Rod Cherkas, Founder and CEO of HelloCCO

December 23, 2021
25 min

The Great Resignation of 2021 has left many organizations reeling, but we need to respond to its rippling effects.

Rod Cherkas, CEO and Principal at HelloCCO, gives his advice for managing this transition, balancing cost and growth, and optimizing learning.

Rod shares tips for creating a personalized experience at scale. Strategically using a mix of high-touch and self-service approaches allows organizations to manage their limited people and time well.

Join us for a conversation that will prepare you to equip your team and customers for success, even in the midst of change.


- Deliver innovative post-sales value

- Create a content council to leverage resources across your organization

- Implement a “Great Retraining” in the midst of the “Great Resignation”

Things to Listen For:

[02:30] Providing post-sales value and innovation

[04:00] Personalizing at scale

[07:30] When to take a higher-touch approach to customer service

[10:00] Creating a content council

[12:00] Understanding how customers use resources

[15:30] Driving great CX across the company

[18:30] Balancing cost and growth

[20:30] The great resignation and great retraining

[24:00] Proactively transitioning switching champions

[26:00] Making it easy for customers to get the information they need

Rod Cherkas
Founder and CEO

Rod: Your customers aren't thinking about your software as much as you think that they're thinking about your software. And so you have to make sure that your interactions, when you do talk with them or interact with them, are very tight and very impactful and very high value.

Flourish CX, the only show helping CX leaders do one thing: empower their customers. Each episode democratizes best practices while leaving you feeling both inspired and equipped to take action. Let's get to it.

Alon: It's the little things that count. A cliché, yes. But that doesn't make it wrong. Though when it comes to CX, it might be more accurate to say that it's the little things that make your company stand out.

I'm Alon Waks, your host for this episode of Flourish CX, and that's the lesson Rod Cherkas, founder of HelloCCO, a customer success consulting firm, learned when he was still a kid working at his mom's dry cleaning store. Now he's got years of experience in the industry that he was kind enough to share with me. Here is our conversation:

Alon: We’re going to have a lot of customer officer related deep dives here. But, first thing first is I get that, what, you are somebody who's well known and understood, and has done a lot of experience in some great software and SAS companies but there must be something we don't know about you. So, who would you be if you were not this customer-facing leader?

Rod: So, I would be the head of the innovation and entrepreneurship organization on a college campus. They get to work with college kids every day who have tons of energy, great ideas and I can help nurture them. And they have these programs at colleges where the students actually get paid to take the faculty members out to lunch. They call it faculty lunch, they call it FLUNCH. And so basically I would teach all the kids and we would collaborate and they would take me out for meals all the time. I think that would be awesome. 

Alon: I think so, there's no ROI, there's no return, there's no quarterly business review, there's no customer happiness. The kids, I just give them lunch, give them - even call it FLUNCH, which sounds terrible! Then they'll, that’s it, the NPS go through the roof, right?

Rod: They're super happy. Yup. No board, no metrics. They think you're smart. All the time.

Alon: I think there's a holiday of innovation. And ‘how do you drive innovation?’ is extremely important to, also, companies today, right? We, back in the day, we used to call it R and D and then it used to build labs and do it and all that. And today, in many ways, innovation is a lot of time bought by many companies. And then you have a clash of experiences and cultures. What are your thoughts on that? And how does it hurt the customers?

Rod: I think one of the big changes in the industry in the last 10 years has been the ability for the post-sale parts of organizations to drive innovation. Back in the old days, like you said, innovation was thought of something that you had to build into your product, that was the… the product of your product teams and your engineering organizations. And what I've seen over the last decade is you can drive a lot of value and a lot of innovation in the experiences that these post-sale teams provide, so that it really adds value to what customers get. Like, how do they accelerate time to value? How do they introduce it to other parts of their business? How do they become productive more quickly? And so, I've been really excited to be part of it, and I'd love to, you know, we can dig a little bit more into how these post-sale customer experience roles help drive organizational innovation.

Alon: Yeah. I mean, I love it. Innovation… innovation isn't just a new widget or app or feature. Innovation is also about business model and unit economics. If you treat your customers holistically across the life-cycle - maybe don't call them customers, just call them people, friends, guests, SOC members - and before they become a customer, also treat them well.

And after they become a customer, don't just adopt them then. Right? So, do you think companies holistically are experience-first? Or are the sales-first, still? 

Rod: I think they're becoming more experience-first, though when I, I want to tell a little story about how I learned about the importance of this. So, when I was growing up, my mom owned a dry cleaners and I used to work there after school and on the weekends. And it can be sort of a, not a super exciting place to work, but I made it a game for me to try and remember everybody's name that came in and something about them so that when they came in, for just dropping off their dry cleaners, they would be surprised that I would greet them by their name and ask them about something that they were doing.

And they always love that personal attention. And it really taught me this sort of customer-focused approach of how to… how you can make sort of a mundane experience special by doing little things and listening. And I think that has become one of the core tenets of this customer-experience approach is, “How do they make these experiences and offerings really special to your customers?” so that they feel like they are valued, even if you're doing it at scale.

Alon: One of the favorite sayings we have in marketing is ‘personalize at scale’, which is… seems to be an oxymoron of the past. So why don't we dissect that a little bit and have some fun? So the local grocery, you know, I live in New York city and you have the fruit person, the fruit vender on the corner. They recognize you, recognize your kids, know what you want and help you select. And you, you did that - your laundry example is similar. But now, if you have a person that knows 20 people, how can you have a person that knows 500 people? And how can you do that automatically or self-service and digitize while still, you know, keeping it, showing the love, making sure that they're still related. What's the way to solve that?

Rod: There are some ideas around these concepts of understanding the various personas that you have in your organizations, and then trying to map either through systems, by being smart about it, and then assigning people back into certain personas or letting people pick the personas that they are. So, for example, on, sort of, education and learning websites, there are often places where you can go that say, you know, who are you? Are you a developer, are you an admin, are you a business user? And then, based on what you choose, it might give you a prescriptive learning path that takes you through the sequence of resources that are available.

And then what's, what's changing too, is those resources don't always need to be created by your company. Sometimes those are YouTube videos, sometimes those are documents created by your documentation team, sometimes those are webinars that your marketing organization has put together. 

And so one is creating the content and resources that help make this personalized experience. And then two, depending on the scale of your organization, being able to either give customers choice, to choose the process or experience that's right for them or, if they sort of fit along an expected persona, to be able to send them or provide to them the recommended set of resources and tools.

Alon: So you have to use data, of course, and signals and leading indicators to understand them. But tell me if this - a little bit provocative angle - is something you agree with or not: Customers want to self-serve, therefore you should always send them to self-service, let them try find things on their own, don't care what they do, and only if they shout and scream at the phone five times and ask support, then you should assist them.

Rod: I don't think that customers always want self-service. I think the, the challenge that, that we have as sort of business leaders and, and marketers is understanding when self-service can be leveraged and understanding when a slightly higher-touch resource can be leveraged. And one of the frameworks that I've used is that self-service is great when they’re sort of generic things for their business, like when you can do it on a one-to-many. 

So I worked at Marketo for a long time, and we were basically training a whole generation of marketers on how to do digital marketing with these new software solutions. And so what we would do is, we would have self-service resources for sort of common questions. How to do the basics of Marketo, for example, or what is lead scoring or what is nurturing? Sort of the basic concepts. And then we had higher-touch resources, whether it was a consultant or your success manager, that says, how do I apply those principles to my business? Like, what's unique about it? And it can be a little bit more on the application side where people might want guidance or they might want best practices. So I think there are different ways that you can think about it. Maybe one of the self-services is like how to do things and then the slightly higher-touch could be, how does it relate to my business? And are there some best practices that if I was talking to somebody who has visibility to lots of other companies or lots of other peers can provide me with more direction?

Alon: We talked a little bit about data leading indicators and let's get back to that a bit. Do you believe that most companies today have organized way to look at data and signals around journeys? Do you think that this is something they have in order to make these decisions? ‘Oh, now we should give them a self service video because they're looking for a product answer’, or ‘Now is the time to route them to a success manager or flag’. It seems like there's a lot of data. Is it CS operations ready for that, usually? Or does it take a lot of work?

Rod: I think there's a lot of data. I'm not sure that it's used extremely well in organizations yet. So I think it still relies on what the leaders understand about their customers and some like intuition about what they need. Better companies are doing research and actually asking their customers what type of information or segmenting them into personas and then being thoughtful about what each of those groups need. 

When I was at Gainsight, we put together something called a Content Council. So at companies, sometimes it becomes very siloed where information gets created. You have a documentation team that maybe works with the product organization that's creating sort of the release information, you have a knowledge article team that maybe lives in support. And what we did at Gainsight is we created a Content Council where those groups were talking together about what information is available and then identifying those different groups of customers, those different personas, and starting to build learning paths or journeys for each of those personas so that we could leverage all this great work across the company, because none of those individual groups had enough resources to build out the entire journeys.

Alon: That’s a great one. So if we just took the two important pieces of the show which we focus on. One of them is about, is CX a team sport? We'll get there in a second. The second one, which we usually dive a lot into is CX measurement or, in general, customer measurements. Now you talked about different teams. By default, most of the MBO or the number one or two KPIs they’re focused on isn't always aligned to the experience or the value or the health - I'm sure you're going to talk about that - of the customer. What are the measurements you should put in front of them that align everybody around being customer-first, customer-obsessed or whatever term you use?

Rod: A lot of times you get information from a support organization about what issues customers are having questions about or what types of, ‘How do I…?’ questions customers are having. You can get signals about questions from what people are doing in the self-service resources, whether it's the knowledge articles they're looking at, whether it's the training in the education. You can also get metrics from talking to the success organization or people that are managing the relationship, the ongoing relationships with clients, about what type of information they need. And there aren't a ton of, like, hard metrics that say, ‘This is the opportunity’, or ‘You're doing better in this experience’. 

Some of the high-level output metrics that I see can be around time to value. So, a lot of the accelerated learning is when you have new customers coming in using your software. And there is a period of time where they're learning about it, they're implementing it, maybe they're doing integrations. And so, the faster you can help that individual learn, whether through self-service or with the help of… of higher-touch resources - internal or external - that can be a better metric. And you can also, if you do have a journey that you prescribed maybe through email or through your consulting team that says, ‘We want you to do these things’, how they are getting through that. Right? So if there's a, you can see a click-through to a training resource, some of the LMS solutions are doing a better job of tracking usage and completion and quizzes. So I think people are still trying to figure out how to measure it. A lot of different ways. 

Skilljar, I worked with Skilljar a number of times, both at Gainsight and elsewhere. That's putting together some diagnostics to see how people are using resources, but it's a tough challenge of, ‘How do you get some very specific metrics?’

Alon: I think as a marketer that has been in marketing for ages, it's very clear it's changing a bit, accounts, leads, pipeline. It comes back to the same thing. It's about revenue, pipeline and measurable things that we all look at our north star for. In the CX world, which is new, but not that new, it's hard. I talk to companies and we started to figure it out, even at Zuma,

and it's about, ‘What is this one metric to rule them all?’ And time to value is a great one. Obviously it’s very proprietary. Every, every company has its own time to value, but it seems like it's usually like this soup of CES, two tablespoons of NPS, a little bit of CSAT over here and time to health and adoption. It's hard. And then who owns that? Who should put that together? What do you need as a customer officer or head of support or head of CS to define that? Don't you need some analytics and op support?

Rod: I think you do. I think one of the roles of a chief customer officer is to help drive the importance of this customer experience across the company. So, in the old days, customer experience used to be a function on its own that didn't necessarily have an operating team that was actually making things happen. The role of the CCO, as I've seen over the past couple of years, now comes with a whole organization. Maybe it comes with a support team. Maybe it comes with a CSM team. Maybe it comes with some type of services or education organization. And so they have resources that are in place that can now take that customer experience and actually make it happen. 

But, it can't happen without, you know, having better interactions with the sales organization, better handoffs and better expectations. It can't happen without great interaction with a product team that is understanding what customers are struggling with and improving that and balancing the development of new features versus customer love types of initiatives. And so they really have to drive not just results in their organization, but they also have to be a really effective cross-functional leader, driving company-wide initiatives. And that's, I think what makes this role, this evolving role of the chief customer officer, so challenging is they have to be a company driver, they have to execute in their own business for this quarter or this year, and then they have to be planning for the future and making sure that their company can scale.

Alon: So you're telling me - crazy! - who would have thought that CX isn't just owned by the chief customer or CXO, but it's a team sport? The product, marketing, and everybody should be aligned to.

Rod: I think everybody needs to be aligned to it. I do think that the person in that chief customer officer role can be the driver and advocate to make sure that it happens, because they often see the result when it doesn't happen well. Right? It leads to longer adoption cycles, it leads to higher churn rate, it leads to more support issues. So, you know, by being able to develop what is that journey that we want the customers to be on, it requires inputs from other organizations, but it can be driven by this, this customer facing leader.

Alon: Cost versus experience. It's always a debate, and I think it came from the contact center world, but it's also filtering into the B2B world a lot about experience. The belief is, ‘Oh, we got to grow by 50% next year’, but you're not getting 50% more budget to hire more CSMs and more support and all that. How do you handle that? How do you balance the growth that you need to do while not growing the cost by the same much?

Rod: There's this concept around scaling and in my business I've actually created a, a methodology around the HelloCCO scaling framework. But this approach to scaling is really important because companies need to continuously improve. And as a company grows, there is an increasing focus on the financial metrics, the cost to be able to deliver some amount of service or results. So, companies are often thinking about how do they put in place more automation to help. Where the automation and this, uh, this sort of repeat process works is self-service. And then they think about where does sort of a higher-touch or labor intensive, uh, value help more. And that's often a challenge because people like their jobs and they want to keep their jobs and they want to have more people like sort of managers often want more people, but you have to figure out how do you do more with less over time by using a lot of these self-service, a lot of these automated solutions that your company provides and helps your, your clients think through.

Alon: Let's say, I tell you, you have this ability to eradicate from this world something which really ticks you off about experiences or customer-related or whatever. That people either overuse or underuse, or just really don't get. What would it be?

Rod:  Well, there's something that's happening right now that I think is challenging, which is so many people are changing jobs, right? You read about this Great Resignation, which from a software company standpoint means that either your team that's working with customers is changing and so you're having to reassign clients or the people at your clients are changing. So there's a lot of new relationships that need to get built. And I think this ties in to this self-service.

So there are so many people that are going through this like Great Resignation that's what's happening is there needs to be this Great Retraining. 

People are taking new jobs and they have to get up to speed quickly because it's replacing somebody that used to do it that's no longer there. And their managers don't have time to put them in training courses, right? So, even internally, how do they use self-service resources? How do people get up to speed? And so this sort of frustration with people changing jobs, where they should be, externally you’d say, ‘Look, you work in a great company and work with great clients, you should keep that job and build those skills!’ People are changing. How do people use self-service to learn their new jobs? Right. Separate from learning the software of the companies they’re, they're trying to buy, but I think there's this awesome opportunity to leverage people that are coming in. And how does that new marketer learn Marketo at the company? How does that new marketer learn Gainsight? Whatever those things are, to be able to bring learning to the individual so they can be more accountable for it.

Alon: Yeah, I think this is a, it's an interesting point around scaling. Onboarding for people, especially in customer-facing roles should be something that you empower people to do half on their own, and then guide them just like we treat our customers, you’re right. Should be the same methodology of, ‘Here's what you do, here’s where we see certification.’ A lot of people moving around. That's an interesting one.

Rod: Yeah, and they need to learn the new software, right? And so one of the easy rants about if you're a CSM and you're saying, ‘Hey, what is the health of my client?’ You know, one of the major turn reasons is your, your champion leaves. Well, we might be in a situation where lots and lots of champions are leaving, but you can't just automatically assume that they're, they’re like a red account, they're going to leave. You have to have a play. So that says, ‘How would I get this new person up to speed quickly through the combination of self-service resources and some of the higher-touch help that I can provide?’ But I think companies need to take accountability and understand that maybe this market is changing, right? People are changing jobs pretty frequently. And so making sure they're building in this cross-functional set of resources and this journey so that people can leverage the self-service resources available.

Alon: Yeah, that's interesting. That's the takeaway around your champion or your user? Your super-user could be switching more often than you think. How do you take the value that you've shown to them, plus the boss, and somehow automate that in some way and be able to give it to the next person and get them ramped ready so that they also realize the value and have the tools in their fingertips so that you don't need to spend a hundred times support on success, like training on them. A very interesting notion, I like it.

Rod: When I was at Marketo, um, we put together an actual offering that we called Smooth Transition, which was basically a rollout of, we heard that someone was new at a company. We would send them a set of resources and then provide them with a little bit of high-touch interaction. But we gave them a sequence because we knew this was gonna happen, right? It's not like a surprise that we, you get a new marketer that comes in, or it's a surprise that somebody leaves. It just became about anybody in the organization, if somebody called support and said, ‘Oh, I'm new. I don't know how to log in to my account,’ support would know, get them into this Smooth Transition process.

Alon: The last thing we do on the show is an incredible power we give you. Fairy dust, the axe, I don't know, whatever you want, the magic wand. And we give you the power to talk to founders and CEOs and executives of companies- or even the board. That, the people, you know, the head of success, support, CX, don't always feel comfortable or don’t feel empowered to tell them. What would you tell these guys or these girls about: you should know this.

Rod: One of the things I would tell them is that your customers aren't thinking about your software as much as you think that they're thinking about your software. And so you have to make sure that your interactions, when you do talk with them or interact with them, are very tight and very impactful and very high value. 

You might call and when you're thinking about, you know, ‘Are they engaged?’, ‘How do they feel about your solution?’, that they're thinking about it all day. They've got so many different priorities that they're working on. So you need to make sure that they have the information when they need it and this is where the value of self-service comes in. Of- when they are thinking about it, when they want to do something new, when they're looking for a best practice, can they find it? And is there something that guides them to that answer, versus assuming that they are just spending all day exploring all of your resources and reading through it and making sense of it? 

So, you know, the one thing I would say is, is like, leverage the experience and the journey that you're defining to make it available when the customers need it and not assume that the customers are thinking about it all the time and can, like, proactively find things.

Alon: It's all about the value at the end of the day. Whether it's time to value, understanding the data and the leading indicators and putting the right journey in place… just let customers do what they really want. Let them have the right content ahead of them and just be there for them when they really need you.

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