In Vitally’s series, ‘17 Questions with the Future of Customer Success’, we’ll chat with Customer Success professionals, from Customer Success Managers to Chief Customer Officers, and everyone in between, to gain insight into both their individual roles and the ever-evolving Customer Success space.
In this episode, we’re chatting with Celine Doumar, Senior Account Manager at MeetElise.
Meet Celine—Customer Success professional, NYC restaurant aficionado, and future talk show host. Celine is based in New York City, and has been working in Customer Success for seven years. Prior to her Account Management role at MeetElise, Celine was a Customer Success team lead at Electric, and an implementation analyst at Cvent before that.
One thing Celine hopes exists in the future is world peace, of course, and teleportation, although she acknowledges that there would likely be a lot of issues with borders, so politically this isn't feasible, but argues that even domestic teleportation would increase quality of life significantly.
MeetElise is on a mission to modernize apartment leasing and operations by using artificial intelligence to create an automated, self-service experience. MeetElise is the multifamily industry’s leading AI Leasing Assistant that nurtures prospective residents 24/7 via email, text, and chat to generate more tours and save leasing teams’ time.
Q&A on the Future of Customer Success (Extended Cut)
Vitally Team: What’s your ‘before work’ ritual?
Celine Doumar: My before work ritual is wake up early-ish. Either go on a run or go to a workout class, come home, shower, eat breakfast, have some me time, then get ready for work, and walk to work.
VT: What are the top 3 activities you spend most of your time on doing in your current role as Senior Account Manager?
CD: The biggest thing right now is really just figuring out how the product works. We're a startup, there's a lot of different players, a lot of people have information rather than it being in a centralized place. So I'm doing a lot of investigating and testing on how that works.
Then I'm also doing a ton of investigating around reporting and trying to understand why customer data looks the way that it does.
The State of Customer Success at an Early-Stage Startup
VT: What does Customer Success look like at MeetElise right now?
CD: So, we're really just starting to build out the CS function at Meet Elise. At least historically, it's been a really product-focused company. So a ton of focus on the product team and building it out, which has been awesome since we have a great product. But we're really in the beginning stages of building out our CS team.
Right now, our CEO owns the CS team which includes onboarding and support, and our VP of Sales owns the Account Management team, which owns expansion and renewals.
So, we're in the process of really building everything out and doing a ton of hiring on that front.
VT: If you could wave a magic wand and automate one part of your day-to-day work life, what would it be?
CD: I would automate reporting. Right now, it is a very manual process to get the data that I want and to slice and dice it the right way. So, if I could wave a magic wand, I would definitely want my data to appear the way that I want it to appear.
VT: One thing in your CS tech stack you can’t live without?
CD: Probably like most every other company, every other startup right now, Slack is the one thing I can't live without. We don't have a ton of other applications that we're utilizing at the moment, specifically for CS, but I live out of Slack, we do everything out of Slack. So that's my thing.
VT: One item on your desk (or in your home office) that you cannot live without?
CD: I was thinking about it all morning. Chapstick is my item. It's winter, and I woke up and my lips were chapped, and I just couldn't stop thinking about chapstick until I had it by my side again. Unfortunately, it is an addiction, but that's what I need.
Understanding the Different Types of Roles Within Customer Success
VT: In what ways is your role as Senior Account Manager different from past CS roles you’ve held (Customer Success Manager, Implementation Analyst)?
CD: So, this is definitely a very unique role, and I've never been in a role like this before.
Like I said previously, the account management team rolls up under the sales function. So the overall attitude is a little bit more proactive than it has been in the past, which is reactive.
I mean, no CS function wants to be reactive, but that is how it tends to be.
Right now I'm in the sales organization rather than the CS organization, and that changes our day-to-day dynamic and the items that we're focused on, like expansion, for example.
VT: What’s one thing Meet Elise’s Customer Success team does that’s world-class?
Something we do that's world class right now is hiring great people.
Like I said before, we're really still building out that function. So, step one there is hiring the best people to be able to build it out properly, and that's really what we're focused on doing right now. Our team is amazing and excited about what the future holds.
VT: Best way to take a rest/decompress after a stressful customer call?
CD: After a stressful customer called, gotta get out and get some fresh air. Go on like a 10 minute walk and not think about what just happened. But really getting that breath of fresh air is a good way for me to decompress.
VT: Pro-tip on engaging with unresponsive customers?
CD: I think the easiest thing is pick up the phone and call unresponsive customers that aren't responding to emails. I literally did that yesterday. I called a customer. He hasn't responded to any of my emails in the past month or so, and he was like, “Hey, Celine, it's so good to hear from you.” I'm like, yeah, I know. I've been emailing you. But anyway, that's a really good way to get a hold of people who are just too busy to read email.
The other thing that I found really helpful is jumping in on support tickets, and getting your name in front of the customer that makes them familiar with you, and it makes them feel like you're trying to solve their problems, rather than just reaching out to them out of the blue.
Future Planning for Customer Success at an Early-Stage Startup
VT: What are 2 or 3 strategic CS initiatives you're hoping to carry out this year?
CD: I think the biggest initiative that we're really trying to work on is building out the team, making sure we have the right leadership in place to scale the team and set up the right foundation.
From there, really working on developing clear guidelines between teams. So, what is sales owning versus account management versus onboarding versus support? So really developing what those clear roles and responsibilities are between those teams.
Those are the two biggest initiatives right now that will definitely bleed into the new year, but will really set us up for success moving forward.
VT: What is one concrete step a (more junior) CSM could take today to set themselves up for a Customer Success leadership position down the road?
I think the best thing to set up for a leadership position down the road is really start acting like a leader now. Take initiative, contribute during team meetings. Not only should you be identifying gaps to your manager, but provide solutions to those gaps and provide plans that are executable and realistic. Really just start acting like a leader, help out new team members and sort of grow into that role naturally, and it will be the obvious next step.
VT: What are the Customer Success trends you’re excited about/to see continue in 2022?
CD: I think one of the biggest things that I've noticed, especially developed over the past, you know, five to 10 years, as long as I've been in Customer Success is just sort of the utilization of Customer Success software. That is really becoming really important to every organization to have, and I think that's awesome.
I think the overall, general view of customer success and the importance of it, and how much organizations should focus on it is really changing, and it is really becoming one of the most important departments in an organization. So I love that, I hope to see that continue, and I'm sure that it will continue to grow.
Separately, CSMs are becoming more data-driven, providing QBRs, and making sure their customers understand the value of the software that they're utilizing. Again, reporting functionality or reporting applications are becoming increasingly important in the CS world.
VT: What advice do you have for CS leaders who are building/scaling a CS organization?
CD: I think the best advice is to listen to everyone on the team, make sure that everyone has a voice, and if there are concerns or ideas, that you're hearing them. That's always super important to make sure that you're maintaining the CS team that you already have.
Then secondly, make sure you have the right leadership in place, and that leadership is helping put in scalable processes and adopting the right applications to make sure that your team is as successful as possible.
VT: Favorite restaurant in NYC and why?
CD: I love this question. My favorite restaurant right now is Mokyo. It's like Asian-fusion tapas. Go with a group of four or five people, and you can get literally everything on the menu, and it's all delicious. That's my go to spot right now.
The State of Quotas in Customer Success and Account Management
VT: In your current role, you’re tied to a revenue number. Why do you think it makes sense for Customer Success to own expansion/renewal revenue?
CD: So, I've actually been in both positions. In my first CS role, I didn't own expansion revenue. Then in my second role, I did and I think that really makes a huge difference in the way, 1) That a CSM looks at the overall relationship and how it is managed throughout the lifecycle. So I think having that in the back of a CSM’s mind all the time is really motivating, and really helps the CSM be more strategic when they're working with those customers to make sure that we're securing the renewal, or expanding, whatever we're focused on at the time.
I also think it's really important to reward the CSM. The definition of their job is Customer Success and getting a renewal or being able to expand into an existing account is a direct reflection of the success of the customer. I think that is super, super important and it's really motivating as a CSM to be able to feel those rewards and feel the success of the customer tangibly.
VT: In your opinion, what is the biggest misconception around Customer Success?
CD: I think outside of Customer Success, it's easier to forget that there are a lot of unhappy customers, then when you're in Customer Success, it's easy to forget that there are a lot of happy customers. So I think being in Customer Success versus being outside of Customer Success, you have different views of what the day-to-day is like.
VT: If you were not working in Customer Success what kind of work would you be in?
CD: That is a great question. I often, you know, wonder how did I get here? How did I end up working in Customer Success?
If I were to be able to do something else besides Customer Success, and you know, be out of sort of tech in general, I definitely would want to be working with people, but I don't know, be on a talk show or just have conversations with people. I’d definitely want a very fun job.
Putting a Process in Place for Customer Referrals
VT: What’s the right way for sales to ask CSM/AMs for customer referrals?
I think the right way for sales to ask CS for referrals is definitely not to Slack someone on the CSM team the day that you need the referral.
There really needs to be a process in place for the overall organization on how to get those referrals. Which customers fall into that category? And it should be approved every quarter so that sales has a pool of people that they can choose from. It doesn't have to be a last minute scramble that puts additional stress on the CS team. It really should be a process that's in place where every quarter we're deciding, okay, these are the references the CS team has already spoken to, their points of contact about it, and it's set in stone, and it doesn't have to be something that is done at the last minute.
VT: If you could work from anywhere in the world, where would it be?
CD: I would work from a beach somewhere and magically would love it if my computer could survive in the sun for more than 30 minutes without combusting. That would be my ideal.