Conversations with STAR Award Winners: Patrick Saeger, VP of Customer Success, SuccessFactors
The Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA) began awarding STAR Awards to member companies in 1990 to recognize exceptional service operations. For the very first time, I’m pleased to bring you interviews with some of the STAR Award winners from our recent Technology Services World Conference in Las Vegas. First up is SuccessFactors, the winner of the 2010 STAR Award for Excellence in Emerging Business Support. I’d like to give a warm welcome to Patrick Saeger, Vice President of Customer Success for SuccessFactors.
John Ragsdale: Patrick, thanks for being here, and congratulations on your STAR Award win! Could you start by telling us a bit about SuccessFactors?
Patrick Saeger: SuccessFactors is one of the fastest growing software companies in the world and the leader in a new category called Business Execution Software – BizX as we call it. We help companies solve one of the most important problems in business today – how companies get work done everyday – by improving business alignment, team execution and people performance through robust business insight and increased collaboration. We’re enabling companies to bridge the gap between strategy and execution by allowing every person in an organization to execute against their goals better and faster. We are one of the largest software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies by # of end user seats sold out there. We have more than 3,000 customers with more than 8M end users, across 168 countries and 34 countries. Our fully integrated BizX Suite includes 19 products (modules) such as Recruiting Management, Goal Management, Performance Management, Learning & Development, Employee Central, Workforce Planning & Analytics.
John: Before we get into some of the details of your award application, I’m intrigued about your department name—Customer Success instead of Customer Support. Would you talk about SuccessFactors’ focus on customer success? Is the department name due to a customer-focused company culture?
Patrick: Yes. SuccessFactors is an immensely customer focused organization. As our CEO frequently says – “Our customers must win!” As a pure SaaS company with subscription-based pricing and recurring revenue, our business model depends on successful customers. If they are not successful, we are not successful. By this, I mean they not only apply our technologies successfully across their company, but they achieve business objectives and get real business value.
A substantial component of what we do will continue to be traditional, transactional customer support – but it isn’t about closing cases. The name of our organization serves a constant reminder to our employees, our company and our customers, what our true mission is. The outcome of any transactional support activity or delivery value added services must be successful implementation and use of our solutions.
John: While your STAR Award was for emerging companies, which we define as companies with less than $500 million in total annual revenue, SuccessFactors has a “big company” presence, with SMB, midmarket and enterprise size customers across North America, Europe and Asia/Pacific. Even our largest members talk about how difficult it is to support global customers, could you provide any insight into how you are able to provide global support on an “emerging company” budget?
Patrick: We are a global organization by design. Every dollar we invest in customer support, we think about how it will strengthen our global presence and our global capabilities. As a result, all of our processes and foundational support systems are consistent globally. Second, we have been successful in demonstrating the value of our Platinum services to our customers outside North America – especially in Europe. This has allowed us to budget for greater ramp up our global team and provide services there that build more intimate customer relationships. Lastly, we have been innovative in how and where we staff our global teams. For example, we have an outstanding group of people in the Philippines which supports North America. This allows us to provide more people and more service than we would be able to if staffed in more expensive geographies. Also, they are able to leverage this investment with our Asia customers. In Europe, we have a virtual team distributed in the region and they leverage Web-based technology to increase teamwork and collaboration. This allows us to focus on getting the best talent and not be overly concerned about centralization.
John: One of the hottest topics in support right now is social media, including online communities and emerging support channels. According to your STAR Award application, you’ve had some great success with your Customer Community, including an Idea Factory moderated by product management, and One Voice that keeps customer updated on product developments. Could you talk about your experiences rolling out a community, and how you were able to garner such great customer adoption?
Patrick: I think that success starts with providing resources and content that are meaningful to customers. The One Voice sessions, for example, are super valuable and help our customers stay abreast of planned changes and improvement in the product. They offer the ability to speak directly to the people making those decisions. Also within the community are our case management system, training content, knowledge bases, industry research and even ROI calculators. When customers visit to access these resources, we have the opportunity to captivate them and share information. Our online community continues to be a work in progress and there is much more we want to do to increase customer adoption.
John: Another element of your application that judges loved was your success with Value Added Services. SuccessFactors has introduced premium support offerings, including SuccessGold and SuccessPlatinum support levels, and customers are loving it. According to your application, your largest, most complex, and most successful customers rely on your Platinum Customer Success Plan. What is the value proposition for SuccessPlatinum, and what elements of the program seem to be most attractive to customers?
Patrick: The SuccessPlatinum program is our most widely adopted value added support offering. I think of it as a “success plan” that includes a different set of resources and deliverables aimed at helping customers most effectively use and apply our solutions once they are deployed in production. An assigned primary “platinum customer success advocate” is central to the offering, which provides a go-to resource that really knows the customer, including their objectives, configuration, business process and key events or milestones throughout the year. With this knowledge, we better support customers when questions or problems arise. We can provide guidance in advance of key events or milestones to help them run a more effective process. We can also check in after the fact and talk about success criteria – are we on track and what changes or improvements could lead to a better outcome? Our customers tell us that the SuccessPlatinum program leads to increased adoption, more effective operation of the system, more efficient use of their time to manage the system…all of which are connected to more business value.
John: One of the sections of STAR Award applications that really influence judges is the Customer Impact section, and SuccessFactors had some impressive results here, such as tripling the number of products supported over the last 3 years with no increase in case volume. You also have some excellent customer satisfaction scores, even internationally—where many companies struggle. Could you talk about customer impacts?
Patrick: Customer support organizations can have a very big impact customer outcomes. However, It is often sum of the little things that add up to make a big impact, not just the bigger, more obvious things. In our case, no single strategy or effort is THE key to customer impact. Our ongoing dialog with Product Management and Engineering improves product usability and leads to fewer defects. Our value-added support services provide a means for us to deliver more impact and support to customers who need a different type of service. Our global resourcing strategies result in more support representatives available to assist our customers, so we can achieve higher satisfaction no matter where the customer is located. Our knowledge base allows customers to find answers to certain questions and problems on their own. All of these initiatives combined help us do the best we can for our customers and have the most impact on their overall success and satisfaction. It is very interesting when instead of asking customers “are you satisfied”, you ask them “did we have a positive impact on … “.
John: One of my favorite parts of STAR Award applications is the “lessons learned,” and SuccessFactors had some great lessons. Would you mind sharing some of your learnings with our readers?
Patrick: I am happy to share some of our lessons learned. The first thing I’d say is that getting here has not been an easy journey – we have had to make some tough decisions along the way and not all of them immediately worked out well. One example is when we first made the decision to build out and grow a substantial part of our team in the Philippines. This was done with the best intention for our customers and we were very ambitions and moved quickly. However, the initial results were not on par with our expectations. It took several months before the service levels and quality of service met customer expectations. There were many apologies at the time but we also communicated the reason for the change, and that our bar for great service was as high as it ever was – even on stage at our customer events. More interestingly though, we learned that customers will support you through change if communication is clear and honest – and the motivation behind change is sincere.
Another key learning point is that programs that provide increased customer intimacy and drive more effective usage (e.g. not just different SLA’s) are not only effective, but they matter to customers. Often, it isn’t about “faster service” – it is about meeting different needs and creating different outcomes. Without SuccessPlatinum as a key part of our overall support strategy, we would not be able to meet the needs of a substantial segment of customers.
John: Patrick, thank you for taking the time to speak with me today, and congratulations again on your STAR Award win!
Patrick: My pleasure. Thanks for the invitation!