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Why Customer Experience Is Critical ft. Robyn Fernandez and Karen Budell (Totango)

When it comes to customer success, Totango is one of the first companies you think about.

That’s due in large part to it being one of the first companies to prioritize CS – with its software helping companies “design, run, measure, and scale [their] SaaS customer journey to retain and grow customers,” as Totango’s website explains. 

It’s been a move that has certainly worked out well for the company, which has become a staple of Silicon Valley and raised more than $150 million since being founded in 2010. 

Totango’s success is due in no small part to the contributions of Karen Budell, the company’s chief marketing officer, and Robyn Fernandez, its senior director of CS. And fortunately, both women were nice enough to join UpdateAI CEO Josh Schachter on the latest episode of [Un]churned, 

Robyn, Karen and Josh touch on a number of topics in this episode, including: 

  • KYA: Know Your Audience
  • Why customer experience is a top priority for CS teams 
  • Who is in the best position to own the customer relationship? 
  • How Totango’s CS team operates


Resource: CS Salary & Industry Report 2022


This was a jam-packed episode, so be sure to catch it wherever you listen to your podcasts! 

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👉 Josh would love to connect to hear your feedback & suggestions. Get in touch with him on Linkedin.

“If the customers’ don’t have a good experience, it leads to churn and it leads to non-renewals. The better the experience, the bigger the renewal and the expansion. - Robyn Fernandez

Listening to Unchurned will lower your churn and increase your conversions.

I’m Josh Schachter, founder and CEO of UpdateAI and host of [Un]churned. And I’d like to welcome you to unsure and this episode today we have joining me, Robyn Fernandez. She’s the senior director of customer success at Totango. And Karen Buddel. She’s the Chief Marketing Officer at Totango, Karen and Robin, thank you so much for joining us. Thanks for having us. Happy to be here. Happy to have you. So a little bit about Totango is one of the OG I’ll call it Customer Success platforms. You help teams compose customer journeys, that routine customers want to hear more about that you guys were founded in 2010. And you’re based in Silicon Valley, you’re both out of Silicon Valley. And to date Totango has raised nearly $150 million, which is really impressive. I want to hand it over to to each of you. Just tell us a little bit about what you do. How long you’ve been at to tango. Karen, how about we start with you? Sounds great. Well, I’m still enjoying my relative newbie status. I joined to tango as chief marketing officer in mid July 2022. And it’s just been fantastic to spend a bulk of my time with our customers with the team and just delving deeper into the fantastic world of customer success. I lead are all marketing functions. So that includes brand demand, Gen. Product Marketing, performance, marketing and growth. Great Robyn, how about yourself? Hi, I’m Robyn Fernandez. And I’m the Senior Director of CES. And I’ve been with to tango as of January 2023, eight years. So I’ve been there for most of the life of the company. I’m in a player coach role. So my job is to ensure our customers are successful years is a long time in the tech world give you a lot of credit for that. What was the size of the company when you joined? Do you recall? Um, I want to say around 100 Give or take a little bit but in that range, but the office in the US was, I’d say we probably had about 25 people in the specific office that I worked in at headquarters. Okay. Okay, the rest of the team, isn’t it? So well still well established.

Karen, as the Chief Marketing Officer of tango, I gave a brief description of the company up front. But I’m always very sensitive to describing other people’s companies because I know I’m not able to do it better than they can. So of course, correct me describe to Tango to all of our viewers out there. Most people know to Tango already, of course. But in your own words, in the company’s words, tell us about your tango?

Well, we love to talk about how to Tango is the industry’s only composable customer success platform, which means that we have ability for you to drag and drop and mix and match programs and easily start where you are on your ces journey, because our platform grows with you. So we’d like to talk about managing your customer journey as your product. How can you iterate and learn and evolve that to provide a better experience and ongoing value to your customers at each point along their journey. And our composable platform. And the architecture of tango really allows you to do that seamlessly. friction free orchestration is how we talk about it. And when

I hear you use those words to me, what comes to my what I visualize is like widgets drag and drop feature is really the UX architecture really being around like you said, that composition, being able to create your own adventure, so to speak, is that the right way to think about it?

That’s exactly right. When we talk about composable, we talk about six different components that that really make that up. But one of the the ones that you touched on is that unified design and run so you can design build, run and measure your entire customer journey lifecycle. All in the tango system. We’re focusing you on outcomes. First, we have those modular building blocks with which is core to our technology. And we call them success blocks so that you can download those and have embedded best practices. And that multi-dimensional customer view, you know, right out of the box, so to speak.

We’re already a few minutes into the podcast, but I’d like to start out the episodes by going unsure and by getting raw and authentic with our guests and so I want to do an abridged version of that. Robin, let’s start with you. I would like to know our listeners would like to know what’s something that would surprise everybody to learn about you.

I’m pretty straightforward kind of person. I am not sure what Bullet find super surprising about me. I would say I’m gonna go way back. I used to be an athlete, I did track and I actually used to be a hair model. Nothing is my career today. But that’s the thing that people are most surprised about when they learn about my history.

Describe that. That’s really interesting. I hermosa, what is a hair model? I’ve never heard of a hair model. It makes sense that it exists. But what is the hair model?

Yeah, so here Melissa used to do it for it’s a beta. Now that used to be called a different brand. But I they would do my hair and different styles. And I would run my walk. It was really to sell the shampoo in the hairline. So that’s what a hair model does.

I learned something new about you today.

That was the goal. Surprising, and it’s not on my LinkedIn profile. Oh, there you go.

So Karen, Karen was a reporter. Right? That might be something that would surprise people to know. So I think what we call that is burying the lede. What Robin said, she started out oh, there’s really nothing interesting about me. But oh, by the way, I was a hair model. Okay, that’s, that’s a lead bearing or they’re carrying your turn, what’s something that would surprise people to know about you? Yeah.

Well, now that you’ve shared my One fun fact about my history as a reporter, that’s Google, you could probably find some my old bike lines floating around, I am an avid mountain biker. And I think, you know, for those that work with me, they they know all about that. But I grew up in the city of Chicago, and spent most of my, well all of my childhood and most of my adult life in Chicago, until I moved to California, about nine or 10 years ago, and I love the outdoors, I just love the playground that is available to me in Northern California. And I got into mountain biking in 2017. After not writing any bikes, I just got straight into riding with clipton pedals and going up, you know, up and down the big mountains out here. And now I am hooked. And that’s a really big passion of mine.

Such a wonderful place to be a mountain biker where you are in California, you recently joined to tango, like you said, it’s only been several months, your background wasn’t explicitly was not explicitly in customer success. So why move over to customer success?

That’s a great question. Well, I come in as a marketing leader. And that is, you know, how I look at navigating my career is how I can be a great marketer and a marketing leader and add more tools to my toolbox, if you will, and skills. So the reason I love customer success is I’ve been in adjacent industries, I worked at a software company that had a CX or customer experience solution and its portfolio. And I’ve always been focused on providing great customer experiences in my marketing roles over time. But I look at navigating my career path as a marketing leader and rely on my background as a reporter to get up to speed quickly on any industries that I you know, may not have the same level of experience as Robin does, given given her background, but I’m gonna get up to speed quickly. And working in software, you know, for the past decade or more customer success has always been a core component of it. So I’m, I’m diving in deeper, and I love it. I love spending time with our customers and our team to become more of an expert. But you know, I hope that my experience with customers, as a marketer, customer, first know your audience, gives me gives me a nice place to start with.

So I’m always like, impressed, but also feel a sense of overwhelm myself when I see leaders join new companies, because I can imagine how much there is to get caught up on and like, where’s the right starting point? And, you know, making that initial impact and splash. So, as you think about 2023, the new year, what are some of your strategic priorities that fall under your purview of being the CMO?

Well, I think you touched on earlier Totango has been around since 2010. And we’re really focused on reestablishing our leadership and CES. So we are looking to get thought leadership and build our brand. That’s a that’s a core part of our marketing priorities. Get our leaders out there more. Farm don’t hunt is a great book written by our founder gajner Boss. And so we want to continue to share a lot of what was introduced through that book, but also our point of view on the customer journey being your product to continually optimize and iterate. It’s really critical to our fast changing and ever evolving world. So building our brand continuing to activate our positioning as the industry’s only composable Customer Success solution. Very key you’ll hope to see I hope you’ll see to Tango engaging more in the CES community so so happy to be here on this call. But But we love engaging with our partners and influencers in the space. And yeah, just can continuing to learn from our customers and share what we’re learning from those pace setters and industry leaders and CAS with others so that they can I kind of jumped ahead.

Well, I’m happy to help usher you into those priorities by virtue of the podcast quickly here, being that only composable platform in customer success from a marketing standpoint, like how does that who’s your ICP Who’s your ideal customer profile under that brand? So it sounds like that is a big foundation of your 2023 plan. Yeah,

so we love engaging with Chief Customer officers and leaders of customer organizations, that’s, that’s where we have a great opportunity. And we see a lot of success. Also Customer Success operations teams, and in those that are, you know, building and optimizing those digital engagement or customer engagement strategies, that’s where we see a lot of our ideal customer fit, as you call it, we have CSMs in the platform every day. But when we see where is that most value, it’s those that are in a position of leadership that can look across the organization. Because we see CES, ces teams and leaders working more cross functionally these days, it showed up in our recent survey, that the there’s an increased level of cross functional collaboration happening. So that CES is really more of an enterprise wide function.

Great. So Robin, not too long ago to tango, have released your 2020 to see us industry report, why don’t you tell us give it give us a little bit of a breakdown. And then I want to go into some major themes that I detected in reading that report and talk about it with you guys. What was that survey based on? Sure. So

we’ve been doing this for nine years now. We have 49 industries that are represented in the survey, and 41 countries see us everywhere, right? What we do see that 66% of our responses are coming from North America, and about 16% are coming from Europe. And it’s really the report really highlights compensation structures, job titles, salaries, which is what everybody’s always interested in. And it really explores the major challenges and top goals of CES professionals and the companies that they work for.

One of the takeaways that really caught my mind from from the report was that customer experience is one of the top priorities out there right now for CS teams. And that’s when evaluating it against churn reduction, renewals onboarding, product adoption, expansion and upsell, customer advocacy. And it’s within a margin, right? It’s not a giant step function difference, but customer experience comes up on top. And that feels it’s really interesting to me, it’s a big Delta from what it was a year ago, when you look at the numbers in your report. What exactly does customer experience mean? Karen, I want to start with you from a CS perspective. What is CX? Well,

I think it goes back to what I shared earlier, if you think about the customer journey being the product of of CES, and what is the experience that your customer is having it each and every touchpoint with you. So it does if you look at it, you know more holistically, it begins before that person is even a customer, right? It’s in that first introduction to your brand or to your company. It continues through the sales process and into the post sales journey. And hopefully as they they become an advocate and that now you’ve got that lovely flywheel but customer experience, I really look at as the collection of each and every experience with those touch points across your journey.

Robin as a practitioner, I have to ask you what gives here, right? So customer experiences up against churn and renewal and onboarding. And that’s number one, what’s the rationale? As you think about how your team operates, and how you lead your team, why is that the number one priority for CS teams right now?

Sure, I think if the customers don’t have a good experience, it leads to churn. And it leads to non renewals, right. So the better the experience, the bigger the renewal and expansion is going to be negative experience will lead to churn. And I think customer experience also includes the product that the product is easy to use, it’s to navigate, they don’t necessarily need help, right? It’s user led, that they know that the CSM team is there to support them and work with them strategically. And they’ve got all the characters around them, right support the learning team, the technical teams to ensure that they’re successful. So I think that’s really why it’s ahead is we need to ensure that’s that experience is a good one. And I think more and more companies are seeing that as they start continue to grow in their maturity.

And if I could jump in, I’d even build on that and add you know, we often talk about CES still being a somewhat new and evolving industry. And I think what you’re seeing is to Robin’s point you someone’s got to provide that great experience so your customers don’t turn and if you think about it, who’s in the best position to really step up and own the customer experience. I think that’s where you see those ces leaders being in that position to take ownership of the journey. And as I mentioned earlier, CES is a is an increasingly cross functional enterprise wide practice. And so that to me, is is potentially what we’re seeing in that that jump in the data from last survey to this years. It’s almost

to me, the way you put it, it’s almost like an empowerment thing, that CS teams are growing into maturity, they’re growing up, they’re gaining more muscle and we are empowered. It’s not just the the metric of renewal, right? It’s, it’s the overall strategy of experience, downstream of which is renewal and expansion and upsell, but we are the standard bearers of the overall experience, which I think is great, if that’s where that comes from that that, that fortification and the psychology of CS teams. On that note, let’s talk about the next thing that stuck out to me, which is the cross functional aspect of CES that I mean this every year, this is the case, right? But I think more so and more. So we’re seeing a stress in how cross functional CES is with other groups. Let’s talk about CES and marketing. Since we have leaders of CES and marketing on this program. What does customer success and marketing collaboration look like at Tanko?

Well, let me just jump in and share a little bit of a stat from from the report because we saw a big jump in the data this year as well. 44% of CS departments said that they’re spending about a quarter of their time collaborating with marketing, and that was a 17% increase from the previous year survey

is huge. Okay, yeah. What are we seeing?

You know, if you think of customer marketing is one component and advocacy programs, and making sure that there’s that ongoing adoption and engagement, once you bring a customer on board. A lot of those programs are run both in CES and in marketing. And there’s an increasing need for the two teams or functional orgs, to collaborate. And it makes me think of a meeting I was in just earlier today, where it came up about advocacy outreach, as we look to get more, you know, user reviews out there. For those that are happily using our Tango platform. That’s a joint effort across CES and marketing, as we identify the segments and audience segments we want to reach out to in the campaigns that we want to deploy.

Robin, in what ways so it’s clear how customer success can can help marketing that example right there of help help us reach out to our strongest advocates and trying to generate that advocacy material. Is there a way that marketing is ating customer success? By debt?

Yeah, definitely, you know, we need to talk to our customers outside of just the CSM, right, we want to be able to share with them, they are asking for CS best practice, they’re asking for how others are using the tool. And so and how they’re approaching CS. And so the marketing team does a really good job of providing those kinds of materials to our customers, right? Through campaigns through in app logs, you know, all these different ways. And so they can create all this content that goes directly to the customer. And so that’s really one of the ways that they help us and also take product marketing right there helping build the content that we need to go to our customers with to say, hey, we’ve got this great new functionality or feature or product coming out with the use cases, and everything really packaged up for us making our job really easy. So that’s really key for us in our success.

And I would add on to that what what Robin said or emphasize that I should say that feedback loop is so critical. What are our customers saying, what are we learning? And how are we feeding that back into our programs and the journeys and continually optimizing as we go

and of course events, right? You know, we have team summit or executive summit marketing is putting all that together, but it really helps the CES team get all that learning out to our customers. And they are bringing them together giving them the networking abilities. So we just came from an industry conference those things as well. So we are always partnering and getting our collective message together out.

So when you think about the day to day tactics of customer success working with marketing in your world, what does that look like? What are the ceremonies that you have? How do you guys sync up? How do you share information? How do you align? Sure.

I think the word ceremonies

I mean, there’s Yeah, meetings, meetings, meetings. I mean, I think there’s

different ways that we do it, right. So one is through enablement meetings. One is through just direct communication. We do NPS and CSAT. All that information goes directly to the entire company. So the marketing team can leverage those things very quickly. When we have a products that’s in beta. We’re closely partnering with the product marketing team to ensure that they are hearing the winds coming out of those so they can include that in what they’re doing. So I don’t think it’s necessarily just we have this meeting every week, I think we have multiple ways that we’re ensuring that we’re working together to get the right messaging out and for them to hear what we’re hearing. And for them to package that up out.

Karen, when you came in to tango, was there anything that you saw that you thought you said, Well, maybe we could try something a little bit of a different way. As far as the setup? Well,

we brought the marketing team together under my leadership and my joining, we had two separate marketing teams were regrowth was separate from brand and community efforts. So that was one first way that we made a step towards unification. And I would say we’ve only increased the collaboration with the customer success and broader customer. Org. One area to add on to what Robin already shared is operations and coordination across our customer success and marketing operations, as well as our revenue operations. So really working together to ensure that all of our our tech stack, and the data integrations are flowing smoothly. So we’ve got fresh and accurate data, that we’re coordinating on the audience’s who are getting certain campaigns and just being really mindful about that experience. There’s your magic word again. But I would say we had a great relationship already going across the teams. And now it’s just how do we continue to build on that, and really have had that position of strength kind of propel us forward?

I think the marketing team is really open. And what we see is like we started self service, and we have other customers that are doing the same thing, and really hearing what’s happening post sale and having the marketing team learn from those things and move that up. Same thing with the sales team. So another area of cross functional, where it’s like there’s this hidden knowledge sometimes that we can like apply other places, so those efforts can be even more successful.

Robin Fernandez, Karen Beadle, thank you so much for being on today’s show.

Thanks for having us.

Thanks for having us.