Back in 2019, when Google acquired Looker for the small sum of $2.6B, Brian LaFaille’s team quickly went from selling to 100-200 logos per quarter to 500-600 logos per quarter. “With customer acquisition going through the roof,” he recalled, “we knew we needed to start leaning into what our light-touch motion was going to look like and what our overall digital success strategy would be.”


Today Looker has one of the most sophisticated Digitally-Led CS offerings in the SaaS industry. Brian was on the  TheySaid podcast to talk through the thinking behind how they’ve built out their digital CS team and program.  Note: Brian has since left Google and is taking a "Gap Year" to travel. We will be looking forward to his return in March 2024 to see what he does next. 

If you’d prefer to listen instead of read, tune into the full episode. Otherwise, you’ll find a summarized version of Brian’s interview below.


Digital CS Takeaway #1: Team Structure

To support a rapidly growing customer base, Looker designed two new teams:

  1. a dedicated Programs team for digital channel and programs creation, and
  2. a proactive, short burst engagement team for the pooled segment of customers.  

Brian: We had an interesting challenge as a scaling company. Our customer acquisition was increasing rapidly and the type of company that we brought on board was skewing towards the enterprise. Both of these factors made us think about how we could change our focus as to how we went to market with Customer Success. 

That meant both focusing our CSMs on the companies where they could have the most profound impact with those very large strategic accounts, where CSMs could have a very consultative engagement. And then we saw that if we had 40-50 CSMs around the globe covering 3-4 accounts, that would mean only 100-150 customers would have CSMs. We realized that was going to be a detriment to the whole coverage model of our customers. What do we do with everybody else? 

So starting back in 2017,  we knew we needed to really start leaning into what our light-touch motion was going to look like and what our digital success strategy was going to be.

At Looker today we have the top 3% of our customers working with named CSMs, but everyone else, north of 3,300 customers, are in a pooled model. But as we were planning this out, we needed to consider how were we going to communicate with all of these customers? How are we going to engage proactively? What is the offering that we're going to give to these customers across a multitude of channels.

It was a slow roll at first. We started to move these customers from a CSM’s portfolio over to this pooled model, batch by batch, as they renewed.

The way that we structured the team to support that was by developing: 

1) A dedicated Programs team, which is what I lead, to really focus on the digital channel creation and the programs that are going to support all the customers en masse, regardless of segment. 

2) We stood up a specialist organization that focuses on the light touch. This org performs proactive, short burst engagements across those 3,300 customers in the pooled model. 

Digital CS Takeaway #2: Digital CS works best when most interactions are digital, but humans can jump in for short bursts to fix engagement problems. 

Brian: Our short burst engagement team adds that proactive human element that most customers need at some point in their engagement history with Looker. We're able to rotate a customer out of the pool and move them into the light-touch CSMs portfolio for a short period of time, so they get that extra white glove experience for a brief stint.  

The customer is ideally driving towards some desired outcome (i.e. to roll out to some new department, a data migration, escalation, etc.) Then they roll off. And we try to be as transparent as possible with our customers about this. In the CSMs opening email they’ll say, ‘Hey, I'm going to be here with you for seven days. I really want to make sure that we're able to accomplish X, Y, and Z. Here are the resources I'm going to use to do so. When can you meet?’ This approach usually lights a fire under the customer to engage with us because they know there's a time limit associated with that engagement.

Digital CS Takeaway #3: Automated touch points should be time-based and behavior-based.  

Brian: It’s easy to start to key off of time-based touch points initially. As we matured and began to understand product telemetry, we were able to engage with our customers based on behavior. We use both campaigns because they play off of one another. There are going to be certain things that happen during onboarding that will remain consistent—all customers need to know about it. But then other things are going to be more custom to the customer.

Digital CS Takeaway #4: Guided in-app experiences can substantially improve retention rates.  

Brian: CEOs, business users, and admins all care about different aspects of Looker. That’s why we’ve built sets of guides that take customers and users through the product based on their persona. It's been one of the most impactful digital channels that we've had to date. We've expanded our reach and increased both our completion and retention rates. In looking at the cohort of users that have gone through our guided, in-app experiences, we're seeing a 12% uptick in user retention.

Digital CS Takeaway #5: Digital CS can be an excellent way to detect growth opportunities.  

Brian: I can't stress the importance of data behind the scenes enough. Product telemetry drives many of our campaigns. When we think about expansion opportunities, it's no different:

  • We have all of the data about our customers that are at or nearing their license utilization limit. 
  • We have customers that mentioned our “Powered By Looker” program during Support conversations. 
  • We have data on digital campaign outreach via email or webinars where a customer has shown interest. 

All of these are signs of expansion opportunities. In Digital CS, we usually treat ourselves as the growth engine of funneling opportunities to the Sales team. 

👉 Check out TheySaid's CEO, Lihong Hicken walk through the 5 Stages of Upsell and Cross-sells. 

Takeaway #6 Share the responsibility of Digital CS communications across the organization.

Brian: There's three key teams that influence our Digital CS program at Looker: 

Customer Marketing: They’re responsible for the messaging, the copy, and the things that we want to send out to customers

Product: Anytime we're trying to do anything in the product, we need to make sure that it fits the style, guidelines, and all the things that go into the product experience itself. Finally, there's customer success and customer success brings that voice of what are the customers asking? Right?

Customer Success: CS knows the customer better than anyone and can bring that voice of ‘What are the customers asking? Where do they have questions? Where can we add value as customers start to mature in their journey with Looker? ’ Customer Success hears all this feedback on the front lines. 

These three teams are very collaborative. I have a weekly sync with a PM and a Customer Marketing manager to really dissect what the customer experience needs to look like. While Customer Success is accountable to and owns the cadence of how and when customers are communicated to, I'm not a copywriter, right? So I lean on the experience of the Marketing team and all their design chops to make sure that the messaging resonates and fits in with the rest of the brand.

Meanwhile, I'm not a product expert, either. I lean on our PM to fix any of the hashing issues or things like that that we might have in anonymizing user data, for instance. With our experience combined, we’ve become a really powerful trio. 


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