This is an interview with Idan Hershko, the head of Customer Success for monday.com. In 2014 I’ve watched him build a team, that took us from 4 to 750 paying customers in our first year.
I’ve watched as customers tweeted their love and sent emails thanking us for the incredible support they got. And on top of it all, I’ve noticed Idan’s team was always happy. In this interview I unlock his secrets to building and managing a successful customer success team.
Q: What does Success mean when it comes to Customer Success?
A: Successful customer success means happy customers.
That’s it. Not sales, but happy customers.
Because the easiest thing to do is build a Sales team that calls people up and gets them to buy things.
But that won’t get you happy customers. It’s like going to buy a washing machine and getting talked into buying the more expensive model you don’t really need.
Every time you’ll do a load of laundry, you’ll feel bitter and you will never go back to that store again because they didn’t make you feel happy.
When we call customers, we tell them upfront, if this won’t work for you, we’ll do something else instead.
In fact, what we will do is make sure this does work for you. And we’ll be there for you until it does.
You need us to set up another call? We’re here.
You want us to do a webinar for your team? We’ll do it.
That’s the level of commitment we offer.
The easiest thing in the world, is to get people to buy. But that won’t get you happy customers. Just Sales.
Q: How do you make customers feel happy?
A: You make sure that your actions are all aimed towards the customer’s happiness.
We call it The Lighthouse Technique. I learned this term from OutBrain’s CTO – Ori Lahav.
He said to me, you need to know what your lighthouse is – what’s the light that’s guiding your way.
For us – it’s keeping the customers happy. So that’s the question we ask for each decision we need to make.
For example, team members used to fight over customers. There was a lot of debate on whether it was better to assign one team member to a customer or have whoever’s free help.
So we applied the Lighthouse technique:
We asked ourselves what would make the customer happier – having one team member dedicated to them, at the cost of sometimes getting a late answer, or always getting an immediate answer by different team members.
Q: How can you measure customer happiness?
A: You can’t. This is what you can do:
Decide what you think will make customers happy and measure yourself for doing it.
We believe customers are happy when they get speedy responses.
So part of measuring our own success, is checking each morning to see that our support inbox is empty.
If it’s empty, it means all support emails were answered, which means customers are happy.
Another thing is giving as many live demos as possible. This is really interesting: What we’ve come to learn over time, is that the reason customers were so happy with the live demos was not because they were having trouble understanding our tool. Anyone can get it, it’s very easy. What most of them actually need help with is management. When we give a live demo, we share a lot of management advice based on our experience with so many successful managers. It turned out that that was the reason customers were happy with the live demos. And that’s why we measure our success by the number of demos we give every week. The fact that a customer who got a demo is 6 times more likely to pay for the tool is just proof of how happy demos make them.
Decide what you think makes your customers happy. Then measure yourself for doing it.
Q: How do you build a team that truly cares about customers’ happiness?
A: People will tell you it’s about making it part of the company’s core values.
So many companies have great “core values” and yet, for the most part, we’re not getting exceptional service.
Why is that?
I think it’s because those are just words. I think that if you want to build a great relationship with your customers you need to create a fun atmosphere for your team. This will reflect on their relationship with customers.
Q: Why is FUN so important?
A: As I mentioned, it’s all about relationships.
And people want to be in a relationship with someone who’s fun.
Our product is already fun, pretty and friendly.
But I thought that if customers get to really know the fun that’s behind it, then it’s likely that they will want to be a part of that.
Q: How can the customers get to experience the fun?
A: You need to ask yourself what’s fun for the customer.
Our team often replies to support emails way after business hours.
People don’t expect that from customer service.
They are delighted. That’s fun for the customer.
Q: How do you turn a company into a fun place for your team?
A: Many people will answer that this has to do with a good salary and perks.
I think that can only take you so far.
And besides, we’re a startup, we can’t compete with Google for salaries and perks.
What we can do is create an atmosphere that’s very positive and frees people to experiment.
Everyone knows you need to hire smart people and set them free to do their job.
Yet, I often see founders unable to let go. It’s totally understandable. It’s hard to let go, because as a manager you often know better. If you’ll free people to do things their own way, they will make mistakes.
But learning and growing (especially in startups) is all about making mistakes.
So you can’t hire smart people and then try to stop them from making mistakes.
You need to give people a lot of freedom.
Q: How do you give people freedom?
A: If someone from the team comes up to me and says — hey I have an idea — I say great, just do it.
Sometimes I know they’re wrong. But I still let them do it.
Here’s an example:
We wanted to add a new auto-email to our funnel with a certain benefit. My idea was to send an intriguing email saying we have this new offer, if you’d like to learn more click here.
One of my team members thought this was just annoying. He said that if we have a benefit to give, we should just give it.
I was convinced I was right, but we did both ideas and ran A/B testing.
It turned out I was right, but that’s not the point.
There are two lessons here:
First, creating a fun atmosphere requires letting people try their own ideas.
The other is, that I’m not always right.
In another instance I was wrong:
I thought blocked accounts (accounts that finished their free trial period and didn’t pay – D.S) were a lost cause.
One of my team members thought otherwise.
Again, I was sure I was right but I said go ahead and reach out to them.
It turned out she was right big time:
Most of them did want to use the tool, but never got around to it. They were delighted we called, they were happy to grab our free live demo and they were happy to pay.
I was pleasantly surprised to learn I was wrong. It never would have happened if I wasn’t willing to let go.
Some users want your tool, but never get around to it. They’ll be delighted if you call and offer a demo.
Q: What more do you do to create a fun atmosphere?
A: Let everyone feel involved in decision making.
When I want to do something I don’t just announce it, I tell my team about it and ask for their take on it.
It’s not about making unanimous decisions — a manager still needs to make the final decision.
It’s about listening to everyone and then making the decision.
Then, there’s positivity.
Q: What about positivity?
A: There’s this guy I work with on some projects. Lately I’ve noticed that he always gives negative feedback to people.
He’ll be like “It’s nice design but…” There’s always a “but” with him.
I gently brought this up with him and he asked, well what do you do?
I told him the truth: I always give positive feedback.
This seemed impossible and foolish to him. In his mind, if you always give positive feedback, it loses its worth and besides, sometimes people do things that are not good.
I don’t remember ever getting a compliment and thinking “no, this is too much”.
For me there’s no such thing as too much positive feedback.
If someone did something that I think could be done better, I’ll give them positive feedback first and then suggest another way or ask a question, like “do you think if we did this this way, perhaps we could benefit from that?”
Then I let them make the decision. People need to feel that it was their idea, they need to feel that they are making the decisions.
There’s no such thing as too much positive feedback. I don’t remember ever thinking ‘this compliment is just too much’
Q: So basically you give people credit for your own ideas?
A: Yes! As a manager you need to take the credit from yourself and pass it to people on your team.
Even if someone executed your idea, you need to say to them, “wow, that was a great idea you had. You did a great job.”
Because it doesn’t matter how you feel as a manager, it only matters how your team members feel.
The important thing is to maintain a positive atmosphere in your team.
Q: What do you do when team members are clearly rubbing each other the wrong way
A: That’s definitely one of the hardest parts of managing a team.
When you hire smart talented people, there can be ego involved.
But when I see two team members arguing about something, I assume it’s never really about that thing.
It’s actually about someone not feeling important enough.
Because when someone feels confident – that they matter, that they’re appreciated and doing a good job – they have no reason to fight.
Q: How can you make team members feel confident?
A: By making them feel safe.
That’s what Simon Sinek means when he says it’s the leader’s job to make everyone feel safe.
It’s my job as a manager to make my team members feel safe.
They mustn’t feel anxious about their job or getting fired.
They need to know they’re doing a fantastic job.
So when team members used to fight over customers, I would talk to each one of them separately and say it doesn’t matter whose customer this is. I appreciate your work. I think you’re doing a fantastic job.
Q: Aren’t team members fighting over customers the definition of a dream team? A competitive team that’s highly motivated?
A: Not if your end game is happy customers.
We don’t encourage internal competition at all, which is also why we don’t incentivize with commissions.
It’s like Sparta:
You know it was dishonorable to return from battle without your shield, but not without your helmet?
The reason was that the helmet was there for the warrior’s own protection.
But but the shield was for the common good – because they would stand in one united formation holding up their shields.
Commissions break the Spartan shield formation.
Commissions and the resulting competition break the fact that we are one team.
Instead, it’s every man for himself.
It means we are wolves, and wolves are wolves towards customers too.
They try to eat the customers — persuade them to buy things.
I used to be such a sales person, I could get anyone to buy anything, and the people on my team are also very persuasive.
They could do that if they wanted. But we don’t take that approach, because it has nothing to do with the customer’s happiness or success. So no, a team competing within itself is not what we’re about.
We’re Spartans. Nice Spartans 🙂
Commissions break the Spartan shield formation. It creates competition instead of building one strong team.
Q: How do you recruit the right people?
A: We look for fun people, because we spend long hours together.
So we start with what we put in our wanted ads.
We try to get the message across that this is a startup, not some corporation.
We always mention our Street Fighter machine.
We want to see who’d be attracted to that.
This machine really has a role in our everyday work. It connects people as they take a break to play together.
It also connects team members with people from other parts of the company – like R&D and Marketing which is important for company communication, collaboration and most importantly – fun!
Then there’s the interview:
I try to get them out of their comfort zone.
People come overly prepared to interviews. They tell you what they think you want to hear.
I ask them to tell me a story. Any story.
I want to get people to lose their balance. People find it very difficult to just come up with a story – especially if they were aiming to tell you what they think you wanted to hear.
But this helps me find the right people for two reasons: I think people who are friendly like to tell stories. So it helps me find the friendly people. The other is, in the customer success team you need to be stable, you can’t let every little thing throw you off.
So if this request doesn’t throw them off – that’s a good sign too.
Of course it’s also really interesting to learn what they choose to tell you about. Some will tell you about a date that went bad. Another told me how they were almost eaten by a shark. That tells you a lot about a person.
Q: That’s how you find friendly fun people. What about productive?
A: I ask them to give a customer a live demo, after having only a few minutes to play around with our tool.
Everyone on my team today gave a good live demo in their interview.
Because they’re not easily intimidated. They keep their cool and stay very positive.
This is very important – because we never ever say No to customers.
If a customer asks about a certain feature and we don’t have it, we don’t just say “No, we don’t have that feature.”
We might say “This sounds like a very good idea. Could you tell me more on why you feel you need this feature?”
Then two things can happen:
The first is once we understand the need, we might be able to meet it with other features we do have – which makes the customer happy. The other thing we could do is build that feature for them – which makes them very happy. This happens a lot.
Q: Once the team is up and running, how do you manage your everyday work?
A: We do exactly what we recommend customers to do:
Every Monday morning we create a Board with all the tasks for that week.
These are not the regular tasks like giving demos, answering support emails and doing live chat – these are bigger tasks, like adding another auto-email to our funnel, or implementing a new live chat tool, or creating a new tutorial video.
We only write down tasks that we can definitely fit into one week.
We don’t make a list of tasks and then put deadlines on them.
That way we always meet the deadline.
Then each team member gets assigned as owner for a few tasks, which means it’s their job to take it from A-Z. This is very important, because no one comes to work in the morning wanting to just do support.
You want to feel that you’re doing something bigger, which connects you to the company’s goals in a meaningful way. And when you have ownership, you can also get recognition for your success – which brings us back to the positive feedback loop.
Every morning we take 10 minutes to go over the tasks and give a quick status update. Then on the last day of the week we celebrate success: We look at our Board, that “turned green” (because at monday.com green is the color of the Done status) and we celebrate it.