Episode No:97

Mastering Customer Success: Expert Insights from Industry Leader Kristi Faltorusso

Kristi Faltorusso

Chief Customer Officer, Client Success

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Ep#97: Mastering Customer Success: Expert
Insights from Industry Leader Kristi Faltorusso (CCO, ClientSuccess)
Ep#97: Mastering Customer Success: Expert Insights from Industry Leader Kristi Faltorusso (CCO, ClientSuccess)
  • Ep#97: Mastering Customer Success: Expert Insights from Industry Leader Kristi Faltorusso (CCO, ClientSuccess)

Episode Summary

In this podcast episode of the Hyperengage Podcast, Adil Saleh, our host sits down with Kristi Faltorusso, the Chief Customer Officer of ClientSuccess, to discuss her experience in customer success across various industries and product types. They discuss the evolution of roles in customer success and the importance of embracing a digitally-led model. They also touch on the significance of human touch in early-stage startups, adapting to competition in the B2B SaaS world, and reimagining the onboarding journey. They discuss the importance of aligning business objectives with software features and offer insights and advice for those looking to switch roles or join customer success.
Key Takeaways Time
Customer success needs to be tailored to each company’s unique situation. 1:56
Maintaining a business mindset and focusing on impact is crucial in customer success roles. 4:17
Take a “digital-first, humans-second” approach to scale customer success. 6:26
Early stage startups need more human-driven customer success to learn from customer engagements. 10:15
Specialized customer success roles are key for scaling vs having one generalist CSM. 12:51
Proper data integration and ingestion is the most critical part of onboarding. 20:30
  • ClientSuccess
  • Gainsight
  • Salesforce

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[00:00:03] Adil Saleh: Greetings, everybody. This is Adil. I'm the host of this hybrid podcast and I'm so much excited for this episode because it was long awaited. Number one. Number two, the love that we have for the customer success all these years, the way we started, we get to learn from these leaders. We have one of those right now sitting with us that has experienced customer success in tens of different industries in the past. And from hard tech to SMB to digital tech to enterprise tech, all kinds of different products and companies that she has experienced customer success led and built teams across this customer success. We have the Chief Customer Officer of Client Success, Kristi, with us. Kristi, thank you very much for taking the time. [00:00:52] Kristi Faltorusso: Thank you so much for having me. I'm really excited about our conversation today. [00:00:57] Adil Saleh: Love that you're pulling in the energy. That's real good. So now, thinking about you as an individual, always been customer facing, always been working with customers throughout your career, what is that one, I would say, light bulb moment that you had throughout these roles that you have. I'm not going to talk too much right now about what you do at client success, but talking about fleet management, that's entirely different. Like, you're working with companies that have these fleets, working with the analytics, how they're able to use tech, which is one of the hardest jobs. They're not so tech enabled. This is one role. So could you just give us a spotlight of your entire career? And what are the key moments that changed the way you see customer success today? [00:01:48] Kristi Faltorusso: So I would say the biggest takeaway I've got is when I realized that customer success is not a one size fits all model. In fact, it's not even a one size fits most every single organization I've been at, I've had to redesign customer success from the ground up through the lens of our customers. But realizing that every product I supported was different, our customer base was different, the market, our competitive landscape, the size of our organization, our funding, everything across every single company was so unique and nuanced. So the moment I realized that I couldn't take any standard program or process that I'd built at any other company and deploy it and expect it to perform the way it had, I think the moment I realized that, my career took off, and I think it changed my trajectory in customer success. [00:02:40] Adil Saleh: Very interesting. Very interesting. And thinking of you, someone getting into that role, of course, working on a role such as senior customer success, to a role that's a VP and CCO, what kind of decision making initiatives that get to change when you change the role. I know VPs and CCOs that sit with the board meetings, senior customer success or customer success or heads up customer success. They are working more with the teams with a small chunk of revenue. So how did you see yourself evolving in the roles in different companies as a junior to senior level? And what are the key learnings that you had? I'm sure you nailed every single thing. All these. [00:03:23] Kristi Faltorusso: I nailed nothing. I nailed nothing. Okay. I would say, listen, I think the thing that people need to be maniacally focused on is the fact that it doesn't matter if you're an individual contributor or the CCO, you have to be focused on the business impact you're making. And so I think all KPIs kind of point to that one North Star of what is the impact. So when I was an individual contributor managing customers, I was super focused on the retention and the growth and the revenue in my book. Well, that didn't change much as I moved up. It just the scope of the revenue and how many people contributed to the impact of that. That's what evolved. And so for me, I think a lot of my success is deep rooted in the fact that I've always had strong business acumen and understood the value and the impact of the work that I did in every role and how that directly contributed to the success of our organization. So having that mindset, I think was a game changer for me because I never had to wonder about the work or the impact or anything. It's like, listen, we're very clear. The scope evolves. Now, obviously, as an individual contributor, I wasn't sitting in boardrooms, right? I didn't have to have certain conversations. I wasn't on the hot seat. I didn't have to justify my existence and prove out to the world why I was making the decisions. I was. That is different. But everything I learned about being a frontline CSM and all those roles in between helped me actually have the ability to speak intelligently about what actually has to happen. There is something about having those experiences and using that experience to convey and convince with conviction, right? Like do that storytelling, having been in those roles. So obviously it's very different in the sense of what is the real impact you're going to make. I was controlling millions of dollars versus hundreds of millions of dollars. Yes, the scope there is very different, the pressure is different, but your KPIs are the same, right? Like, we're all focused on keeping your customers, keeping the logos, keeping the revenue growing, that over time building advocates, it's just the impact you have is a greater scale as you move up. [00:05:28] Adil Saleh: Yeah. In less than 60 seconds you explained the entire customer success lifecycle and it was so insightful to hear. So now we had this one question that we were thinking a lot because this digital customer success came on and it created a lot of noise in the past, I would say five to seven years. And these PLG companies, when they start the business, they start saying we are a PLG product. That's a different story. But when it comes to product led growth and you are focused more on driving mid market to S B via digital CS, that is more self served, that is more data driven. How do you see it as someone that has wide lens of experience across different CS organizations and how do you see it excelling in different industries? I know it can fit really well into some of the industries, but what's your opinion on it, how you view so? [00:06:22] Kristi Faltorusso: I actually think every company should be embracing a digital led approach. Now, think about it this way. Every company historically with customer success has been so people focused. And that's why organizations were so bloated. And when companies had to do risks, CS teams were getting let go, right? Because we overinflated by hiring too many people. Because the models that we built were built on capacity modeling, requiring humans to do all of the work. Shame on us for not being smarter at the time. But so the way that I think about it now is like, let's flip it on its head. Any model that I design now, I design digital first and then I add humans where it adds value to drive the appropriate interactions, to drive the appropriate outcomes. So I think every company needs to be taking that approach to this, because I don't care if you're working with a small mom and pop shop or you're working with GE, there is the ability to automate and to enhance through digital interaction what you're doing to support that customer, right? I'm not going to say that my SMB is going to get 5 hours a week of strategic conversations that GE might get. But guess what? I don't need to send follow up emails manually anymore, right? AI has enabled us to do things certain automatically. We've got the ability to do certain cadences based on data and have triggers that facilitate automation to reduce the manual work that CSMs were doing. Think about even like capturing notes from meetings, things like that, you don't have to do that anymore. And so when we think about digital, it's not just digital in the sense of how it's facing the customer, right? It's how are we driving efficiency in the programs that we design and being intentional about where we use the people that we have. We hire the brightest people. I've seen these interview processes for companies who are hiring like, I think it's harder to become a CSM than the president of the United States if I'm being very honest. And so that said, you hire really bright people and then we don't empower them to do the right work. Right. We have them filling in CRMs and CSPs and sending follow up email. That is not great use of our people. Right. So I would challenge every single person out there and I don't care, again, how complex your product, if it's a PLG or if it's an enterprise solution. If you're Salesforce, you design your model digital first and you only add people where it's going to add value. And I guarantee everything you do will only be amplified. You'll never have to tell a customer, hey, I have to reduce you the resources that you're getting, right? Taking away things suck, but if you add things that feels good and everyone likes that. So I think managing it that way would get a lot of value for your customers, but also a bigger bang for your buck with your internal. [00:09:00] Adil Saleh: And, and I must say that the communities at gainsight that are very close knit client success, they have worked really hard towards this in the past, I would say ten years. And we were quite motivated towards making sure that even though we have a small team, we have a lot of our audience that are Series A startup seed to Series A in the first two years sitting trying to find their product market fit and they're struggling to find the best balance between the digital and the CSM touch because they're not product market fit. They don't have the ideal customer profile, they haven't segmented their customers, and they're struggling to make sure how to best serve them. And they're just trying to make sure they get the customer success going and they get the retention and not net dollar retention and all of that. So what is that one advice that you would give to them before we get into your role? [00:09:58] Kristi Faltorusso: All right, so I think, listen, when you're talking about that stage of an organization, okay, I'm going to contradict myself a little bit here. When you're trying to figure out where you exist in this ecosystem, when you are such a small early stage startup, right, like maybe you're even just bootstrap, you're trying to figure it out. I think in those organizations, you do have to have humans, right? Because you need to be engaging with your customers to learn and use that feedback loop to feed product, to feed sales, to feed marketing. So I almost feel like that is the one stage of your organization where maybe you don't go digital first at that point. Maybe you keep people there because the learnings that you're going to take away from those interactions are going to amplify your business. And I don't think that you can be as successful without it. But again, listen, there are little things you can automate, just be thoughtful about it. But if you're early stage, I don't know, maybe talk to your customers. [00:10:49] Adil Saleh: Yeah, just like update AI, they're just trying to do the smallest use case, which is just maybe making sure you do your meeting notes smartly. You do meeting takeaways smartly. You can summarize it. It can save a ton of time during cadences and QBRs for a CSM of serving only 2025 customers in a startup. So it's just about, as you mentioned, taking smaller things, smaller step, and then having a CSM touch because you can only scale it if you nail it in the first place. This is what we say a lot. [00:11:21] Kristi Faltorusso: I love that. I might steal that. I like it. [00:11:25] Adil Saleh: So now, looking at your role at client success, by the way, we had an event back in April because San Francisco, where we met your team as know one of our representative with Joan Gleason and Judan. So it was so great getting to learn your story and where you're evolving as a team, which was really great. So now as a client success in a small to mid size, I would say yesterday I had slack. So I asked them, because we are so interested in getting stories from SMB to mid market, not so much of enterprise, because for me it's high touch, it becomes tricky, it's more hands on. And when operations are divided globally, the customer success becomes tricky. So that's when you need high touch. So now in the small to mid sized market, how clients success is approaching towards a grow market. Like, what kind of initiatives are you guys taking forward to make sure you not only penetrate fastly because there's competition coming on, this category is opening up now. [00:12:28] Kristi Faltorusso: Oh my. You're telling me every day there's another product that's asking me, let's have a conversation and talk about if there's synergies between our two brands. I'm like, you literally do the exact same thing we do. Listen, absolutely the big focus for us right now, I'll tell you, as we think about our strategy and supporting our customers and the future customers will bring on board is really designing specialty roles. When client success was earlier in its infancy, everything was a kind of catch all with the CSM. Not support necessarily, but your CSM managed from new to renew, right? Customer came on board, your CSM would be onboarding you, they'd be working with you throughout the lifecycle of the partnership and ongoing and manage renewal and growth and all of that. And I've come to a point right now where that's not scaling for us because the only way that works I mentioned earlier, right, and this is why teams got bloated, is because those models are designed around efficiency modeling that basically requires more people, right? You've got more customers, you've got to bring on more people. And I'm not in a position right now to do that. I don't know that anyone has had a great year in this economy, but we definitely are not where we would have liked to be. So that said, I got to be more thoughtful. So we're moving to specialty roles, right? Think like onboarding specialist, someone who is managing scaled programs, more focus on community, more focus on retention and growth as specialty roles. And not having the CSM do that, really how we segment our book, introducing more automations. We're not in a position to do a tech touch because I will just say, given who our customers are and the space that we play in, what we know is that our customers actually need our help and guidance. They rely on us to be consultants effectively and act as an extension of their team. So removing that might actually create more friction for us. So we're just trying to be thoughtful about our distribution of those resources and so adjusting cadences and things like that. But where we are really doubling down is we're going hard on onboarding. So if we could just get our customers really rallied around certain use cases that tackle one or two of their goals up front, we feel like the rest of their adoption of the platform will be, it'll take longer, but it'll be more successful in this approach. What we've tried to do historically is get our customers onto the whole platform in the first eight weeks. And guess what? That is so painful because most of these people coming in here, they've not deployed software before. They've definitely not deployed customer success software. They're probably lacking in their strategy. To your point. They haven't nailed it and then scaled it. They're coming in hoping to build it while they're doing this which I never say, that's not a great approach, don't do that. But that's what we're working with. And so I can't remove those resources. I got to be thoughtful about how do I distribute those at scale. So we're doubling down on specialty roles and scaled programs to help educate and enable, but still providing individual access to CSMs who are there to be consultants and serve in that consultative manner. [00:15:09] Adil Saleh: Love that. So during the implementation, right in the beginning, as you mentioned, onboarding stage, because we spoke to a lot of gainsight customers as well. They're mid sized companies, they use gainsight. And once you're in at gainsight, a lot of them, they come up and say implementation is quite a job. Like it's three months, four months, six months. [00:15:28] Kristi Faltorusso: I deployed Gainsight four times. I'm very intimately familiar with what that looks like. It's not easy, especially if you're not familiar with it. [00:15:37] Adil Saleh: So how does it like client success? How does that onboarding look like? As you mentioned, you're trying to create it as a plug and play seamless? As seamless as possible. So could you tell us some of the steps that these onboarding processes that you've taken to make sure that it is the time to value? This is what we all do for time to value is something that we purchasing for. So it is improved. [00:16:04] Kristi Faltorusso: So the interesting thing about a platform like client success is that it's simple to be very honest with you. Listen, everyone who loves gamesight loves it for its flexibility and its customization, right? I kind of think of it's like the Salesforce in the CSP space, which is cool if you need that. Most companies, though, don't or they're not there yet. Right. Their maturation hasn't evolved so much so that they can even take advantage of the full suite and offering that Gainsight offers. Our solution is configurable, right? So whereas Gainsight's customizable, we are configurable to get set up in. Our solution is just a lot easier. You're not really developing things. You're using levers. Most of our stuff is already pre configured in there, and you're adjusting and modifying and making it your own. Right. The biggest heavy lift with us is data ingestion, and that's done in one session. So the way that we're rethinking onboarding is historically we've broken it down around eight stages and said, okay, great, here is your customer health stage and here is your scale stage. This might be automations and one too many emails and things like that. So instead of going through all of those stages with every customer, it's basically like there's three stages that will be required for every customer, starting with data ingestion and your post onboarding wrap up. But in the middle we're allowing them to basically build their, you've got, if you come in and you say, you know what, Chrissy, I want to do the eight weeks and I want to do all of it. Cool, you can. We're going to vet you a little bit, though. We're going to make sure that one, you have the proper resources, that you've done all the work that you need to do to prepare to get all this done, that you've got access to clean and accurate data. Right. Like we are actually going to challenge you to make sure that this is going to be a successful plan for you. We can do it. Can you? So we want to be very thoughtful of that, but we want to give them a bit of a choose your own adventure. [00:17:47] Kristi Faltorusso: So the way that I've designed onboarding here at client success is that we know that there's seven real core business objectives that every company will have to solve for when they buy a CSP, right? They're going to mitigate risk, they're identifying growth, they're scaling. It's data democratization. Right. There's seven of these pillars. So I know this because I designed these pillars when I was a customer and I was buying software and I had to go to my CEO and my CRO and say, I need a lot of money. So they asked why. So I said, great, I'm going to do these seven things. It translated well. I came to client success. I use it for my customers. So what we do is we say, pick focus of these seven objectives. What is the one thing today you need to solve for? And then the idea here is that because we know what modules of our platform go and support these different objectives, that is the plan that you've selected. So if it's mitigate risk, cool. We're going to help you build your success scores, we're going to help you configure your pulse. We're going to do all your reason codes, we're going to get all the data pulled in from. We are going to be super focused on the things and the parts of the platform that to help support that objective. And that's how we're going to enable your team. Now, of course, there's other things like great, you can capture your notes and your emails and your engagement, those are standard. Those aren't the things that require heavy lift. So we want to focus around your pillar and then help you use the parts of the platform that support that outcome and be maniacally focused on that until you have some first initial successes. And guess what, then you can say, all right, I'm ready for my next pillar and then we can go back and we can do the things again. But I figured that that is going to be a way better approach because we can get you those first few wins, make some meaningful impact. And then the other cool thing is, guess what, your customer success team has value over time because there's more pillars that we can tackle together. Let's just tackle one up front and then guess what, I got six more for you. So let's figure out what our plan is. [00:19:30] Adil Saleh: Yes, it creates stickiness as well from a commercial standpoint that you already told them, okay, as a consultant, we are not your onboarding team, we are your consultant. We are going to work with you as partners and we are going to evolve with your goals. And these are seven things that you can achieve. One of those at a time will help you achieve integration. All data piping, everything. I know that because we also thinking of building A B, two B SaaS platform that is for more of a data analytics and all of that. So we know that once you integrate, you need to make sure you have the right data to pipe in, you have the right fields. There are so many complications when it comes to data integration. So I can certainly understand why you guys are thinking to make sure that they ingest the right data to be able to potentially use this pattern. [00:20:16] Kristi Faltorusso: That's the most important part of the work that we can do as a CSP, right? Like it's garbage in, garbage out. If they don't have good, accurate data coming in and the data that they need, what value is all the other information we're going to build out in there, right? Like we building these things on their data. So getting those first things configured properly is like where it all starts. [00:20:36] Adil Saleh: Absolutely. So first off, thank you very much for this entire segment. One last thing that I wanted you to just share the key insights across your wholesome career for CS professionals that are willing to switch their roles, willing to join customer success. They're previously in sales or maybe technical roles. There are lows that are coming. So what is that one advice that you would share today for all these folks listening? [00:21:05] Kristi Faltorusso: Play to your strengths. I think too many people try to be too many things and try to fit this mold of what they think customer success is. I was not a customer success professional. I wasn't a sales professional. I wasn't an account manager. I didn't have the fundamental skills to put me into this role. I was a marketer, but I went and worked for a marketing company. And so all of the knowledge I had as a subject matter expert made me excellent at my job. And so I played to my strengths. I used what I knew to make sure that I was driving impact day in and day out. Don't try to be something you're not. You've got a ton of value. Whatever role you've been in, you have skills, you have knowledge and experience. Take that and find the right role and the right company to go do all that at. [00:21:52] Adil Saleh: I love that knowing your inner voice is super important. A lot of people that we get to meet, even that happened to me as well. Back in the years that I was in the role. I was doing it for the sake of doing it. Maybe some life problems or whatever, but I time that it's not something for me. I'm better at something else. These are ingredients that, these inner dialogues that I have based off of these fundamental skills that you mentioned that never demand experience. Basically, they lie within you and you try to express yourself. Sometimes you get an opportunity, sometimes you don't. And when the time is right, as you mentioned, you got to take those skills and take those fundamental skills that you have and express yourself. And you'll do once, as Steve Jobs says, if you don't love something, you cannot be great at it. So you got to make sure you find love and then let it kill you for life. [00:22:54] Kristi Faltorusso: Well, it does do that. [00:22:58] Adil Saleh: So I really appreciate, Kristi, for your time and all these deep insights. Your energy is infectious and you brought such a positive energy to this room. I wish you good luck with your role and all the community initiatives that you're doing. I was just looking at you just a few weeks back. Just a few days back, you were sitting with Greg Lone retain, trying to expand this voice of customer success across different communities and different segments. And thank you very much for such a big contributor into the customer success community. [00:23:30] Kristi Faltorusso: Thank you so much and thanks for our conversation today. [00:23:33] Adil Saleh: Love that. Have a good rest of the day. [00:23:35] Kristi Faltorusso: Kristi, thank you. [00:23:36] Adil Saleh: Take care. Bye.

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