In Vitally’s series, ‘17 Questions on 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 Samuel Blount, Head of Sales & Customer Success at Filestage.
Meet Samuel—football fan, photography enthusiast, and Scrum & Agile methodology expert. Samuel is from the UK, and is based in Punta del Este, Uruguay, and has 10+ years of experience in account and client management, and has been in Customer Success specifically for the last year, heading up Sales and Customer Success at Filestage.
One thing Samuel hopes exists in the future is a mix of the matrix-style learning and Elon Musk's Neuralink—“The idea of being able to learn something at the click of a button sounds very exciting (without the risk of robots taking over).”
Filestage is a review and approval platform that frees teams from chaotic approval processes, making work more joyful and productive. From large enterprises to independent agencies, Filestage helps teams share, discuss, and approve all their files, all in one place—including documents, images, videos, websites, and audio files.
Q&A on the Future of Customer Success (Extended Cut)
Vitally Team: What’s your ‘before work’ ritual?
Samuel Blount: So, before work, I get my kids ready for school. I have three young children. So, from the moment of waking up until I start work, it's a fight to get them fed, get them dressed, in the car, and to school.
VT: What are the top 3 activities you spend most of your time on doing in your current role as Head of CS & Support?
SB: 1) Reporting and analysis of our results in the team, but also our customers' activity.
2) Building our strategy for the coming months and quarter, making sure we're constantly iterating. At Filestage, we run experiments. So we try things quickly, we drop them if they don't work, and then we try something new.
3) The final one, which is probably the most important, is coaching with the team. So really focusing on how our team is interacting with the customers and what we can do to improve their experience.
VT: What does Customer Success look like at FileStage right now?
SB: We're a reasonably small team, it’s myself and two CSMs. We're going to be adding somebody currently for our Americas market as well. Then we have our support team who also handle elements of customer success.
We offer hand holding and red carpet treatment to enterprise-level customers. We report up to our CEO who oversees CS and sales departments, and our CS team is responsible for all of retention and expansions. So, it's a very commercial-focused role within Filestage.
VT: If you could wave a magic wand and automate one part of your work what would it be?
SB: So, if I could automate anything in my work life at the moment, it would probably be reporting. I'm an Excel and Google Sheets geek, I love it. But we use tools that should give us our financial reporting, and they don't always work the way we want them to. So, there's always a level of manipulation and analytics I put in there. If that could be automated, I would be a happy man.
Why You Need a Dedicated Customer Success Tool Even if You Have a CRM
VT: One thing in your tech stack you can’t live without?
SB: I'm going to have to say Vitally. After starting in the CS role with Filestage, we had no tool in place. We were trying to mash all of our CS activities into a sales CRM, and it's just not suited for it.
"Now, with Vitally, I have insights into what our customers are doing, and we can track what each other is doing within the team. It would be very painful to go back from that now."
VT: Biggest workplace pet peeve?
SB: It's not necessarily a problem from the workplace, but a challenge I say, is dealing with timezones. We're a fully remote company with people from Indonesia over to the west coast of Mexico. So, the majority of the people I interact with on a daily basis, internally are in Europe. So my mornings are full of meetings, and so I often feel I can't even look at my email until lunchtime, which can be a challenge sometimes.
VT: What’s one unique, yet critical, variable in your customer health score?
SB: Something we measure quite closely is the number of comments people make within our platform. Filestage is an online proofing software, so if people aren't receiving or giving comments, it shows a severe lack of activity in the platform. So, apart from just login sessions, comments are a huge piece for us.
VT: What’s one thing FileStage’s Customer Success team does that’s world-class?
SB: Obviously, I feel we've got the greatest CS team there is out there. The thing I think that we do that’s a differentiator, something I started at the beginning of the year when I took on the team, is to not differentiate between any of our customers. If somebody needs help, and they need assistance, we'll offer it, no matter the size of subscription or company. We do have a standard approach, but we make sure we're flexible to the customers’ needs.
VT: Best way to take a rest/decompress after a stressful customer call?
SB: If the kids are at home, it's going and doing something silly with the kids. You can't think about work if you're rolling around on the floor with the kids. So that's the best way.
Applying Agile and Scrum Methodologies to Customer Success and Remote Teams
VT: How do you apply Agile and Scrum methodologies to managing and scaling remote CS teams?
SB: I've worked with software development and have been around Scrum and Agile for quite a while. As I mentioned previously, we run new ideas as experiments. We collect ideas, we put them into a backlog, and we run them as sprints over a two week period. So, as if we're developing a new feature within the platform, we run experiments.
We then also have stand-ups, not as regularly as daily, but we have stand-ups within the company as well, where we quickly communicate blockers and things we need to move forward with those experiments.
VT: What are 2 or 3 strategic CS initiatives you're hoping to carry out this year?
SB: This year, one of the big ones is helping our customers move through our new subscription channels. We have our new pricing, as most companies release regularly, and some of the features are not available to some of our older plans. So, we're working very heavily to get some of our customers away from Legacy plans.
The other thing is getting more interaction across the organization. Within marketing and sales, and also with our product teams, I really feel that it's something that CSX should really be very heavily involved in, seeing as we’re the customer advocate. So we've made good ground so far, but continuing to push that as the hub in the company.
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?
SB: I think something anyone starting out in any customer facing role, whether it's car sales or account management, needs to do is really understand your customer.
If you've got a 20 minute call, dedicate at least five, even ten minutes, to discovery of why your customer needs to use your product and what their use case is. Understand their workflow.
"It doesn't just allow you to find more opportunities, it actually creates a high level of trust with your customer. So when you suggest something, it's not a sales pitch, it's a true suggestion of how they can improve their work."
VT: One item on your desk (or in your home office) that you cannot live without?
SB: So for me, it's yerba mate, which is a caffeine-based drink that's very popular in Uruguay and Argentina. I live in Uruguay, and this keeps my caffeine levels at a healthy level throughout the day.
Customer Success’ Role in Driving Product, Marketing, and Sales Initiatives
VT: What are the Customer Success trends you’re excited about/to see continue in 2022?
SB: It's similar to something I mentioned before about CS really becoming the hub and the center of a company, especially with product-led companies. So really helping understand the customers’ needs and drive the product, but then also drive marketing and sales initiatives. I really feel that's where companies need to be heading in the future.
VT: Favorite obscure subreddit?
SB: So one that’s safe to mention, I would probably say there's one called We Want Plates, which are photos of people who have visited restaurants and have their food served on obscure things like shovels or roof tiles. I find it hilarious how impractical some of these ideas are.
VT: In your opinion, what is the biggest internal misconception around Customer Success?
SB: Yeah, so I don't think it's across the board, but I think there's often a misconception that it's easy. That we're just talking to customers, you know, hearing them out, helping them learn how to use the platform.
But, I think we deal with a lot more objections and issues, more often than you would in a sales role. You've got customers that have been hit by bugs, maybe, that you've got to resolve. And it's one of the things I mentioned earlier that’s also relevant is getting people away from Legacy plans. Sometimes that's not an easy thing to do. I feel that you have to dedicate much more time to the relationship and CS than you ever would in other roles. So, it's much harder and much more challenging than people may think.
VT: If you were not working in Customer Success what kind of work would you be in?
SB: I think if I could choose anything, it would probably be photography. When I was younger, I thought it would be music, and then I realized I wasn't really good enough for that. But I really, really love photography. If I had more money, I would probably invest it all in cameras and lenses.
VT: What’s your best productivity tip for working remotely?
SB: Something I learned, and I see people are challenged with when they move away from an office environment to working remotely is that you don't have to replicate those X number of hours, sat in front of the computer, and using that flexibility is important.
I often find I'm more productive for 30 minutes after the kids are in bed than I am during an afternoon sometimes, and so not tying yourself down to fixed hours, I think really helps with productivity.
VT: Favorite football club & player and why?
SB: So I'm a big Arsenal fan. And from previous players, I would say Thierry Henry, probably one of the greatest players ever to play in the Premier League, and he's King Henry. Currently, probably Emile Smith Rowe. Yesterday we won the Derby and he played a big part in that—21 years old and he’s a class act.