Employer: Bolstra

Job Title: Director of Customer Success

Degree Path: Ball State, Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) program

Hometown: Indianapolis, IN

Current city: Indianapolis, IN

What led you to your getting into tech and customer success? What was your first job in tech?

I think I have been pursuing a path of problem-solving in one way or another for the last 20 years. I started out in tech on a team building a simple business-to-business (B2B) application in 2004. Being able to capture a problem or need and build a business case to then help create a solution that solves that problem or fulfills that need was a great experience. From that point forward, I knew I wanted to keep working on solving new problems as a career.

What has been your career path so far?

I started in operations for a company primarily doing third-party retail through television, web and direct marketing. That role grew into a chance to create B2B relationships and an opportunity to help build an application for the first time. After about 10 years helping that business transform, I left to work with an online school that was looking to improve student retention and student experience. I spent 5 years with them capturing problems and needs and helping to improve applications that made for better experiences for not only our students but also for our staff. Better tools helped us create better learning experiences.

A little over 3 years ago, I found an opportunity to apply my experience to a brand new company and I joined the co-founders of Bolstra as their first employee. Now that I lead customer success, I feel how each job and each project has given me something I can use to make Bolstra a success.

When you think of a day in your life, what are the main work activities you do or responsibilities you have?

As with many SaaS startups, no day is exactly the same. However, there are themes that I think are consistent. Days are filled with one of about 3 types of activities. The first is meeting with clients where we discuss their use of our platform and how they can continue to mature in that use. This includes discussions of how to configure Bolstra more effectively, how we can integrate to other systems, and how they best increase adoption in their organization. These are consultative and exploratory discussions that require good relationships being built and maintained.

The second type of activity is working sessions where I help our clients achieve the goals they have with Bolstra but also where I test and build new ideas to suggest to customers and prospects.

The third type is internal meetings and sales support where we are working on making our business stronger or preparing more technical demonstrations of Bolstra for potential customers.

Help us picture your work environment.

My environment is probably 70 percent in the office and 30 percent working remote or onsite with customers. I have a role that needs to be in constant contact with others, whether that be email, phone calls, instant messaging applications, face-to-face meetings or catching up over coffee. Being in customer success makes you a hub that helps to connect the entire organization and that means you need to be present and engaged.

Adam Young with his colleagues at Bolstra

What do you love about the work you do?

I LOVE solving a problem. I love sitting down with a customer or with our team and understanding the challenge we are facing and the outcome we would like to experience. Then I love working with my team to help create a solution that delivers that outcome. Sometimes it feels like you aren’t going to find a good solution and you keep working on the problem until you have that moment where it clicks! I live for the moments where it clicks!

Which personality traits, interests, and abilities are important or common for a person to succeed in and enjoy customer success jobs?

Above everything else, you have to be intellectually curious. When I am introduced to a new customer or potential customer I want to understand their business. More than that, I want to understand how each person and department functions to make their business work.

Beyond curiosity, I think you need to have a passion for creating or building and you have to be eager to learn new things. New technologies, new terminology, new industries. You never know everything, you are always learning and you have to embrace that.

Which tools/technologies or technical skills are particularly important for a person to be proficient in customer success jobs?

Customer success doesn’t have a standard skillset, but a general understanding of the way software is created and the way data is organized is a helpful place to start. I don’t think you need to know how to how to read or write code to succeed in this job. A mind that can organize logically and seeks to apply that logic to new technologies will do well.

Which soft skills (aka general business skills or employability skills) are particularly important for a person to be proficient in for customer success jobs?

There is nothing more important than problem-solving (often on a tight timeline). It’s not just important that you be able to solve problems, it is as important that you get enjoyment from it. It’s not all fun work and you need to get energy from succeeding at what you do to make it through the tough projects. Second to that would be a combination of teamwork and time management. In this role, you manage your schedule to get things accomplished that include development resources, customers and yourself.  Keeping everyone on the same page and moving towards the same goal is key and that is why you are there.

From your experience with new grads applying for and beginning jobs in customer success, are they missing any particular knowledge, skills, or experiences that hold them back?

I think it can be a challenge coming into this role to go from presenting information in an academic setting where the goal is to be accurate and complete, to present in a less formal business setting where the goal is to be informative and persuasive.

I would also say that digging into details of a company or person or product without knowing how each thing you learn will be useful is a new experience for many. They often start out knowing where they need to finish and pursue it directly (which is a great skill to have for this role as well) but sometimes struggle to add the ability to explore and learn on their way to their goal.

Which resources, people, books, websites, etc. would you recommend to those who want to learn more or advance their skills in customer success?

For good reads in this field, I would absolutely start with Value Proposition Design by Alexander Osterwalder. It’s a great, easy read on how to think about breaking apart problems and matching to solutions. I would also strongly suggest B4B by J.B. Wood, The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber, The Lean Startup by Eric Ries and The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni.

I would also suggest setting up coffee meetings with people who do customer success at companies in your area.  Let them tell you about their experience and ask for their perspective.

What encouragement or advice would you offer to others considering this occupation or wanting to stand out amongst others?

Customer success is a discipline that creates a hub between business processes, technology, services, support, marketing, sales and every other department in an organization. To be in customer success is to be a connector within your organization, an ambassador to your customers and the advocate for your customers back to your organization. Customer success is so much more than a job. It’s an approach to the way you see your professional life. If you love to solve problems, help others succeed and be an important member of a team, this is a great way to start.

To stand apart from the others, ask better questions, listen with the intent of hearing instead of answering, be bold when you know what to say, be humble when you don’t know the answer or don’t understand the question. Find a product and team you believe in and give them the best of what you are capable of every day.

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