The third episode of The FOSSA Podcast is a conversation about managing strategic customer and partner relationships. Several leaders from FOSSA’s customer success team discuss how the function has evolved over the years and reflect on challenges and choices made. They also offer guidance on how companies can structure their customer success teams and how to build a company-wide customer-success mindset.

Episode Outline

  • Introductions
  • Building the first customer success team: 1:34
  • Structuring your customer success team: 5:24
  • FOSSA’s approach to customer success: 7:47
  • Reflecting on early-stage customer success decisions: 10:18
  • Setting customer expectations: 13:09
  • Measuring success: 14:08
  • Developing processes: 16:26
  • Defining success: 19:23
  • NPS scores: 22:13
  • Gauging customer happiness with your product: 24:25
  • Increasing collaboration: 28:27
  • Final thoughts and takeaways: 31:39

Episode Highlights

Building customer success (CS) at FOSSA

You are expected to wear multiple hats at a startup, especially when you are one of the first employees. And finding someone good at all parts of a function is hard.

When we first started out, we focused on finding smart folks with people skills, and our emphasis was on relationship-building. But we found it wasn't working for our customers. We realized that, especially if you are in the developer ecosystem, you must also prioritize technical capabilities.

FOSSA’s CS philosophy

Since we are servicing developers on a day-to-day basis, we wanted most of our team members to be able to speak in their language. And being comfortable with nuances of software development was very important because customer success is kind of a conduit to the engineering and product teams, especially during onboarding or when issues crop up. So having technical folks on the front lines and being able to filter the noise and accurately translate what our customers were seeing/facing was critical.

We have evolved from one person wearing multiple hats to breaking the function into two roles:

  • Customer success managers dedicated primarily to day-to-day projects and managing customer engagement in that whole lifecycle
  • Customer success engineers who are dedicated technical resources to really get into the weeds on these issues

Some organizations structure their customer success engineers to be both pre-and post-sales engineers, but their capacity gets limited in such cases.

Organizations, including startups, should think through the customer journey and customer touchpoints and what can work now at their current revenue or current scale of customers, and then adapt and change it as they keep growing.

Smart early-stage CS decisions

One of our good but challenging decisions was to use shared Slack channels early on. We used them as catalyst points both for pre-sales and post-sales. The result was that once customers came on board, they felt FOSSA was an extension of their team. While the chatter could sometimes get overwhelming, the shared Slack channels enhanced the customer experience. And, especially in this remote environment, we strongly recommend teams use shared channels (Discord, Slack, or even MS Teams) for a seamless connection with their customers. As a vendor, customers trust you as an extension of their business, so making them feel like you are a reliable partner is important.

This has actually helped us evolve beyond just partners and become advisors to our customers. Especially our non-technical stakeholders (legal and compliance professionals) trust us to help them understand the data we surface.

Setting expectations with customers

It starts with agreeing on what constitutes value to the customers, but what the value is needs to come from the customers. There is a fair amount of discussion early on in an engagement to establish those success metrics. Because while we have a general idea about the value of our product, we need the customer to be able to express how that translates to their own requirement and then measure against that.

Setting goals for a CSM team

If we start at a basic level, CSM cares that the customer is happy. But each team gets to define what "happy" means.

So how do you define or measure "happy"? It can be an NPS score or something behavioral like daily sign-ins. On the other end, "happy" can be defined by business goals like net retention numbers, gross retention numbers, or customer expansion numbers.

But sometimes business metrics can be more lagging indicators than leading ones. So it's essential to have a holistic approach to this by frequently engaging with customers and maintaining trust and transparency.

Using playbooks to operationalize workflows

The first step is trying to understand how your audience learns. Everyone learns differently; any playbook will not be super helpful without factoring that in. So, thinking about how you would present those learnings and insights — a written document, a presentation, or video clips — is the first step to creating a playbook documenting your workflows. We have seen success in organizing training webinars, recording them, and making them available on demand.

Using NPS scores

When we first started tracking NPS scores, we collected them from a wide range of free, small, and enterprise customers. But that caused a lot of noise. Because if your NPS score is just collecting a number, it doesn't really help you understand your customer experience.

So we added a few questions to help us get more information: "What actually went wrong? What actually went well? And why did they feel this way?"

Slicing the NPS scores by various segments like enterprise, self-serve, and free customers can surface interesting insights. Another way to slice the NPS scores for meaningful insights is to look at them by personas. Because NPS can differ from an individual contributor, a functional manager, or an exec. An I.C. might be focused on if the product is functioning as expected. A manager might focus on the insights or reports they are gathering. And an executive might be focused on the business problems being solved by the vendor.

If customers are willing to give additional context beyond the numerical score, NPS scores can become super valuable.

Gauging customer happiness with your product

Asking them is the most obvious way. "Are we working for you? What can we be doing better?" Part of the role of customer success is to build that trust where a customer feels comfortable enough to tell you if something is not working for them.

Who/which teams consume the NPS score also matters because they view it through the lens of their function. When engineering or product look at NPS, they think about missing functional or product features. In contrast, a CSM team would try to understand if there were any missteps or if a low score resulted from a weak relationship with the customer.

So it is crucial to understand the issue and filter the input to the right parts of the business.

At FOSSA, customer success is not a siloed function but works closely with support, engineering, and product so that the customer's voice is channeled into the ears of the people who can take action on that. Customer success should be seen as not the job of just one team but as a mindset that needs to be developed across the organization. It plays a crucial role in ensuring that the right people get the right information in the right form so that they can actually translate that into improvements to products and processes.

Advice for other customer success teams

Building good documentation should be your first priority if you are focused on developers. Since it is hard to predict how things will evolve, keeping your documentation dynamic and up-to-date is essential since that will save you a lot of time and make everyone happier. Especially with APIs, it is important to document them as thoroughly as possible since you can't predict how your customers will use them.

Above all else, treat people with respect, honesty, and good humor with which you would like to be treated.

Episode Hosts and Guests

Sara Beaudet, Support Engineer, FOSSA: Sara is the host of the FOSSA Podcast. They are passionate about cybersecurity, open-source software, and helping people explore the world of technology.

Carlos Cheung, Global Lead for Partner Enablement, FOSSA: Carlos is one of our early employees and has managed various stages of customer experience. He currently is our global lead for partner enablement.

Steven Brent, Customer Success Manager, FOSSA: Steven is a Customer Success Manager and manages FOSSA’s relationship with our leading strategic accounts.