Customer Experience Teams: Gillian Heltai on building Lattice's CX program

September 11, 2023

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Episode Summary

Gillian Heltai spent the first decade of her career at ComScore — growing from an entry-level data analyst all the way to Senior VP of Digital Media Solutions.

She then spent three years at Talkdesk — where she led client services for their 1.8k customers.

And now as Chief Customer Officer at Lattice, Gillian has built an award-winning customer experience program from the ground up.

As Gillian puts it, she worked in customer success long before anyone called it customer success.

Since then, she's helped build successful CX programs at comScore, Talkdesk, and now Lattice.

On today's episode, Alex and Gillian discuss:

  • Growing from entry-level analyst to Senior VP at comScore
  • Going on a customer listening tour at Talkdesk to create a new onboarding program for upmarket customers
  • Joining Lattice after its Series C
  • How Lattice structures its CX teams
  • Advice for onboarding, health scoring, renewals, and more

Links and References


Customer Success at ComScore

Alex Kracov: So you started your career at comScore, where you went from an entry level analyst to an SVP over the 10 years that you were there. Can you talk about your experience at comScore? What did customer success actually look like there? Because it was more of a services business, right?

Gillian Heltai: Yeah, I mean, parts of it were - so I joined comScore right out of undergrad in 2005. It was probably about maybe 250 employees at the time. This was again sort of mid-2000s. I was in Virginia. It was a venture capital-funded startup. But neither of those words were remotely in my nomenclature. I didn't know what VC was. Startups weren't really a thing. Maybe they were a thing in California by then, but they weren't really on the East Coast. So I joined not really knowing at all what I was getting myself into. Again, fresh college grad, a little bit sort about my time there.

I started in 2005. We IPO-ed two years later, which was right before the global financial crisis and recession. So we had tons and tons of growth. We had a bunch of acquisitions, over a half dozen acquisitions. We also had a big layoff at one point or a couple after the recession. Then what comScore did at the time was internet media measurement. The iPhone came out, I think, within days of us IPO-ing. So I was also there for this period of time where we were shifting from web to mobile and app. So there was just a ton, ton, ton of transition in growth and pivots during that period in terms of what services look like there. Customer success is another word that wasn't actually in my nomenclature. I think anyone, at that point. I think the term customer success was first coined in the late '90s and then made famous by Salesforce not until mid to late 2000. So we just called it client services.

Like I said, comScore was an internet media measurement company. Basically, what we had was tons and tons of data. Although most of our revenue did come from a subscription business, but it was a data access platform. So what client services looked like there was helping people use our data, storytelling to them so that they could get value out of it, like market research-esque work. But at the end of the day, it was helping our customers get value out of our product, which is a natural extension or entry point into customer success as a job category.

Alex Kracov: What did that actually look like? I assume you had a book of business that you were managing as - I guess it wasn't called customer success - account director or whatever it was. Then I'd researched for this. I found a bunch of research reports that you wrote about, like YouTube measurement or things like that. So you're managing a book of business and then sharing reports with people and trying to just, I guess, fine tune their media spend. Is that kind of what it was like?

Gillian Heltai: Yeah, it sort of depends. We were verticalized from when I first started. I shifted through a couple different vertical sectors. But for most of my time there, I focused either on the banking sector, mobile banking, which was not really a thing and then became a massive thing, and then telecommunication and mobile. You've been at a startup like Lattice. We'll get to Lattice later. But there were just so many different jobs. My title changed all the time.

As a customer success person or a client service person, you had a book of accounts that you are responsible for, servicing a lot of custom deliverable work. So we would have a big growth revenue stream for us. People would have the subscription data. Then it would naturally drive incremental questions about their business, about their competitor's business, what have you. And so a big part of the work was understanding that, scoping it. Eventually, once I moved into sales, pricing and selling that. But then, ultimately, delivering these projects and custom reports. Then we did a lot of industry writing as well, which was mostly to try to get our brand out there but also to get into conferences for free as industry analysts. So I was publishing a couple reports a year just trying to get comScore brand out and just to be relevant in the industry.

Alex Kracov: Nice. Then you had a tremendous personal growth term. You're there for 10 years. It went from, I guess, your first job out of college and then you were an SVP. You had a lot of different roles along the way. What was that journey like for you on a personal level? You had a stop along the way, where you went to Stanford Business School. I'm curious how you thought about that decision and why you did that. I'd love to learn more.

Gillian Heltai: I was at comScore for seven years before I went to business school. Those seven years were so insane. There was just so much growth and so much change. I was so fortunate. Like right place, right time. The work to be done so matched my interest and skill set. It was like this intersection of data and customer. Those are like, I'm very social. I love working with customers. I'm sort of a people pleaser, but I'm also a huge data nerd. So it was just like, it's really a great fit for me. I took on a lot of different roles. I got promoted a lot, but I worked constantly. This is sort of an unpopular thing to say now, but I just never left the office before my boss did. I was constantly asking him for new work, and new opportunities just found me in that sort of environment where there was just so, so, so much work to do.

But after seven years, I was pretty burnt out. I also just didn't know what I wanted to do next. I really loved my time there, and I had had so much growth. At that point, I had moved into sales and then in a sales leadership role. That's when I decided to leave. I went to business school, which I'm happy to talk about that whole decision-making process. But for me, it was very much a personal one. I wanted to take a couple years off, if I'm just sort of being pretty blunt about it. I wanted to go to California, so I applied to Stanford. I didn't get in. I waited, and I applied the next year. Then I did get in. I wanted to be in California. I wanted to be in tech. I wanted to relax a little bit. So it was far more of a professional decision than a personal one for me. Then afterwards, I did go back to comScore for three years in more of a GM type function for meet the media and technology sector.

Business School Impact

Alex Kracov: I'm curious. If you thought of going to business school, how that impacted your career? Because I almost went to business school. I had gotten into a business school before I actually joined Lattice. Then I deferred and decided to do Lattice instead. That took a whole different journey. And so I'm curious how you think that maybe helped your career in different ways. Was it the network side of things? Did you learn a lot? How do you think about it?

Gillian Heltai: For me, it was definitely the network side of things. When I think about what has helped me progress and amplify my career out of business school, it was the network side. I think it's different for everyone, but I think the network is massively helpful. I think the geographic shift for me which was getting to Stanford, I knew wanted to be in tech. I've always been interested in tech. ComScore was a tech company when I joined it. And just having access to this market was really, really helpful.

Starting at Talkdesk

Alex Kracov: After comScore, you went to go work at Talkdesk. I guess you moved to California along the way. It looks like you joined Talkdesk between Series A and Series B. Can you paint a picture of what Talkdesk was like when you first started, and what was your initial role?

Gillian Heltai: Yeah, so funny little side story here is: by the time I left comScore, I very much felt myself to be a sales leader. I ran a big sales team, public company, a lot of revenue under management. I wanted a VP sales job in SaaS, and I could not get one. No one would hire me for it. People offered me these IC roles. I was like, come on. I've been in management forever. It felt so snobby to me. I met Tiago, the CEO of Talkdesk, through a friend. I told him I wanted to be VP of sales. He's like, "I've already got two VP of sales. What else are you interested in?" Over a couple months of meeting with him and then Gotti, who was our COO at the time, it morphed into running the install base function which we called Client Services at Talkdesk.

When I joined, it was probably maybe 150 employees, maybe around 20 million ARR, give or take, and Series A. So we were a pretty big Series A company. It was also split between SF and Portugal. So most of the go-to-market teams were in the US, in San Francisco. Basically, all of engineering was in Portugal. It was pretty chaotic. I feel like every company I've ever joined was just sort of chaotic, where it's like the company was starting to grow really fast and trying to figure out how to scale.

The other really interesting thing about Talkdesk was, when they got started, the billboards were contact center in five minutes. It was like super SMB targeted. We had maybe thousand customers when I joined. I bet there were 50 employees each or 50 around there. I joined right as we were trying to do a giant shift up market, which was ultimately massively successful. After three years when I left, we were doing 10,000 C installations. So we were in this transition of like, oh, man, we've really got to professionalize everything. We've got to make the product way better. We've got to professionalize our service experience, getting even just contracts in a better place to pass muster on the enterprise side. So that was the main thing I was hired for. It was like moving up market and figuring out how to scale this function.

Alex Kracov: Let's talk about the specifics. How did you actually go about doing that? What was the state of the customer experience department at the time? Then how did you sort of, I guess, rejigger that department to go up market and to serve all these different audiences? Because I assume you kept the SMB customers as well, and you had to service them but then also go up market at the same time.

Gillian Heltai: Yeah, you know how these things look at the size, right? I think the team was about - the main functions were: customer success, customer support, tech support, and professional services. It's probably 25 people-ish across the whole lot, across the whole team. It was an extremely hard-working group. It's like one of the most hard-working environments I've ever been in, but they were trying to build the plane while they were flying it. It is a complicated product. It's a mission critical product, too, which is something that I didn't quite realize until I joined here. You don't know it until you work at one of those companies, where you're like, oh, man. We have to be on all the time. So it was massively responsive to customers, complicated product space.

From an evolution perspective, there were a couple big moments of change where we launched the new enterprise CS function. Or another really big moment for us was launching a technical account management function. It was a technical product. Our CSMs were not technical. That was not what we were asking them to do. So we ended up with this professional services-esque overlay to our larger customers where we could deliver ongoing light touch professional services to help our customers get value out of the product. But yeah, to your point, there was always this smaller SMB segment that we had to maintain. A lot of those customers that we had, every one of our top 10 customers had been one of those teeny tiny SMBs that have just grown into enterprise. So we were constantly thinking about our scaled motion, our scaled CS motion as well, which I think we were a little early on that. Now that's such a big part of customer success programming at so many companies.

Alex Kracov: I think one of the first things you did when you joined Talkdesk was go on a customer listening tour with your boss around DC, Maryland, Virginia area. Can you talk a little bit about that road trip?

Gillian Heltai: Yeah, I think we might have done two. I think we went to DC area once. Then I definitely remember driving with my boss. It was Gadi Shamia, from New Jersey and to New York at some point. I think both of those were around the start. Obviously, it was a really good bonding time with my boss, just an incredible opportunity to meet with customers and hear what value they were getting out of the product. It's such a powerful way to sort of onboard and get to understand the business problem. It also makes me sad to think about a little bit. I mean, we could go on such a tangent on remote work and the value of in-person. But I really miss that. It's hard to get customers in-person these days, because a lot of our customers are remote. But it was just such a powerful, effective use of time to be able to spend time with them and let them vent and hear what their hopes and dreams were for us as a partner.

Alex Kracov: When you're talking to customers, I think it's really easy to get caught up in the feature set and how it relates to Talkdesk specifically, like the buttons and the platform and stuff. But can you talk a little bit about why it's so important to understand just the customer's whole world, not just as it relates to your software but just all the things that they're going through, to ultimately help you service them better?

Gillian Heltai: Yeah, you can't talk about this without talking about the importance of multithreading. I think, often, once we sell something to a customer, we get very naturally pulled into the details of the product - what works for them, what doesn't work for them, troubleshooting. You get into admin relationship management. I spent a lot of my time at Talkdesk certainly as part of these little road tours that I would go on, spending time with decision makers, with senior folks. Naturally, the conversation is going to be up leveled outside of the buttons and gadgets within the product. But at the end of the day, to answer your question, you can't command share of wallet if you aren't connecting to something that actually matters to the business. You can't really get through hard times either.

I think moments of failure and conflict are, they're really tense when you run existing revenue, when you run a customer experience team. But they're also these relationship formational moments, where when you can get through it with a customer, you come out more on the same team. And you can't get through those moments if you're not able to connect it back to their business and their problem. This is far more feasible in enterprise. It isn't like mid-market in SMB. I know we'll talk probably more about those other segments. With Talkdesk, they're focused on the enterprise segment. We had to know enough about their business where we actually felt like it's just so cheesy, but we actually felt like they're our partners.

Alex Kracov: Yeah, and people just don't buy a software just to buy a software, right? It's about driving to business outcomes and business transformation. It's really a means to an end. It's an important lesson that I always am trying to tell myself, too, at Dock. Because I'm like a founder building a product. I'm like, look at this cool thing I built. But it's like no. It's like, here's how it's actually going to help solve these big problems you're facing as a business.

Gillian Heltai: Yeah, it's tricky, though. Because in some product categories, they are just buying software, especially when they're replacing it. This is a situation that Talkdesk was in. They'd have some contact center software, and they just didn't like it. They're like, "Okay. We just want to find the better version of that." So sometimes even in the deal cycle, you never get out of that feature-by-feature comparison. You don't get to the goals. Because sometimes, you don't have to. If people know what software they want, you seem to be the best software. That's why you can get lazy, and then you don't have those conversations with customers. You're like you can't get through the hard times. You can't get through decision maker transitions, and you don't have any connection to anything that actually matters for the company.

Aligning CS and Engineering

Alex Kracov: You had mentioned earlier in the conversation that Talkdesk had a big international footprint, and there's a big engineering team in Portugal. What was that like working with the product team being in a different timezone, different part of the world? I imagine you're dealing with customers. There's bugs. There's issues. There's a lot of product feedback. How did you think about managing the workflow between those two teams?

Gillian Heltai: I mean, the truth is, I just worked 16 hours a day. Portugal and San Francisco have perfectly non-overlapping eight-hour days. So that's one way to accomplish working in that sort of an environment. I think it's harder. It's so much harder than having everyone co-located. It requires a really good product organization. Because the way ours was set up, we had some PMs in U.S. and some PMs in Portugal but basically all of enj in Portugal. So product leadership had to be really empowered and really, really tuned in to what was going on to be that thread. You need some glue. The product role was that, and then just a lot of communication. Of course, it's just so much easier when you're 200 employees versus when you're 2,000. But Slack, a lot of phone calls. I don't know if there was any sort of magic to it. It was just like people worked longer days and did their best to communicate quickly with each other.

Alex Kracov: Yeah, we're experiencing this a little bit on a smaller scale at Dock, where we have some international engineers, and it's like, okay, when I wake up in the morning, I got to work with the engineers and figure out bugs, and get my product feedback done because I have my little sliver to work with them. They all stay up pretty late in their timezone. But yeah, it's funny how it just changes your work day when you have an international presence. But you get to work with insanely talented people all over the world, so there's a huge benefit to it.

Gillian Heltai: Well, you have to time shift. You wake up early, do some calls before you're totally alert. They're doing calls after dinner. You just find ways to, I think, time shift into a way that it's okay. Or you get really, really good at documentation, which was not the place that we were in when I first started at Talkdesk. But I think we made a lot of progress over those three years.

Alex Kracov: Yeah, I want to be better at documentation. It's just so hard in the early days because there was so much shit to do. And so it's like perfecting this document versus getting the thing done. It's always a really tough balance that I struggle with. And you don't even know what your process was. Like, what am I documenting?

Gillian Heltai: Totally.

Joining Lattice

Alex Kracov: All right. Let's shift gears and talk about your time at Lattice, where we worked together for a couple of years. From what I remember, you joined Lattice I think right around our Series C. At the time, I think we were going from Grant and Emily, who were our amazing customer experience folks in the early days. We were sort of transitioning to building out this proper, big customer experience department. Can you talk about what it was like when you first joined Lattice?

Gillian Heltai: It was so fun. So we had Grant running CS, customer success, and Emily running the support team, customer care. I think they each had 15 direct reports on the day that I joined. It was so wild. To paint a picture when I started, I think we're maybe around 100 employees. Like you said, we just raised Series C. We were growing so fast. I joined October, and we were heading into the busy season. We had been so pleasantly surprised by the performance of new business at the beginning of 2017. CX was so understaffed, and we were just looking down the barrel of what is - normally, November through February, it's just everything is insane at Lattice all the time, because there's just so much growth. That's like the performance review season, and customers need so much from us.

At the time, the team was way understaffed. Obviously, we weren't in a place with a good manager ratio. Emily, at the time, was actually moving into another role. She was going to go build the enablement function. So I think my first job was hiring a new leader, a new director, for the customer care function. I think my first couple weeks, there were two big things that we knew that we needed to do. One was segmentation. There was virtually no segmentation. The biggest customer is commingled with the smallest customers. In a CSM's book of business, that would mean that the little our customer wasn't getting attention. Because the big customer was so loud, it needed so much from us, so we had to - P zeros. We're figuring out customer segmentation and figuring out customer health. Do you remember how many? How many customers would we have at that point? Maybe 3,000.

Alex Kracov: Maybe. I can't keep track of us.

Gillian Heltai: It was a lot. It was probably 3,000 customers at the time. We're 5,000 now. Maybe less. I don't know, but it was a lot. They were smaller. We needed to figure out how to prioritize them, and we didn't have any measure of health. So that was a lot of the initial brainstorming. It's like, okay, how do we segment, and how do we get a scalable read on who needs our help?

Customer Segmentation

Alex Kracov: Can you talk more about customer segmentation? Because I think it was such an important thing that we did across the business. It was like marketing started thinking about in segments. The sales team became segmented, and then customer success as well. I guess, what's the difference between serving an enterprise book of business versus an SMB book of business? How does that impact the customer success person's day-to-day life?

Gillian Heltai: Yeah, I feel like there are sort of two dimensions. One is a very selfish dimension, which is your risk tolerance. It's a business for churn. Your bigger customers, if you believe that servicing them more is going to drive a better retention outcome, you obviously do that. That happens naturally anyway. But when you've got all the accounts commingled in one big bucket, it means that smaller accounts end up neglected. One is like the self-serving version, which is the unit economics of service. Then the other is customer need. How do larger customers, in what ways are they more complex, that they need a different level of attention, a different cadence of attention, potentially different sort of product workarounds?

A lot of times, CS fills this role of augmenting the product and things that the product can't do. A lot of times, that ends up being things like reporting or config design. Sometimes it's a data entry. It really depends on the company. But usually, your biggest customers are the ones stretching your product. You want to fill the gap with service, like Lattice level service intervention rather than putting that burden on the customer or having their needs go unmet.

Alex Kracov: And so Lattice has a segmented customer success team. But I know that there's a few other teams within the overall Customer Experience Department. Can you talk about the broader makeup of what customer experience looks like at Lattice?

Gillian Heltai: Yeah, I mean, it's changed a lot. Like I said, when I joined, it was basically just customer support and customer success. Within customer support, what we call customer care, we had a couple people that were doing implementations for our smallest customer. 2019 when I started, CSMs owned - basically, most of our accounts had a CSM. They ran implementation, renewal, adoption, et cetera. Then we had the customer care function that was the layer across all. We had a couple people just doing implementation for our small customers. So very sort of unspecialized.

What we have now within customer experience is, we still have that customer care function. Within that, we have a knowledge programs function, which is both QA but also helps center knowledge base. We have a tech support engineering function that does more technical integration, API-based support for our customers, and is also the main interface to engineering for bug triage and resolution. We have a onboarding function, which is formally known as implementation. They help our customers get live on Lattice, and that we do sort of an intense shepherding process over the first 90 to 120 days depending on the profile of the customer. So we have that as a separate, really focused sprint that we put our customers through. That's a separate function.

Customer success is responsible for adoption and value realization for our customers. Then we also have account management, which is the CSMs used to own all the basically the customer relationship end to end. We spun up account management last year to own a lot more of the relationship, all the commercial elements, building relationships with decision makers, which is something that we sometimes struggle with, I think a lot of success orgs struggle with and having a primary strategic point of contact for the customer.

Alex Kracov: I want to spend some time talking about each of those, some of those specific teams you mentioned. I think the first one, let's talk about-

Gillian Heltai: Oh, I forgot one.

Alex Kracov: Which one?

Gillian Heltai: Well, advisory services, formerly known as advisory services. These are people strategy group, a small in-house team of thought leaders, ex-practitioners. This is actually really critical work. They do a lot of the best practices development that we then disseminate through the rest of the teams. Because a big point of value delivery for Lattice is helping our customers design their people programs. We don't hire HR people. We hire ex-CSMs, sellers, people that understand the technology really well. So we have to empower them to be having more of the conversations around the program side.

Advisory Services

Alex Kracov: Let's talk more about advisory services, because that was actually one of the ones on my list. So the way I understand it is, there's the buttons you have to click in Lattice to get things set up. But then, there's the actual people programs that you're trying to build, whether it's an OKR program or changing the culture to one of continuous feedback. And so can you talk a little bit about what that team actually does for customers? Are they showing up on calls and doing consulting things? Are they running workshops? What does that actually look like? Maybe, how is that team set up?

Gillian Heltai: Yes, all of those things. They certainly do a fair bit of one-on-one consulting work with customers. CSMs or account managers will tap them in. When we find a customer that needs some really dedicated consultation or brainstorming, we run workshops. We have an OKR Champ Camp that we run regularly to get people. I think OKR is probably one of the best short categorical examples of how we need to help our customers. Because the software is great, and it helps you manage and update and distribute information about OKRs. But you were around Lattice when we rolled out our own OKRs. It is hard program to get going. A lot of times, I described Lattice as like the last inch of a mile in terms of a people program. There is so much work that goes in through operations, through people teams, to get these programs off the ground.

When customers buy Lattice, they're, of course, buying us for the software and the functionality. But they also just want to know. You all have 5,000 customers. What's everybody else doing? What do the best do? How are things changing? PSG, our People Strategy Group, in partnership with our content team on the marketing side, produces the research and perspectives on that. Whether or not that be through a workshop model, distributing through webinars, customer case studies, live events. We run a state of people strategy report every year. That's a big survey of HR leaders. So we're just constantly inspecting and understanding what our customers are doing and trying to find ways to package that for the benefit of everyone.

Alex Kracov: Yeah, the OKR example really hits home for me, because that was Lattice's first product even from before performance reviews. I remember that first summer we were trying to sell the product. Then what we realized was, companies started fighting amongst themselves around what the goals were. Instead of actually buying the software, they're like, "No, marketing showed this number. Sales showed that number." It was so clear that you needed to add professional services around that software experience, which we weren't prepared at all as a 10-person startup at the time. But then eventually, we got our act together. We built out a proper function.

Gillian Heltai: Yeah, totally.

Separating Customer Onboarding

Alex Kracov: I'd love to go a little bit deeper about customer onboarding. You mentioned it's a separate team. I'd be curious, why a CSM shouldn't be a part of onboarding? Then just generally, how do you think about building a strong customer onboarding program?

Gillian Heltai: Well, first of all, I definitely don't think - this isn't obvious to me that onboarding and customer success should always be separate functions. It absolutely depends on the nature of the business. I think it has to do with the nature of the product and also the growth of the business. Those are two big factors in deciding do you specialize this or not, because there's a cost benefit. I think about it differently versus support. Every company needs to have a great customer support function. That's a non-negotiable. But this separate implementation function, I think it depends.

The reasons why we decided to separate customer implementations, customer onboarding, from customer success which used to run it on its own, there were two main drivers. One was our growth, which you were around for so much of. Customers take a ton of effort at the beginning. It is, I think, unarguably the most important moment in the customer lifecycle. Because it's like, I have to think about what they get so excited at when they're buying. It's like we're selling them the dream. They're like, if you don't deliver a great onboarding, it's like trough of disillusionment where it's like, "Oh, I thought it was going to be this. And now this is so sad." So you need to do a great job with getting time to value and keeping the level the same as they experience in the sales process. So that takes a lot of effort. And if you've got a CSM who's got a bunch of accounts who were on onboarding and other customers who need their attention too, the customers who are in this steady state are going to end up suffering. Because there's so much that has to go into the new customers. So that's a really big part of it. When you're growing as fast as Lattice has grown, it's not that more economical to have the CSMs do it. It's better to specialize it and be able to run these projects really efficiently. So that was certainly a really big part of it.

Then the other part is, there is some variance in skill set around what it takes. There's a bunch of integration work and data transformation, and things that happen in the beginning that CSMs might not be great at when you think about what skills you're hiring for and training for. So I would often think about keeping these roles together in a world where you really need, where there's a lot of benefit of continuity across the relationship from the start, when you're not necessarily dealing with the same sort of growth situation that we have at Lattice. Then also, when you see major overlap of skill set. If you're hiring the same profile and ask them to do the same thing, that's probably a good signal that you don't need a separate function.

Alex Kracov: Do you think, I guess, successful onboarding or bad onboarding is a predictive of whether someone's going to renew or churn at the end of the agreement? Do you think those two things are related?

Gillian Heltai: Oh, yeah, definitely hugely related. There are some companies - the Lattice product, we've got so many different programs that we enable. Onboarding, usually, the first couple of months, it's like they'll get one or two of their program started on Lattice. But people will be rolling out new programs all the time at Lattice. At Talkdesk, the more you work in infrastructure or workflow, there's more of a get it all done at the beginning. I think it's even more important in those sorts of environments because they're often coming off of another system, and there's like a go-live. That go-live really, really matters. And if you goof on that, you're digging out of that hole forever.

Alex Kracov: Yeah, it's a really interesting point that Lattice's onboarding is actually very ongoing, where it's like somebody starts with one part of the product and then two months later, they start caring about OKRs or whatever it is, and start rolling that out.

Gillian Heltai: Yes, what is go-live at Lattice, right? It is different for every customer depending on what programs they're launching with.

Improving Customer Health Scores

Alex Kracov: I remember one of your first big initiatives was to work on a better customer health score. Because I think that helped to get a sense of how much customers were actually adopting and using these products. Can you talk a little bit about that initiative, and why that was one of the first things that you did?

Gillian Heltai: Yeah, it was one of the first things that we did because we had so many customers, and we had to figure out who needed us. For the same reason that Lattice is complicated in terms of figuring out when is the customer live, when are they out of implementation, the same thing is true in thinking about adoption. Because there are all these different modules. What does healthy usage look like? One of our main tools is reviews. Is using reviews once a year more healthy than twice a year? Is four times a year better than two times a year? It depends on the company. It depends on what they're trying to do in the product, what their philosophy is, and what their other programs are. There's so much that goes into it, so it's hard to come up with a brute force method of like, is usage good? So we really needed to come up with a thoughtful health score methodology that accounted for the nuance and complexity of the Lattice product set. So that was a really big focus and something that we have invested a ton into, and we continue to invest a ton into. I spent an hour on v4 of the health score yesterday. Ultimately, what we did was build a model that takes lots and lots of different product adoption signals, looks at the correlations to retention, and builds a really relatively complex scoring methodology based on what the customer has purchased, and how they're using different elements of our product.

The thing that is most important about it to design is that it is highly predictive of retention, but it's not overfit. Sometimes you'll see these health score models get built where they're wildly prediction of retention. We'll use red, yellow, green. It's like, they're super predictive of retention. But only 5% of your customers are green, 10% are red, and 85% are yellow. You're like, "Well, how the hell am I supposed to use this?" So we also needed to design for a distribution that allows for a thoughtful approach to how we manage our customers. So this is something that's like, evergreen, we're constantly working on. You know Lattice ships products every day. We're constantly shipping new product, so we're also constantly having to update the health score as soon as we can. I'm like, okay, we have this new thing. It's shipped six months ago. We've got material traction of usage. How does that impact the health algorithm? That's just the adoption piece. We also have health scoring that goes up to one mega score that is driven from customer self-report like NPS, CSAT data. Then anything that we can tell from macro factors, like looking at their employee trend or anything about their firmographic that would give us intelligence.

Alex Kracov: Yeah, it was a really great initiative, because it just added some structure to the chaos of managing all of our different customers and what's going on. I remember there were so many funny debates at the time, especially around product adoption. It's like, oh, they only use the product once a year. But then they keep renewing. It's like, wait, that's weird, where somebody else is using it more, then maybe didn't renew. And so it's so interesting to figure out, okay, what they buy. It was a very complicated thing to sift through. I'm sure it has come a long way over since then.

Gillian Heltai: It has. Extremely powerful.

Renewal Strategy

Alex Kracov: Let's talk a little bit more about renewals. It's been a hard couple years for SaaS. Renewals are on everyone's mind. You actually published an awesome renewal playbook with Emergence Capital, where you're an operator in residence. Can you talk a little bit about this renewal strategy framework? We'll put it in the show notes too, but I would love to hear about it from your perspective.

Gillian Heltai: Yeah, so we published that a little over a year ago just as sort of the - what do we call it? Like tech downturn was sort of kicking off. We came up with a two by two, really just to help with customer prioritization. Ultimately, everything is in service of retention. But retention is the ultimate lagging indicator. So how do you focus? How do you intervene with customers ahead of certainty about their renewal decision?

And so we came up with two dimensions which is, one, what is the value that they're getting out of your product? And two, what is going on with their business? What is going on with their business health? We talked about in this framework methods for understanding what their business health are and then the method of understanding value. At Lattice, it's very much driven on our health score. Also, customer conversation and feedback, of course. We put together this two by two. That, for example, if a customer is getting a lot of value out of your product but their business health is really low, which you either see or hear from them, we encourage a strategy. We call it 'be their hero,' which is just like back off a little bit on pricing. Think longer term about the relationship. I think a lot of companies got pretty aggressive on pricing over the last couple of years. Renewals were so easy for so many organizations. Everyone had so much funding. There was so much capital. But really, orienting in this segment on logo retention, You've got a high value customer. These people are probably your promoters. Get them through whatever is going on with their business in a way that it so makes sense for yours to keep them as a customer, keep them happy, not play a short-sighted game in terms of the commercial structure. So that's an example of one of the strategies. It's just really meant to help you prioritize where you spend your time and where you maybe stand your ground in terms of the commercial relationship versus where you take different approaches.

Alex Kracov: Yeah, it's a great lesson in just being empathetic to what your customer is going through, and then also just playing the long game. Business success is built over years and decades. Especially in SaaS where you've got compounding growth and subscription revenue, it's about staying with it for a long term and working with your customers through the ups and the downs. So yeah, I love that framework.

Marketing <> Customer Success

All right. Let's switch gears and talk about customer marketing, which something we worked on together. We did a lot of different things from case studies, to customer speaking at different events, to different product launches. I'd love to hear, from your perspective, how do you think about the relationship between marketing and customer success? What does good actually look like?

Gillian Heltai: I think this is an area of massive, massive under investment in a lot of companies. I also think customer marketing often becomes synonymous with customer advocacy, which matters a ton, and is so valuable for the company and so valuable for customers. But there's so much more that needs to be considered when thinking about what customer marketing should deliver and, more broadly, what marketing should deliver for the customer base.

So I guess, just point A, I think this is an area of under investment. There should be the same level of partnership, shared ownership, between a customer org and marketing as you see from new biz and marketing. New biz and marketing are usually so tight, and you don't often see the same thing with the install base. So I think that's the first mega point. Then I think about the work to be done. One is the customer advocacy work which is, how do you amplify your customers' voices? How do you find the happy customers? How do you amplify their voices to the benefit of prospective customers who are trying to make a decision on your product, to existing customers who are trying to find better ways to use their product or to resell the value within their organization, and to reward customers who are giving back to you?

I mean, Lattice is so insane in terms of our community and the level of love that HR people have for Lattice. That's just such a huge asset for us in amplifying our brand and growing. But then, I also think a lot about if there's another thing that marketing will tend to focus on, it'll be driving crossover, which makes a lot of sense. Marketing is such an important part of the revenue engine. One of the things we've really pushed for at Lattice is figuring out how marketing becomes more of a co-owner on adoption and value realization for customers. How do we use the marketing engine to get people interested, re-interested in using Lattice and running their programs on Lattice?

Alex Kracov: Really interesting. That's definitely an evolution since I was there, too. Because I think something I always struggled with was, my main goal in marketing was, okay, new business and pipeline. It wasn't like customer retention. And so it's like I had to push my money and budget towards that world. Derek, at the time, was the one marketer who was assigned to helping the customer success team and doing everything he could for managing the case studies to adoption programs. But it's a lot for one person to deal with. I'm sure it's evolved quite a bit. But yeah, it's a tricky balance when marketing's goals are on the new business side. But then, as companies grow, it's all about customer marketing, because most of your revenue is coming from your existing base. And so it really changes as companies grow up.

Gillian Heltai: Yes, big time.

Future of Customer Success

Alex Kracov: I'd love to end today's conversation with your thoughts on the future of customer success and where do we head from here. The two buzzy things in my head are: scaled customer success seems to be pretty in vogue, but then also, AI. I got to ask the AI question. I was listening to one of the founders from Intercom talking about how AI is updating chatbots and things like that. So, yeah, I don't know. What do you think about the future of customer success? Where does your brain go?

Gillian Heltai: Oh, my gosh. My brain goes in a lot of directions. I think a big category is around efficiency. I think organizations have pumped a lot of money into customer success organizations, with the belief and observation that it moves the needle for customer retention and customer satisfaction and customer outcome. But there hasn't been a ton of pressure, if we're being honest with ourselves on this job category for efficiency. We've seen some of this efficiency work through scaled success programs, which I am such a deep believer in.

We have a great scaled success program at Lattice. It is made possible by good data, the right level of intelligence and triggers so that you can take some of the natural individual CSM intuition that creates a really good experience for customers. How do you operationalize that? How do you automate some of that so that you're not reliant on a single human to be able to observe that risk or see that opportunity, but rather use data to funnel that into a team with the right level of information so that they can act on that? I think efficiency in customer success is the topic. I guess efficiency in everything is sort of the topic, but I don't see that reverting back to the way we've invested in this function over the last decade. So I think that's one thing that's on my mind.

AI, yes. I mean, across the entire CX tech stack, chatbots are getting so much better. We're also taking so much work, so much work. And it's great, because it's work that people hated doing - activity logging, meeting notes, recaps to customers. There was some value in it because it forces you to synthesize and summarize and prioritize and all of that. But this work, we can now just totally automate today through AI. There's obviously so much more to come on that front in terms of how do we better leverage the people that we have for work that actually requires critical thinking and judgment. I think a lot of times, CS in particular, can get abstracted from some of that work. Because there's a lot of recurring work that has to be done or more administrative work.

I think the other thing that I talked to a lot of CS leaders about - maybe this is the last thing I'll say - is I think there's at times an identity crisis with CS, which is like, what is our metric? What are our metrics? In so many other roles, it might look a little different at different companies. But you always look in sales. You always have the sales funnel. You've got the stages, and you've got your leads and your MQLs. There's a system for things, and you know what the measure is. It's ARR, whatever, ARR, ACV. It's like that at the end. CS is always accountable to retention, but retention happens - by the time you know whether you're retained, it's over. There's nothing else you can do about it. It's a never ending game. It's not like a sales cycle that begins and ends, and then the customer is a customer, or they're not a customer. It can go on for years. So I think CS is, as a function, trying to figure out like, what is the equivalent of our funnel? What are our metrics? What are the metrics that are true across every organization? Because so often, CS becomes this catch all of work that is just not either well done by the product or honed appropriately in another role. So it's like do whatever it takes to make the customer happy and retained.

Alex Kracov: That's a great note to end. Thank you so much for the conversation, Gillian. If people want to follow up with you, have questions, maybe want to eventually join Lattice's CX team, where can they find you?

Gillian Heltai: You can find me on LinkedIn, and you can find me - yeah, LinkedIn.

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