As a Principal Customer Success Manager (CSM) at Hubspot, Rosie lives and breathes customer-centricity. After catching up with her lovely St Bernard puppies, we chatted about everything customer-related, from the importance of putting our customer first whether it’s a B2B or B2C business, to tackling ‘ugly’ conversations with clients.
LET’S START WITH THE PANDEMIC. HOW DID IT CHANGE THINGS FOR YOU? WERE THERE ANY NEW STRUGGLES FOR YOU OR YOUR CLIENTS?
Well for me, I was already used to doing video calls with clients from home so personally that didn’t change too much. But I did see that conversations definitely became much more personal because now we’re all working from home. You saw people working from their own homes, in their own living rooms, and the conversations became much more personal. We’re all working from home now, we all need to be more flexible, so you just naturally start asking more personal questions like “how is life?”
For some customers, like hotels or restaurant businesses, they really, really struggled. So then our conversations changed to survival, rather than setting up a strategy. Sometimes we definitely had to say like ‘Okay, it’s not going to work out so we have to stop this’. So what we looked into then was, how can we support our customers to at least not have to stress about Hubspot as a tooling, if they can’t afford to even pay their employees anymore? It definitely became much more personal and the relationship just came to a different level which was much more human, rather than business.
WHAT DO YOU THINK IS MOST CRUCIAL TO EMPOWERING THE CUSTOMER TO KEEP THEM HAPPY?
To empower customers, it’s really about giving them the tools that they need, asking questions, active listening, understanding their situation.
The most important thing is to have an honest and transparent relationship where there is a really strong two-way communication. That way you feel comfortable talking about the good stuff, but also the bad and the ugly. I always say to new customers: ‘Let’s talk about the good, the bad, the ugly.’ That way I hear about their successes, but if they’re frustrated by something I will not be able to help them unless they tell me, so having that honest and open communication is important. Holding each other accountable, too, means that if we’re having a conversation and set next steps, at the next call we’ll check back in on those next steps. We can’t grow unless we really match the steps we set.
HOW DO YOU HAVE THOSE ‘UGLY’ CONVERSATIONS? WHAT IF A CUSTOMER SAYS THEY’RE JUST NOT HAPPY WITH A PRODUCT ANYMORE?
Being honest about what is in the roadmap is the best policy. Say to them, we’re good at these things, but we might not be the best in everything; just being honest about what you can do, rather than lying and saying ‘let’s wait five months and see’. It does depend on the relationship, because with some customers you’ve been working with for a long time, you can be very direct. But if we haven’t been working together for a long time I would take a little bit of a softer approach, while still being honest. Honesty is the one thing that will create trust between you and the client. Never promise something that isn’t possible, and even if you’re not sure, say ‘I’ll have a look into this’ for them, and always follow up.
WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE MOST IMPORTANT TO CONSIDER WHEN ADDRESSING STRUGGLES WITH A CLIENT?
Firstly, it is important to consider the relationship we have, and how freely we can speak with each other, because with a long-lasting relationship I’ll know we’re very open with each other. On the other hand, sometimes it is better to take a less personal and more business approach, look into the preferred outcomes first and then say: ‘we’re not going to get there because of XYZ, or maybe we should change XYZ in order to get there’. It really depends on the relationship.
Sometimes if you’re in a call and there is a problem, or someone is being rude or short or is distracted, the best thing to do is just to call it out. Just say ‘you know what, let’s finish the call now because we’re not getting anywhere and it’s not a good use of our time.’
Reschedule for a few weeks, and sometimes that helps. The following step is to talk with my manager and brainstorm what we can do next. Sometimes it does happen where a customer just does not click with for me for whatever reason, and they just don’t feel comfortable talking about their strategies.
WHAT DO YOU DO THEN?
It’s hard for me because I do care for my customers and might take it personally, but I know you really shouldn’t. It could be for any reason. Handing it over to a colleague sometimes just works better. Sometimes it’s good to switch, sometimes it’s about letting go.
HAVE YOU EVER HAD A ‘EUREKA!’ MOMENT IN YOUR CAREER OR WITH A CUSTOMER?
At the start of my career there were so many different things I had to learn. I initially felt like I couldn’t know the products well enough to really consult with my customers on them, when they were the ones using them, day in and day out. I wondered why I would be the best person to help them. Then one day it clicked with me that I didn’t have to be the product expert, I just had to support my customers, to brainstorm with them on how to use a specific tool.
Six months in, I had a call with a customer and they were so excited. They said “Rosie this is amazing! You’ve given us so many ideas, we’ve got so many takeaways we can start working on, we’re super excited to start working on this!” That’s when it clicked for me, I was like yes! I am able to do this!
WHAT WOULD YOU ADVISE TO BRANDS WHEN THEY LOOK AT THEIR CUSTOMER SUCCESS STORY?
The most important thing is to have that customer-first mentality. You want to make sure your customers feel successful and that they are getting the right support. So, it’s important to understand the tools you have, using it towards their needs, so that they can then see success with it.
One common problem is that customer success managers have way too many customers to manage, so from a management perspective, you need to be realistic about how many customers you give each customer success manager. You want your level of support to be accurate.
What the CSM’s really need to do is consulting. Asking questions, active listening, asking more questions! The biggest mistake with new team members is that they go straight into consulting without asking these questions first. You need to ask these questions first, what are the goals, who will be on the calls, who is involved from the customers side, how do you measure your success? You need to know long term vision and short term vision. If needed, you can loop in other people, whether it’s leadership or even the product team. You don’t have to do it alone. There are always other people who have knowledge about topics you don’t necessarily have.
HUBSPOT OFFERS GREAT TOOLS FOR HELPING MARKETING TEAMS WORK BETTER TOGETHER. WE KNOW YOU’VE DONE A LOT OF TRAINING ON ALIGNING TEAMS SO THAT THEY CAN REACH THEIR TARGETS – WHAT WOULD YOU DEFINE AS ‘MUST DO’ TO HELP SALES AND MARKETING TEAMS WORK TOGETHER?
Open communication is really important. Have regular meetings, even just listening to what each other’s weeks are like and setting targets together. Understand each other’s goals – they don’t have to be the same, but they can be aligned. Accountability is huge, and again that comes into feedback sessions, saying what is working and maybe finding something else that could help the situation.
Seeing each other in person as well does help, or even team events whether they’re over zoom or not can help break the ice. Once you’ve had that, seen each other’s faces, you’re more likely to reach out next time if you need to. Just sitting together and having an open conversation, sharing goals or showcasing processes, like ‘this is how long something takes’ will help the other person to understand. And then you can brainstorm together about what to do next.
DO YOU SEE ANY TRENDS HAPPENING NOW THAT YOU THINK WILL CONTINUE INTO 2022?
I think a lot of customers are focusing more and more on customer-first mentality. Before COVID hit, the focus was all about new business. Then the pandemic happened, and everything was about retention, everyone was saying ‘we should really focus on our existing customer base and see what we can do to retain’ and ‘what can we do to make sure they feel supported’.
Customer-first mentality is a trend we’re probably going to be seeing a lot more of, and I’m excited about that.
One other thing I keep seeing across the board is culture. A lot of customers of mine ask about our culture at Hubspot, and what it is that creates such a strong culture. People want to know how we keep our people happy, and what are the things we give our employees to make sure they feel supported and have a good work life balance. Rest is really important in Hubspot culture, and we even have unlimited paid holidays. Of course it has to be approved and your work shouldn’t suffer, but it just means you can take a break whenever you need it, like for me last August we had a water leak in my house and I could just take the break and not have to worry like ‘oh now this means I’ve only got two days left for Christmas’! We also now have a global week of rest in July, so the whole company is off. It’s mandatory, and it’s fine, we survive!
SPEAKING OF CULTURE, HOW DO YOU KEEP A GOOD WORK-LIFE BALANCE?
That’s a hard one. Having open communication with your management and letting them know if your energy is low or if you’re working at capacity. It really is important to have that trustworthy relationship with your management being able to vocalise that. But also for them, to proactively recognise it is important too.
It’s tough, but one thing I’ve been starting to do is keep everything work-related off my personal phone. No slack, no calendars, no inbox – I do not see anything on my personal phone. I do have to force myself, and my manager literally tells me “Rosie, log off” or “You’ve worked enough his week, take Friday afternoon off”, but it’s really up to yourself a lot to say ‘this is my weekend, I’m doing nothing for work, or these are my evenings and I’m not doing anything.’ Anything work related, including training, should be during work hours. I’m working on not feeling guilty for it!
LASTLY, LOOKING BACK AT THE START OF YOUR ROLE, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO YOURSELF NOW?
I would say don’t set too high expectations. Be realistic, and give yourself the time to learn. Don’t expect to know everything on day one. Also, ‘remember, you’re only human, and you’re not saving lives, you’re just helping people’ – nobody’s going to die if you don’t reply to an email right away.
From the first week at HubSpot I knew I would be there long-term. After 4 and a half years here it feels like I only joined yesterday. Time flew by! Now I’m at a stage in my life where personal life is so important too, and Hubspot provides me with a healthy work-life balance. What I want right now is to have a job that I like doing and I’m confident in, and I know the rest will come naturally.