Guest: Pat Phelan – The Journey to Becoming A Chief Customer Officer
Join us when we speak with Pat Phelan. Pat is the Chief Customer Office for GoCardLess, where he’s responsible for building and scaling a best in class customer success organisation with leadership of Customer Onboarding, Support, Experience, CS management and Account Management disciplines globally.
In this episode, Pat is going to talk to us about his journey to becoming a Chief Customer Officer.
Guest: Pat Phelan
Pat is a seasoned CCO in the fintech space and has held a multitude of leadership roles in different GTM and commercial functions with some very fast-growing tech companies. Pat was the CCO at Brandwatch before GoCardless where in addition to the usual CS functions he also led a global account management team.
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Jason Noble: Good morning, good afternoon, good evening, everybody. Welcome to another episode of the Jason’s Take Home podcast. With myself, Jason Noble here in a very cold and chilly London minus four degrees in real temperature and my partnering crime. Mr. Whitehead, say hello, Jason.
Jason Whitehead: Hello, Jason,
Jason Noble: We have another super exciting guest to welcome today talking all about the journey to becoming a Chief Customer Officer.
I’d like to give a very warm welcome to Pat Felan Pat’s the Chief Customer Officer at Go Cardless an organization I know well, I’ve worked with previously Pat’s a, I’d like to say a season Chief Customer Officer in FinTech in a number of other spaces, and has held a multitude of leadership roles across all sorts of d.
Go to market functions, commercial functions in some of the, I think, fastest growing tech businesses that there are. And as C O at GoCardless, he’s responsible for building and scaling what he says is the best in class customer success organization. And looking after leadership from boarding [00:01:00] support, experience, csm, your traditional customer success management and account management disciplines globally.
So all of. Traditional post sales functions, which is really good to see. It was previously that the c o at a brandwatch before go cardless, where we built all of the functions up all of the traditional CS functions. But also I you led a global account management function again. So seeing that come under that commercial element, cut under the remit of customer success is really exciting.
And I think if I’m right, you started off way back, it was in marketing and I think that’s, A, a really phenomenal way to come into customer success and understanding everything about engagement, advocacy and it’s just a route that I’ve not seen many other people come in. And, I’d love to hear more about that.
Pat. Welcome. Yeah. Amazing to have you with us, sir. Thank you.
Pat: Yeah, thanks for asking. This’ll be an easy one. I won’t get anyone’s name wrong, , hopefully throughout the process, so I’ll just have to. Not at the individual I’m talking to here. But no, I appreciate you coming on.
I’ve I’ve followed and seen your podcast in the past, so Yeah. [00:02:00] Excited to start.
Jason Noble: Love it. Pat, look,
I’ve given a little intro there, but we’d love to hear in your own words about your own journey a and what you’re doing now, and your plans for the next year or so. As we’ve started.
Jason Noble: Started the
Pat: I’m not so much sure about the plans for the next year or two , but everything that’s gone on in the last two years, it could be ranging anything from another global pandemic to God knows what else climate. But yeah, we’re yeah so yeah. Gosh, it’s been a, it’s been a hell of a journey really.
I’ve often been asked the question and I’ve often, I’ve probably, the older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve actually reflected on it. Definitely more so than I ever did when. Idiot, if that makes sense. So I, came from Ireland way back. Moved to England. First chance I got, couldn’t get out of the country fast enough.
Love it. Very proud to be Irish. But the Ireland that I knew is very different to the Ireland that is now in terms of opportunity and. The landscape for employment. So I did a post-grad and, it was never a given that you got an opportunity. It was too small basically.
So I went through the marketing route really, because I couldn’t really figure out anything else at the time. And I felt like it was something that might work, it might work for me. [00:03:00] And, I never was, I, yeah, it was one of those kind of weird scenarios where having grown up in, in a hospitality environ always knew that, I got my energy from people.
And engaging with people and being able to, service people to some degree. I grew up in a hotel and, we had bars and bed and breakfasts and, grocery shop in the building. So we were always around people. We were always trading in some way, shape or form.
And we were always obsessed about really the quality of what was delivered and repeatability and people coming back to you. So always knew it was gonna land there but, When I first got into software it was an interesting path. So I started in marketing, moved back to London from Dubai, got into recruitment for a while because it was a wild industry in the sort of early two thousands, late nineties, early two thousands.
It was just amazing the energy around recruitment and the buzz around a contract versus permanent and I loved it, absolutely loved it, but I knew it was never gonna be a long term thing, it was very much a here and. And after about two years of that, myself and a very good friend of mine from [00:04:00] home went out on our own.
We set up our own company and it was really gonna be focused on initially risk management recruiting, but that morphed very quickly into technology because he was a bit of a tech head. Himself self thought. And we both were interested in that area. So we built up a small business.
It wasn’t anything spectacular. And, again, it was the days before VCs or before kind of investment capital, and you you were, everything was was what’s the phrase they have for it now? Shoestring or, you profitability drove expansion basically.
I think there’s still a lot of that today though, isn’t there? There is. It’s more it’s more acceptable today, I think, given our profitability at the time. If that was today, we’d be a unicorn. We literally made money every month from the beginning but we started getting into technology and it was really interesting because, th this was a time when, particularly on-prem was still a big thing.
Sass was unheard of. We built a. A really fantastic piece of technology focused at the recruitment sector. That was it was effectively sas. It was to live on external servers and, it was gonna solve lots of problems that a lot of our customers had at the time.
But it was just phenomenal. Looking back [00:05:00] on it, the. The the lack of willingness to trust data that lived physically lived somewhere else, not take, the architecture was immaterial. Nobody cared. Nobody cared about the security. Nobody cared about the scale. They just felt safer when the box was.
In their office. And I remember going to pitch and to demo this platform and literally having to bring, a box with me and a flat screen with me because the majority of customers just wouldn’t have even the tick on on, on site. So we went down that path and it was really interesting because we got some traction but overall it just was so mistimed in terms of the willingness for people to adopt this stuff.
But I knew at that point tech. Was something that really excited me and when we moved away from that, so we saw the business and we went our separate ways and Mike’s since gone on to move across to the US and he was actually co-founder of jet.com. In the us which is a pretty big retail site that Walmart owned now.
But I always knew I was gonna move into the tech world. And my first role really was as a community manager. It was called, I remember because nobody really had the [00:06:00] term customer success. Genuinely didn’t exist at the assignment. It was community manager. And that was with a company called Verb.
So it was a talent tech software and that was the real versioning of the start of my journey because I loved it. I adored the culture and everything around it.
Jason Noble: And that’s amazing and really as everything now as
well, how big community is particularly the
Pat: Yeah. Yeah.
Jason Noble: Start off with that and yeah, that’s incredible.
Pat: But it wasn’t what it is now, community. When I started was literally the only word people could really think of for what is now customer success management. Yeah. It was more about like, how do we engage our customer base, most of which were mid-market or enterprise. But the term just was so unheard of at the time and eventually it started to move into that, but went from community management to.
A customer executive and I think one of the titles was, I can’t remember some of the like, relationship manager was another one and . So eventually I moved across to Bazaar Voice and that’s where my career took off. Started as a C S M and then moved manager, director, VP and VP in the over the six and a half year period.
And that’s the big, that’s the [00:07:00] company for me that we all have those companies that we look back on and think it was a. A moment in time where, personal values aligned with a company values and it just great things happen. And from that then the move to brand watch, because I really cut my teeth atar at Bizarre Voice.
It was a super fast-paced company. Social commerce, was new segment. Businesses were really pumping online. And I loved it. It was great. But at the time then brand watch came up and the social media management space was really fascinating as well.
They’re there were tangential similar challenges. Hard to renew, first thing that people will look at when budgets get tight. The playbooks were really volatile. You had to, use your intuition quite a bit but I loved it down there too. And when we merged with our main competitor, I took over the chief customer officer role.
So I was heading up customer success at Brandwatch and we merged with our number one competitor, so that doubled the size of the company. Doubled the size of the CS org. So I took that on and then go, Carlos came knocking and, I’ll be honest, direct debits was not, top of my list of priorities in terms of the segments I wanted to work in at the time.
[00:08:00] But I went in and had a great conversation and was just blown away by. The people first and foremost, Hiroki is much as he would absolutely hate me to describe him as an inspirational character. He is. He’s one of those people that you just look at and think, yeah, this is a guy.
I I wanna be around as much as I can. And and this the market, FinTech, as we all know now, has just gone crazy. Plus for me, it was a very different it was, going from two and a half thousand customers to 75,000 customers. It was moving from fixed annual commitments to consumption based cs which is really interesting and I just wanted to really challenge myself on that.
But that was the journey on paper. And obviously in between that journey, lots of screw ups, lots of mistakes, lots of opportunity, lots of luck. But the main reflection for me going. And I talk to a lot of Cs, I speak to a lot of CS leaders just ad hoc who contact and chat and whatnot.
And it’s really interesting because if I think about what I would advise people now in, when I look at my path through a lens of a sort of a [00:09:00] consultant, like in terms of what the keys were, no, no question. In my mind the first element was the company companies I joined. I was lucky enough to join companies that, that really aligned with me and my expectation of how success should be interpreted.
Companies that acknowledged Execut. Acknowledge delivery. Yeah. Didn’t really accept politics, didn’t accept, proximity bias, all those kind of things. Like they, they knew what was being done and they rewarded accordingly. And then the second element was the people that I had around me.
I think I’ve developed a pretty good mix of, Hiring the right people and developing the right people. So there’s a good kind of hybrid and a lot of those people, like I, I often joke like that. My, my challenge now is that my network has just matured too much for them to ever come work for me again because now they’re CCOs and they’re VPs of cs.
Maybe five years ago I might have nobbed one or two, but They’re running like big orgs now in terms of, that’s great across SaaS, like it really is, and because it’s a shared journey that we’ve all been on [00:10:00] and I think, that they were the and personally just a willingness to embrace change.
The biggest opportunity in accelerators I’ve had in my career have come. In times of absolute chaos and turmoil in an organization like I, there’s nothing has ever been linear. They’ve always been in scenarios where change was like the constant and change was in front of you, and I’ve never been afraid to.
Throw myself into that, but not in, in a selfish way, as in, I will do this if this is the outcome. I’ve always assumed that if I did the right stuff, good things happen. Then you align that with the right culture, the organization you’re in, and usually that kind of plays itself out. So it’s an interesting, it’s an interesting one to have that kind of career conversation now, because I see a lot of what’s the next step?
I need a C in front of my title. I need a V in front of my title. I need these kind of things. It’s just take a little bit of a step back there. We all know, like that is not necessarily the definition of success in this game. That’s for sure.
Jason Noble: I love your journey there, pat is amazing and that kind of chaos and that focus and that start, like you say you’ve had that [00:11:00] service and delivering quality from day one.
It’s a phenomenal story and to,
Jason Noble: To see your network go onto these leadership roles themselves, again, is a really it’s a wonderful feeling, isn’t it, to know that these,
Pat: I love it.
Jason Noble: People have been successful themselves.
Pat: I love nothing more. Like I, honestly I, the, it’s the person in the ring.
I think, I can’t remember the quote of the poem, but the, it’s the, you gotta play the game. Like whether you win it or lose it, it doesn’t matter. And like we’ve been through there’s people that I’ve been through, pretty tough times with, and yeah. I owe them a lot personally because they backed me and they bought into me and they trusted me.
And like that. As a leader, that weighs very heavily on you. It should, because that’s your job, but at the same time it’s never given. And we’ve all been in situations where most of our time’s been spent trying to, placate egos or convince people. I’ve rarely had to convince people to do anything, once the purpose and the mission is clear and despite, how that path works.
But yeah, it’s an interesting one now, I think more prevalent than ever because, there is a lot of change and a lot of uncertainty.
Jason Whitehead: And I think that’s also another great example where, so [00:12:00] often we judge the quality of a c o or VP of Cs based on the numbers and the metrics in churn and n r but we don’t really look at the impact on their team.
And I think the, that so many of your team members have grown on, grown under. Your guidance as well worked for you that they’ve excelled in their own career. So that’s another great measure of the success of a leader, I think. Which, as opposed to yesterday.
I think it’s the primary one, if I’m honest.
I would judge myself. I always think like in 10 years time, if you know these people met in the public what would I want them to say about me? What, what would I want them to say that, we had great net revenue retention or our NPS was, constantly 80 plus or what I want them to say that shit that, That was a really good period in my career that I look back on a as, as a, as an accelerant.
That’s all I want is people to say about, because things change. You know what you,
Jason Noble: I love that people put,
I was gonna say that, that pub conversation, oh, do you remember Net revenue attention?
Pat: Yeah. We’ve
Jason Noble: you just, but it’s so it. People side of things that honestly
Pat: I [00:13:00] listen to, I think about that.
I, every time I’m in it, I’m in those conversations cuz it happens to all of us all the time. Yep. I still reflect on my first manager Darren Robinson. And and I still talk about him and that was 29 years ago. Like he was the first person that really, I felt like, wow, this is what a manager’s supposed to be.
Exactly. So we do say this stuff. So I do think about that and I think there was a post I think it was Nick Meta posted it a while ago, and then I, it did resonate with me. I think he said something like imagine all of the things that you don’t want the person who takes your job now to say when you’re gone about you or what you did.
And do. And I quite like that it’s a similar kind of thread, which is we know someone’s going to come, I know someone’s gonna take this job at some point and they’re probably gonna look at what I’ve done and go, what the hell was he thinking? Or ? That was like and I I want to minimize that.
I just wanna minimize it so at least grudgingly they can say, sure. That was all right. . Yeah.
Jason Whitehead: Nope, no one puts
their NPS [00:14:00] score on a, no one puts their NPS score on a gravestone
either, too. So absolutely. Little fun along
Pat: maybe they should. A personal N ps score.
Jason Noble: Can you,
The roles that you’ve been in as Chief Customer Officer it’s a role that, that hasn’t always been at the forefront. I and I, it’s amazing that you’ve been in some organizations that have seen the need a and why it has to be, but two, two questions for you. Why?
Yeah. What do you see the role as being, in your own words, what is a chief customer Officer? Yeah. It’s a really, so why do you think it’s not always been given that same level of recognition that it is?
Pat: I think
there’s still a lot, there’s still a way to go, if I’m honest. In terms of the recognition, I think we’re far from there.
I think when I think about my role, it’s probably. It changes, it varies. If I look at it right now it’s about really protecting the base and making sure you know that the customers we’ve got right now stay with us and remain with us and continue to see value and hopefully expand depending on how the environment works out.
During the merger of, let’s say, brand Watch and Crimson Hexagon, my role was to bring, very disparate groups of customers together and try to [00:15:00] normalize and standardize how we engage with them. But overall, I see myself as, Very much, first and foremost, the voice in the room, right? My job is to be provocative on behalf of a customer.
And however that shows up as immaterial to me. It changes every day, every week. But I’m the guy in the room that says Colombo style, like just one more thing. And I’ve done it a couple of times in that style, which is always quite funny But that’s my job, right? And my team’s job is to make sure that we have a mechanism whereby I can have those conversations and I can be confident and clear and articulate and credible when we actually have those conversations.
So that’s my primary role. And I don’t get too caught up, honestly, and I see a lot of. Blog posts and comments around like the five steps to, be whatever. It’s like that changes it’s fluid. But that’s my purpose, right? However that shows up, depends.
Sometimes it’ll be in strategy discussions. Sometimes it’ll be in, comp discussions acquisition, whatever but that’s my gig. And then the second one I, that I [00:16:00] take, very seriously is I am an acceler. To the organization achieving their goals right now. That to me is very important because I am an, I’m an accelerant to go cardless achieving our goals, whether that be revenue goals, whether that be, long term goals, short term, it doesn’t really matter what I am.
Is a protector of a part of a business or a protector of a function or a protector of a process, right? So this is where I really am very careful and very specific in my wording because my job is to make sure we sell. My job is to make sure we renew, is to make sure we expand. It’s to make sure we retain.
It’s not any individual component element of that. So me and the c o like that relat. Is absolutely critical to the success of the organization. And that’s why, for me, it’s really important with my team that I’m always very clear about that [00:17:00] because I have a very low tolerance to the conversations that go some way along the lines of them and us, or that’s a bad deal, or we’re getting all the crap, or okay, I, I get all of this stuff.
My job is to level it up and to raise that up and to actually get outta the weeds on those types of conversations and say, Hey, okay, how can we contribute to that outcome? How can we contribute to that success and vice versa? So I’ve been very lucky in terms of my kind of engagement with Chief revenue officers, particularly because I think that’s the most pivotal relationship in Annie SaaS business, in my opinion, because that’s the one that can go pretty badly wrong or very.
So in myself and Evan’s case, we sat down years ago and mapped out our expectations of each other and committed to that. And I’m under no illusion. That, Evan has a hard job like revenue and bookings and going out and acquiring customers is not easy. Cross selling’s, not easy.
Upsell’s not easy. Be under no [00:18:00] illusion. It may look easy, but we all know it’s not easy to do that. And my job is to make sure that I give him the tools and I give him the capabilities, and I give him the resources and the outcomes that he can use and need to leverage either net new acquisition or expansion and up.
And the other side to that is I need to be okay with that. Like just because I don’t own this or I don’t own that, like my value to this business is not born out of the fact that I have proximity to a number. Because if that’s my only value to go cardless right now, then I think I have a problem.
My value hopefully is multi-threaded and that’s just something that is always kind. With me. I’ve had a lot of conversations with people around that, and there’s no right or wrong way to approach it, but that’s always the way I’ve approached it because any other way I found in the past to the wrong kind of discussions and the wrong kind of relationships.
Jason Whitehead: I mean it’s
really, it’s hard to have those tight relationships and I find so many of the there’s a lot of friction between the c o and c o and finding ways to collaborate [00:19:00] effectively to align your teams. And I really love what you’re saying about getting out of the weeds of the minutiae.
This is a bad deal, or that is,
Jason Whitehead: That becomes very toxic very quickly, and it becomes all consuming. And if you’re able to nip that in the bud, I think it helps a lot of organizations.
Pat: It does. Yeah.
Jason Whitehead: Almost outta time here already. This has flown by. So wanted to throw up to you a bold challenge question.
What is the number one bold action that aspiring CCOs can take today to make? To make the step up so that how do they go from wherever they are up to the c o piece and you’ve got two
Pat: I think the number one thing anybody can do is be utterly connected to the objectives of the organization and make sure that everything that you do and your organization does is in service of that.
And that alone, and to have the humility and the CAPA and the flexibility to accept that sometimes that’s not going to be aligned with what you think you should own or you should do, but it’s not about you and it’s not about your function. It’s about the ultimate outcome. That’s where I would tell people to spend their [00:20:00] time because if you do that, people will notice that’s how you’re operating and if you’re in the right place, good things happen.
If you’re in the wrong place, go to somewhere that is the right.
Jason Noble: I love e everything you’ve said from your own definition that Colombo style that that’s key. Cuz it is. We’re there to challenge things.
Jason Noble: And it’s difficult to do and I’ve said before, it can be quite lonely.
People don’t want those questions there.
Pat: Absolutely. Absolutely. But making them explicit and making them visible is critical.
Jason Noble: Yep. I absolutely, and
I love your journey. I. I think it’s unique. I think your background’s phenomenal. It’s put you in a really strong position to to be able to talk to people about this, and it’s a really,
Jason Noble: Phenomenal story. This a big thank you, pat. This has been an amazing
Pat: Yeah it’s a pleasure. It’s a pleasure. And I will say if anybody I ever listen to this wants to reach out and chat through anything like that I’m more than happy to facilitate that.
Jason Whitehead: Great. Thank.
Always like to invite our guests, get a shameless plug.
Let people know anything that you’re working on or how they can reach you and [00:21:00] then we’ll,
Wrap this up.
Pat: Yeah. Yeah. You can reach me on LinkedIn, pat Felan. I’ve actually got myself off some of the platforms recently from Ons Sanity. But LinkedIn is the safest pair to come at me, and I think the key thing I’m happy to do is yeah, just be a sounding board for people who.
Kind of gone through a, either a career path or indeed any kind of scenario that they’re in, that I can help because it’s a it is lonely, it is tough. As a function, there’s a lot of pressure on us now in a world that isn’t as structured as perhaps the sales kind of world or the marketing world.
So I think being realistic and practical about the support we need as we go through this is really important. So I would love to help. I’m happy. Whenever anyone needs it.
Jason Noble: I think you’ve probably opened yourself up to a lot of , but it’s,
It’s phenomenal that’s an amazing offer that you’ve made to people to come and talk about.
And I think it is, it’s something that is unique to our industry. It’s unique to leaders like yourself. That allow people to do this, and it is it’s very different to that structure that we’ve got in marketing itself. You on the challenges and how do you navigate that.
Pat: I love it. Yeah, exactly.
Exactly. Huge. [00:22:00] Really enjoy. Pleasure. Thanks again for having me.
Jason Whitehead: Thanks.