This week marks the end of 2020, one of the most unusual and challenging years in modern history. We'd like to say goodbye to 2020 and welcome 2021 by celebrating some of this year's wins in our community. So for this issue, we've pulled together a “highlight reel” of 18 Customer Success leaders sharing their proudest moments from the last 12 months.

Note: We originally published this as a podcast episode yesterday — the following is an edited version of that episode. If you’d prefer to listen to the podcast, head over to Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Transistor


2020 Year in Review: 18 Customer Success Leaders Share Their Proudest Moments from 2020

1. David Sakamoto, VP of Customer Success at GitLab
“2020 was a year of building the foundation for a scalable Customer Success organization. As a team, we established the people, processes, systems, and tools required to allow us to deliver repeatedly on customer outcomes and growth. That included adding job levels for team members, improving our enablement, creating a better onboarding process to drive better time to value, and implementing the systems needed to give us the data we need to retain and grow our existing customers.” 

 2. Emily Garza, AVP - Customer Success at Fastly
“The biggest initiative we ran this year was creating better visibility around our existing customers. While we previously considered CSM sentiment to drive visibility around red accounts and influence our health score, this year we began updating key notes about our accounts on a weekly basis. This gave CSMs a platform to share wins as well as concerns, and track progress on accounts, at a more macro level. With these updates, we began to give more visibility to our executive team, sharing highlights and lowlights as well as sharing key upcoming meetings.” 

3. Jason Noble, VP of Global Customer Success at Vinli
“2020 has been all about resilience and adaptability to very challenging times for each of us personally, and for our customers, our companies, and our friends and families. What I'm most proud of this year is the level of resilience,  professionalism, and customer-focus at Vinli. Apart from that, the Customer Success industry has seen a number of incredible initiatives and the creation of some awesome new communities that are much needed—which have have helped us all through this year. 2020 has been the year that Customer Success has been called upon to help customers and companies, and I’m excited now to see what 2021 has in store for us.” 

4. Kristina Valkanoff, VP of Customer Success at Brandcast
“This past year, the CS department at Brandcast was not only able to pull off the highest renewal rate in the history of the company, but we've also developed one of the more innovative initiatives this team has seen in a long time: we created a portal that’s built to manage our entire customer lifecycle on one site with one URL from initial sales proposal, to onboarding project planning, milestone tracking, and mutual success planning. All of this is managed in each customer's Brandcast portal, so now CSMs can create customized content for customers without hours of manual work or engineering help. None of this would be possible without an incredible amount of work from the Success team here at Brandcast, and I feel very fortunate to lead this organization into 2021 and beyond.” 

5. Irene Lefton, Acting VP of Customer Success at EmpInfo
“There are a couple of things I'm very proud to have been a part of this past year. At the beginning of the year, we built a detailed customer journey map for EmpInfo that helped us uncover the different paths that our customers take and where they get the most value, and it identified some key points of friction that needed to be addressed. Then COVID hit. The good thing was this journey maps still stands strong and gave us a framework for how to move forward. Apart from that, I’m also really proud of how this Customer Success community is always there to help each other. 

6.  Jess Jurva, CCO at Lucidworks 
“My proudest moment from this year was to witness the resilience of our Customer Success team. We came into the year with a ton of excitement to push the boundaries of what we had achieved the prior fiscal year. We were gaining momentum when, of course, COVID-19 hit with a few hundred renewals to pull in, and our team had to shift gears. As many of our customers were being impacted, instead of panicking and operating out of fear our team quickly pivoted to upping their game, going the extra mile, and seeking opportunities to help our customers stay in business and be a great partner to them. Seeing how the team pulled together during a very challenging and very difficult year is something I will never forget.” 

7. Matt Myszkowski, VP of Customer Experience - EMEA at Cision
“My proudest moment from this year was how the Customer Success community came together to address a number of important and sensitive topics such as diversity and inclusion, and mental health. I’ve been involved in many online events this year covering those topics, because it’s important to me to not just be open and transparent about these topics but to also try and influence change both within the companies I've worked for and ones that I haven’t. One webinar I’m particularly proud of was one called “Survive or Thrive?” — I discussed my own battles with mental health, what my previous employer (SAP) does to support employees, and practical advice on how to support your teams through the pandemic.” 

8. Peter Armaly, Senior Director of Customer Success Enablement at Oracle
“I'm proud of how quickly our organization responded to the pandemic and its effect on our customers and, at a broader level, with the market at large. Oracle proactively worked to help our customers adapt and understand what it’s going to take to move into the digital realm in a much more accelerated fashion. And on a more personal level, I'm especially proud of two achievements: I’m humbled to have been selected to be one of the top 25 Customer Success Strategists, and I’m also proud in the fact that I’ve started to write a book that’ll likely come out in 2021.” 

9. Or Guz, Director of Customer Success at PerimeterX
“My proudest moment from this year was three months ago when I received the update from SuccessHACKER that I was chosen as one of the top 100 Customer Success Strategists. I was and am still very honored to be on this list among many other exceptional CS leaders.” 

10. Graham Gill, VP of Customer Success and Services at Accent Technologies
“My proudest moment from this year has to be how our clients in our organization were able to adapt to new circumstances. Teams were asked to do more with less, oftentimes in the face of budget cuts and layoffs. Seeing new team members rise to the challenge personally and professionally, while also balancing the logistics of work life and home life, is something I will never forget.” 

11. Ronni Gaun, Enterprise Customer Success Manager at Zoom
“My proudest moment in 2020 was when I actually realized that I don't have to have a certain title to exhibit leadership. Instead, I chose to use my leadership skills during hundreds of hours with CS professionals, offering my support over zoom meetings with those who had lost their jobs as a result of COVID. I dedicated myself to becoming a champion for my craft and my community by way of those meetings and on LinkedIn, which together landed me a spot as a top 100 CS Strategist. And in less than a year’s time, the CS community got louder and in some respects started a customer-centered revolution. I'm very proud of my contributions to evangelize Customer Success and look forward to working with this community to continue our trajectory of delivering value to organizations just as we deliver value to our customers.” 

12. Alex Farmer, VP of Customer Success at Cognite AS
“My proudest moment of the year was joining Cognite and, right when I got there, working with the team to build out a holistic customer journey. On a personal level, my biggest initiative this year was launching the first ever Customer Success Excellence awards. We're planning to run in-person award events to recognize excellence in Customer Success in London and the United States at the end of 2021.” 

13. Elisabeth Courland, Digital CSM at Talentsoft
“My proudest moment from 2020 was when we created the Open Book of Customer Success — a research project that combined everything regarding Customer Success Management. I was also very proud when I have was hired at Talentsoft to become their first Digital CSM and own the long-tail customer engagement strategy. And finally, I was also very proud to have been named to the Top 100 Customer Success Strategists list. 

14. Shanta Bodhan, Customer Success Director at SupplyShift
“My proudest moment from this year was how our team stood by our values. We work in supply chain visibility software, which all of a sudden took on new meaning to the world. In 2020, our team pulled together in four days and created a simple solution for anyone to use our software in order to understand the impact of COVID on their supply chain for any industry, including those that were sourcing PPE. We could have sold the software, but we chose to instead offer it for free to anyone that needed it. Our teams across the entire company took on extra work to support this initiative and help our global community. I’m proud to work at SupplyShift on a daily basis, but actually walking the talk with my team during unprecedented adversity made me even more proud to work here.” 

15. Shari Srebnick, Head of Customer Success - US at Searchmetrics
“My proudest achievement this year was being named to the top 100 Customer Success Strategists list. I'm super excited to be part of that because it's kind-of the people's choice awards for Customer Success, and it was incredible be named as part of a group of phenomenal people on that list.”

16. Chris Brown, Director of Customer Success at Fulcrum
“It may sound counterintuitive, but my proudest moment initially started when I was terminated from my previous position due to the pandemic. It ultimately gave me an opportunity to be exposed to the larger Customer success community—people that were in my network were reaching out to offer support, recommendations, tips on new jobs... And then there were also a number of people that that weren't in my network who did exactly the same thing, all just to support each other. And so that’s why I’d say the proudest moment for me in 2020 was to become part of a tight-knit and supportive CS community.” 

17. Vic Kasoff, Director of Customer Experience at ALAN
“My proudest moment after joining ALAN has been building out the Customer Experience team and facilitating its growth to what it is today. I was tasked with a number of goals when I first started, including building the framework around the CX team's roles and responsibilities, hiring and helping grow the leaders Success, Support, and Sales, implementing processes for every aspect of the customer journey. However, the achievement I'm most proud of is continuing the fantastic culture of ALAN through the CX team. The camaraderie, collaboration, and drive to be successful is apparent throughout the team. Each member exemplifies the core tenants of our organization and is striving to be the best team we can be.” 

18. Maranda Ann Dziekonski, VP of Customer Success at Swiftly
“I have a lot to be proud of. In March, we watched the Customer Success community rally around each other to help those in need to find resources or employment, and we created a Slack group (CSLN) to help individuals in need which now has well over 2200 members. I believe the already strong CS community is now stronger than ever. And on a personal note, I was very proud of how my entire team shifted to a remote only environment while still maintaining a strong customer-first focus. We had to shift everything we do from onboarding and training to executive business reviews—all many of our customers were adjusting to this new world as well. We had to change how we operate it overnight with practically no notice. While we are still learning, growing, and evolving, we are stronger now than ever. We are ending the year with an NPS in the mid sixties, net retention of greater than a hundred percent and an increased focused on what matters: ensuring our customers are achieving ROI and knowing they have strong partners in us. For me, 2020 was a year of growth and I’m thankful for that.” 




The Top Posts from 2020



Customer Success is Taking Over


Here’s Blake Bartlett, VC at OpenView, with a 20-second video illustrating the evolution of the customer journey and how Customer Success is “taking over” all stages by using customer insights to “steadily redefine each stage.”


Read the post on LinkedIn






There's No Such Thing as Post Sales


Rav Dhaliwal, Venture Partner at Crane (and former Head of Global Customer Success at Slack), highlights three patterns seen amongst their portfolio companies in how they’re retaining customers. The most important, he says, is they believe that “success is everyone’s business.” “There is the first sale with a customer, the next sale with them and so on, and in order to maximize the conditions for this, Customer Success has to begin in the sales cycle.”


Read the full post






Face It, Your Champion Strategy is Weak. Here's How to Get it Right


A framework for thinking about how to define the terms Power User, Champion, and Buyer and set expectations around how CSMs should approach building relationships with each role in your organization. 


Read the full post






Words and Phrases That Top Sales Reps Use


Gong analyzed over 500k sales calls to share the words and phrases top performers regularly use. Worth sharing this with the team to try out in the coming year. 


Read the full post






Executive Communication


A powerful talk by Michael Dearing on how to communicate clearly as a leader. If you’re short on time, check out the section on Minto’s Pyramid Principle. 


Watch the video





Success Happy Hour is a weekly newsletter for Customer Success leaders. Each week we feature one digestible piece of advice or a framework from a top Success leader, along with the best resources from that week. Subscribe here.

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