Guest: Kristi Faltorusso – How To Successfully Scale Customer Success

Guest - Kristi altorusso
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The Jasons Take On...
Guest: Kristi Faltorusso - How To Successfully Scale Customer Success

Episode Description

Join us with guest Kristi Faltorusso, VP of Customer Success at ClientSuccess, a leading customer success management solution, where she leads Customer Success, Technical Support and Consulting. 

ClientSuccess is revolutionizing the way SaaS companies manage, retain, and grow their existing customer base, and their goal is to help businesses drive a “Culture of Customer Success” across your entire organization.

Guest: Kristi Faltorusso

Kristi is an industry-leading and award-winning customer success executive and thought leader with experience in building, scaling, and transforming Customer Success organizations at hyper-growth B2B SaaS companies.

Over the past decade, she’s helped many companies redefine Customer Success resulting in increased retention, long-term revenue growth, and customer advocacy.

Kristi is also the Founder of Keeping CS Simple, a content experience, supporting the simplification of Customer Success for Executives, CS Leaders, CPSs, and more.


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[00:00:00] Jason Noble: Good afternoon. Good evening. Good morning, everybody. Welcome to another episode of the Jason steak on podcast series with myself, Jason Noble, Erin, a blue sky is London. The skies are getting clearer and my counterpart Jason White had over in the USA say hello, Jason. Hi everyone. We are thrilled today to have yet another dare I say, infamous customer success guests with.

To talk about all good things about scaling customer success, but scale successfully, we’ve had a couple of really good conversations recently, but we’ve got another one today and I’m really proud to welcome Christie Pfaltz Russo to our podcast. Hey Christie. Say hello to everyone and welcome.

[00:00:43] Kristi Faltorusso: Hello everyone.

I am thrilled to be here. And what a topic for us out, everyone is talking about scaling. So I can’t wait to

[00:00:49] Jason Noble: jump right in. It seems to come up in every single conversation you have with. Just for our audience members and listeners who don’t know Christie, she’s an award-winning customer success objective with a lot of experience building scaling and really transforming customer success organizations at that kind of start up and hyper-growth stage.

So a a lot of what overlaps with all what we’re all doing, the organizations we’re in and she’s she spent probably the last 10 plus years helping organizations. Redefine what customer success really means and being really an instrumental thought leader. There’s a lot of amazing content that you put out there, Kristy that I’m a huge fan of.

And we are so excited to have you here. You’ve got a lot of great experience with other organizations you’ve built led teams and managing the executive teams. I think it bright edge size sends better cloud IntelliJ shift. And now at client success where I know I’ve had conversations with.

But you also do a lot of work outside of your day job as well. And Europe, really you put together what you call keeping customer success, simple, which is your own blog, your own services there. That really, I, but it says it in a nutshell but it is how do we simplify this? Because I think we have a problem where we all do overcomplicate this.

I, and having someone that’s leading that. So I’m super excited. As we said, the topic is how do we scale customers? But before we dig into that, Christie, let me go ahead and please introduce yourself. Let us from listeners that don’t know who you are. Give a few more details about you, what you’re doing and are your passions.

I don’t know,

[00:02:20] Kristi Faltorusso: Jason, like you nailed it. That was the best anyone’s ever me. I might teach you on my next job interview. All right. So Christie bell Russo, I’m currently the vice president of customer success at client success, which is a customer success management software. We help our customers from what we say.

New to renew. So from that initial onboarding post-sale process all the way through that entire life cycle management been here for just about a year. We’ll be a year next month, I’m super pumped. And I have the privilege and honor of working with a ton of different customer success organizations, helping them do what we’re going to talk about today, which is thinking about how do they build transform, but scale their efforts.

[00:02:59] Jason Noble: I think that all of those are hard to do. And I think the scaling bit is the hardest because every organization, in your work at client success with these incredible organizations and really hypergrowth organizations, how do you go about helping them really understand what they need to do about customer growth and scale for their customer success teams?

So how do you go about helping define what they need?

[00:03:20] Kristi Faltorusso: Yeah. So I think we definitely take a very interesting approach just because of the size and the, and who we serve. Our ICP of customers are that small to mid-size organization who are usually in that foundational stage of building and putting some process around customer success, operationalizing their business. So we can lean in a very From a more consultative approach. It’s not about the technology. It’s about learning about where they are, why they’re in a place that they need to change what they’ve been doing and what that change looks like through their eyes. And then we lean in very much from the standpoint of we’re going to help you design and define what those processes and best practices look like.

And, with the very. Mindset, we don’t build something and say, okay, great. This is set it and forget it. This is going to be your program forever through our technology and through the partnership, it’s an ongoing consultation of great. Is this working? Is it really moving the needle?

Is it having the impact on the metrics? And we take that approach. So it’s a lot of listening and learning that we have the bandwidth and the infrastructure right now.

[00:04:21] Jason Noble: Did you find that consultative approach works because there’s a lot of organizations that will look to you, and say, tell us how to do it.

And it is like you say, it’s iterative, it changes all the time, but do you find there’s any challenges with using that approach or does it seem to fit with.

[00:04:35] Kristi Faltorusso: So I think our, again, our customers, because they are earlier in stage, they’re not at a place of hyper-growth right where they’re hiring hundreds of thousands of employees in customer success.

They’re still trying to figure it out. So they rely on us to be that benchmark of what good looks like. Because it’s what they need. And it’s a service that we can provide. A lot of it is through the lens of what we’re doing, so it’s not, you can iterate on it because it’s really easy to say.

Here’s how we do customer success at client success. And here’s how we can modify this to meet what it is that you do in your organization. And so it feels very consultative, but it scales because it’s very templated based off of what our infrastructure looks.

[00:05:14] Jason Whitehead: That’s a great one. So what do you see are some of the kinks key challenges that your organizations are facing when they’re going through the scaling phase, especially those that are going through the hyper-growth phase and I guess relate to that.

Is there a difference between what with a typical organization trying to scale versus a hyper-growth organization? Yes.

[00:05:32] Kristi Faltorusso: I’m saying the hyper-growth ones it’s like everything needed to be done yesterday. So I would say time. And speed in which you’ve got to put all those pieces of the puzzle together, but I’d say the biggest challenge honestly, is folks don’t know what they don’t know.

And there’s a lot of reliance that people think that the best way to scale is just through technology and automation and this push of content. And don’t realize that there is a whole ton of different avenues that you can go through and should be approaching and thinking through, when you think about what scale looks like and how that feels for your customers.

[00:06:06] Jason Noble: Do you, I think one of the webinars that you did recently of client success you talked about the partnership kickoff framework. I love the idea of that. And I, Jason, I have talked before about the transition that transition from sales to onboarding to customer success is an area that I think a lot of businesses really struggle with.

Could you share some of your insights for how organizations can go about doing this better and having they can use that to help scale, and then also give a bit more insight into kind of your partnership kickoff framework.

[00:06:37] Kristi Faltorusso: Absolutely. So you like hit on like my favorite thing to talk about ever. It’s one of my, I think it’s one of the few programs that have developed that I think does translate to almost any business and it really has a ton of impact.

So what we did is, for years, I’m sure like you guys have seen. Most companies, you go from like paperwork assigned, great. Let’s get you started, let’s build your product and just run. And I get that right. There’s this huge need to just put a lot of velocity around that and get people moving their set time to value KPI that people talk about and it feels so intense.

And so really just want to get to it. And so after years of doing that, I was like no, we’re doing it wrong. I said, we miss so much learning. That feels really awkward. To go and have these conversations when you were like 3, 4, 5 months into the partnership. So it was like we’re going to slow down to speed up and we’re going to actually have the right conversation with our customers from day one.

So I created what we call our partnership kickoff model. And this is an executive level conversation where we were. The executive stakeholders, key decision makers, even influencers that are part of the partnership to join from the customer standpoint. And from our side, we bring our account team. And so that’s usually the CSM, the AAE.

Who’s a part of it. If we had anyone from solutions or consulting, they’d be present, and then hopefully the executive stakeholder, which would be like myself for. We come together in a conversation that has a very formal structure, the decks and the frameworks that I create are very easily repeatable.

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. The deck has five modifications if I’m being honest. But prior to that kickoff, we do send a survey out to our customers where we ask a lot of very pointed questions. Why us, why now? What are you trying to do? What are your goals? What are your objectives? How do they map back to our partnership?

And we use that to facilitate a very good conversation. That’s what it is. It’s alignment. We set proper expectations. We understand who they are, why they exist, why they’re focused on customer success. What does it look like in their business? What does that program look like? And then we dive a bit into.

You know what their goals are, how do we support them? So what are they expecting from us? What do we expect from them? There’s a lot of, there’s a lot of that. And then we spend a lot of time talking through change management. I’m very honest with you. We want to make sure that our customers are very clear.

By deploying technology. This is not solve your problems. And so your organization is going to fundamentally go through some change, and this is what it’s going to look like. Here’s a small piece that your technology provider will play in this overarching change and how we’re going to partner with you through that, how we can support you.

We go into what onboarding will look like because we do want to set that stage and we really just. Wrap up with, like what are our next steps, right? Where do we go from here? And there’s a lot of pieces that happen in between there. I’m not going to get into that. If you want to watch my bootcamp webinar on that, you can absolutely go check it out.

But yeah, it just, it refrains the partnership. And we’ll go right into the technology. It’s what are we doing here together? What is the purpose and how are we going to be successful?

[00:09:27] Jason Noble: You find, if you do that survey, do, is there any customers that might get frustrated? Cause they might think.

We’ve gone through the sales process with the AA we’ve given this information or. Or the question is phrased in such a way that, that it’s not positioned like that.

[00:09:42] Kristi Faltorusso: Yeah, I don’t think so. Cause it really does we go into bits and pieces of like their customer success program. For example, like I’ll ask something, do you have a customer success journey?

And then usually it’s going to be one or two answers. Yes or no, or it’s in the works, right? What role do you see client success playing in the creation of your customer success journey? I just want to know how much they’re expecting us to help guide them. So we’re having the right conversations that we come prepared and we know where they are when we go into deploying these things into our solution.

So I don’t think that there’s a ton of overlap, maybe a couple of questions, but I think the customers understand that this information is super valuable and will allow us to tailor the conversations. We have to be more.

[00:10:22] Jason Noble: I love the way you’ve called it a partnership framework as well. Cause that sets from the outset, what you’re trying to do, this isn’t a short-term thing and it sets you up for success.

When you want to scale, you’ve got to get those foundations right at the beginning. If they’re not right, you can’t scale. It’s that. Yeah.

[00:10:37] Jason Whitehead: I love what you’re saying too. We in our group we do a go slow to go fast piece, which is both like that. But a part of it is intentionally designed to build trust and really get to know, make a connection with the other people first.

And there are three steps or you don’t make the connection with them and really build trust and get to understand how to communicate with them. No. There’s so many times talking with customers, you just go right past each other. If you don’t invest that time, and then we talked some about the, what’s our collaboration process.

How are we going? Who’s going to be in the room. Must’ve looked like. And then the very third part is the content really. Okay. Let’s tell me about your business and how we’re going to work together and all that other stuff. And I think when people skip that and go right into. The tech or the process.

So many things come back to bite you in the ass later, that always gets you. But I’m curious though, when you have those calls with your partnership framework as well, too, how often are you finding a disconnect between within the client site itself? Oh, the executive said one thing, but you heard something very different during the sales process for the people down with.

Didn’t have a clue what the executive was expecting through this process.

[00:11:35] Kristi Faltorusso: I think for us, it’s, we’re beginning, like I said we’re selling to mid-market for the most part. So the organizations are smaller. They’re not, you’re 20,000 person enterprise. Companies where definitely there is a game of telephone and things are getting lost in translation.

So I don’t think that we have that problem, but I could definitely see at scale and in other organizations where I’ve worked with larger customers, there is sometimes a disconnect, right? Because the buyer is not sitting down, justifying what they’re doing and why they’re doing it to the rest of the team.

That’s going to go and execute it, which is why I think bringing these teams together in this type of a conversation, hopefully. In a very disengaging and then disengaging disarming way brings people together to be collaborative and I’ll get on the same page because when you’re not together having that proper conversation, there’s a lot of like later finger pointing.

And he said, she said, oh, I’m not getting support this way. Get everyone in the same room, get everyone on the same page and you can effectively move. Yep,

[00:12:30] Jason Whitehead: absolutely.

[00:12:30] Jason Noble: That alignment is so critical. It does, again, it’s building up from day one in the experience that you’ve had. I You mentioned earlier on kind of about people think technology and automation is what you need to scale.

It’s not, it’s a lot more, but what are some of the challenges and kind of gotchas that you’ve seen and mistakes you’ve seen organizations make when they try to scale, but don’t do it success.

[00:12:50] Kristi Faltorusso: One people try to scale without having a program, a well-thought out program. I’m like, what is it that we’re doing?

What are the messages? What is the customer experience? I just, we can break those all down into their own individual challenges, but just people think people move very quickly because there is a mandate that is coming top down to scale. And for folks that haven’t scaled properly and effectively before.

They just think it’s okay go push a bunch of stuff. Like we’re just going to go and we’re doing this and we’re just, we’re taking people out of the equation, we’re going to try to do more with less. And you’re not giving a lot of thought to creating a very comprehensive experience for their customers from start to finish.

And so I would say like the lack of focus around that would be my full pod. Number one. Number two. I think he’s then going to proper head. Like that one’s a meaty one, but I would say the second one definitely probably comes down to. Not getting a cross-functional support and realizing that in order to have a successful scale program, actually to have an effective customer success program, period, you have to have everyone bought in and supporting you.

But especially when it’s, when you’re thinking about scaling, when you think about scaling, right? In a lot of cases, you are maybe removing a lot of the human or manual work that was required otherwise. And you are automating things. You are doing things at scale, meaning maybe there’s one too many programs, things like that.

Pull in marketing, right? Marketing customer marketing has to be a very big part of this program, your support team, right? If you don’t have a CSM is talking to your customer once a week, support issues are going to come up, right? That might mean an increase in volume with your support queue. How are things going to be happening with, at any part of your business, it amplifies the need for everyone to be involved and to have the ability to scale with you.

It is not just scaling a silo with CS and most people think, oh, I’m creating a customer. Scale program. And so that’s me and my organization. And it’s definitely not. I

[00:14:47] Jason Noble: think you’ve hit the nail on the head there that it does, fundamentally for customer success. We’ve got to be collaborative. This is a cross organization function, but when you start to scale, it becomes even more critical when you’ve got a very small number of.

You can probably manage with a more siloed approach, but as you scale, it just doesn’t work. It absolutely doesn’t work. And I love the way you talked about that program as well, because you’ve got to think longer term, where are we trying to get to? What do we need to do? Not just, yes, you need to scale.

What does that mean? Double the number of you’ve got to think it through. What are we trying to get to? Where’s the.

[00:15:21] Kristi Faltorusso: Yeah, Jason, that’s my foot pod. Number three, people don’t have the proper KPI. They don’t know what they look like for this program. How are we measuring it? How do we know what’s effective?

People are just literally going into this blind and doing a whole bunch of stuff.

Because they’re all looking at data. That’s telling them it’s

[00:15:42] Jason Noble: not good. It’s almost not to do with scale, but you still get organizations creating customer success. Cause they think they need to do it, but not while we’ve all been there. We’ve all seen these challenges and it is it’s you can’t scale unless you get any of these basic basics.

I think too many organizations try to scale too quickly before they’ve got these fundamentalism.

[00:16:04] Jason Whitehead: No, Christina, I’m wondering, I’ve worked a lot of organizations and you meet some folks there, whether it’s the CEO or someone else at the executive level. And you’re like, okay, they’ve really get it there.

There’s going to be a little ups and downs of any program and we’ll get through them. It’s going to be wonderful. And then there’s others. You can just sniff out This is not going to, and it’s not just with us, just, this is not going to go well for them because of some misconceptions they have, or lack of resources they’re willing to commit or other things along the line of your full pause.

What are the things that make you sniff out that these people might have unreasonable expectations are going struggle through this.

[00:16:34] Kristi Faltorusso: I think it’s along the lines of the questions we dig in a good one to bring this down two ways, right? There’s the companies that I join, where I, as a leader, I’m sitting in an organization where I’m running into that issue which I think we’ve all met Zach CEO at some point in our career.

And this is why I leave companies is when I feel like I’m justifying my job and my existence every day. Yup. After a certain amount of time of education and enablement up, I have to just move on, right? I need to be successful. So that is how I will handle that as an individual, when it comes into supporting organizations, we do a lot of this discovery, right?

I talked about the questions we ask in that, in the survey and the partnership kickoff, as well as conversations that I have, or Dave Blake, our CEO might have independently with the executive stakeholders we dig in and we ask a lot of questions with them. And when we hit. For little red flags, right?

Usually those things are around inflated, KPI, improvement numbers over short periods of time dismissive statements around the value output of the work that we do, right? Like you can, we, for folks that have been in a while you know what the, those little red flags are when we hear those, we definitely.

We try to unpack it with them. And if there’s a gap in understanding, we do try to educate, enable, but I will tell you not everyone wants to hear that the work that we do does take a lot of time and resource and technology, and it’s, if you don’t want to invest in it, if you don’t believe it, It’s God, right there.

Jesus is a for everybody, like neither is customers and guests. When you read them, get it. You believe you don’t

have a religious person, but like customer success, I believe in customer success. And I know. And I get it, but it’s not for everybody. So that’s okay. They’re going to try to figure out a way to get there, either going to take a different path and that’s their journey, but we do try to educate with you, try to help.

And would you try to support our leaders in helping them evangelize and tell that narrative up? It’s you know, seeing is believing for a lot of people. So unless they’ve seen it or heard it from their peers, that this is what you do, and it works really well. We need more success stories to amplify that.

So more CEOs and more executives are bought into

[00:18:40] Jason Whitehead: the work that we do. Absolutely. Oh, I love what you’re saying there, I’ve had some of those clients where you’re like, But there’s only so much you can do to protect people from themselves. You help them where you can and, and for me, anyways, I, you can sometimes see the, the car wreck in slow motion, what’s going to come, how can I be a bit of an airbag here?

How can I prevent this a little bit? So that the next time after we get through this, they’ll believe me a little bit more next time. And hopefully it will get them where they need to be, but it’s definitely a challenge. I think

[00:19:05] Jason Noble: it is the frustration as well as is sometimes you have to go through it several times with the same organization to actually see it.

And it does it, it almost, it’s an intrusive thing in itself that education process.

[00:19:17] Kristi Faltorusso: I will say one thing that, that I get, and I understand, but it’s always, it breaks my heart a little bit is when I have other VPs or even chief customer officers or chief operating officers or whatever their role is, come to me to ask me to speak to their CEO.

And I’m saying the same thing that they are, but all of a sudden you have the third party or somebody outside their organization to repeat it like a parrot and all of a sudden it’s oh yeah, do you hear what this person said? And the poor executive that you hired. But you trusted in your organization to come in, said the same thing and you didn’t want to hear it.

That to me is it’s it’s very common and very disappointing.

[00:19:52] Jason Noble: I couldn’t agree more. I’d be interested in hearing as kind of customer success leaders and exactly how do we bring our teams along the scaling journey? Cause that, your individual teams, it can be quite challenging.

There’s a big period of change. They’re going through. And it can quite a bumpy ride for him. So how do you, what are some of the insights you can give into how you can help your own teams to go through that scaling? So my

[00:20:13] Kristi Faltorusso: favorite thing to say is that people want change to happen with them, not to them.

So I put my team and I quite frankly, my team knows our customers better than I do. They’re the ones speaking to them every day. They’re the one engaging, they’re hearing the product requests, the pain points they’re hearing what works what’s successful. I would be silly to think that I would be more in tune with designing what my customers need to scale.

Then bring know, bring them along for the ride. But as a leader, I don’t like to delegate by saying, you’re going to do this and you’re going to do that. So I tell the team, here’s what we’re working on. These are the. If there’s something that’s of interest to you that you feel like you’ve got some level of expertise around or an area of interest lean into it and let’s work together.

And so they’re opting in to doing the work that creates these programs that are more effective because they were part of it and they’re more likely to adopt it and evangelize it to their peers. And that has always been a very successful practice for me. It gets them to do. Work as a leader, they get to lead from a point of non-leadership and get a little taste of what that feels like they built the product or the process.

It’s theirs. They put their name on it and it feel good. And honestly, from my standpoint, the benefit to me, I go focused on the other thing, right? Like we can divide and conquer. So I think if you’ve got, hopefully you’re hiring smart, capable people. If they’re not smart and capable, why do you hire them?

Empower them to go do great work with you. So I’m big on just pull the team along with.

[00:21:34] Jason Noble: Getting that buy-in is so important as well. And I, you say get them to do things that they want to do. I, a big part of the journey I think is super, super important. Christie, look this has been such an amazing conversation we could go on for hours and I have no doubt.

We’ll invite you back to talk about more of these. We’ve already picked up on a few things that we could dig into a big thank you for having to come in on. One thing we always ask our guests to do. We give them a, what we call a bowl challenge question. And the one we’d like to give you is what do you see as the biggest challenge today when it comes to scaling success, customer success and scaling it successfully.

So the one biggest. I’m going

[00:22:14] Kristi Faltorusso: to say is my full pod. Number two is trying to do this in a silo, not working collaboratively, not getting that proper buy-in. And I’m going to, I’m going to overemphasize emphasize one area, build out customer marketing, do not try to use the same marketing tactics that work for building prospects at your customers, design a program that’s exclusively for them, and that will help you scale, like nothing.

[00:22:36] Jason Noble: We’ve not yet done a podcast about customer marketing, but it’s something that we’ve spoken before. Desperate.

I’m so tempted to talk for another 30 minutes on this, right? Because it’s so big because people just organizations. Yeah. We’ve got marketing team. If you’ve got a customer marketing team and start the it’s such a different style, look, we will take you up on this. We’re going to do another podcast on this because it’s something that, again, organizations just aren’t doing, they’re not investing. I am massive. Massive. Thank you. This has been a fantastic conversation. I think really insightful for all of us. So a big, thank you from us. Yeah. Thank

[00:23:11] Jason Whitehead: you so much. And before you go, please give a shameless plug for, sorry. I forgot. You’re choosing or your organization, whatever.

You’re in the mood to shamelessly plug. We’d love to hear. Okay.

[00:23:19] Kristi Faltorusso: Shameless plugs. Here we go. I’m going to shamelessly plug myself first. So if you are following me, if we’re not friends, if we’ve not spoken before, please go follow me on LinkedIn. I would love to engage with you. Have a conversation, virtual cup of coffee, maybe catch it.

And. Cause in-person is happening, guys. I don’t know if nobody’s citing my other shameless plug. If you don’t have a customer success solution and you do need one, you think you might need one, you need one in the future. Please come check out client success. I’d love to give you a demo of our solution.

Shameless plug will be for my personal brand website, keeping CS real keeping CS simple. And it’s all about the simplification. As Jason mentioned earlier of customer success, best practices, let’s stop over-complicating things, break things down and make it easier and make everyone more successful.

[00:24:03] Jason Whitehead: Love it. Absolutely love it. Absolutely love that it links to be in the description below. Thanks so much. Thanks

[00:24:09] Kristi Faltorusso: so much guys.