode of the Jason’s take on podcast series with myself. Jason Noble here in London and my partner in crime. Again, Mr. Whitehead, over in the states say hello, Jason.

[00:00:13] Jason Whitehead: Hello, Jason. And welcome back everyone. Thanks for joining us today.

[00:00:16] Jason Noble: We are all really lucky today.

We have another very excited a guest. Who’s very exciting. I’m sure she’s excited as well. But we’ve got a Renie GOCO. Who’s the head of customer success at AWS. Joining us today. We’re really excited about this. We’re going to have a conversation around why customer success is a team sport and how it needs to be a team sport and work across multiple organizations, multiple groups in a business.

For those that don’t know the, for those of you that don’t know Ronnie, she’s a technology. Exactly. And investor and a civic leader. She’s a recognized thought leader in leveraging cloud solutions to accelerate customer and digital transformation. And she’s worked with some amazing organizations in leadership positions at Microsoft, Amazon, and IBM worked with many global customers ranging from fortune 500 companies to more niche startups, helping them all on their customer success journeys.

She’s also a strategic leader with a lot of global experience. And really loves the challenge of building things from scratch and going through kind of complex organizational design things, which I think is really great because that is a similar thread that we’ve had with some other guests recently.

She’s also a really heavily involved in community leadership in the field of social impact. Her primary focus is on customer success and go to market strategy, but she’s done a lot of work around policies, programs, outreach. Efforts really about building trust in cloud services, data, privacy, and ethics.

So a lot of amazing stuff with some incredible companies. Welcome Houdini. We’re really excited to have.

[00:01:46] Harini Gokul: Thank you for that very kind and generous introduction. Jason and Jason. It’s a great start to a Monday morning to ha to be on this podcast. I know I’ve been listening to some of the great stories and learnings coming out of here and so excited to be here.


[00:02:01] Jason Noble: welcome. Could you just for the people that don’t know, you just introduce yourself as you would do it and give us a list as of a bit of a background to your own journey that’s brought you to where you are now. Cause I know you’ve got. You were saying earlier, you’ve worked in Amsterdam.

You spent a lot of time in the UK, so you’ve got a really solid global experience. So we’d love to hear more about your journey.

[00:02:19] Harini Gokul: Sure. And you set the context so beautifully, right? I feel fortunate to have grown up around the cloud the past 20 years and fortunate enough to have some great adventures, I’ve I’m a recovering engineer.

I’ve been treated during school. Figured out that what floated my boat was to translate technology to human impact. And that’s been my first principles that’s kept me going all my life. Started work at standard, chartered a bank in Asia, and a lot of emerging markets that many of our listeners are familiar with, especially out in Europe and Asia.

And started working customer support when it was still the sort of reactive behind the desk, people yelling at you thing function. And so that was baptism by fire, but that got me interested in thinking about, what does customer satisfaction mean? What does delight.

What does lifetime value mean? So those were some questions I started asking 20 years ago and it caught the attention of this professor at Vanderbilt who was writing a book. And that was my ticket out of an arranged marriage and into a business school, I took, it, came to the U S never looked back and had the pleasure of that.

Studying in the U S and it opened the eyes to the opportunity that lay ahead and what we could do in terms of delivering a great customer experience. I like asking questions. I like talking to people as you can see. And I like problem solving and that naturally got me into consulting as a next step.

So I had a great time traveling up and down the Eastern seaboard and globally helping companies think about their transformation. And that segwayed into a kid here at Microsoft. Again, It’s fantastic working for trillion dollar companies because you get to build billion dollar startups. And I’ve had the opportunity to do that, grow up around the cloud.

And think about what cloud adoption and what value realization meant for our customers across the globe. Global carrier or all my life with a deep stint invest in Europe. So based soft spot for for Europe. And I get to do the same as Amazon. Now, those are customer success for our next generation of customers.

Thinking about what does good look like when you are a hyperscale hyper innovative, born in the cloud unicorn style? How do you sustain? How do you grow? And and what are the different flavors of customer success? So all of that like I said, it’s been a tremendous carrier and I’m excited for what comes next.

[00:04:28] Jason Whitehead: Yeah. That’s so exciting too, because having been in the customer success space for years and you didn’t grow up from the, what is this term customer success to, everyone’s doing the basic stuff and now we’re really maturing. You’re really on the cutting edge yet. It’s great to see that, I’m curious when we set the topics and I was talking around customer success is a team sport.

When you hear that or think of that, what does that mean to you? And what have you seen at the different organizations where you’ve worked or even in the customers that you serve that are working in the SAS space that also have their own customer success.

[00:04:56] Harini Gokul: Yeah. And it’s a question I get asked a lot and I love that as I’ve been learning, having worked in customer success and customer experience now is that our patterns that are common regardless of where our customers on their journey.

So you have more mature companies that are perhaps are tiding debt and not yet SAS, but on that journey, then on the other end of the sliding scale, you have these born in the cloud unicorns. We talked about. Then they care about success that are some patterns that are common to them.

One of them is customer success is beyond the charter and remit of your customer success team. The company that. That are sustainable in their success. Maintain success sustainably are the ones that elevate this discussion at a leadership level. They bake it. They bake customer experience into the DNA of how they run grow and scale their business.

And I’ll tell you what that looks like from bare ice, right? It looks like having board level conversations on customer success. It looks like C level discussions where the CCO or the voice of the customers presented you start the discussion, but metrics that are customer focused. And then translate into internal.

It translates into more than posters on the wall. It translates into the voice of the customer being an active participant in all of your discussions and asking the question what’s the, so what for the customer, and finally translates into walking the talk, right? I often say talk is cheap. Walk is hard, should talk the talk of the C level, but then how do you translate it?

How do you translate this customer obsession and the intent. Frameworks mechanisms and metrics that everyone can execute to without confusion at scale consistently across the globe. I know. And what a piece throw in one piece, right? Seriously. I see. I think that is where we need to get to, I call it a team sport because it is a team sport. It is a leadership imperative. It’s should be baked in the DNA of how you go to market or how you think about product and really successful companies that Excel at customer experience. And there are too many Ducote do that. And they do that consistent.

[00:07:13] Jason Noble: How do you go about instilling that wider than just one team approach? Because it’s not easy to do. And when you’re seeing more and more organizations investing in customer success, typically someone might hear about it yet. We’ll get a customer success manager and think they fixed the problem.

Maybe they’re focusing on churn to style it, but what are some of the key steps that you can do as well to help think beyond just that team? How do we make this a company-wide way of doing things?

[00:07:39] Harini Gokul: Great question. Thank you. I think there are at least three sort of layers to this conversation, right?

First is understanding the voice of customer at every level, but starting from. Making sure the leadership is thinking about it. And one real way to do that is, is the customer advisory board. I’m a big advocate for having customer advisory boards at multiple different levels. One at a leadership level, one at the execution levels of having your director of operations, speak to your, director of infrastructure, that sort of thing at all levels, but having a way to systematically and programmatically get that voice of customer.

That’s one thing. The second question is once you get the input, so what are you doing with it? Having mechanisms and frameworks that take. Anecdotal feedback or your customer’s data points and translating that into real action. And I’ll give an example. A lot of my customers where we have significant product adoption, let’s say they’re adopting a service for the first time, or they’re building a new product for the first time.

We will have product leaders take on sponsorship of the COVID. That means that you’re making a real connection between the service that a product has created team has created and the customer that’s consuming and adopting the service and they get a ringside view of what the customer journey looks like.

What worked well more importantly, what could be better. And we have a process that takes the. Pieces that didn’t work well or the key features and requirements prioritizes and translates it back. So this is a real way, Jason, that you can take voice of the customer and translate it into an actionable process of framework that every product team can do, regardless of where they sit in the.

I’ll pause. That’s all I can go on and on, but I’ll pause it. Yeah no,

[00:09:31] Jason Whitehead: that is great. And I love how you bring this to let’s make it actionable and cause otherwise, if you don’t do the action, the, so what to your point really doesn’t fall through.

[00:09:40] Harini Gokul: And it’s actually worse because you’re setting expectations with the customer that you cannot deliver.

So if you cannot walk your talk, don’t bother with the top.

[00:09:48] Jason Noble: Absolutely.

[00:09:49] Jason Whitehead: Oh, I like that. That’s a really good way to put it. I’m curious, like when we talk with different teams and going through there we find that a lot of organizations, some teams just don’t get it, especially if you haven’t had that conversation before level or some, get it, but pay it lip service where people just have a really different vision about what it means to be customer centric than to help the customer achieve outcomes at different areas.

What have you found most useful or most effective for getting people to realize. In agreement of what good looks like and how to service the customer the right way. So that you do have that sort of team approach to it.

[00:10:21] Harini Gokul: I think internally what, we are we execute to our goals. Human beings are very driven individuals, right?

We see a north star. Once you establish that north star, we’re all running towards it. So establishing what that north star is, drives the behaviors you want. So I’m a big believer that, you showcase the behavior. You want to see you can name and shame, but it’s better to reward the behavior you want to see.

And for me, and I’ll give you an example. It’s the, I talk about us being best friends with our product and our sales. Us as in customer success, we talked about the product example. Let’s talk about the sales one, right? Because this is an example of how you can orient people towards an and drive behaviors that accrued towards customer value, realization, planning, account planning, right?

Think of life as a pre-op life, as a triad between amongst. Your sales account leader. Who’s the CEO of your account, your customer success person, who is your seat or CCO of the count. And then you have you have a technical expert a CTO account, which is a solution architect type role, but we that’s called, a couple other things, but it generally means somebody with a deep technical expertise.

My my favorite way to run a con planning for this triad is to start with what your customers want to achieve, pick your customer or your portfolio, depending on what your span is. And then say, what are the outcomes that the customer will think is success at the end of the. And most discussion span multi years, but for the sake of this discussion, let’s take a year and say, let’s say they want to expand.

They want to expand to the UK. We’ll, let’s pick a UK example. They want to expand to the UK. They want to meet Compliance, FedRAMP, other things, privacy and security is a big, hot topic for us. Let’s take that third. They want to retire technical debt. So you start with the customer’s goals in mind and then work backwards to say, and you create what we call a value map and say, what are the things we will do to help move the needle on these three goals?

The goals are not. And then translate those into work products and KPIs and OKR is that’ll make sure you’re marching down the right path. But the key here, Jason is you’re starting with your customer’s goals in mind and that unifies all of them. You don’t start by saying, this is the number I make you start by saying, my customer needs to launch successfully in the UK.

What do I need to do that? And then customer success in addition, SES, who do I need to bring in? Because we are connective tissue, right? Our job is to deliver expertise and then bring in the right experts to say, who can I bring in? Who can help really give a point of view about launching in the UK?

[00:12:55] Jason Noble: I love that. And it is. It is, it’s taking that step back and getting everyone to think about what is it the customer is looking for, not just with our product, but like you say, they’re looking to launch a new business unit in a different country. These are the big things, and it’s trying to make sure that’s articulated and understood by all of our teams, customer success, our product team, our sales team.

How do you the organizations you’ve worked in, how have you led some of these changes, as a CS leader, How do you go about influencing the level of organizational change that’s needed really to get businesses to focus on customer led growth.

[00:13:29] Harini Gokul: Yes. I’ve enjoyed my journeys and they have span everything from more traditional more mature organizations that have live in lived in licensed driven.

World’s moving to subscription to world worlds, to, like I said, born in the cloud SAS companies and for all of them, it’s about getting oriented on the culture. Culture speaks. What was that about? Culture reading strategy? Wasn’t that a famous coat. I love that coat because I believe it starts with the culture you establish, right?

It starts with making sure if voice of the customer is important, every all hands you do, you are bringing in a customer. And I started that level. I start by saying, what’s the culture. We want to make sure customers and customer obsession and customer experience is top of mind. Then let’s think about the tactics.

We need to make that real for us. And we’ve talked about multiple examples, but I’m often in places where, you will have, C-levels go. Of course we want that. We absolutely want the voice of the customer in, but let’s do a next QBR and talk all about our internal metrics. And then you have to be the one willing to put up your, put up your hand and say, let’s call it BSU.

Yeah, make sure we are working towards, what you say, your intended goal, your stated goal is. So a lot of it is getting that top down, buy in top down culture, baked in, and then setting that process and framework in place. So you are able to deliver to those goals. And that’s harder.

Hard, and that is harder to do, but that’s also a longer journey. So I’ll end with this, which is, these are marathons, not sprints. I’ve had, you, you need to think through what good looks like at the end of 12, 18, 24 months and work towards that. And you can absolutely see what you, the changes you want to see every quarter or so, but be aware that a mindset change is a marathon.

It’s not a sprint.

[00:15:22] Jason Whitehead: Absolutely. And I’m curious, when you talk about mindset change, who are the people that it’s hardest to change their minds? And what advice would you give to someone if they were a new CS leader in an organization facing, Mindshift rigidity,

[00:15:33] Jason Noble: rephrase Jay’s great phrase, my shift rigidity.


[00:15:40] Harini Gokul: I would celebrate. You can work through objection handling and you can work through change in multiple different ways that I’m lots of good ways to do it. The way I prefer to do it is by celebrating what works well. So I generally try to, I always, my, my modus operandi, my M O is picking a doable project initiative program customer.

Something that I can influence and showcasing that when you invest this time, Invest these resources in your customer. This is the change you can bring about once you start seeing the change and you start showcasing that story, people want to be part of it. It’s just so it’s harnessing natural behavior.

Everybody wants to be part of. Team. And so I, I stark, but small changes that sort of build up into larger systemic changes. Sometimes you need that sort of big hand from above, but I think for change to be sustainable for everybody to believe into it, they must see what good looks like when you do it.

So that could include celebrating great customer. Or losses, and that’s a more controversial topic as part of big all hands and organizational discussions, right? Rewarding individuals who’ve gone over and beyond, and then shown how they’ve taken their hero effort and translated into scale, which is the other thing heroes are.

But heroes are not sufficient. So every time you see a hero, you have to say, how did that hero take it? So you can replicate it to multiple heroes across the world. But that is how I bring about change. I pick one effort that I can invest in and showcase what good looks like. Maybe that customer becomes a reference.

Great stories from the adoption and then use that to create. That’s

[00:17:25] Jason Whitehead: possible. Jason, I often talk about the rule of threes, know, spend 30, 30, your focus on building up your own program. Third of it, building out your own team. And third of it with the customer or internal alignment and what you’re talking about.

There’s lot of times. Bringing hearts and minds together in any interim action. Where do you think you need to spend most of your time, if you really want to influence the organization as a hands-on with the customer, or is it more the internal alignment or more growing and developing the CS team program and mentality?

[00:17:53] Harini Gokul: That’s that’s a trick question. The I’m as end, right? All of the above, then you start. Because you cannot function. It’s three pieces of a puzzle. You need all of it to come together. You need that customer advocacy, that data points to actually be credible internally.

You’re never, I am not going to be credible if I do. If I’m not having regular conversations with customers, sponsoring efforts and being out there speaking with folks and by customers, stakeholders as well, right? Like we have private equity firms that are major stakeholders in our customers.

So I consider it my business to have as wide an aperture as possible. But then how do I bring it in? I bring it in and I say, how do I translate this into programs or investments? We need to make that my CSMs can deliver with their coalition of the willing. All the stakeholders and the team sport we talked about and you have to do it all the time.

I don’t think you can miss the beat of that dance. And you have to, and it be probably not as elegant when you start, but that’s the hope is you get to a place where you’ve been, you’re not in the room. The same discussions are happening. My real job is to get rid of my job, right?

When you do it, right? Because you want, NBC this, our sales teams, our biggest are saying, what’s the value of the is going to get, how do we accelerate time to value? Those are the discussions you want to have. And then of course, You will end up talking about what services they adopted, how do you mature their journey and all of that.

But to me, the litmus test is when your stakeholders starts speaking in customer obsessed language, they start talking about value. They talk about accelerating value. What did we help them deliver to their customers? Because if I do my job and take care of my customers, they are able to do a better job for their customers.

[00:19:41] Jason Noble: I love that. And I think the idea of getting other people to use these terms, it is, you’re seeing now the use of kind of values and outcomes is fairly widespread in businesses. I think there is a really good understanding of what we’re doing. Look, Harani, this has been such a great conversation.

What we always like to do with our guests is give them one, what we call a bowl challenge question, and the one for you. So this is the big one. Yes, Liz, what is the number one change that companies need to make today to ensure that customer success is done the right way. And so that it is a team sport.

What’s the number one change they can make,

[00:20:19] Harini Gokul: align your metrics and your conversations with your customer outcome. And I have a second one. So you, did you say,

I would say my fun challenge would be for every CEO to walk in the shoes of their CCO and for every CCO to walk in the shoes of their CEO

[00:20:42] Jason Noble: a different spin on that one is every CEO should walk in the shoes of. I like that. And imagine you’re accustomed come into the business and see what happens, see where they experienced it.

I love them absolutely brilliant insights there. And I think there’s some really, this is one of the hardest things to do in customer success. Although I think towards practitioners working in India, It seems an obvious step, but it’s a very difficult thing to do and to do. So I think you’ve given some really incredible insights.

There’s a massive, thank you again. This has been a fantastic conversation.

[00:21:11] Jason Whitehead: Yep. And before we go, we also like to invite you to do a shameless plug. So any initiatives or efforts or anything that you’d like to share or ways that people get in touch with you, whatever you care to share, please go ahead and take the floor.

[00:21:24] Harini Gokul: We are hiring.

Tell talent is everywhere. And now thanks to remote the acceleration of remote work opportunities everywhere. So we are hiring and if you are great customer success, talent, and you want to practice a pate in taking customer success and elevating it to the next level. Drop me a note on LinkedIn.

[00:21:44] Jason Noble: I love it. What a great plug. Absolutely. Brilliant. Thank you so much. Again, this has been a fantastic conversation. Really enjoyed this. Thank you very much.

[00:21:53] Harini Gokul: Thank you, Jason and Jason, this is a pleasure.