Episode 51 Transcript

How to Build and Establish Trust for Better Business Outcomes w/ Kristi Faltorusso

    Banoo Behboodi: Welcome to the Professional Services Pursuit, a podcast featuring expert advice and insights on the professional services industry. I'm Banoo and today I'm joined by Kristi Faltorusso.

    Kristi is an award-winning customer success executive with experience in building, scaling, and transforming customer success organizations at hypergrowth B2B SaaS companies

    Today we're going to dig into the importance of trust and how we can all be better at building and establishing trust, for better business outcomes and obviously our lives, so, it's a great topic. I'm excited to dive into it, Kristi, but before we do, first of all, welcome.

    Thanks for joining us and making the time. I know you're very busy, tell us a little bit more about yourself and your experience so that the listeners can get to know you.

    Kristi Faltorusso: Yes. I'm thrilled to be here and thank you for inviting me to participate in this conversation today. I think it's going to be exciting. My background, my name is Kristi Felter, and I've spent the past 12 years in customer success, as you mentioned, building, scaling, and transforming teams and various companies.

    Prior to spending that time in customer success, I actually spent the first decade of my career in marketing and transitioned into customer success as a subject matter expert. The past 12 years or so, I've been focused on defining what good customer success looks like in various organizations because, as we've come to learn, customer success is not a one-size-fits-all model.

    It's not even a one-size-fits-most. It is very unique to each organization. I’m trying to redefine practices and programs that work to operationalize the right initiatives at each of these companies and to help organizations do that at scale.

    Banoo Behboodi: That's awesome. The way we got introduced to each other was I ran into a post you had made LinkedIn, asked to connect, and asked you to be a guest. The post was about trust. What you had posted really resonated with me for multiple reasons, but also because internally within Contata, we're going through a speed of trust training for all of our employees and the advantages that trust brings to efficiency and effectively executing, making sure you lead with trust to ensure customer success.

    I come across your posts and it really resonates with me. Just to read out a paragraph from your post. You had posted that trust is critical in building strong relationships, facilitating collaboration, enhancing employee engagement, enabling risk taking, increasing productivity, establishing customer loyalty, fosters a positive reputation, supports crisis resilience, and long term sustainability.

    Kristi Faltorusso: I felt like I added 10 things more.

    Banoo Behboodi: I know, but it's like success defined. So, let's dive in and dissect the topic a little bit more and get your perspective. If you can tell us, I know you had listed five key elements to building that trust. Suggestions on how we can do that.

    Kristi Faltorusso: Yes. One of the things that had come up and come out of this is really how trust is the foundation of how we all do business and honestly, how we all lead our personal lives as well. If we think about all the relationships we have, whether they be personal or professional, are probably heavily anchored on trust.

    The day that I wrote this post, it was really coming out of some interesting conversations with some of our customers and understanding that. Maybe the degradation of trust over time has impacted our ability to be successful in supporting these customers. Why it is so critical to build this out?

    When I think about trust, the first thing that pops into my mind is the visual of the trust equation. I don't know if that's a visual that you're familiar with, but the trust equation, which is anchored on credibility, reliability, intimacy all over self-orientation, and that was something I learned very early in my career.

    This trust equation, I've always taken that with me, and I think about the relationships that I build with people professionally or personally and checking those four boxes. How am I showing up for my customers from a credibility standpoint? Am I an expert in the things and areas that I say I am right? Am I credible for them? Am I reliable in that sense? Am I doing the things I say I'm going to do? How do I make my customers feel? That intimacy part of it, and then all over—am I putting their goals ahead of my own?

    I always think of that formula as something that stands out to me. When I was providing some advice and guidance to the community through this post, I outlined five things that I think we can all do to build and sustain trust over time.

    The first one here was being honest and transparent. I think that goes a long way, and it's something hopefully we're all doing more of than less of, is being honest. I have found that being able to communicate openly and honestly really does contribute to also building credibility and reliability with your customers. That was something I anchored very heavily.

    The next one is keeping your promises. I always that find it's very interesting when working with customers or other professionals, oftentimes we are committing ourselves to certain timelines or deadlines or certain commitments. We are the ones making them, and then we're the ones breaking them.

    If you're going to say you're going to do something, do it. If you can't do it within a reasonable timeline, then don't set that timeline. Set something you can commit to.

    The next one was to be consistent. I always tell my team I would rather you be consistently good than sometimes be amazing and other times be mediocre. Be consistent. Deliver something so people can start to rely on you because they'll come to know what to expect. Consistency in how you behave, how you show up, how you formulate decisions, and take action, be predictable. I know that sounds boring, but when it comes to professional relationships, it's actually very important.

    Then admit and learn from mistakes. I think sometimes it takes a strong person to be able to own their failures, to be very open about that. For me, admitting and learning from your mistakes, it's one thing to own your mistake, but what are you walking away from? What is the growth that you took from that experience? I think we all have something to learn every time there is a situation that doesn't go as planned.

    The last one is demonstrating competence. This, again, being a credible advisor for your customers, friends, colleagues, partners. Just be credible and demonstrate that competence in all areas of your relationships and how you're formulating that. It's going to help develop that trust. Obviously, that looks different in all different types of relationships.

    But those were the five things that I thought to myself, “Wow, if I was advising someone on how they could go and strengthen the trust between them and folks they are working with, this would be a great framework to start with.”

    Banoo Behboodi: I can tell you in our training confirming there's two aspects to the formula they present, which is competence and character. Without either, it's really hard to build that trust. Building up on competence, because I think that was the last one you left off on.

    It's interesting. Because you're going to have competence in certain areas, and that's what your customers are coming to you for. Then there are other areas that customers are going to look for advice that you may not quite have the degree of competence.

    I just wanted to know from your experience, because again, competence and character both come hand to hand. Being true to yourself, understanding where you are an expert and where you're not and being forthcoming with that, what are your tricks of the game there?

    Kristi Faltorusso: I'd say this kind of goes back to point one, which is be honest and transparent. I don't know everything. I know what I know, and the things that I know, I like to think that I know really well. I can demonstrate competence in certain areas, but the things that I don't know, I'm very honest about that.

    But what I can do to build credibility that will hopefully anchor on trust is bring in the right people. My favorite thing to do when I don't know something is to say, "That is not something I'm an expert in, but I'm going to point you in the direction of somebody who can help you,” whether that person's in our organization or not.

    The facilitation of that information is as important as being able to deliver it yourself. They're not asking you to be the expert. They don't need this to come out of your mouth. They need the information. So, you can build trust, credibility, and all these things by being able to facilitate the right relationships, the right connections to that information for them.

    Banoo Behboodi: Not having trust can be very costly for organizations, both from a customer satisfaction scores and revenue perspective, and it can be costly from an efficiency perspective. Because if you can't trust and empower, then you're going to have to monitor, you're going to have to put more governance and build more bureaucracy potentially in your process, which is going to be costly.

    From that perspective, I was hoping that you can give us some tangible examples of where you've seen a lack of trust costing in any of these areas.

    Kristi Faltorusso: Sadly, as a customer success professional, it is possible that a CSM working with a customer—and I'll use this as an example in my career as a leader—we've had situations where—I won't name company names and employee names—the CSM was consistent in under-delivering and not meeting the expectations of a customer.

    This could be missing deadlines, last-minute cancellations of meetings, not providing deliverables when they say they are, so that reliability. Not doing the job the customer needs and expects them to do, the one that we have a social contract with our customers on, as we establish it early on what they can expect from our team.

    Well, I had one situation where I was leading a team, and I had a CSM who—I won't sit here and defend or make excuses for why they weren't doing the things, but they were not doing the things they needed to do. As a result, the customer basically started to shop around and look for an alternative solution because they felt like because that relationship was so poor and from a service standpoint, that they weren't getting what they needed, that they felt like it was impacting the partnership overall.

    So instead of that customer coming to me as the leader and saying, “Hey, listen, Mary isn't able to do what we need her to do. Can I work with Bob, or is there somebody else you can assign me to, or can we work to maybe get Mary back on track so that we are doing alright?” Let me just bring these things to your attention.

    They didn't go the route of coming to me; they went the route of shopping for a new solution. Now, I take ownership for this to some extent too because as the executive, I hadn't built a relationship with this customer either. Because they didn't have that established trust with me, they didn't feel like they should or could come to me to have that dialogue.

    This is why they decided that the path of least resistance for them was to go and shop. As a result, we did lose this customer, and so it did cost our company not only the revenue they had spent but all the resources we had invested in trying to save and preserve this relationship once we found out that it was at risk.

    The learning for our team is this is where we go back to being consistent, doing what we say we're going to do, meeting our deadlines, meeting that social contract, and what is required for us in doing our jobs. The learning for me was that as the executive, I had to do a better job of making sure that I didn't leave these relationships to my CSMs exclusively.

    I needed to also be making sure that I was strengthening my relationships and partnerships with my customers because they needed a path where they felt like if things weren't going well with their primary point of contact, in this case our CSMs, they had a road to me.

    Banoo Behboodi: If you end up in that situation—Well, the example you provided, the customer had already left, so it's hard to recover from that, but I'm sure there are examples or instances, and you have some advice for where you have been on shaky grounds in terms of trust, whether that's internal trust within the teams that you're running organizationally or with a relationship and with a customer or a vendor, whatever the case is.

    What is your advice in terms of recovering? Because it's really easy to lose trust, and it takes a lot of investment to actually gain it back. What are some of the ways one can recover from that loss?

    Kristi Faltorusso: Yes, I'll give you an example of me working with a colleague in a sales capacity. In customer success and sales, I don't think it's a big secret that sometimes there can be friction.

    I was leading customer success, and I had been working with the leader of sales, a VP of sales at that point. We had issues because the sales team was closing business that didn't necessarily meet our ICP and this was pretty consistent. Despite a lot of conversations, there continued to be issues with the deals we were receiving, missing expectations with customers, inaccurate start, and end dates.

    They weren't delivering on the processes and the expectations we needed them to in order to make sure we were servicing our customers correctly. This came after many one-on-one meetings, a lot of conversations, us trying to establish what these processes look like and what we had to do, only to result in this continued issue with the quality of the customers and the state they were being sent over to the customer success team in.

    You can imagine that my trust in this individual degraded. I don't believe that they are actually going to do the things that we say we're going to do. I have stopped investing in wanting to have these meetings and talking about these issues because despite our efforts to this point, there had been little change.

    Almost nothing, no improvement. So, I've lost trust. I've lost faith in this individual and their ability to reeducate and enable their team on how to do the right things for our customers and our business. This is an example of how I was able to coach this person on the state of where we were from our relationship and how this was impacting the business.

    Now, when you cannot get sales and customer success to work together, this is a big issue. If you don't work in an organization where you've got sales and CS, just take my word for it that you need these two teams in lockstep, the same way you need customer success and product working very closely together.

    In this case, I had this individual who, again, we were at the state where we could not work together. Then our leaders had been very clear to us. If you guys cannot figure this out, we're going to have to find an alternative path forward. This could be one or both of you not being here any longer, but this is an issue.

    It's an issue for our teams because when you have two leaders that are at odds, that trickles down. That permeates the organization. So, that was impacting our reps, CSMs, AEs, and the like. In this case, what I had advised them to do, I was like, “Listen, we have to get to a place where we can rebuild trust, but I need to know that what you say you're going to do, you're actually doing these things.”

    We had put together a plan—coming back to this idea of a social contract—of what it was going to require for me to feel like I could trust him and for us to work effectively together. Now, what I learned is that there was a little bit of his frustration with me as well. It wasn't as one-sided as I probably believed it to be.

    Maybe I was too rigid in my processes. I wasn't being flexible. I wasn't giving enough to help enable the situations that sales was bringing into the organization. So, what we had to do is really come to a common ground and establish where we were and where we needed to get to and again be very clear and transparent with one another on how we were going to get there.

    We designed a roadmap for our relationship and what it would take to start to do this and understood that this was not going to be an overnight thing. There is a lot of emotion, and there's a lot that happens when you lose that trust. We built out a plan. We agreed to how we would work through with our organizations to achieve certain milestones that would help us both prove to one another that we were both working for the good of our partnership, which would result in the good of the relationship and the company overall.

    We started to keep track of those things, and I'll tell you what we really focused on is celebrating together to rebuild an emotional connection in a positive way. Because our relationship was so toxic at this point and filled with negativity, we had to find a way to come together in a positive way that would strengthen the bond that we had, and that was going to help rebuild our trust.

    I'll tell you; this took a long time. It took months for us to get to a place where we could trust each other again. But what we saw is that we were both working towards common goals. We were both doing our part. At any point, once we had this kind of agreement, it never felt one-sided.

    It felt like we were both doing what we needed to do because we had a shared goal that we could both get past this, we could both be successful, we could both help our teams, and we knew we were the right people to grow this business. Over time, we were able to chip away at that.

    Having that framework, coming to a common ground, really laying out what those issues were, coming up with a plan on how we were going to rebuild, celebrating emotional moments that would strengthen our bonds and bring us together, making sure that we were open and honest when things were going wrong, not letting things fester, not making assumptions, really coming together every time something didn't seem like it was going right to work through it together and kind of came to paths where we could align on new ways of doing things or give and get.

    We're not always going to get our way, agreeing that sometimes he'll win, I'll lose, I'll win, he'll lose. But either way, we got to this place where we rebuilt trust. It was a long, long journey. It's so interesting because to establish some initial trust, it feels like we're so willing to give that, and it is so easy almost to initially trust somebody. But the minute we lost that trust, it felt like an eternity before we could even inch closer together.

    Banoo Behboodi: Yes, a hundred percent. It's always easy to lose, but really hard to gain back, after you've lost it. What are your thoughts on the corporate culture that can nourish trust organizationally, versus one that can be an impediment or things to watch out for within the corporate culture, to make sure that you're nurturing trust?

    Kristi Faltorusso: One of the things that I would say to pay attention to or one of the red flags that I've come across as a corporate culture indicator that maybe there is a lack of trust is when there is heavy micromanagement. This could be at all different levels but when we're seeing that leaders are micromanaging their teams, it is very clear that they are not trusted.

    They are not empowered to do the work that we have hired them to do. When we see that is the management style, I will say that's usually an early indicator for me that there is a lack of trust in the business. Honestly, it usually starts top-down. When that is the style happening at the most senior levels, it trickles down and then continues, creating that toxic culture where no one feels trusted. No one feels empowered to do the right work. That's usually my first red sign.

    The second thing that I often see in organizations as an indicator that we're lacking trust is really this focus on punishment for failure. This focus on failure, where we are not celebrated for taking risks. We are not empowered to take chances and try new things. When things go wrong, it's like a blame game. There's a lot of finger-pointing. There is a spotlight on you.

    So, you're creating this culture of fear because people are scared to fail. But we also know that organizations, companies, they grow from a place of taking chances and trying new things. It's really hindering growth, but you're also creating this culture where people are scared to do things because they are afraid of how they will be spotlighted or called out if they do something wrong.

    If you're seeing that in a culture, I would say that is definitely another way that you can identify that there's a lack of trust in the organization because as a leader, I'm there to protect my team. I'll own their failures. I'm not putting spotlights on them. I will help coach them on what we could have done better, how we'll do things differently but I own that.

    When you have a lack of trust, that leader doesn't want to own their team's failure. There is this fear that their job's at jeopardy or this is going to be a poor reflection on them, this finger-pointing, this blame game that happens.

    The last thing that I'll say that I see oftentimes in cultures where there just doesn't appear to be a lot of trust is this environment where employees have no empowerment to do anything outside of the scope of their role, overly defined, overly rigid roles and processes. I'm a stickler for process. I love operations. I think that you need process to operate as a machine, to do things, to make it scalable.

    But when you are so rigid about how you are running your teams, it's because there is no trust to step outside of those bounds to do other work, to take on new creative roles and opportunities. You don't trust your employees to do those things and take on new opportunities. There's this fear again of us getting it wrong or not doing the right things.

    Banoo Behboodi: Not empowering, not trusting, and not being an organization that is open to failure, meaning that you recognize failure fast and you move forward and learn from it and move forward, you fail forward. If you're not accepting of that, it becomes very difficult to be creative and to create exceptional experiences for your customers and your employees together.

    I think what we all need to do to be successful these days is not just to be average, but to continuously think about ways of creating exceptional experiences. Because this is a professional services podcast, a lot of our listeners are in the professional services business one way or another. Just to bring it back to the professional services team, especially within embedded services organizations, there's always an element of tension.

    You mentioned the sales to CSM. There could be a CSM-sales, CSM-P.S. tension, and trust or lack thereof. A lot of challenges between balancing those organizations and having them come together in an effective manner to really provide value for the customer because ultimately we're all there to be able to do that, to drive value for the customer.

    Thoughts around some of the tensions between those organizations and how does one balance the roles and responsibilities to reduce that tension at least.

    Kristi Faltorusso: Yes, it's so interesting, but all of these teams that are working towards the same objective seem to always have some points of friction. It's trying to figure out ways to break down those barriers.

    I would say the one thing that we've loved to start with when we are trying to work towards the same goal, when we work with the professional services teams, and customer success or account management or sales and support, these teams that run in parallel with the services org, again, we're delivering for the customers at the end of the day, is really establishing roles and responsibilities.

    Having a very clear understanding of who is responsible for doing what and when and how. Once the entire organization that is working alongside the customer has clarity around that, we have to trust that our partners are going to do what they are supposed to be doing, whatever this “RACI” or these roles would suggest that they should be.

    It's got to start with some inherent trust. If we all understand that we're clear on who is supposed to do what and when they're supposed to do it, we have to start with some ground there that they are going to execute as intended, as designed.

    Now, we know that doesn't always happen. Things happen that are outside of our control. Maybe there's a lack of visibility. But the first thing that's always worked really well in any of the organizations where I've been at is facilitating open lines of communication.

    You have to be able to work together in a very collaborative environment when you're all working with the same customers but doing different things. When I say being able to collaborate and communicate, this doesn't need to be in meetings on Zoom all the time. It's having a shared space to have visibility and empower people to use what they are seeing to the advantage of the customer, not for their own benefit, but for the customer.

    Being able to provide that environment where, again, we've got data democratization. Everyone has visibility around what's happening, when it's happening, how it's happening. Siloed data and processes are prohibitive. When you have teams that are doing things and nobody else understands what they're doing, that becomes a black box and that inherently starts to breed mistrust and discomfort because you just don't know.

    That lack of visibility and understanding is where you start to develop that culture of mistrust. You just don't know if it's happening as it should be happening. Then you start asking questions. The minute you start asking questions, the person's defensive because they think that you're questioning whether or not they're doing it.

    Be able to create an environment that has a lot of visibility and transparency. Facilitate open lines of communication. I am not a huge lover of Slack, but the power of having some internal communication like Slack or Teams or Google Chat or whatever it is that you're using, being able to ask questions on the fly and just get clarity, not make assumptions, communicate, and collaborate, use these tools to your advantage.

    Start with that open lines of communication, increasing your visibility around that. Having those clear swim lanes so that everyone knows what they're supposed to be doing, how and when, making sure that when things go wrong, that the proper people are notified.

    This is a big area for our teams when we've worked together with professional services. Customer success feels like something didn't go right and they were the last to know, so then it impacts their ability to do their job.

    Now, this does go back to communication and collaboration and all that. But in these moments specifically, where there are these highs and lows that are impacting your customer satisfaction and their ability to drive value. When you have those moments that are having a significant impact on the partnership, we have to find better ways to communicate, manage, and mitigate.

    When we don't do that, you're losing trust. Everyone has a specific role in the partnership to play, and those moments are critical. How you manage and navigate through those are really important as well.

    The last thing that we've done that's helped with this and navigating some of that, either the mistrust or the discomfort, is just making sure that we have shared objectives.

    Oftentimes it feels like we are all working towards our own unique goals, but the reality of it is we're all here to make our customers successful, but we all play a unique role in doing that.

    Communicate and work towards that shared goal. We have the same goal. We are on the same team. We're working towards that same outcome. Make those goals really visible so that everyone sees like we are progressing in the right direction. This is a unified objective that we all share.

    At the end of the day, it does sometimes doesn't matter who does what. Is the outcome the one where your customers are satisfied? Do they have a good experience? Did they get what they need? Did they get what they paid for?

    If that is what's happening, sometimes we have to put aside how we feel, what we think, what we believe should have happened and just celebrate the fact that we got to that finish line and our customers got what they needed from the partnership.

    Banoo Behboodi: A big component of that is organizationally how you've set up your OKRs and how you defined your company success and each of these organizations, professional services, customer success support, their OKRs in turn coincide with company.

    How we measure and how we incentivize can really help in all of the things that you just talked about, the invitation for these organizations, professional services, customer success, and support to collaborate towards one common goal, whatever those common KPIs are, organizationally. Measurements and incentives are a critical component of it.

    Any thoughts, anything, I know you mentioned that, but just curious on where people can go wrong with their incentive plans and OKRs in creating tension between these organizations versus addressing tension.

    Kristi Faltorusso: You nailed it. We talk about this all the time. Incentivize the behavior you want to see. People do what you pay them to do. It's almost that simple. If you are incentivizing poor activity, like sales, this is my favorite example, but if you are incentivizing a close-at-all-cost motion. “Here's how you are incentivized. Close any deal. It does not matter. These are your targets. This is how you earn.”

    Well, guess what? They're going to do that. They're going to close at all costs. They are not going to sacrifice their earnings because this didn't feel like the best customer fit. No, you've given them the ability to go and close whatever will close based on how you're paying them.

    Same thing with CS. If you're telling them half of their compensation is tied towards upsell and retention goals and expansion. They're going to focus their time and attention on that. They're not going to be focused on value outcomes and relationship development.

    Pay your teams based off of what you want to see them doing. Now, I love this when you talk about collaboration and incentivizing the same outcomes. This is true for OKRs as well. You cannot have competing objectives and expect there to be collaboration and alignment.

    It will not happen. You have to be able to establish these goals. Now, I would love a world where we are all incentivized to do what's right for the customer. Perhaps when it comes down to professional services and things like implementation and onboarding, specific moments in time or specific projects that every team that is part of the account team is incentivized when those things are successful.

    It doesn't matter how they become successful. The focus shouldn't be on who did what in this action, or the professional service team completed the project plan, great. It's not about that. Did the customer achieve their goal? Did they have a great experience? Are they getting value from the partnership?

    If you incentivize that and say, “CS team, I will pay you. Professional services team, I'll pay you. Support team, I will pay you. Sales team, I'll pay you.” If this outcome happens, imagine that. I’d feel like Oprah. “You get a car, you get a car, and you get a car.” It feels like this utopian state that will never happen, but it is almost as simple as that. Just align your goals, align the objectives with a shared unified outcome of success, whatever that looks like.

    Banoo Behboodi: Hopefully that definition is aligned with customer success.

    Kristi Faltorusso: Yes.

    Banoo Behboodi: That's it. You said it. But in terms of RACI, coming together, and making sure that we all understand rules and responsibilities, I find the other mistake we make is that we have these initiatives where we go, “We need to come together and do the RACI, understand our roles and responsibilities.” But this day and age, we're all responding very quickly, and organizationally, we have to be fluid, flexible, and responsive to our customers.

    Therefore, things have to change. The RACI as we see it today may not be the RACI as it needs to be in 12 months to adapt to our customers and our customer needs. I find that's one of the things that we also have to do better and evolve in.

    These initiatives have to be almost evergreen, without it becoming burdensome and costly, but there has to be a process to it where you continue to reassess whether your roles and responsibilities still fit into where your business is moving.

    Kristi Faltorusso: I'll give you three things that we've done really well. I used to be notorious for building the most comprehensive RACIs. Like, let me account for every little thing, task, activity. So, I learned very fast, you can overengineer a RACI. When you're thinking about designing it, if you're going that path, and I do think that roles and responsibilities need to be established, but do not overengineer them.

    Do not put a role and responsibility and accountability line item for every single thing. Because sometimes, to your point, Banoo, someone will have to do something that's outside of that scoped swim lane because it's what the customer needs in that moment.

    What I learned to do with my RACIs is make them a bit more high-level and directional, and a little bit more all-encompassing around certain themes or activities of things that we're doing, but not that level of specificity that I once included. Maybe bring your RACIs up a level or two if you were notoriously like me and overengineer them.

    The second thing I would recommend doing is having a cadence of review. We review all of our processes across the board in my organizations every six months, and I'll tell you what happens in between those six months, but six months is when we will actually go and make mass changes.

    This is where we are looking at things and saying, “Are these processes having the impact that we had designed them for? Are they working as intended or as designed?” We do have a formal review process that is established every six months. The caveat to that is my team is empowered to make changes as needed if it benefits the customer.

    All they need to do to do that is let us all know, “Hey, guess what, guys, we've been working on these items 1, 2, 3, this doesn't work that way. We actually need services to take this and CS will do that, and account management will do this. This isn't working.”

    You have to empower your teams who are on the front line, who are seeing what works and what doesn't, lean in and make recommendations and make changes on the fly if it is going to benefit the situation and the customer. This goes back to why I said if you're working in a company that has overly rigid processes where you are not empowered to make change or influence anything or do anything outside of your swim lanes, that's an issue.

    I like to empower my team. You guys are seeing what's happening. You are empowered, the front line. Your goal is to make our customers successful. You guys have to work together. If something doesn't work because we designed it wrong, don't let our inability to design it right, stop you from doing what's right.

    While we do have formal processes in place where we do a deep dive, a big review, we take all the feedback, we re-formalize things, yes, those things happen, but we also empower the team so they can make changes on the fly and update things. We have to live in a fluid environment.

    Think about the tools and resources we've got. We've got things like Notion and Confluence and all these tools and resources where you can go in and make updates and changes. Empower your teams to do the right things and just ensure that teams are being communicated to, that folks are enabled, don't just make changes in a black box, and assume, “Oh, well, I updated in that doc. Nobody went back and looked.”

    So, you've got to make sure that you're managing some communication around it. But I think the empowerment of your teams to do what they know is best, it wins champions and really starts to facilitate a stronger unit between all the teams.

    Banoo Behboodi: No, I agree. Agile organizations. That agility is so critical to our success these days. So, we've touched on a lot of topics and it's been very interesting, but, any last advice, thoughts around professional services, customer success, trust, and any other topics we touched on?

    Kristi Faltorusso: When it comes to trust, please do not assume that you have earned someone's trust. You've got to figure out if this is true, if it is there. If you lose someone's trust, please do yourself a favor, be communicative about it, own things that have gone wrong, work towards rebuilding. It is in your control, and just because you've lost trust doesn't mean you can't regain it.

    Relationships can be rebuilt; trust can be reestablished. Make a concerted effort to go and do that. It would be a shame for you professionally, for your customers, for your business, even your personal lives, for you to walk away and not do your best to repair something's that been broken.

    For teams collaborating together, we've got to work together. We have to be better about this. We have to let go of emotions, personal ownership, and all these other things.

    As someone who really struggled with that, who probably took over ownership and took things too seriously, I was so rigid to work with early in my professional career because I thought the way that I did it is the right way. Everyone should be doing it the way. I've outlined and follow my rules.

    It's not healthy, not a great work environment. If you are like old Kristi, who used to be very rigid in how she worked, do not do that. Learn from my mistakes, be more collaborative, enjoy the work you do, and do good work for the customers.

    Banoo Behboodi: I love it. Thank you, Kristi. Now, I just feel like I usually ask one of two questions about your favorite book or mentor, but with you, I feel like I need to ask you about both. Let's start with your recommendation in a book.

    Kristi Faltorusso: One of my favorite books, and something that helped me a lot, especially as I got into SaaS and customer success, is “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” by Ben Horowitz. I think the tagline is something like, “Building a business where there are no easy answers,” and it really opened my eyes to how difficult it is to make tough decisions as a leader and how to build a business. There are always so many possible things you can be doing and how you do them.

    That book opened my eyes to a lot that I probably would not have otherwise considered, having worked in corporate America and not startups. This was really helpful, especially if you are in a startup environment, just understanding how essential it is to consider all the things you’re weighing out as you’re moving forward. “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” would definitely be my book recommendation.

    Banoo Behboodi: Excellent. I've added it to my list. Then, a mentor, someone who's really been impactful in your life and in your career, and why? What made them effective?

    Kristi Faltorusso: I will say that someone who has probably had the most impact on my career, especially in customer success, is a gentleman named Joshua Crossman. He is now a CEO of a company, but he and I worked together when he was my VP and I was a CSM, and I was just starting my career at a company called BrightEdge. Josh had come from McKinsey. He was so well-educated, so smart, got customer success and operations. He essentially provided me with what I like to refer to as my 'PhD in customer success,' through the lens of tough love.

    Josh was not an easy leader, but he taught me everything I knew. He taught me how to excel in all areas of customer success. For that, I am forever grateful. He and I caught up a couple of months back over breakfast, and he is someone I will always respect and admire and gave me the learning experience I needed at that point in my career.

    Banoo Behboodi: I love it. The most effective mentors are ones that usually do give you tough love.

    Kristi Faltorusso: Yes. I didn't know I needed that. I didn't enjoy it at the time.

    Banoo Behboodi: I'm sure you didn't. It doesn't feel good usually at the time, but when you look back. Anyways, really appreciate it, Kristi, thank you so much for making the time.

    I know you're very busy and hopefully we'll have future conversations, but really appreciate you jumping on and doing this podcast with us.

    Kristi Faltorusso: Oh, wonderful. Thank you.

    Banoo Behboodi: As always, we love to hear from our listeners. If you have any follow up questions for myself or Kristi, please reach out to podcast@contata.com

    Thanks, Kristi. Really appreciate it.

    Kristi Faltorusso: Thank you so much.