Out of office – Attending an Industry Conference

Earlier this month our team had the opportunity to attend the Pulse Conference in San Francisco. It’s a conference that originally started about 10 years ago and was geared towards CSMs, however, this year they started incorporating Product Managers. Their main goal is to build a community for CSMs to gain knowledge of how other companies are dealing with similar issues, best practices, and overall support.

This year their main focus was around customer-centric solutions. While this may seem obvious it was an eye-opening experience, to say the least. The conference opened with the CEO of Gainsight talking about a personal vulnerable experience he had – he then used this anecdote to speak about how as CSMs we need to remember that we are human beings after all and are not prone to simply follow processes and workflows. Rather, we should remember that we should take into account how we listen and more importantly the level of empathy we have towards people in order to be successful.

How does this relate to CSMs? Simple, if we’re empathetic we can understand what our customer is saying and therefore we can better communicate to our team what their frustrations are in a somewhat objective way. The problem most companies are experiencing is how CS and Product can best work together. Customer Success, on one hand, builds individual relationships and can have more of the subjective information, whereas, Product on the most part has traditionally functioned under objective (data) driven decisions. The big missing puzzle piece there is “empathy”.

The idea of CS and Product working under different “languages” led me to realize that most companies are so focused on being Data Driven in order to maximize ROI. However, after attending the Pulse Conference I realized that rather than being Data Driven, most companies would benefit from being Dat Informed. Check out this article for more information, however, the best part of that was the diagram:

As you can tell, there’s more to great product design than just data – There must be a collective effort involving Gut Feeling and Empathy. Some companies have done away with their Roadmap. Their belief was that rather than a top-down Roadmap effort it’s better to have a bottom-up Experiment based approach.

Throughout the entire conference, all the speakers spoke about “vulnerable” moments, “braving” failure, “grinding” through tough conversations, etc. So as the conference developed I began to realize that being customer-centric simply means that we also have to deal with emotions to some respect. I realized that it was a rather uncomfortable topic to discuss in a conference and it made me realize that there’s a stigma around emotions when it comes to personal development and customer relationships. Yet, our job as CSMs is to build relationships and deal with emotions – so how did we end up at a place where we expect everyone to be so rigid?

There was, however, a session discussing how sometimes customer-centric does not mean customer first – internally. The anecdote given was around a company who had a top CSM employee request to work remote. While to many companies this may be a no brainer, the speaker mentioned that each company holds different values and places importance on those different values. So for them, they were faced with either potentially losing a top-level employee and all that would imply for their customers OR make an exception and set a precedence. At the end the CEO evaluated the options and their values and realized that while retaining this CSM would allow for Customers to not be disrupted – ultimately, their company would not benefit from this as they would be compromising on company value. For them, they value CSMs being in the office. Again, this may not be aligned to your company value but the message is, that it would have been easy to not disrupt the customer by compromising on value, however, that compromise would have long term effects that they simply did not feel would be beneficial to their internal culture. So, therein lies the lesson that sometimes customer centric may not always be customer first.

I recommend checking out Brene Brown’s Netflix special to understand what emotions and empathy mean for CSMs – it truly is great. Aside from that, being at this conference of 5,000+ attendees with different companies represented, I can tell you that the future of CS is Customer Centric and in order to be customer-centric we will need to understand empathy – which simply put, is an emotion.


Gary Marroquin is one of the co-founders of the Chicago Customer Success Podcast. He is currently a Technical Customer Success Manager with Label Insight.

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