Adam Tervort Principles for Smarter Customer Success Mon, 04 Jan 2021 23:35:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Adam Tervort 32 32 You Need to Talk to Your Customers More Mon, 04 Jan 2021 23:31:56 +0000 You Need to Talk to Your Customers More

Remember dot matrix printers? Floppy disks? So much has changed. Your customers' needs change too. Go talk to them so you understand what they need.

Continue reading You Need to Talk to Your Customers More at Adam Tervort.

You Need to Talk to Your Customers More

One of my favorite “old man” stories to tell my kids is about the computer science department at my university. I’m not really that old, but I am old enough that I remember watching CS majors in the computer lab using the dot matrix printers to print out their coding assignments. (I am old enough that I didn’t have my own computer in college, but then again I was a history major so as long as I had books and pen and paper I was well equipped for my classes.) The campus computer labs had the 3.5″ disk drives. When I moved out of the dorms the only internet I could get at my place was dialup.

At this point I can hear my kids groaning and telling me to “get off the lawn” so I’ll come to the point. Most of the things I do in my work each day were not only unavailable when I was in school, they weren’t even a concept. The cloud? 😂 Software as a Service? 🤣 In my day, sonny, software came in an actual box!

The internet has changed everything in a short time. It’s important to remember that. Your customers are running up against these changes and looking for tools to help them. That’s probably why they found your product. You need to talk to your customers so that you understand what they need and why. Listen to them and explain how you can help.

When we have conversations with customers we’ll know their needs and wants much better than we ever will through post-purchase surveys, NPS scores, or exit questions. Actual conversations give more insight than in-app tracking or heat maps. It’s sometimes hard, but talking to your customers will tell you so much that you didn’t realize and will make your entire business better as a result.

Leave a comment

Recognize Small Victories Mon, 04 Jan 2021 05:00:21 +0000 Recognize Small Victories

Working directly with customers can be a grind. It's important to highlight small victories as they give teams an important boost.

Continue reading Recognize Small Victories at Adam Tervort.

Recognize Small Victories

One of the hardest parts of the work we do in customer success is, big surprise, dealing with customers. At times this is amazing and very rewarding. At other times it can be the worst.

Many support agents and customer success managers end up spending a lot of time with unhappy customers. The day after day grind of work can leave you feeling like all of your customers hate you and your product is trash. Intellectually you know that’s not true, but emotionally it can feel that way.

How do you avoid falling into this trap? One way is to consciously and consistently celebrate little victories. Here are some examples of how we do that at SpiderOak.

The User Olympics. (We should probably change this to Customer Olympics, haha.) When someone on the team finds a customer with something unique or outrageous about their account we add it to our User Olympics page. Have a computer with the system time 50 years out of date? Added 72 devices to your account? Contacted support 24 times this week? Congratulations! You’re on the way to a position of fame in the User Olympics!

Everyone enjoys the break and the humor of a user olympics announcement. Work stops while we ooh and ah at the absurdity of it, and we bond a bit during the break. Find something similar that works in your company.

Acknowledge Great Work. I run the social media accounts for SpiderOak, so I see the compliments and kudos that customers give. Screenshots go into our #staff channel so everyone at the company gets to see happy customers praising the team.

I also love making announcements to the company for big milestones like getting a big renewal signed, getting the support queues down to zero, or finishing a big project.

Shining a spotlight on small victories is even more important if your company works remotely. Little announcements and compliments about your team may be the only frame of reference other employees have about them. Make the time to shine a positive light on them and you’ll see great things happen as a result.

Leave a comment

Cleaning Up Documentation Sat, 02 Jan 2021 22:33:55 +0000 Cleaning Up Documentation

The foundational work of documentation is so important for customer success. This is a great time of year to evaluate your docs and processes.

Continue reading Cleaning Up Documentation at Adam Tervort.

Cleaning Up Documentation

Once a quarter it’s good to take a look at your documentation and other customer-facing resources. The new year is a good time to do a larger evaluation of the direction and scope of your documentation.

Here are some questions to think about as you evaluate the state of your docs:

  • Does your documentation facilitate self-service?
  • How good is the search function?
  • Can customers and others submit feedback?
  • If your docs include comments, how is the moderation?
  • If you have a forum, how is the moderation?
  • Do the comment system and/or forum bring value above and beyond the documentation itself?
  • Is your documentation compatible with screen readers and other accessibility tools?
  • How well do you address multiple learning modalities? (Do you balance text, images, and videos?)
  • What does your updating process look like?
  • What does your doc creation process look like?
  • What process do you use to change documentation when a new release comes out?

There are many more things to consider, but this is a good list to start with. This is foundational work, the kind of work that isn’t glamorous but pays huge dividends in the long run. Make the time to add this kind of a documentation check to your documentation system and your customers will thank you many times over.

Leave a comment

In 2021 Let’s Stop Calling Customers “Users” Thu, 31 Dec 2020 22:34:39 +0000 In 2021 Let’s Stop Calling Customers “Users”

2021 resolution for software companies: stop calling customers “users.” Heroin and cocaine have users. You have customers.

Continue reading In 2021 Let’s Stop Calling Customers “Users” at Adam Tervort.

In 2021 Let’s Stop Calling Customers “Users”

I really dislike how the software world talks about “users.” In any other context this word has pretty terrible connotations. (Drug users anyone?) It has become the standard way that nearly all software companies describe their customers.

Calling a customer a “user” dehumanizes them. At the far end of our development, sales, and marketing efforts are people with real lives and needs. We hope that they are willing to give us some of their hard-earned money in exchange for the software and services we provide. When we lose sight of the people we allow ourselves to make poor decisions, starting with design and continuing all the way down the line to service and support.

This year, in a year we all hope gives us a chance to be physically together with more humans, spend time with more humans, hug and handshake and eat together with more humans, let’s also try to remember that humans are the ones buying our software. We may not be able to learn all of their names or talk to them one by one. Calling them customers will help us remember their humanity.

Leave a comment

What Is Customer Success? Thu, 31 Dec 2020 02:30:17 +0000 What Is Customer Success?

If you want your software (and your SaaS company) to be a success, your customers' experience needs to be front and center.

Continue reading What Is Customer Success? at Adam Tervort.

What Is Customer Success?

The short answer: treating SaaS customers so they want to continue being a customer.

SaaS businesses have an interesting advantage over brick and mortar companies. Software doesn’t have physical costs and digital distribution is straightforward. Margins on SaaS software, particularly on subscription-based software, are great.

Customer Success is a new domain that emerged from the SaaS world in reaction to the scale and simplicity of the SaaS business model. Yes, you can sell software to a million people, but if that’s as far as your thought process goes you are in for some nasty surprises. Just because software is economical to produce and scales well, your customers are still human. The team that produces the software is also human. Your software will have problems and your customers will run into those problems and a million others you haven’t thought about. For customers to continue being customers, they need to have a good experience.

This concept, of reducing subscriber churn, is at the heart of Customer Success. Reducing churn means creating a great user experience, providing help when customers have problems, and doing all you can to delight them. It takes sales, support, product, design, marketing, and engineering working together to make this a reality. It’s hard work! The result of good Customer Success work is customers who continue to be customers, month after month, year after year.

If you aren’t striving for that then why are you making software?

Leave a comment

Quieting the Tumult Between Your Ears Sat, 14 Nov 2020 16:45:20 +0000 Quieting the Tumult Between Your Ears

As the world outside our control gets grimmer, it's easy to let our thoughts run wild. The noise in our mind can become deafening. Here's how I work on quieting it.

Continue reading Quieting the Tumult Between Your Ears at Adam Tervort.

Quieting the Tumult Between Your Ears

Over the past year I’ve had a meditation practice. It’s one of those things that makes a noticeable difference when I practice consistently but is easy to forget about when I don’t. There have been months when I practiced daily, and stretches when I didn’t practice at all. Recently I’m trying to get back into the groove of consistent practice and it’s reminded me of an important truth: there is a lot of noise going on in my mind.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a confession of insanity or hearing voices. We all have noise going on in our head. The degree to which we recognize it for what it is can be an indicator of the strength of our mental muscles. Why? Just like our physical muscles become stronger through exercise, through practice and repetition we can learn to turn down the noise and control it.

A corollary to the truth that we all have noise in our heads is that you are not your thoughts. Thoughts may flit through your mind, but just because they appear in there doesn’t mean you put them there. Just because thoughts are in my head doesn’t mean that those thoughts are who I am. This is part of the human condition and learning to control the noise, the torrent of thoughts, is one of the important skills that we all need to learn.

During my practice today I felt like I was playing a word association game:

focus on the breath – that book Breath that I read last week was really good – I need to read more books – Hunt for Red October is one of my favorites – Sean Connery was in Red October, I’m sad he passed away – we’re all going to get Covid and die – why am I sitting here again? – where did that come from? so morbid – focus on the breath

Should I feel like a failure? Of course not. It certainly wasn’t a meditation session that I’ll win any medals for, but then again I’ll never win a medal for meditating. I think it’s more like one thread in a grand tapestry. If every thread is the same it’s going to make a boring tapestry. It’s the variety and variation that makes the whole interesting.

When you feel like the tumult and noise is too much, simply recognize that it likely is. Focus on your breath, appreciate the small victory of recognition, and know that your mental muscles have grown just a bit stronger.

Leave a comment

Learning a New Skill is Terrifying and Satisfying at the Same Time Thu, 12 Nov 2020 02:09:05 +0000 Learning a New Skill is Terrifying and Satisfying at the Same Time

It was a race against time: figure out how the heck to get a livestream going with only a few minutes before start time. Learning new skills can be quite a rush.

Continue reading Learning a New Skill is Terrifying and Satisfying at the Same Time at Adam Tervort.

Learning a New Skill is Terrifying and Satisfying at the Same Time

The last few Wednesdays have been big days for me. I started hosted YouTube live broadcasts for SpiderOak. While I’ve done similar things before, making training videos, running a webinar, or recording audiobooks, I had never hosted a livestream. It is an exciting project to get started on, but terrifying at the same time. If you’re interested in taking a look at how the first one turned out, here’s the link:

So how did it go? I’m pretty pleased. The number of attendees was in line with what I was hoping for, the presentation worked well, and I was able to start on time, end on time, and not have any technical glitches in the middle. Hooray!

The other side of the story is that with only 15 minutes left until start time, I wasn’t sure it would happen.

I spent a lot of time preparing the technology stack on my computer and the hardware in my office. I used the excellent mmhmm as the camera and presentation software. I have a green screen which attaches to the back of my chair so I can have a nice virtual background. I got out my Blue Yeti microphone and had it hooked up and ready to go so the audio would be decent. My slides and software to demonstrate was all loaded into mmhmm and I had practiced the presentation several times. With 30 minutes to go I was feeling great.

Then I went to YouTube and tried to start the stream in preparation for going live. No dice! When I scheduled the livestream, I chose the option to create it with an encoder instead of my webcam. Turns out once you’ve scheduled it, there’s no way to change that setting. YouTube’s documentation was pretty good, however, so I figured all I needed to do was install a software encoder, enter the correct settings, and I would be good to go. 20 minutes to go!

I installed three different software encoders, but couldn’t get them running. I had missing drivers for some, some preferred a different version of Mac than what I run, and others were just confusing. With 10 minutes until live, I found Stage Ten, got mmhmm set up as my streaming source, connected it to the YouTube account, and confirmed the stream was ready. Looking up at the clock, I had two minutes to spare. 😅

At 12:30 pm the livestream started on time. I’d been so busy trying to get everything set up that I didn’t have time to be nervous! That was the hidden gift in the whole adventure.

Had I known this was how the prep would go I don’t think I would have volunteered for the project. What a great learning experience it turned out to be! Here’s my big takeaway: if you take a leap of faith and work hard, great things can happen. You’re not guaranteed a happy ending, but the journey itself will make the experience worth it.

The Value of Rituals Thu, 29 Oct 2020 14:31:31 +0000 The Value of Rituals

I love the quirky rituals of baseball. We all need some rituals in our work life as well. Rally caps on the next Zoom meeting!

Continue reading The Value of Rituals at Adam Tervort.

The Value of Rituals

One of the joys of the pandemic has been the return of baseball. (Congrats to the Dodgers on their World Series win. We’ll get ’em next year KC!) I’ve started to think a lot about my local team and some of the fun quirks of the game. All sports have superstitions and illogical practices, but baseball is bathed in them. Rally caps anyone?

One of my favorite young pitchers would always jump over the chalk lines on his way back to the dugout when an inning ended. It wasn’t that he simply didn’t step on the chalk line, he jumped over it so there was no chance that he would step on it accidentally.

Another favorite player adjusts his batting gloves between every pitch. Not every at bat or after every swing, but after every pitch. He pulls back the velcro, tightens it, then grips his bat and gets back into his stance. Thank goodness the MLB put rules in place about batters not leaving the batter’s box during their at bat. If not each of his at bats would take 10 minutes.

Perhaps my favorite quirk of baseball is the pre-game routine. There are pitchers who play long toss across the width of the outfield. There are position players who stretch in a certain order for a certain amount of time before they take batting practice. And of course there are managers and coaches who write their lineup cards in elaborate handwriting.

These rituals might seem strange, but they plan an important function. Pre-game rituals help players mentally prepare for the game. That might seem obvious, the need to get ready before you play, but playing sports at a high level requires players to have incredible consistency and focus. No matter what happened at home, during the drive to the game, or what personal issues a player is going through, in order to be successful during the game they need a way to be mentally and physically ready. That’s why successful players can be obsessive about their pre-game rituals. It’s one of the steps that takes them out of their normal life and places them in the mindset of competing and performing.

You and I may not be professional athletes, but we all have important work to do each day. Some of that work is likely hard, or boring, or not the kind of thing we want to do today. To be successful, to perform at a high level, we need to find our own rituals that prepare us mentally and physically for our work. Rituals and habits that help us set aside the other things going on in our life and that let us make our art, wherever type of art our work calls for.

Now that many knowledge workers work from home, this is even more important than before. You can only show up in your ratty pajamas to a full day of work so many times before our work starts to feel like a bad dream.

Take time to think about your rituals. Codify them, even if only in a simple way. For me, my morning starts with a hot cup of Yerba mate, reading RSS feeds, and arranging my desk. Then I review my calendar, make notes of to do items that I’ll need for each meeting, then I block out time for deep work and note what that work will be. Once that’s done, then I’ll open my work email and chat apps and start to go through the inboxes. Those two things are some of my least favorite tasks, but they are important for my work. By starting with things I enjoy (a hot drink and reading interesting articles), moving on to things that get me excited for the day (planning for meetings and setting aside time for projects I like), I’m ready to start tackling the things I don’t really like but need to do well on.

Find your rituals. Make then an important part of your day. Consistently do them, because they will lend consistency to your work and to your art.

Leave a comment

We All Need Beard Oil Sometimes Tue, 27 Oct 2020 23:01:31 +0000 We All Need Beard Oil Sometimes

While some of us literally need beard oil, all of us need figurative beard oil from time to time. Call it 80/20, optimization, or a life hack; there are often little things that can make a big difference.

Continue reading We All Need Beard Oil Sometimes at Adam Tervort.

We All Need Beard Oil Sometimes

For most people reading that title doesn’t make much sense. You only need beard oil if you have a beard, right? Yes, if we’re talking about literal beard oil. Luckily we’re talking about figurative beard oil, so this can still apply to everyone.

I started growing a beard last November, and I’ve kept it going in various states ever since. I’m a guy who has never had long hair so I didn’t have much experience with the difference hair products can make in your life. (I know, I know: cue the groaning from most of the guys reading this.) Beard oil is one of those miracle products that makes such a big difference it really does feel like magic.

One of the reasons many guys never grow a beard is because it itches and feels scratchy after a while. Unsurprisingly, this is skin irritation, but not for the reason you might think. The beard scruff isn’t causing the itching, it’s actually dry skin. Hair follicles on your face secrete oil which moisturizes your skin. If you have a beard, however, that oil moisturizes the beard and your skin is left without that natural oil. This causes beard itch, and can also lead to things like “beard-ruff”, dandruff from your beard. Not very comfortable or good looking. (I just love seeing snowstorms fall from my beard, don’t you?)

I was a few weeks into growing my beard and having a tough time with the itch. One of my coworkers, who has a magnificent beard, mentioned that beard oil is his secret weapon. I did some research and went out to get a bottle. Immediately after putting it on the itch quieted down. As long as I use beard oil every day or so, I never get beard itch.

Every area of our life and our work has the potential for small optimizations that make a big difference. Spend time to discover what they are, make a plan to implement them, and then evaluate the results. Not every optimization is worth the cost, and not every routine needs to change. There are some, however, that bring outsized value and can fundamentally change how we work. Look out for those and seize them when you find them.

Leave a comment

Foundational Work is a Long Term Investment Mon, 26 Oct 2020 22:45:30 +0000 Foundational Work is a Long Term Investment

Like compound interest and other long-term strategies, making time for foundational work pays huge dividends over time. Make time in your work for it and you'll be surprised at the difference you see.

Continue reading Foundational Work is a Long Term Investment at Adam Tervort.

Foundational Work is a Long Term Investment

My work at SpiderOak revolves around customers. My team handles customer support, account management, onboarding, and some technical aspects of our websites. Working with customers means a constant influx of work. There will always be questions, some big and some small, and they will always come at times when you don’t expect them.

This makes doing foundational work hard to schedule. If a server goes down or there’s a technical issue that affects customers, it means that we’ll be working full time to communicate and assist while the problem is solved. Those are busy times, but important times too.

Once in a while, everything seems to go right. No hard drives fail, the system runs as it should, problems that crop up are small and get solved quickly. When we’re lucky enough to have times like this we turn our focus to foundational work. This is the work of documentation, evaluation, professional development, and planning. In a perfect world we’d be able to consistently schedule all of these things, but at least we know that slow times mean we’ll have time for it.

Here’s an example of why this kind of work is so important. One member of our team decided to take on a project to create an interactive troubleshooting form. Customers with problems answered a series of questions and were given suggestions of how to fix their problem based on the answers. Some people that use the form still end up contacting our team, but more than 50% end up finding an answer and don’t contact us. In the three years we’ve used this interactive form, more than 3,000 customers found self help answers through it. This saved our team hundreds of hours and saved those customers a lot of time too. It’s a pretty good return on a few weeks of part time work.

When your work hits a calm patch, enjoy the break but also consider what foundational work you can do. Work on a project you’ve been putting off. Take a professional development course. Read a book. Do some of the work that’s been put off for “someday” so that you’ll be able to start to reap the rewards now.

Leave a comment