Select excerpts from Subscribed Podcast with Jon Herstein, SVP and Chief Customer Officer at Box.
At Box, Jon guides the client services, technical support, consulting and implementation teams. He joined Box in 2011 and has spent the last eight years scaling the Customer Success organization to serve more than 90,000 customer companies, including 70% of the Fortune 500. Previously, Jon worked with some of the biggest names in tech, including Accenture, Informatica, and NetSuite.
We chat with Jon about what it takes to “blow customers’ minds” and what you can learn from simply inviting them to lunch!
How has the definition of “customer success” changed over time?
One thing that’s changed dramatically is that in the days of large, on-premise software projects, all of the onus for deriving value from that investment was on the customer. They would go through these massive RFP processes that would take months, in some cases, years. They would commit to spending millions or tens of millions of dollars, and when the project was done and the vendor and the systems integrator left, the customer was left with a solution. If it worked, great, if it didn’t, that was their problem.
Fast forward to today, the model’s completely flipped. People think of cloud as a technology change, but it’s equally a commercial or business model change. Customers get to decide every year, in some cases every two or three years, depending on the contract, whether or not they’re going to stick with you. That puts a lot more of the onus for success on the vendor. I think that’s a really good thing for our customers. But it also means that all of us have to be at the top of our game in providing value for customers.
One of Box’s company values is to “Blow Our Customers’ Minds.” Can you tell us what that means in practical, day-to-day terms?
We wrote down our values for the first time as a company the year that I joined, and we did it in a very democratic way. People volunteered to participate in this process of trying to codify what we believed in as a company. The first value that was written down was “Blow our customers’ minds.” I don’t think we’ve attached a metric to it per se. It’s more, “what’s the expectation we have of our people” in terms of how they think about their responsibility.
Interestingly enough, we did a project a few years later to look back at our values and assess whether we thought they were still relevant and whether we thought we were doing a good job of adhering to them or not.We basically wound up with roughly the same seven values we started with. We had some wording changes, there were a couple things that didn’t quite fit the way we thought about things, but blow our customers’ minds stood the test of time. It’s exactly what it is today as it was in 2011.
Do you have an opinion on if customer success is a job function or is it actually more of a company-wide value? What is required to instill that mindset in a real way across the entire company, not just people in customer-facing roles?
One thing you do hear once in a while is that you shouldn’t really need a customer success team because if the company truly believes in it, then everyone lives it in their day-to-day. I think that’s very aspirational and idealistic. I don’t actually think it’s super pragmatic. There are certain metrics that are really important to drive and someone’s got to own those metrics. If I’m in a SaaS company and we’ve got engineers who live and work deep in the data center, I can’t actually afford to have them be spending 100% of their time thinking about customers, they need to think about things like databases and servers and files. At the same time, I want them in some part of their brain to be thinking about the implications of what they do on the customer experience.
What I think you need to do, particularly as a company scales, is keep the customers front of mind. As you grow, and as you create more specialization, you’ve got people in roles that are very, very specific to what they do, accounting clerks, database engineers, and QA engineers. It’s not going to be the most immediate thing for them to think about. You have to do some things proactively to bring that front of mind, including making it one of your core values, not just throwing it up on the wall but actually talking about it.
A couple of examples: We work really hard to bring customers to the company. We have a Friday lunch every single week. It’s company-wide, it’s streamed and recorded, and we invite customers to come speak, typically once a month or so depending on availability. People will point to Jim in the lunchroom, standing up with a microphone, saying “I want that feature.” People don’t forget that.
We also do advisory boards. We have an executive-level CIO advisory board and a product advisory board that’s a little bit closer to the action on the customer side. It’s great to have a strategy conversation with a CIO, but what about the person at General Electric who’s responsible for making Box work every day? What does he think? What is he looking for?
How do you make sure customer feedback makes its way back to inform decisions at Box?
I’ll be candid, we’re still figuring that out. In my ideal world, every time you send one of these surveys out, and you get actionable feedback, you do something with it. The good news, in most cases, even when a customer is dissatisfied, the solution is actually not changing the product. In most cases, it’s education.
One way to think about support, in general, is your job in support should always be not to handle cases, but to actually eliminate the need for cases by making information more freely available to folks who may be struggling.
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