Catalytic’s Customer Success Exec on Being an Advocate for the Customer
When Andrew Thiermann was in his early 20s, he moved to Chicago from Paris, where he’d spent two years as a web and communications consultant for a major international organization. As he searched for jobs in the States he realized his previous international employment didn’t carry much weight, and accepted what, at the time, was a week-long data entry engagement with Fieldglass, a tech company that had been launched just a few years earlier.
He finished in 12 hours what was supposed to take 40, and was offered a full-time role on the company’s technical help desk, where he worked with a team on everything client-services related, from password resets to software implementation. With this still small, scrappy team, he was given free reign to help form a customer success strategy.
Andrew landed in a Global Account Manager role by 2014, when the company was sold to SAP for over $1B. He’d spent those 12 years in a handful of different roles, managing dozens of the company’s largest global Fortune 100 clients. From integration to implementation to expansion, he’d developed a deep understanding of how to successfully work with clients, display empathy to help them achieve success, and sit between them and Sales, Product and Engineering. And, perhaps even more importantly, he was crucial in developing the customer success culture and strategy adopted by Fieldglass – one of empathy, honesty and responsiveness.
In February 2016, Andrew left Fieldglass to join a new startup founded by his former colleague and Fieldglass founding CTO Sean Chou. Now, as Director of Customer Success at Catalytic, a platform for business processes, Andrew is bringing his experience from Fieldglass to build out this new team, culture and strategy.
On paper, Andrew says, the job of a Director of Customer Success is to “be the representative for the customer within the organization.” In reality, though, he adds a bit more color to the description, describing his role as the customer’s advocate: one in which he needs to engage with a customer so that he’s not just supporting and reporting, but making sure they’re actually successful.
Andrew approaches his role with an obvious desire to not just reactively problem solve for Catalytic’s clients and run through support tickets as quickly as possible, but to develop relationships based on trust and shared goals. Still early in the company’s life, he’s focused on strategic planning and crystallizing the company’s Customer Success philosophy, one that has guidelines in place for reacting to any situation, and importantly, one that values the customer above all else.
We talked to Andrew about a few guiding principles he’s used to create and implement a valuable customer success function to apply to any organization:
Be Opportunistically Engaged
Every issue, big or small, should be treated as an opportunity to engage with a client to learn more about their motivation, gather data, and to get to know them as people. A positive byproduct of this strategy, Andrew says, is developing a list of referenceable customers. The customer champion will remember not only what the product accomplished for the company, but also how they felt about using the product and the level of service they received. Think Comcast vs. Slack, for instance, Andrew says – while Comcast’s customer support team’s goal has, traditionally, been to complete as many support tickets as possible, Slack has engaged more deeply with customers, and often very publicly through channels like Twitter. This level of engagement can provide opportunities for the company to develop strong relationships, and eventually utilize current customers to help with future sales.
Be a Translator
While acting as an advocate for the customer, the Customer Success team often sits in between Business Development, Sales, Product and Engineering. “We translate customer demands from problems to solutions,” Andrew says.
He’s tasked with translation on two levels: first, translating the product to the customer and understanding the customer’s needs (which, Andrew notes, aren’t always what the customer thinks they are). “I’m very aware that what someone says may not be what they need, or that they even know what they’re requesting,” he says, noting that in order to build a solid relationship with the client sometimes you have to call out an unrealistic request, or walk a customer through a mistake that’s being made on their end.
Secondly, Andrew’s tasked with translating those needs to his colleagues across Business Development, Sales, Product and Engineering. He has to know what issues are worth attending to (or what features are well-received), and the best way to communicate those issues (whether by Slack, email, verbally, etc.) to each of those teams so they can most efficiently hear, digest and act. Because of this communication structure, he values a company culture that doesn’t place more worth on one department over the other and that has a mutual respect among teams – he knows that the customer feedback he shares will be received and respected.
Be Emotionally Aware
“Unhappy customers will blur the lines between what is factually correct and what is just incorrect,” Andrew says. A key to navigating hard conversations is to be emotionally aware, and understand that an upset customer could be driven by something else that’s not necessarily related to the product. And though the goal is to avoid unhappy customers, by working early on to develop close relationships – driven by an empathy to understand their motivations – Andrew’s been able to handle the full scope of potentially difficult conversations.
“You become a psychologist,” he says “and by understanding what’s motivating the customer, you can work through the emotional pieces. There is a hard line, though – you need to be an advocate and a representative, but you also can’t take the emotional side on yourself. You need to push through the noise to get to the bottom of the real problem.”
On the flip side, Andrew says, when you’ve developed good relationships with your customers, you can work alongside them to navigate hard conversations together. While the customer champion may be getting pressure from their management, for instance, you should be honest, transparent and as helpful as possible. “If you understand where the customer is coming from and develop a good relationship, they’re much more tolerant of bad situations, and much more appreciative when things are at or above expectations,” Andrew says.
With these guiding principles, Andrew and his colleagues are continuing to build out their strategy for implementing a transparent customer success team that works seamlessly with his customers and Catalytic colleagues. If you’re interested in joining Catalytic’s team, take a look at open roles here.