Interview with Celine Doumar, CSM at Vitally

👑 Leadership and Team Building

Can you walk us through your journey to becoming a CS leader? What pivotal experiences shaped your leadership style?

Celine: I worked my way up in a startup, starting as one of the founding members of the team and eventually leading the team. I learned a lot from leaders before me, particularly what I didn’t like in leaders and what I found uninspiring.

The most important thing for me as a leader has always been doing right by my team, getting my hands a little dirty, and being empathetic. Leaders who don’t understand what their team does on a day-to-day basis often misrepresent their team internally, causing tension and low morale. It’s crucial to stand up for your team, especially in Customer Success.

Do you have an example of a leader who didn’t do right by your team?

Celine: Yes, at a previous company in the IT industry, we had a manager who was hired externally and struggled to understand what the CSMs were doing daily. This lack of understanding made it difficult for her to represent us properly to leadership, leading to unrealistic expectations and low team morale. When I moved into leadership, my priority was to accurately represent my team and share our actual challenges so we could make progress. This approach is crucial for team morale and delivering a better customer experience.

🎉 Team Structure

How do you structure your CS team to maximize efficiency and impact?

Celine: We have a structured approach:

  • Solutions Architects handle everything related to integrations, focusing on getting data into Vitally at the beginning and setting up baseline configurations.
  • CSMs take over the account after the SA completes the data input and baseline configurations, focusing on strategy and optimization.
  • Account Managers manage all commercial aspects, including renewals and upsells.
  • Support Team handles all support requests; they are the best support team I’ve worked with.

🤩 Hiring and Motivation

What qualities do you prioritize when hiring for your team, and how do you identify them during the interview process?

Celine: The key qualities are autonomy, initiative, basic CS knowledge, culture fit, and the ability to handle difficult situations. If I had to pick one, it would be autonomy. Someone who can work independently without needing constant direction is ideal, especially in a startup environment.

How do you maintain motivation and engagement within your team, especially during challenging times?

Celine: Transparency and honesty are crucial. It’s important to communicate openly with the team, ensuring they understand the bigger picture and feel supported.

💡 Customer Success Strategy

How do you segment your customers for tailored engagement, and what results have you seen from this approach?

Celine: We segment customers by lifecycle phase, key accounts, and tiers (1-5). This approach allows us to tailor our engagement strategies effectively.

What’s your process for developing and updating your customer success playbook?

Celine: We continuously develop and update our processes and playbooks. Everything is related to our higher-level quarterly goals. We create new processes or playbooks that support these goals and measure their effectiveness. If we’re not tracking properly to our goals, we iterate on the process as needed.

🚀 Customer Retention and Growth

What innovative strategies have you implemented to reduce churn, and how have they performed?

Celine: We focus on providing value throughout the relationship. Our strategies include effective onboarding with templates and use cases, value calculators, and an escalation process for at-risk customers. The escalation process involves submitting a risk object in Vitally, reviewed weekly by a team including product and engineering leaders. This visibility ensures we explore all avenues to prevent churn.

What’s your strategy for identifying upsell and cross-sell opportunities?

Celine: Upsell opportunities usually arise from discussions between CSMs and their points of contact, identifying additional needs within the customer’s organization. Our pricing plans are based on the number of users and accounts, with different packages for high touch, hybrid, and tech touch models.

🤝 Customer Relationships

How do you gather and act on customer feedback effectively?

Celine: We log all customer product feedback in Vitally, which our product team reviews regularly. Our product and design teams conduct extensive customer interviews while developing new features to ensure we’re building the right solutions. We also use NPS responses to identify customers for further discussion and potential advocacy.

How do you set and manage customer expectations throughout their journey?

Celine: We define perceived value at the beginning of the relationship and constantly re-evaluate to ensure we’re delivering on that value. We also use automated responses and scheduling links for NPS detractors to gather detailed feedback and address pain points.

🛠️ Technology and Tools

What tools make up your current CS tech stack, and why did you choose them?

Celine: Our tech stack includes Vitally, Slack, Jira, Intercom, Notion, and Asana. These tools help streamline our processes, enhance communication, and improve efficiency.

How are you leveraging automation to improve customer success processes?

Celine: Automation helps us eliminate tedious tasks, allowing us to focus on more strategic activities. For example, Jira’s AI summarization feature helps non-technical team members understand and communicate technical issues effectively.

📈 Industry Trends and Insights

What do you think will be the biggest challenges for CS teams in the next 2-3 years?

Celine: The market remains challenging, and the key will be demonstrating continuous value and clear ROI to customers.

What advice would you give to someone stepping into a CS leadership role for the first time?

Celine: Be open to feedback and remember that you’re representing your team internally. Ensure you align what’s right for your team with what’s right for the business.

🙋 Personal Insights

How do you maintain a healthy work-life balance?

Celine: It’s partly about personal discipline and partly about the company’s support. I’m good at disconnecting during vacations but still working on balancing work and personal time daily.

What books, podcasts, or resources have you found most valuable for your growth as a CS leader?

Celine: CS Slack channels that I like:

  • CS Leadership network
  • ThriveNetwork
  • Customer Success Chat (Gainsight)
  • Customer Success Collective

Podcasts I listen to:

I would also recommend that if you don’t have a mentor in the space, you identify someone that might be a helpful resource for you personally as you navigate your career.

💬 Closing Thoughts

Any closing thoughts you’d like to leave readers with?

Celine: I encourage everyone to network and learn from other CS professionals. The market and business models are always shifting, so it’s crucial to stay connected and continuously learn from peers.

Where do you see your career going in the next few years?

Celine: I’m currently focusing on internal projects and addressing business challenges at Vitally. I enjoy the work and the company culture here, so I’m taking the time to figure out my next steps while contributing to our success.

This conversation with Celine Doumar highlights the importance of empathetic leadership, continuous learning, and strategic customer engagement in Customer Success. Stay tuned for more interviews with industry leaders in our upcoming newsletter.

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