You know what a marketer does, and a sales team, and even an account manager, but customer success is a field that is still being defined. Hovering amidst the fields of technology, marketing, sales, and support, a customer success team must constantly utilize insights gleaned from data to make sure clients are using their products to the best of their ability.
An early pioneer in this field, Rachel Orston began exploring how to define customer success when she was brought onto Martech company Silverpop (acquired by IBM in 2014) following a major company hack. Now, she’s taken the helm as CEO of UserIQ, a rapidly-growing software platform the enables software companies to manage and track customer success.
Rachel talks to Hype about how she initially became intrigued with the customer success field, how she will build the UserIQ team over the next year, and why staying in the heart of Midtown Atlanta is important for the company.
You came to UserIQ directly from IBM (after former company, Silverpop, was acquired). What was it like working for such a huge corporate conglomerate?
It can be overwhelming. You don’t understand the size and the scale until you’re in it— the global reach and brand reach that IBM has. I actually was quickly promoted, once we were acquired, to help drive some best practices across the IBM portfolio. That was really intimidating because it’s vast, and it’s global. Suddenly, you have 1,000 best friends all over the world, pinging you and wanting to work with you, or collaborate, or get to know you better. That can be challenging to manage.
You were at Silverpop pretty early on. Can you talk about what it was like to be there during a major growth period, and how you successfully scaled internally?
I was there during the thick of a Silverpop hyper-growth in scale. We actually experienced being one of the first companies to be hacked, in 2011. Now, almost all email marketing companies have been hacked, whether they publicized it or not. We were one of the first to go public with our hack, which happened over Thanksgiving weekend. I was brought in shortly after that.
We were able to recover from that because we were incredibly upfront and transparent with our customer base as to what happened, why it happened, and what we were doing about it.
It was at that time that Bill Nussey (Silverpop founder) realized that he had built a very strong customer support team and a very strong sales team, but we really didn’t have a customer success function. We didn’t have a team responsible for moving the customer confidently forward using our product. That was more paramount than ever, coming off of an incident like a hack where trust can be broken.
My goal was to not only maintain these relationships, but also grow them in terms of adoption and client success. Customer success wasn’t even really a discipline at this point. My title was VP of Customer Adoption, because I really felt that if you could get customers to adopt, use, and feel confident using our product, retention and advocacy would come with time.
What exactly does the discipline of customer success encompass?
Today, we have much more clarity on what a customer success person does, but it was very fuzzy back when I started doing this. Are they a services person? Are they a support person? What makes a good customer success person— what’s the technical aptitude? How deep do we want these people to go? All those things were things I had to figure out on the fly. We used the customers as our source, as our mirror. We would know when our customers kept renewing with us, and hopefully growing with us. That is the only evidence we would be able to look to.
How are you going to bring all of this experience into developing the platform at UserIQ?
The fit from the type of work I’ve done and the platform that is today UserIQ is a very strong fit. I’m really passionate about the space and the outcomes that UserIQ can deliver on. First of all, I come from a background of knowing that a platform, in and of itself, is not that answer. I think it’s important that UserIQ continue to leadership and point of view on: what does it mean to grow customers? What does it mean to actually cross that chasm of going from a very low-turn business to a net-turn business? That’s a mountain for some companies.
Having been in this space before the role of customer success was even formalized, or before there was even a customer success at the time, is the understanding that it’s not about that. It’s something much bigger. It’s about coming together across multiple disciplines within a business to really achieve and exceed customer outcomes. There are many ways we’re going to go after that at UserIQ, but that’s really the experience and philosophy that I bring. I get really excited about it when I look at the market and where we’re positioned.
Where do you start using the UserIQ platform? As a marketer? In the sales cycle?
What I actually really like about UserIQ is that you can start in many different ways. Whether you’re a marketer or whether you’re customer success, it all goes back to understanding the customer and getting some great data in. Right away, what UserIQ allows you to do is start tracking and understanding user behavior inside your product— what customers are doing inside your product and what they’re not. We do something that I have not seen many tools do, which is we do really great segmentation. Once you start getting that data, you can quickly build segments inside of UserIQ to say, “Show me all users that have not explored this feature or have not taken this action in this period of time, or have done X, Y, and Z, but haven’t …” It can be infinitely configurable to whatever you need to know.
You can now start targeting those segments with in-app messaging, a very targeted message inside your product with links to content, videos. With our integration with Salesforce, if you use a marketing automation system like Silverpop or Marketo, you can then dunk that data into your marketing automation system and send offline messages. That same use case could be done with customer success. One of the immediate benefits you get with UserIQ is the rich user data.
How else can this data be used?
It goes back to our notion of beyond-the-funnel— that moving a customer through the journey doesn’t end once you close the deal. How do you analyze and score users once they’re in your product? We can provide that scoring methodology and you can customize what score you want to apply for our analysis. If you do all of this well, not only are you able to better engage with users from a customer success perspective, but going back to the full life cycle, you start to better understand who’s your best prospect for sales. Who are the people that will be the most highly engaged and active in your product?
Where will you take the company in the next year?
We have a lot of things that we are working on. One is just continuing to be very good at what our brand’s promise is. The name of our product is UserIQ, and as that implies, it’s imperative that we are the best at user intelligence and do it in a really elegant, simple way. For example, we’re really proud that to use our product, there’s no coding required. For marketers or non-technical people, that’s a really high value. We want to continue to be the best and the easiest to use when it comes to harvesting user data.
I think, beyond that, there’s a lot of different avenues that we’re looking to go into. One is improving our integrations with other products to better allow customers who are already using other analytical tools to leverage data in those technologies. I think we also want to create richer analytics that give insights around ideal customer profiles and personas. We will be able to monitor trends in customer health grouped by segment definitions.
Other product features include an amazing automated on boarding experience and a second phase of mobile offering— adding targeted engagement on mobile devices.
What industries do you think UserIQ could expand into?
Well, I’m still learning UserIQ and where our current pipeline is, and new opportunities. We’re seeing a lot of interest from healthcare companies, particularly around patient portals. If you think about healthcare companies, insurance companies, hospitals; there’s been a ton of investment in the last several years on building out patient portals, but nobody is really tracking what patients are doing in the portal. Where are they going? How are they using it? Think of a portal as a product. What is the journey?
I think it’s a really interesting opportunity, because it’s, how do healthcare providers be seen as one-off, when there’s an event, to engage with an ongoing engagement? How do you keep that customer engaged outside of when there’s a particular healthcare event? I think it’s a huge opportunity for us. I’m excited about the feedback we’re starting to get from some of these businesses.
Are you hiring?
Yes, we’re hiring across pretty much all disciplines right now, including customer success, sales, account executives, engineering, and will continue over the next year. I wouldn’t be surprised if we double in about a year’s time.
Why is Atlanta a good place for UserIQ to grow?
I’m very proud to be in midtown Atlanta. I’m a Georgia Tech grad. We leverage the Georgia Tech community quite heavily. Actually, one of my priorities right now is to look for spaces where we’re going to move as we grow— and we’ve all decided pretty clearly that we want to stay in the Midtown area.
Second, I think Atlanta is really special in the focus that we have around customer engagement. I think we’re very quickly seeing a huge amount of energy here in this beyond-the-funnel space, which is our sweet spot. So it just makes huge sense, for where we are, to be in Atlanta given the history and talent we have on the marketing automation side.