At 2021's Customer Success Festival 2.0, we sat down with Slack's very own Customer Success Managers, Corinne Goldberg and Dan Pino, to ask them hard-hitting questions about strategy, customer expectations and more.

If you wanna watch Corinne and Dan's full presentation, you can become a CSC member today. You'll get access to loads of exclusive content, templates and frameworks, 100+ hours of video and so much more.

But for now, check out this awesome Q&A. 👇

Q: How do you set expectations with your customer at the beginning of the relationship?

A: [Corinne Goldberg]

I think we're probably all really familiar with this concept of change - our customers can sometimes feel change is uncomfortable. It brings a certain sense of uncertainty, but it's also a really great opportunity for us to identify our most forward-thinking and adaptable customers: those who are the best advocates and those who will be the best partners.

So developing a mechanism to ensure we're sending proper expectations for driving that change at the beginning of that relationship is really important. Something we've thought about here at Slack is driving a standard operating cadence, or the way we're communicating with our customers and delivering service across the lifecycle. So as and when we take over customer accounts from former CSMs, we'll set that expectation at the beginning by providing visibility on what that operating cadence is.

We'll set clear expectations around how often we’ll be collaborating with the customer and what sorts of services we’ll be providing across the customer journey, whether that be executive business reviews annually, bi-monthly syncs, or reporting in Slack.

We have the really great benefit of communicating with virtually all of our customers in Slack via Slack Connect. That's a feature where we're able to collaborate with customers in Slack channels. So this is a really great way where we're able to provide that proactive communication around our operating cadence that feels really tangible, really real, and really accessible for our customers because they have that full-time opportunity to communicate with us directly in Slack.

Q: What metrics are you taking into consideration for this cadence, assuming you wouldn't do a Business Review if you're an account with the 10 licenses or users, for example?

A: [Dan Pino]

I think the answer might relate to another question about how we segment our customers. At Slack, our sales organization is broken into three main areas. We have our page services team, which is a little bit separate, but then for our larger accounts, they do get a CSM assigned, and the way the CSM is assigned, is broken into two areas.

There's what we call our high-touch customers. These are above a certain spend threshold. Corinne and I are both high-touch CSMs and we remain dedicated to the account. We have a bunch of accounts we remain dedicated to. That’s separate from what we call our scale business.

Our scale business is still a decent amount of spend, but maybe not that super high spend. And the scale customers can come to us when they have defined engagements that they want. If they want to help with a launch or with deepening maturity in a certain line of business or something like that, they can reach out to us.

But the scale team, they'll run the defined engagements, but they'll also do programs as well. So they'll be reaching our customers at scale, maybe not a defined CSM like the high-touch scale.  

Q: Slack use case is great because you can enable your customer via in-app comms through Slack, what sorts of campaigns would you do via email?

A: [Corinne Goldberg]

As I mentioned, Slack Connect has been a fantastic resource for us to be able to provide some of that real-time, high-touch communication with our customers. That's really where we deliver that high-touch experience for a variety of customer stakeholders, whether it be the executive sponsor or the project team. That's been a real value add for us to provide automated reporting, metrics, plan for business reviews, share customer stories directly in Slack.

And some of the things we're thinking about right now in terms of email marketing campaigns are how can we really touch those executive sponsors? What we've realized as we performed this segmentation exercise and defined a new operating model is that a lot of these customers have passive executive sponsorship.

That means they might have positive sentiment for Slack, but they're not actively engaged. So we want to keep a pulse on that to make sure we're adequately managing risk ahead of the renewal. And so while the executive sponsor can often be the Slack channel, we know that email can be a really effective way to reach them as well.

So what we're experimenting with is building a really scalable model to deliver executive sponsorship plays at scale. That means delivering continuous marketing campaigns over email to share customer stories that might be relevant with an executive sponsor, to perform outreach by our leadership here at Slack directly to those executive sponsors so they feel they’re taken care of and they have a leader who is accessible and available to answer their questions and hear their feedback.

I think both tools have been really valuable for us, both email and Slack, to ensure that we are building active executive sponsorship across this customer segment, mitigating risk, and identifying opportunities for upside across the board.

Q: Moving on to a completely different topic, what are your early indicators of risk that you get alerted on or how are you categorizing these?

A: [Dan Pino]

This kind of gets back to the data points I mentioned before and just how critical data is. I think at Slack we're lucky in that we live and breathe in the tool that we sell and we can build in a lot of that automation that kind of gives us those early warnings.

Some of the things we look at - we have a health score for customers. It's made up of some data around overall usage of product but it also looks at some more qualitative measures as well that the CSMs are responsible for keeping an eye on. Things like executive sponsorship; is the executive sponsor engaged? Do they respond to our emails? Or Slack messages, things like that.

Do they recognize the value? Can they explain the value of Slack back to us? Different things like that.

A: [Corinne Goldberg]

Are they participating in some of our webinars and roundtables? Is the team actively engaged? Those are some of the touchpoints and the data that we collect and we monitor ahead of the renewal. We like to evaluate that at least 120 days prior to the renewal.

That gives us a real pulse of which customers are likely to churn and which ones are likely to be either experience a flat renewal or an upside. And then Dan and I can partner together to see how we reallocate our effort and resourcing across the book so we're spending our time efficiently, mitigating the risk of churn, and also supporting our sales organization through new business opportunities as well.

That's been a real value add effort that we've engaged in as part of this exercise. How can we really unlock the productivity gains within our customer success or reallocate effort to support sales opportunities? Where we are able to de-risk the book early we're able to then support upside opportunities.

Q: How do you scale customer success without losing that deeper customer relationship?

A: [Dan Pino]

I think it's all about spending your time on the high-value activities that actually matter to you and the customer. So you saw we automated a lot of the stuff CSMs are doing internally or repeatedly, that while they are important really don't require that level of high touch.

So when we do engage, it is on the more important strategic stuff, like making sure the value is realized from our tool, Slack is a premium product but it's often hard to quantify what the value of that is so it's a key thing we really try to focus on when it comes up to the renewal.

That executive business review, the long-term strategic goals of why they're using Slack, and how they see it helping their business, those are the things we focus on while trying to automate the more repeatable stuff that maybe could be valuable but not being done by a CSM.

A: [Corinne Goldberg]

One of the things that have been really important for us over the past few months as we've gone through this exercise, is thinking about really leaning into customer feedback. Dan talked about being able to drive change while not losing that high-touch experience and part of that really means we need to be really thoughtful in the way that we collect feedback from customers and measure success in some of the change and innovation that we're introducing.

So we've leaned on both customer surveys as well as been really humble and proactive about asking customers directly about how they're feeling about this new experience and new service model.

We want to be really thoughtful in the way that we deliver customer success, especially as we scale so leaning into some of those surveys and those more qualitative metrics as we introduce change, I think has been really valuable for us to get a pulse on how our customers are doing and ultimately determine whether or not these innovations are having their intended effect.

Q: What kind of things are you looking for in a new CSM? What kind of skills are you looking for, keeping all of this in mind?

A: [Dan Pino]

I think there are a few things at a high level - the ability to influence I think is a big part of our job, being consultative and building a relationship. Those are some of the things that we look for and actually that we're measured on as CSMs here at Slack.

I do see a question about needing to have a technical background and I’m smiling because I actually come from IT. I have 12 years in IT before becoming a CSM a couple of years ago. I think that's a little bit of an atypical profile here at Slack at least, we have a lot of consultants come to Slack as CSMs.

I would say there's no one right answer. People that come from a technical background or more of a non-technical background I'd say they each have their strengths. I find myself having to really consciously think about the more strategic influential consultative side of things and I know the technical stuff like the back of my hand. I think Corinne is probably the exact opposite of that.

I would say customer success is such a new field that you can really come from almost any background and be successful as long as you can have that more consultative influential style that I think a lot of people are looking for.