Talking Customer Success with Ryan Engley

Talking Customer Success with Ryan Engley on Zacheron

As the VP of Customer Success at Unbounce, Ryan Engley has spent the last five years building a team and culture dedicated to creating successful customers.

I had the pleasure of talking with Ryan about the roles and goals of customer success at Unbounce, how a customer-driven company can use metrics to stay accountable, and how to encourage career development in customer-facing teams. Below is an abridged version of our chat.

What is customer success?

At the Customer Success Summit, your colleague Lou Sturm shared a poll that was conducted among the audience; most attendees said they’d been part of the discipline for less than five years. The best place for us to begin might simply be, “What is customer success?” What has customer success looked like for Unbounce over the years?

Ryan Engley

Early on for us it wound up being support more than anything, but I think hiring into customer success helped build the mindset into the company. It’s certainly a separate function. When you talk to teams and ask, “What are you accountable for?” they’ll mention retention, revenue expansion, churn. But more than anything, I think customer success is a mentality for an organization and a way of doing business.

A recurring question we’ve heard from the support community is, “Where do we draw the line?” What are some of the key differentiations between support and success?

We look at it as reactive support as well as proactive engagement. I would say there’s a different mindset between support and success. Our support team is very, very focused on how a customer can get something done. Generally, they’ll field more technical questions or help the customer understand how the product works, whereas the engagement team focuses on why the customer should care or why they might need to do something.

A customer may email the support team about their landing pages and say, “Hey, I need help implementing a sticky navigation bar. How do I do that?” They’ll jump in and help them figure out the code to set up. A conversation with the engagement team, on the other hand, might start with, “Oh, why is that something that you think you need? Let’s talk about your bigger strategy.” Support is very tactical and benefits from informed execution, whereas success tends to be high level strategy. I believe that both are critical for customer success.

Brian Balfour, former VP of Growth at HubSpot, has mentioned that one way a growth team can bring value is through additional ownership. That is, it can be tricky for a product team to juggle between the product roadmap and building for growth. Do you see a similar parallel for support and success?

Yes, it’s asking people to think in two very different ways. It winds up being a different mindset, and this context switching can be challenging. I’ve found that people prioritize by the most urgent need, and urgency can sometimes get in the way of opportunity.
If you put someone in a role where they’re responsible for support and success, they end up spending all of their time on support because that’s what requires their immediate attention. It’s difficult to earmark spots in your calendar for proactive outreach when you still have a few dozen emails to answer, the phone is ringing, and the live chats are rolling in. Those are things that rarely let up. We wound up divvying up those responsibilities, because otherwise success naturally became de-prioritized.

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