Interview with Jennifer Peters, Head of CS at Channable
How do you make use of customer data and analytics to drive better outcomes for your customers? What about CS becoming more commercial? How to foster alignment between cross-functional teams? Common pitfalls that a company makes when it comes to CS? Jennifer Peters, Head of CS at Channable, tells us more.
Hey Jennifer, welcome to the SaaS Newsletter Deep Dive. Could you please introduce yourself?
I’m Jennifer Peters. I arrived in the Netherlands 20 years ago and I’ve been active in the Customer Success space for a little more over 10 years. Currently I’m the Head of Customer Success at Channable.
You won the SaaS Awards for best CS Leader of the Year 2022. How does it feel?
Being nominated was very exciting. It’s a great feeling to know that you’re being recognized, even if you’re not necessarily posting a lot on LinkedIn. In-person networking can make you visible in the community, and this recognition from your peers is truly special.
”In-person networking can make you visible in the community.”
You’re well known for the work you’ve done at Recruitee. Can you walk us through your success there?
It all began with strong support from the C-suite. The CEO was clear about his desire to establish a customer success organization, and he and the organization provided me with the necessary resources to achieve this goal. We had ambitious targets, but the executive leadership was committed to investing in and doing the work needed to make it happen. When you have buy-in from the top level to do your job, it’s a great feeling.
We started with the basics: identifying the customer journey, touchpoints, and goals. From there, we built up the organization step by step, laying the foundation and working our way up to the final product.
”When you have buy-on from the top level, its a great feeling.”
What are some emerging trends you have noticed in the field of CS and how do you see them shaping the future of CS?
Oh, that’s a very good question. I think Customer Success in Europe initially started as a copy of what was happening in the US. Our customer success originated from there and it took 5 to 10 years to really start taking hold. In the beginning, we were just doing the same thing, but now we are trying to find our own brand of customer success that fits Europe. Handling multiple geographies, cultures, and languages is a unique challenge for us, which is not the case for many companies on the other side of the ocean. That’s probably the first trend that I see shaping CS – we are trying to find our European flavor and it’s quite different in the way we interact with customers.
I believe the next big trend will be a shift away from focusing solely on customer happiness towards making customers successful. This means achieving happiness through success, rather than simply keeping customers happy and hoping they will be successful, or working on success as a secondary target alongside happiness.
Moreover, technology related to customer success is gaining momentum. 15 years ago, there were not as many solutions catering to customer success organizations, but now the competitive landscape is growing, which is beneficial because it means more technological innovation to support us.
I have heard a lot about data-driven CS. How do you make use of customer data and analytics to drive better outcomes for your customers?
When it comes to data, there are a few ways to use it effectively. First, you need to understand your customer journey by observing current behavior. This allows you to design and validate changes that support the success of the customer. By concentrating your efforts and focus on specific customer segments, you can better understand their needs and behaviors. Not every customer segment is going to be as dynamic or as churn prone or as growth prone as the other. This information can be fed back into other departments of the organization, such as the sales or product teams, to help them better understand the customer and improve their own processes. Ultimately, using data in this way benefits both the team and the company as a whole.
”I believe the next big trend will be to shift away from focusing solely on customer happiness towards making customers successful.”
Another big trend we see is that CS is getting more and more responsible for revenue than ever before. What is your view on the commercial side of CS and how do you implement it in your team the best way possible?
I’ve always believed that customer success teams are equipped to handle commercial conversations and upsells, though not everyone agrees. I’d say it’s about 50/50. Coaching on commercial conversations is important, but CSMs already have many skills. For instance, CSMs tend to conduct thorough discoveries, which makes closing deals easier. Negotiating and developing deals becomes simpler because of the strong relationship with the customer built through these discoveries. Thus, in some ways, adapting offers to customers is easier because CSMs know more. However, the challenge lies in demystifying pricing negotiations and contracting, which can be scary.
How do you leverage AI to your advantage?
Customers typically have a bad experience with chatbots, so AI has not yet completely convinced users that it can fully replace human employees. Chatbots have failed in the past, and I have seen instances where customers were frustrated when a chatbot attempted to reply to them. While AI may be better equipped to handle such comments, I’m not sure that customers will trust AI to fully understand their needs.
However, for repetitive, simple interactions, there is potential for AI to increase efficiency for customer-facing teams. This would allow employees to focus on more complex issues while AI handles the simpler tasks.
With that being said, is digital touch maybe somewhat overrated? Do CSMs nowadays lack the skills or reflexes to just simply pick up the phone and call the customer?
I believe that this is a skill that is being lost over time, but not only on CS, more in general. However, we tend to schedule every single call and block calendars, losing the spontaneity to reach out for fear of disturbing others. I’ve noticed this happening more and more over the past 10 years, and I think it’s a generational clash between different ways of working. As someone who is not from Gen Z, I tend to just pick up the phone. However, newer generations are more used to digital communication and prefer texting over calling. This difference in communication preference can affect the work environment as well.
You’re not unknown in the CS SaaS community. You are participating in the CS Connect event series. Can you tell us a bit more about these events?
It’s really about connecting people. At CS Connect, newcomers and senior leaders alike come together over beer and have amazing conversations. Whether it’s your first time or you’ve been before, you’ll always have someone interesting to talk to, and you’ll always be inspired. While reading books and theory is helpful, discussing use cases and challenges with others who are facing the same issues is even more enriching for your own knowledge. You can then take what you learn and try something new the next day. That’s really what we aim to foster through these connections.
”However, we tend to schedule every single call and block calendars, losing the spontaneity to reach out for fear of disturbing others.”
What are some common pitfalls or mistakes that companies make when it comes to customer success and how can they be avoided?
A general mistake is to look at CS as a team rather than as discipline. Because we have a team in the company that is customer success, people forget that it is about existing revenue management and therefore the head of customer success is not necessarily a glorified team lead, but someone who helps drive the revenue strategy. So the role of the head of success is literally inside the team and department, but also inside the management team. And that is something that sometimes is forgotten when you see CS reporting into sales, for example, you missed that second voice at the table. So yeah, looking at it as a department rather than something you need to do as a company.
CS often works between cross-functional teams. Any tips or strategies to foster this alignment and collaboration between CS, Sales and Marketing?
If you join an organization that lacks alignment with customer success, I recommend informing them of the benefits that customer success can bring to both the company and the customer. Then, explain what your department can do for them and how you can help them achieve their goals. As the voice of the customer, any department can benefit from your insights. By highlighting the mutual benefits, you establish a dynamic in the relationship that is likely to be productive and positive.
You have been in CS for a long time now, also in a more senior position. What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced in leading customer success teams in the SaaS industry and how did you overcome them?
I believe the challenges of a customer success team depend on the organization they are in. In small startups, the challenge may be to build the department from scratch. More mature organizations may have everything set up, but still need to continue growing and adding value for their customers. Skill development is always an issue as there is currently no university degree for customer success. Hiring is also a challenge, and it can be tricky to nail down the necessary skill set.
What advice would you give to an aspiring CS professional who is looking to make a significant impact in their roles and drive success for their customers?
Go on a real discovery. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Often, we think we know what our customers want. We assume we know what they need. But it’s important to ask not only about the product, but also about how our customers are measured. How are they tracking towards their targets?
It’s not just about our targets. We need to understand our customers’ targets as well. Sometimes there is a reluctance to ask personal questions, like “How did you perform last quarter? Did you make your targets in Q2?” But by asking these questions, we can unlock potential and start working together more effectively. So don’t be afraid to ask. You’ll always benefit from it.
Quick-fire, one-worded answers. Favorite book?
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
No podcast, but a lot of TED talks. I love the one about grit.
One person to follow on LinkedIn
Rosé from the Cote de Provence.
Favorite thing about the Netherlands as an expat?
The open mindedness.