Successful women leaders are paving the way for customer success

Customer Success (CS) is an exciting field and while still a very young and rapidly evolving discipline, some initial trends are starting to emerge. One of the most exciting and compelling trends is that many strong and talented women business leaders are boldly breaking new ground in the CS space.

These Customer Success women leaders are doing an amazing job of quickly inventing new ways of working along with creating entire CS teams and departments within their organizations. At Success Chain we have been honored to work with great women CS leaders who possess the skill, vision, adaptability and business acumen that is shaping the field and future leaders. We want to celebrate their incredible accomplishments and share their terrific advice for overcoming a variety of tough challenges in the Customer Success space.

We hope you will join us each month as we interview and showcase a successful CS leader with our top 10 questions aimed at exploring her unique insights and experiences. I

This month we are excited to showcase Jessica Donnelly, who is a Director of Customer Success at a global corporation based in the Washington DC area.

Jessica Donnelly1. What is your title and role and how long have you been working in the Customer Success (CS) space or similar role?

My name is Jessica Donnelly and I’m the Director of CS at a global corporation based in the Washington DC area. I’ve been in this role since June 2016. Prior to this role, I was in the consulting world for 16 years primarily focused on business process improvement, project management, customer relationship management, business development and risk management.

2. What do you like most about being a CS leader?

What I like best about being a Customer Success leader is that there is so much potential to drive lasting, significant change throughout an organization. The CS role has quite an impact on presenting and sustaining value for our customers.

3. What does CS success look like for you, your team, your clients and your organization?

For me, in my role as Director of Customer Success, success looks like the ability to obtain 100% buy-in and advocacy from the executive leadership team. For my CS team, success is the feeling of being valued by their peers and seeing our customers achieve their goals. For our clients, success is realizing the full value of their investment in our products. For our organization, success is functioning in a customer-centric approach that drives the overall strategy, product, and tool investments as well as collaborating cross-functionally to execute our end-to-end processes starting with sales through sustainability.?

My consulting skills have also been incredibly helpful”

4. What key factors, skills, attributes and/or characteristics have been particularly helpful to you in enabling your success as a leader in CS?

The ability to apply organizational change management principles while communicating internally within the organization and externally with customers has been extremely important. Also, thinking strategically, being proactive and adaptable, and having the softer skills such as being empathetic to our customers. Having business acumen such as familiarity with return on investment, what value really means and how to provide support to achieve business outcomes. My consulting skills have also been incredibly helpful such as listening and observing, being confident to think on my feet with customers, and providing recommendations with tangible results that can be tracked and monitored.

5. Reflecting back on 2017, what were some of the business challenges you experienced in the CS space or are still experiencing and why do you think that is?

One of the toughest business challenges has been the inability to change beliefs about the Customer Success role. For example, we have engrained processes and ways of doing things that are hard to change such as too many customer touch points, which creates an inconsistent customer experience. It’s hard to reeducate and change beliefs when CS is not a tangible output. The right tools and data are needed to help people gain insights and see the value in CS. But the reality is, change is hard. It’s a journey, not a sprint. Changing beliefs about the CS role really needs to start at the top of the organization with CS champions who can help internal stakeholders understand what CS is and isn’t.

6. What are the key areas you focus on to help your clients experience value from software and renew year after year?

Our CS role is business and people focused, not technology focused. To help our clients experience value from our software we have five key focus areas.

1. Our Customer Success team tries hard to get introduced to the client early on and work with them long before Go Live to drive adoption.?

2. We focus on identifying what success looks like for our customers and set realistic goals based on the best practices we share with them.

3. We focus on how they are preparing their users for what’s coming. We help our customers with awareness campaigns and ask pointed questions to help identify potential barriers to adoption such as, do you have authority to make the changes needed?” What is the level of attention and priority of the project?, and What level of preparation and communication with users has been done to facilitate overall readiness for what you’ve purchased?

4. After Go live, we focus on overall adoption, metrics and achievement of goals. We also make a point to capture customer feedback and share it with our internal teams so we can make changes as needed based on feedback from the user community.

5. We work with our clients to develop a roadmap for sustainability. Our adoption check-ins wind down once our clients feel empowered to own adoption and reach out to us for support as needed.

We try to highlight how important it is that the sponsors are active and empowered to drive change.”

7. What do you believe is the biggest challenge most organizations face when driving organizational change and getting people to adopt technology? How have you been able to help them?

One of the biggest challenges we face is the lack of strong sponsorship and business stakeholder commitment. We try to highlight how important it is that the sponsors are active and empowered to drive change. We ask questions to help them assess and realize that they may not have the right person in the role such as someone who is more focused on technology and Go Live than business outcomes and people. Unfortunately, sometimes we just have to work with the person they identify and be the champion our customers need.

“we need enterprise alignment on the role of Customer Success and it needs to be clear”

8. Were there any surprises this past year (good or not so good) or any lessons learned from your CS efforts this past year?

One of the lessons learned this past year is we need enterprise alignment on the role of CS and it needs to be clear how it impacts each department and individual job responsibilities to avoid confusion and stepping on each other’s toes. It’s a journey and we need to bring everyone along for the ride. We can’t make good decisions in siloes. Full transparency is a must. We’ve also learned that it’s extremely important to assess our CS maturity level and have an action plan in place with parameters to strive for rather than try to tackle it all at once.

Since we can’t do everything all at once, we focused on the overall customer experience and implemented process improvements that directly impact our customers and their perspectives. As a result, we were able provide value for our customers while we socialized within our organization the value CS brings for our customers and our organization.

9. Where do you think the CS industry is headed in the next year or 3 years? How will it change? What do you see as new challenges in the future?

I believe Customer Success is going to take ownership of all customer revenue renewal expansions and upsells. It won’t be sales. There will be more chief customer officer roles running the overall customer journey more holistically. CS should not be buried in operations or sales because CS needs to ensure that the organization is consistently delivering a holistic approach. CS leaders need to have a seat at the table and have their voices heard. As organizations start embracing this role, the demand for qualified CS Managers will significantly increase. The role will be indispensable. It will no longer be an option. Organizations will need to rethink their whole customer experience strategy and evaluate what changes need to be made such as how to leverage data depending on the maturity level of the organization and how to use that data in the best way for customers.

10. What advice would you give someone who is interested in pursuing a CS career and/or becoming a CS leader?

My advice for someone interested in pursuing a career in CS is go for it. I believe the next generation of great leaders could ultimately emerge from CS because there are so many leadership skills that you use while performing this role. For example, you have to inspire audacious goals and keep people inspired. Great leaders inspire, they don’t make you do it. We can’t control what our customers do, but we can guide them.

And if we do it right, the results can be outstanding.