Profile in Customer Success Leadership: Shannon Hyson
What is your title and role and how long have you been working in the CS space or similar role?
My name is Shannon Hyson and I’m the Global Head of Customer Success at a large B2B company in London, England, and I’ve been in the CS space for 10 years – even before it was called Customer Success!!
My Customer Success career started when I took a role as Client Services Manager for a media company and I became immediately aware of the gap between selling the initial solution and waiting for the customer to get in touch if something went wrong. We were missing the critical proactive piece of helping our customers succeed from the start! So I pitched the idea of Customer Success to the company and they went for it. The journey hasn’t always been smooth but it’s certainly been exciting!
“Exploring what an alternative way of doing something might look like and being part of the next step is very exciting.”
What do you like most about being a CS leader?
I love influencing and pushing the Customer Success conversation. There are so many really exciting ways of approaching customer opportunities and I love being able to challenge thought processes and ways of doing things across our organisation and those of our customers to drive better business results. Looking for different ways of delivering customer and company success is very fulfilling.
What does CS success look like for you, your team, your clients and your organization?
Success is about understanding why a customer would make an investment in your product and then working out what needs to happen to get them to a space where they can say, “Yes, that was a good investment”. To do that you need to really understand what they are trying to achieve and form a partnership with the different business divisions that will be involved in the success of the product or the evaluation of it. The next crucial part is making sure that by delivering the agreed customer outcomes, you are in turn making your own organization successful. Hopefully they go hand in hand but it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on!
“The right question is more powerful than the right answer.”
What key factors, skills, attributes and/or characteristics have been particularly helpful to you in enabling your success as a leader in CS?
I really feel that the key attribute for anyone to be successful in Customer Success is curiosity. The right question is so much more powerful than the right answer! It’s a real skill to just listen to a customer and follow up, not with information to soothe, but a question to probe even further.
You can’t apply a solution, whether it be a product or service, if you don’t have a really clear picture of who your customer is and how their business is structured. And that leads to communication! All that listening and questioning needs to lead to a compelling reason to act so the ability translate your understanding of your customer into a clear plan and outcomes.
“Who is responsible for the renewal?”
Reflecting on this past year, what were some of the business challenges you have experienced in the CS space or are still experiencing and why do you think that is?
There is still a disconnect between Customer Success and Sales and who “owns” the customer. Who owns the renewal? It’s particularly tricky when creating a CS team in an existing sales environment where traditional views on sales roles are enforced because you can end up with a process that involves the customer being handed across people and roles. It’s not based on the customers’ needs but rather how we are structured internally and that can be incredibly hard to overcome. Reward also comes in to play and there is always a conversation about who deserves the commission when a customer buys or renews – customer success feels like it’s done all the work but Sales has negotiated the contract.
What are key areas you focus on to help your clients experience value from software and renew year after year?
It can be tricky – because we are not selling a software solution the value doesn’t come from what they do online with the product but rather what they do after they use our product and apply the content they have read. We can’t just run a report to demonstrate positive outcome metrics so we need to ensure that we are constantly in conversation with readers and stakeholders to learn about the value they are gaining from the FT. We then match the usage metrics to the outcomes to show a relationship between behaviors and the business outcomes the customer is trying to achieve.
“Globalization is a big challenge.”
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?
Globalization is a big challenge. With customers and teams all over the world we need to be really sensitive to the cultural and technological differences across different teams and adjust our approach. Too often we use exactly the same communication style and approach regardless of the comfort levels of our internal or external audience which can lead to several versions of the same message being embedded into processes and systems. We need to apply some customer success discovery to our own way of working!
Were there any surprises this past year (good or not so good) or any lessons learned from your CS efforts this past year?
We have known for a long-time that we had some accounts that were harder to manage than others, so we have stripped out a few accounts that weren’t commercially viable. The surprise in doing this was that it was far easier to get consensus on the change than I had at first expected!
By structuring the team and the accounts that they manage differently we’ll have the capacity to move the needle on accounts that we haven’t been able to do so before. We did loads of research before making the decision to change our approach which meant we could include that insight and the expected benefits in a way that made the teams more comfortable with what we were doing and why.
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?
CS will only grow. I think that getting people to know their customer bases and how they are using the software will become even more important. Customers don’t want me to tell them the value they are getting or not getting. And they don’t want to be told they’re getting value when they’re not. What they want is for me to help them get value out of it. I also think there will be a bit of a mashup with sales and CS going forward in that they won’t be separate functions. We may have sales staff who start in CS rather than start in sales since it is essentially the same thing.
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. It is so rewarding and exciting because there is so much you can do with it. You get to speak with such interesting people and have conversations that really matter.
Also, have courage. Don’t be afraid of picking up the phone and calling someone to say, “I just really want to understand what you are doing with it.”. Don’t undersell yourself and think that customers won’t see the value from the conversation. And don’t be afraid to ask the question or step on someone else’s toes. The meek will NOT inherit the customer success word.