Hélène Hagnéré is the Director of Customer Success at Planday, and is not only passionate about caring for her team and customers, but also having a process in place to ensure customer feedback gets fed into the company and back to the customer in the best way possible.
She spoke with me about the importance of having a process for closing the loop of customer feedback (whether it be from support channels, NPS, a conversation, etc.), and provides some advice and the ways she has gone about implementing it at Planday.
Meg: Thank you so much for joining me today. So tell me a little bit about Planday and what it is you guys do there.
Helene: Thank you very much for having me today, Megan...So Planday, we are the first online employee scheduling software in Europe. What we do is that we want to help businesses such as restaurants, hotels, to move away from their manual process into a way of working that makes the interaction between the hourly paid employee and the workplace, realtime and collaborative. So for someone who has a shift in a restaurant we would like to have an online system that will enable [not only] the shift planning, but also [all the way] up to the payroll that we integrate with. So that’s basically to make the life a lot easier for both the business owner and the SaaS worker. And that’s a SaaS business and that of course is supported on mobile as well.
Meg: So can you tell us a little about your background and how you found yourself working in customer success
Helene: I first started in 2008 and that’s when I took an internship in London, back in the days. I was driving operations for the UK sales team, which was very sales consultant driven. And that was very very high in learnings for me. [After], I came back to the south of France where I’m from, as you can hear, and I graduated with my Master’s degree. I joined IMB for an apprenticeship where I took care of the distributors. And they were sending all the hardware and solutions storage of IBM...and that’s actually where I started to engage a relationship with seller and distributor and understand a bit more of the customer relationship part of things, rather than only the selling part. And that was very interesting.
And while I was doing that one of my old colleagues [from] Qype called me up to join the user engagement team of Podio, based in Copenhagen. I barely heard about Denmark and even less about Podio. That turned out to be quite a life changing opportunity.
I basically learned what is sales from Qype and IBM, and Podio gave me the chance to find out what would be user engagement of customer success - so how do we actually engage with our users and with our customers.
The real story is I’m pretty bad at closing deals and I didn’t want to get myself involved heavily in sales as the start in my career, and I really wanted to see how we can work with customers...so everything that is after sales and what has to be done there. This was back in 2011 so that was still a new activity and a new field in business where we had to figure it out. And I wanted to investigate with Podio how I could get our customers to like the product as much as Podio employees did - we were a very passionate team…
So I’ve been responsible for taking care of our customers, retaining them, and increasing their value in order to have the best experience with us. We were acquired by Citrix in 2012 and that’s where my role grew quite a lot and I ended up being responsible for support and onboarding teams globally.
I think that’s where it became very real that it was Customer Success for me, and that is where I would fulfill myself as a professional. I cared deeply about my team, and we cared so much about our customers.
So that’s basically life opportunities that dragged me into it.
Meg: So many in Customer Success have found there way. And there’s a genuine personality too.
So we are going to focus on the customer success feedback loop. And, basically how to take all of that customer feedback you guys get as the Customer Success team and making sure it’s brought to the right people in your company and then letting the customer know you took care of it.
And there are so many places that customers can provide feedback. They can do it in calls, emails, support chats and so on. What is a way that you keep track of all the feedback so that you’re able to take action on it?
Helene: That’s a big one. So basically me team receives all comments, input, requests, compliments, complaints from our users and our customers. That’s a very big responsibility they have because basically that’s the value of a business. So what are we doing right and what are we doing wrong?
By nature I’m a process freak I like structure and I like routines - I like things to be in place. And because my team is accountable for that responsibility I need to make sure that we relay that information from them to the wider company. Especially the product and development team for the SaaS business that we are.
Deciding on a framework to work with and establishing daily processes are key to me to make my team accountable to our customers and to stay true to our mission.
We need to identify common areas of feedback so we can group them to understand what our customers are telling us on the different channels and to be able to take decisions accordingly. So that will build the understanding of where to improve the product, but also by actively listening to the customer experience we can, of course, then meet the expectations the best way. And that relates to the sales team, so if there is disconnection on expectations that are not met that’s definitely from my team receiving that information and sharing that it with the sales team in order to improve our technique.
So there is a lot of value in this, but the load is always so high and those different channels don’t make it any easier...So my easy answer is: establishing those processes because if you start grouping feedback then you can just apply it with the different channel you deal with.
And [those channels are] basically the set of tools the customer success team will use. I always need to remember that those tools need to work for us and not the other way around. If we try to adjust our process because of how a tool is designed, we are probably going to overcomplicate what we’re trying to do.
So I’ve always actually used Zendesk, I have been introduced lately to Intercom and I’m looking into ServiceCloud because I think that they are the ones that will make the success of this feedback loop.
Meg: Do you have any suggestions or best practices to how to do the feedback to the customer?
Helene: That goes back to the process, again again again. So as a customer success team we must share those customer requests to product and development, to sales and eventually to the marketing team.
For that process we need to categorize all the requests into main areas. We need to agree on a common form for the product team to receive those requests from us, and for them to actualize it for the next release. So we actively take it into consideration [when thinking] “how do we build our product?”
By doing that we can then look back on our customer feedback and give them, individually, the good news once it’s own. It connects so much back to the tools where we have identified that request...and that’s a game of formatting your tool correctly.
The reaction from my team, from following up individually with customers is the most gratifying one. For the customers they will always ask, “How can you remember what I’ve asked 3...6 months ago?” It’s a very rewarding moment. And at the end of the day, when you’re driving a customer success team, it’s very very important to focus on your people and those moments of happiness are very important to give more meaning to their activity and most importantly to the customer.
So as I said it goes back to the tool you have...to configure your support tool and group requests with tags, for instance. That’s what I’ve always used is tags.
So you can decide on a grouping classification that is scalable and meaningful to your product. If you [tell] your system to draw a report on your support load...so once you’ve added your tags according to a classification you can then filter, make a report and find out how many of that same request did we get at that point of time.
With that you will need obviously the contact details, most likely an email address, and that will enable you to contact them all in one go and then with some emailing system you can make it look very personal.
So I would say that using the data analysis to understand your volume and take decisions based on it.
Meg: So it helps [your team] prioritize...
Helene: Exactly. So every week, every month we will look at what is the most frequently asked question or what is the first request we have and we report on that...and of course make recommendations to the other teams on how to act on it or how to have better self service materials and articles to help the customer in a better way. So there is a lot of action to take from those grouping categories, or themes or sub-areas.
Meg: What are some of the challenges that you’re facing with this process?
Helene: Time. Time very much. I guess it’s a key thing for any team.
The thing is that I’m also quite hard on negotiating to down-prioritizing [this process]. Every support team member has experience increased load time because of different issues, and you tend to skip that part...Ok I’ll add the tag later...because it still takes time in that it’s a human based process to identify what is a request. Also you could set up some automation...you still need a human brain to scan it and make it understandable.
So by spending that time on a daily basis will deliver so much value for the customer and the organization overall that I really want to make it part of that daily routine, where we don’t question it.
Another challenge that is hard to deal with is not to miss any feedback. We will, unfortunately, miss some input that we don’t loopback. Because it does rely, again, on a human being applying that process. So there will be things that get forgotten...and I guess that’s just how it is.
Meg: Yeah, unfortunately I think that there’s always going to be that one or two…
Meg: What are some best practices for creating a strategy to take the feedback from NPS?
Helene: NPS...that’s a big topic. I’ve been responsible for driving NPS implementation and awareness for the first time at Planday as the Director of Customer Success. That has been very rich, as an experience, to learn how to do that all.
So my goal was to build awareness and transparency on NPS feedback that we get from all our users...so the business owner and the shift worker. And I wanted to have it as a company wide awareness. So I’ve set up a company-wide channel where we get comments every single day on what our users are telling us from the 3 groups - passive, detractors and promoters. That has worked very well in making us realize what was good and what was less good about our product and how to act on it.
Thing is that our users and customer spend time to answer that survey, and we are accountable to them to consider their input for our future development. I want to make sure that we make us accountable on it.
And basically the starting point is to identify the key factors impacting the customer experience. Why would they recommend us on it? And that goes back to creating a process for it - we need to decide on how to go with a group classification of answers that is scalable and meaningful to the other teams. We need to bridge that information into constructive recommendations.
How can we best improve what we do based on what our users are telling us?
And I’ve been driving that since September...and the perception of NPS has evolved so much. And us at Planday have improved so much - to have it as the top of mind for every decision we take: what is our user telling us about that thing?
So that I’m very happy about. We need to backup ourselves, of course, with tools that will facilitate the intelligence of giving recommendations. One to mention is Thematic - it’s a customer feedback analysis solution. They are very smart.
Thematic is a tool that enabled us to gain insights from multiple sources of customer feedback. It gives us a way to be able to get clear insight into what is driving and what is hurting our score. The system will code all of the qualitative feedback we get from NPS, but also from other sources of feedback so we can quickly spot themes and drill into comments contributing to the theme and subthemes.
So, for instance, at Planday we have different sections in the tool such as a schedule, and reports...so it could be based on the schedule with the vacation [functionality] and what’s functioning or dysfunctioning within that vacation [functionality] and how to use that for improvements.
The reality is that to drive those recommendations in a manual way is very time consuming and costly...if you want to stay on top of the NPS feedback in a real time way. So by using this kind of tool it will basically collect all the feedback from the NPS and also from the mobile app store reviews and product input from Salesforce...so thanks to that we actually become intelligent on how to tackle that customer feedback in a wider perspective.
Meg: Why is having a process for customer feedback and closing the loop so important? What do you think it does for you and the customer relationship?
Helene: So I think that everything we do is aiming to deliver the best customer experience. If we listen to our customer we have a good chance to meet their expectations later.
As a matter of fact, SaaS companies will build their profitability on customer retention, on lifetime value and a high satisfaction and on endorsements. So in that sense I do feel that we have a very key role to play in any organization. And by driving that feedback loop, I strongly believe that will drive the success of the business in the long run.
Meg: Definitely. Customer Success is a revenue center…
Helene: Yes exactly! That was a big deal back then. I remember doing a business case on proving that my team was a revenue center and not a cost center.
And that was so big back in the days a Citrix.
It makes the whole difference. If you have a high churn you can’t survive, it’s too expensive to acquire new new customers all the time and keep losing the existing ones.
Meg: What advice would you give to those starting out with creating their feedback strategy?
Helene: I would say to start simple and start somewhere. And start to improve as you learn. If you start something simple you can adjust your process, and improve it and you’ll find out where to fine tune it and make it a big machine.
But I think the worst would be to create something that we think is very smart to start with and then end up being locked into a non-functioning process because it doesn’t deliver the expected output but it’s also too complex to change…
I think always be agile...take some small steps. I always try to take small steps and then learn from that and then take more steps after, also because it creates a sense of achievement.
I would also say to pay extra care into the group classification you go for.
Think about it in the long long long term - you can always re-adjust it of course, but try to make it as scalable as possible….depending on the pace of your business. Depending on how fast you’re growing...anticipate how the product is going to change and what is going to be the main theme or subtheme. You can always update it but that is a bit of a task.
Meg: What is your definition of customer success?
Helene: Ah..then you take my emotional part of things.
To me, customer success is the art of truly caring about the one we are all working for. In a business you’ll be very passionate about your department - so if you work in sales you want the revenue, if you work for product it will be hopefully the innovation, and so and so.
But we could tend to forget that all that we are doing is for customers...So it’s basically to always care about them. It’s to not forget that without customers no business would be in business. And it’s to go the extra mile for my team everyday, with a smile.
And it’s also to set a rule of process and structure to ensure growth, scalability and confidence.
I couldn’t make a definition without mentioning process.
Beginner's Guide to NPS