Episode 31 Transcript
(Part 2) Delivering Repeatable and Remarkable Customer Experiences w/ Peter Wride
Banoo Behboodi: Welcome back to the Professional Services Pursuit, a podcast featuring expert advice and insights on the professional services industry. I'm Banoo, one of the co-hosts of the show and today we have part two of the conversation with Peter Wride, the senior VP of Professional Services and upgrades at Gainsight. If you miss part one, feel free to go back. I really encourage you and listen to that chat all about Gainsight's unique approach to customer success and how they measure the value of their services. Today we're going to continue that conversation and dive into the importance of effective and adapted processes and methodologies to ensure a consistent great experience. Relying on heroes to deliver a great experience is what another guest of mine, Jessica Noble, in session 26, referred to as a common mistake made by companies. So today we're gonna jump in with Peter to say, well how do you avoid that mistake and rely on sit-in-place processes and methodologies that can ensure that that doesn't happen? Peter, welcome back.
Peter Wride: Thanks for having me. Appreciate it.
Banoo Behboodi: So we'd love to get your perspective on why relying on heroes to deliver a great customer experience is not sustainable.
Peter Wride: So we came up with a motto for our professional services organization and we have an emoji for it in slack and we use it all the time. People are sick of it now, but we refer to it as the excellent journey. And I have t-shirts made up, I'm wearing one right now. It came from a project/closed conversation a couple years ago now, and the stakeholders had something that turned out to be kind of magical. She said this has been such an excellent journey. My career has been in enterprise onboarding. It is not an excellent journey, it's more like a full-contact sport. And so I thought wow, can we bottle this magic somehow and make sure that all of our customers have an excellent journey as they go through onboarding or through any engagement with us? So this is what I challenge the team with, this is what I ask them to do. We've seen this play out in so many ways. I have one of our engagement managers who started doing zumba with the stakeholder every week because we found out they liked it. We send soup to someone who got sick, but it gives the freedom to the teammates to step out of the normal bounds and deliver an excellent journey.
However, that only works if they know what the bounds are on the professional services maturity model, you start off with a hero. So your engagement, your satisfaction, your experience is completely predicated on this Jack of all trades person you got assigned to your project. And if you got Billy, you're gonna have a horrible time, but Susie's amazing, you're gonna have an amazing onboarding experience. And every company goes through that, that's kind of the admission to the game, you have to go through this kind of, everyone's learning, everyone's figuring out, and it's based on the individuals. But as you start to mature, you start putting together some of the processes and you start putting some rigor around it. And that allows the person to understand when I need to follow the methodology, when I need to keep inside the lines, but also ideally it's how do I step out of them? How do I step out of them in a way that creates these moments, these experiences that the customer's gonna remember and go back to as they think about your engagement and make sure that they have a valuable experience with you. So the goal is always to put some parameters and methodology around it so you have a very repeatable outcome-based experience with each of your customers.
Banoo Behboodi: I love that because we talk about standard processes, standard methodologies, and I think we need to challenge that these days. So you need to have repeatable processes with frameworks and guidelines, so I love your reference to that. But then flexibility allows individuals to make the experience personalized because a personal experience goes so much further and it actually is very empowering I think for the colleagues who have that ability. So that being said, what are some considerations in designing processes and methodologies that can deliver great experience over time?
Peter Wride: One of the things that we started doing is we started being very rigorous with our hiring for one role specifically. So we call them our strategic engagement managers, think of them as a project manager. But we had over a thousand applicants and we hired about 10 people out of that pool and we developed a strong approach for interviewing people. I hate roleplaying, but we required role plays in each of them and they've become the standard bearer for this excellent journey and for the methodology. And you need to have people on the team who know when to follow the sheet of music but can also play jazz music, right? That they can go and say oh, you're asking for agile, why don't we do this instead? So they know when to look at the music and they know when to flex. And so that's been very meaningful. But having the methodology documented in a place that people can go back to so you don't require everyone on the team to be this superhuman person. You can have everything documented and you have processes and technology in place. And going to another nerdy analogy, you know, Tony Stark Ironman is just a human being, but you put some technology around him, all of a sudden he's a superhero.
I think of that from my team as well of look, we're gonna hire people who are younger in their careers or haven't been at Gainsight before and there's a lot to learn. How do we make sure that we have technology and automation in place that I forgot to send my stakeholder alignment email. Oh, I got a reminder for it, it's already filled out for me, I just need to put my own spin on it and send it to the customer. And so you have the enablement for the teammates, the boot camps, to make sure that they understand what they're supposed to be doing when they're supposed to be doing it. It's been tested out in the market and you've gotten feedback and I have my, we call it our deal desk team. It's part of my services sales team that is constantly watching our systems, constantly watching our hours logged and saying wait a minute, that task took more time than we thought it was supposed to take. Is that a person problem? Is that a team problem? Is that a scoping problem and then just spit it out in the next SOW, right? So okay, we thought that should take 10 hours, it's taking 8 hours on average. And so we're constantly learning from what's happening out in the model and observing what's happening, which has been powerful to make sure that the team's newer right now. And so we're gonna give them more hours for these types of tasks.
So that ability to enable them, give them some structure with technology around what they're doing so that they can be heroes. You don't have to go hire all superheroes, you can hire some human beings and throw some technology around them as well. So that's been how we enforce and make sure that we're adopting it. I think the biggest part of anything, that methodology is like the least sexy thing to tell someone like, hey, you have to follow our methodology. So making sure that you're celebrating it, like hey, I just got this awesome SteerCo with a customer that so and so set up, this is the way they prepped me. This is why it went so well. That peer recognition does wonders for the next person to say hey, I want Peter or I want my VP to notice me, I'm gonna go do that same behavior. So that kind of reinforcement cycle of the methodology is very meaningful as well.
Banoo Behboodi: So a few points that you pointed out, recognition goes a far way. You've gotta recognize automation makes methodology and consistency of methodology and making heroes out of everyone much easier because it allows you to make it easy for them to execute consistently and based on what you're driving. But also what I loved about what you said is measuring, you're constantly looking at deviations or measuring it and the only way you can do that is if you've got it automated to drive that visibility. So that sounds like a recipe for success to me. But that being said, I know in the last session I also wanted to ask, because we talked about customer experience plus outcomes as the formula for customer success. I know there is a lot of material that's been written and podcasts around customer experience and employee experience, and colleague experience are synonymous. You can't have one without the other. Just curious about your perspective on that.
Peter Wride: So one of the things I love most about Gainsight is our goal, which is to prove that you can succeed in business by being human first. That's a powerful statement that if you view your teammates and what the hard one candidly is, is sometimes your customers are human beings that have real lives outside of work and they have career aspirations, et cetera. And so when you're in this escalation moment or you're assigning projects, this human element that comes into it that enables you to think about people, where they're at and what they need to be successful, that's been a big part of what drives Gainsight professional services. And we have policies that candidly as an SVP of professional services I hate, but the human side of me loves. So as an example, we have a recharge day every month. If you do the math, I lost 5% of all capacity at one fell swoop. They said we're taking the day off every month and my head goes revenue, or utilization, like all these things. But for the teammates they have one day off a month where there's no emails and there's no slacks and there's no anything. They just get to spend the day with their friends and family or whatever they want to do that day.
And so that's the balance that's really hard, which is how do you run an optimized business and all of us are filling the squeeze from the macroeconomic challenges of margins and contribution, et cetera. But how do you also make sure that your teammates are having an experience that they're not being burned out and they're excited. Because the engaged employee and teammate is gonna provide such a better experience to the customer than one that's on their way out the door. So how do we make sure that teammates feel supported and they feel like they have the ability to go off script sometimes and be human beings. And know when to ask me hey, can I go do Zumba with my stakeholder? They didn't have to ask, that's within the parameters and I'm not gonna do it. But you know, they didn't feel like they had to ask and can I send a onesie because the champion on that side just had a baby. Like they don't have to ask those things that are empowered to. And so it's sometimes just those little things of here's 5 or 10 things that you're doing and then you go celebrate them like we were just talking about. So it gets the next person excited of hey, I can be my true self at work, and I can be a human being at work is really powerful. And we found that to be probably one of the biggest draws that keeps people at Gainsight, is that ability to be their true selves at work.
Banoo Behboodi: And that sense of being your true selves gives you the ability to define what your purpose is in that job and then execute on it, which I love. We've talked about the organizational structure in the first part of this and the various roles that play hand in hand, whether it's in onboarding or then post go-live support. How do you make sure that everyone's working in tandem, whatever your methodology and approach is. Again, we're trying to drive a consistent experience for the client that's not based on a particular hero, but everyone becomes heroes. And then how do we make sure that they play effectively as a team and reduce conflict so that they can execute on it properly?
Peter Wride: We've stolen from, and I'm a big believer, I love when people steal from me, I take it as a compliment. We've stolen from some of the big consulting firms and they do it on a scale that we don't. But on a Friday you'll get at a big consulting firm of hey, you worked with these 10 people this week, provide feedback. So we do that on all of our projects. So you've worked with these three people, here's some feedback and it goes to their manager, it's in our HR system, but it allows you to say hey, this is working well, this isn't working well. And it provides the ability to provide context to what's happening and provide feedback at the project level of what's working well. And so all of my SEM managers, my project managers leadership and my technical leadership, that's why we put them together in onboarding is before they were in these different groups and the closest point of connection was the VP. So you have to imagine that you have to go to your manager, to your manager's manager, to the VP to deal with a project-level problem.
And so now every single project at Gainsight has a sponsor. And this is typically made up of my frontline managers, but Project A is Susie and she doesn't even manage anyone on that team directly, but she's responsible for the success of that project. So when anything escalates, she's on the spot, she's engaged, involved, can see the different players, can provide feedback to the coaches or to the managers and can provide in-the-spot coaching as well as a third party. But it allows things to get handled at that level. It doesn't all have to come to me. Four people have already tried to solve it, and so I'm not the first person to hear about it. And so that dealt with a lot of the problems quickly and so they don't bubble up. We get on the same page and move forward. And so it’s been really meaningful having these project-level sponsors. It's a great stretch opportunity and as an executive, I get to sponsor as many projects as I want to and sometimes more than I want to. But someone who has three or four direct reports or just starting off in their leadership career, the ability to sponsor a project and be seen in that light and as an executive presence on the project. So it's a really great leadership development tool that we've started off as well.
Banoo Behboodi: What about the customer feedback? How does that then tie into the process you just explained?
Peter Wride: I'm a big believer in NPS, I am fully aware of all of its drawbacks, but I believe if you use it as an action item or you build it into the system to start an action. The two examples, in our onboarding, we use it at the end of the project, not revolutionary, no awards are gonna be one for that idea, but it's because what we're asking for is on a scale of one to 10 to rest the NPS score. But then based on that score, if you give us a promoter score, we ask you to enter into our reference program. And so we start collecting references, we measure what we call PSQAs, professional services qualified advocates, which I can then make documents in the system and I can turn around to sales every quarter and say here's 10, 15, 20 new advocates you can reference in your sales cycle. So it's this really immediate feedback loop. So it's a little bit of a vanity metric, but it also has some immediate feedback. The other place we use it is four weeks before we finish a TAM project. Again, these renewable long-term projects, you get a survey that tells me if you're gonna renew. So it helps me for sales planning, but also if things are like oh, I'm not sure yet, one of the options is I don't know. There's yes, no, and I don't know. I don't know means hey leadership, go swarm on this one and see what we can do. So I'm a big believer in NPS as long as you're using it for action, not just as a lagging indicator of how things are going. I'm a big believer in it, but it has to be as part of a closed loop. We're gonna go act on this immediately.
Banoo Behboodi: And less than seven scores. I know you talked about the promoters and they become the referenceable. What's the action there and the follow-up?
Peter Wride: So a hundred percent follow-up regardless of score. There's the closed loop of what do we need to do? What are we trying to solve for? Is it a warranty issue, is it a personnel issue? What does the customer need at this point? So you'll always get an outreach from a Gainsight leader when you respond because you took your time. And we're not asking for a half an hour, it's five minutes, but you took the time to provide feedback. So the charter to my team is we get on the phone, and you thank them for their time and for the effort they put into it. And I say, would you be willing to get on the phone to talk further about it?
Banoo Behboodi: I think it's important to round up our conversation by focusing on measurement and change management because part of the success of a consistent, repeatable methodology and process and the automation behind it is your success at advocating, and measuring adoption. And now I'm not talking about your customer adoption of your tools, but within your organization, the tools and methodology and process. What are some of the best practices from your perspective that you've implemented to drive that change to ensure compliance?
Peter Wride: Yeah, January of this year I started a new role and I'd love to take credit and say this was all my idea, but it was kind of this groundswell of we need this role but I have my very own center of excellence role. And her job is literally to identify areas of methodology that need to be better documented and train and retrain and validate and measure. And so there's someone whose day job it is, beyond the managers, beyond myself, but people following what they're supposed to be doing and when they're not, why not? And so one of the points of feedback we got is it's really hard to visualize A, B and C. She said, well that's a problem we can solve. One found new tools for us to use, found new ways to measure it and brought that back and retrained it. And so just this constant focus and making it someone's day job. It's really hard to solve some of these things as a part-time job and many times we're forced to do that because of resource constraints, et cetera. But this ability to set someone aside whose day job it is to measure and to train and enable and document. Again document, as all of us get bigger and we grow in scale, becomes this point in time of we can't just keep it all on our heads anymore. Or we stick in that hero mentality for too long, you actually need to have a resource that new teammates can go and look it up and say, oh I don't need to solve this for myself, here's the answer to it. And so making sure that someone is dedicated to documenting, there's incentive structure there, there's recognition for documenting it is a really important part of that.
Banoo Behboodi: So the center of excellence, I love the fact that you have that role. Not everyone has the luxury of getting management behind such a role, but such a great idea. I know there are different opinions and literature on feedback loops and opening up and having colleagues provide feedback on opportunities for improvement because they're living their job every day. There are drawbacks as attractive as it is, as drawbacks if you can't execute properly on such a program. Do you have such a feedback loop? I know you have the center of excellence. How do other colleagues feed into that and any thoughts on that?
Peter Wride: We have the post-project one as part of it. We have kind of the formal, not too inventive, one-on-ones with your leadership team. Every year we do the peer nominations, which we're just starting up for next year right now. So you're getting 360 feedback from all of your peers and bubbling that up to the individual to be written out by their manager. And so trying to find ways to systematize that and make sure that they're getting feedback. Again, the most effective one is in the project. You have a sponsor who's a manager who's watching what's happening and is giving real time feedback. And I think the key to that is it's not usually your direct manager who's a sponsor. So it's another voice within the leadership team. Sometimes it's nice to get that from someone who's not the person who decides your pay or your promotion, right? And so we've spread out that feedback to be on every project. You'll probably have a different sponsor with a different point of view, a different experience profile that helps kind of give in-the-moment coaching to everyone.
Banoo Behboodi: Yeah, that's on the person. And what about feedback on how the methodology, the processes, and what can be improved, that goes through that process as well?
Peter Wride: From the methodology, we talked about this like we're watching it from the background from the ops perspective. We meet with customers on a regular basis to kind of get feedback on it. We have the NPS program so we track each of our offerings with their own NPS score so we don't pull them all together by definition. The other thing that we've done in years past and we're restarting next year is an outside advisory group. In the past we've pulled together four or five VPs of PS at other companies and we've come in and just like, here's a problem that we're facing, what would you do about it? And we've taken that and incorporated a lot of ideas and some worked and some didn't work. But just this ability to expose your methodology to people who have some kind of naive expertise, they're experts but they don't have all of your baggage of why things do or don't work and just running it by them. So we have kind of a services advisory board. We didn't do it this year but we're planning on doing it next year.
Banoo Behboodi: And then learning is generally training for your teams and development plans. You've discussed sort of your structure and how feedback loops happen, all of that, but how do you identify training and development gaps and what's your perspective on training? Because training is a very different thing now than it was 5, 10 years ago. People have a lot of material at their disposal, it's just more I think empowerment and really identifying where they need to improve. So how do you view that?
Peter Wride: We have what we call a weekly scoop call, where we come together and say, what's a topic that we need an expert to come talk about? And this can be a technical topic, it can be soft skills training, et cetera. We have an outside firm that we use to do soft skills and professional services training, how to tell customers no, just the stuff that maybe doesn't come organically just by teaching you how to set up a system. So we have an outside certification that we expect our consultants to go through as well as part of their Gainsight experience. And then just the ability to get exposure to third parties, so bringing guest speakers or outside voices. We have access to education portals as well so they can consume content like you were saying. But really giving them this kind of weekly focus, this is what we are seeing on the aggregate from the leadership team, bringing in outside speakers has been really meaningful for that
Banoo Behboodi: We've come to the moment of truth, my personal question and since last time we talked about the book that you're reading, and by the way, I've also read Moments That Matter by Chip and Dan Health and highly recommend it. It was really cool to look at their methodology, epic, understanding how you make those memorable moments stick out and how those would give you a much better return on investment than trying to address necessarily pit holes as you said last time. But that being said, I wanna now talk about who in your life can you talk to us about a mentor, someone who's really been there for you and helped you form your career and who you are and where you are today.
Peter Wride: I had the opportunity, I was actually at my previous company, to work with Dean Robeson. I actually looked him up on LinkedIn today just to validate and his status is grizzled SaaS veteran. He ran services in the early 2000s for seven years at Salesforce. We worked together for about 18 months and then he now runs customer outcomes at ServiceNow. So about as amazing of SaaS pedigrees as you can have. He was our CCO, I got to work with him when I was in services there and Dean went out of his way to make sure people learned lessons. And what I mean by that, if we have a moment for a story, and I tell this to my team all the time, mostly because it's funny. We had just closed our biggest deal in company history and it was done on a lot of personal connections. And so Dean had just joined us from Salesforce at that point and the customer who had bought it had also just come from Salesforce. So it was a handshake agreement, it had to go well.
At the time, the company also was the fastest growing SaaS company in history so all eyes were on it. I was leading the project and to this day, I cannot remember what happened. It was on a meeting, I didn't think it was a big deal. Maybe the timeline slipped by a day, it was meaningless to me. And I can, to this day, remember that night I was playing basketball with some friends and I got a phone call from Dean Robeson, our CCO, it was like 10:30 at night, and I was like, “Okay.” So I stepped out, I took the call, he's like “Hey, I just heard this was off, what's going on?” “Hey Dean, this was happening,” and the conversation finished with the following statement, which is etched in my mind forever, which is “If a butterfly fart sideways, I need to know.,” and he hung up. I was like, what on earth just happened? I'm sitting at my desk the next day just kind of going through my head of like, what does he mean? And he stops spying and goes, “Peter, I just want you to know that it's okay if the butterfly farts, but if it farts sideways, if there's something that happens that your intuition is telling you is not right, I need to know about it.”
It's something I share with my team all the time, which is, again, enterprise onboarding is a full contact sport, but you're gonna know when something's not right. When a sponsor on the calls body language is wrong or the email you get, whatever it happens to be, if the butterfly fart sideways, I need to know. And so that's the coaching that we give to our team now is to make sure that they're bubbling up to me once something's not right, so I can make sure I'm helping them. And so it's a funny anecdote, but Dean's been phenomenal, still keeping in touch with him and getting guidance from him.
Banoo Behboodi: I love it. Well Peter, thanks again. I've very much enjoyed all your insights having this conversation. Hope we can have more conversations in the future. Thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in. As always, if you have any follow-up questions for myself or Peter, send us an email at podcast@Kantata.com. Thanks a lot Peter.
Peter Wride: Thank you so much.