With 20 years of experience, Nuno Paiva das Neves has always been passionate about communicating with customers and providing the best solution. After a 14-year stint at computer software firm SAP in Galway Ireland, Nuno finally arrived in January of 2020 as Head of Customer Success (EMEA) at SafetyCulture, where he has been working with their international offices to develop the next stage in best practices that will amplify Safety Culture’s Customer Success strategy.
How do you onboard and train your reps?
I think that it’s key that if we’re recruiting people to success roles, I’m very keen to understand what their knowledge is of customer success, as a practice. We’d then provide company-generic onboarding.
I think the culture side of this particular role is absolutely key. We have a unique and fantastic company culture, and that is one of the aspects we always include. Then everything related specifically to success — playbooks, customer journals, tools, metrics.
We then introduce them to all the relevant stakeholders across the organisation, from product, to marketing to sales. Everyone and everything that will be part of their daily interaction because success is a multi-task activity, so it’s absolutely key that we’re all internally aligned.
How do you share best practices with each other?
I came from a very strict corporate world where the use of collaborative tools wasn’t that extended, even though it was there. I’ve jumped into using Slack as the preferred communication channel – it’s absolutely fantastic. Now, I check my Slack before I check my email, which is a massive change for me.
We try to make it as interactive and exciting as possible, because we need to have immediate communication and collaboration, and also to keep track of outcomes and to share information. We use Confluence a lot as well.
We also value the engagement among peers and the team, having weekly, bi-weekly, and bi-monthly meetings, across regions, among ourselves and other stakeholders within the company.
How do you ensure reps have all the knowledge they need?
[Going back to] the collaborative practice and mindset, it’s absolutely key that we ensure that on a daily basis the collaboration is there. So I think the tools are not the most important points to be discussed, but the mindset. I love that no one in my team or organisation is hiding behind their desks. Everybody is always available to support and collaborate.
What would you include in a ‘Customer Success’ learning playlist?
I try to consume as much as possible. I think reading books and blogs is absolutely key – Paul Anderson and Matt Miskovsky — two big names out there, in terms of podcast and books. I’m very passionate about the conversations.
I believe it’s key to use LinkedIn as much as possible. Create, maintain and participate actively in a success community.
In Ireland I used to be based in Galway, where it was complicated to organise a customer success café, but I used to travel to Dublin to attend events and meet people. Then here in Manchester, at SafetyCulture, some of the guys already had events running, with different speakers from different companies, being on stage, sharing the knowledge via Q&A sessions with an open panel.
What is one customer guiding principle you and your teams try to live by?
Going back to the outcome conversation, we want to ensure that customers achieve their desired outcomes. How can we do that? We need to put them at the centre of everything that we do. This is also a transformational change and shift that has happened in many companies, and I’m lucky enough to be in one that practices what we preach.
For others the change has been more complicated. It’s not easy to steer and manoeuvre heavier vessels, but it needs to be done. I think everyone who works in success should put their customers at the centre of their practice, support them to achieve the desired business outcomes — it’s not about the product, it’s about the customer.
How do you make sure the customer’s voice is heard through your entire organisation?
Some organisations, because they’re very process-orientated, have fantastic theoretical customer feedback programs that, at the end of the day, aren’t very relevant because product or marketing or sales will actually decide what is the roadmap of a particular solution. I don’t find that fair, honest, reasonable or transparent.
[Our organisation] is currently enhancing some of the processes we have. We’re working towards having a very dynamic customer community which I believe should be one of the key channels to bring that customer voice. Not just via customer success interactions by onboarding people, but I think we should have that visibility, transparency and accountability — on one side from the customers and on one side from the solution provided.
It needs to be clear that a particular functionality request, or localisation topic was created, voted or defended by a group of users/customers and that needs to be visible, so that we as organisations can celebrate that we deliver what is actually meeting the customer needs.
How do you measure and improve the performance of a CS team?
That’s the million dollar question right? I think everyone is trying to find out how to do it in a scientific way, but there’s no scientific way. Again, we need to put the customer at the centre of what we do. All solutions, all products are different in certain ways, but the outcome should be there.
I think we always need to measure customer success references/stories, testimonials, [all of this] is absolutely key as a measurement of success. Why? Because when we have a customer saying good things, sharing their own experience with our own product and solutions, sharing it with communities in events, podcasts, marketing assets, it’s because the outcomes were already achieved. That synergy between SaaS and the customer, was already a key factor.
We need to measure the quality of the business reviews we have with our customers and the expansion renewals. The product utilisation as well, but not just that, we need to instead measure the relevance of that utilisation.
Customer success should be based on customers being happy and talking about it, and they should be advocates of our solution.
Some organisations have started to move away from the traditional CSAT customer satisfaction survey as it’s very limited. That CSAT will be linked to a particular event, in a moment in time. We need to measure the experience throughout the whole customer journey.
“Success planning should be a two-way conversation.”
How do CSM’s build authority and become trusted advisers as well as leaders amongst their teams?
Becoming the trusted adviser is the number one indicator of an outcome being achieved in 30, 60, 90, 120 days. It’s about knowing, from day one, what is the customer’s business, what do they want to achieve with our solution, their desires, and that conversation should start ideally from the beginning of the engagement.
Different organisations have different approaches to this and I respect that. Some believe that during the pre-sales this is relevant, which is fine. Some will have a handover process from the sales or commercial, to CS as soon as the contract is signed, which I also respect. I think it’s not about how to do it, but when to do it. From day one, the first relevant outcome conversation with the customers, is when the trusted advisor should be there.
In terms of leaders and their teams, we need to get away from the traditional HR management perspective, and we need to talk about those people who are social influencers and create dynamics within the organisations. It’s not so much about the titles, it’s about the relevance. Are you a social influencer? Are people happy and delighted by what you write, will they reach out to you.
I also like people who think outside the box, to overcome challenges that have been there awhile. I’m not a believer of micro-management — management is one thing, leadership is another. What we consider management, will be replaced by AI because managers traditionally measure KPIs, anyone even a machine can do that. Leaders are a different thing, leaders need followers.
How do you build success plans with clients?
I believe in success planning and at SafetyCulture we’re actually refining that topic now. I think the customer onboarding piece is absolutely key here. On day one [there should be] the relevant information, linked with the trusted advisor mindset. You should kickstart the outcomes, look at who are business stakeholders, and we need to talk about the end users and expected timeframes for delivery. You should also discuss expansion plans from the beginning — not just from a commercial perspective but the customer perspective.
Success planning should be a two-way conversation. Both customer and solution provider should be held accountable for their own responsibilities. [For example] when you create a success plan, it’s signed-off and agreed, then you have your first business review, everything on the solution provider’s side is in the green while everything on the customer’s side is in the red…that cannot happen.
What are the best engagement strategies?
We need to reach out to the end user more because that’s where the business challenge is and where the outcome can start to be measured. We can talk about ROI and time-to-value, etc. those are classic metrics for financial reporting and business cases, but where everything changes is when we reach out to the end user — identifying the specific problem that needs to be addressed.
We should be having less IT conversations, and more business and outcome conversations.
What is one thing you know now that you wish you knew before and why?
Everything! I learn new things everyday with the people around me. You learn things everyday that you wish you knew before, but that’s part of the dynamic. I think we should stop looking back and start looking forward.
Let’s say you join an organisation where the team is brand new to you. You can’t look back; you have to start from scratch. All the skills and knowledge you have should be linked to a specific cultural, social and corporate environment.
You need to look at where you are now, and move forward by working with the people around you. We need to talk to people and communicate to people with empathy every single day. Everyone learns from everyone.
I don’t believe in rigid hierarchies or in micro-management strategies, I think those are absolute cons. I believe in leadership, leading by example, and supporting the people who want to follow you. Empowering people so they can also become leaders in their own teams, organisations and in the world outside of work.
What productivity hacks do you use daily for your personal development?
In terms of getting the work done, I Slack myself several times a day, and I try to book-in time on my own at least 60 minutes a day — away from my desk — maybe in a meeting room, maybe in a café. I try to have my own space within the working hours, even if it’s 5-10 mins looking at LinkedIn, or watching a video about customer success or trying to address specific business challenges.
If the complexity isn’t there, have a cup of coffee and try and learn something new. Listen to a podcast, look at some of the customer success assets on LinkedIn — which are absolutely amazing — focus on success and focus on the daily tasks but take a moment to reflect also.
How do you teach yourself and your team to deal with failure?
We need to understand that failure is part of our day-to-day. There’s no complexity about that. What we need to do is learn and improve, do it again, potentially fail again and do it again. It’s a dialectical process. From the moment you believe and realise that failure is part of your day-to-day, you’ll take away that heavy burden from it.
What’s one life philosophy that everyone should try to implement and how could they do this?
Always communicate with the people around you. Don’t isolate yourself. Be open to learn and listen and communicate with others. I’m very passionate about this. Especially when we look at some of the complex society models we see around us: Big cities, massive pressure at work, bills and mortgages, tremendous mental health issues…I think communication is key.
We are a social animal and we can’t stop being social.