The expansion of Customer Success in terms of scope led to new roles with specializations such as Customer Success Operations (CS Ops).
CSMs or even CXOs cover this function at early-stage startups. Still, as the company scales and the CS teams mature, having a separate operations role or team will be essential and prevalent.
At Rocketlane, we want to actively help organizations build this function by interviewing folks in CS Ops and bringing out their stories of successful transitions into CS Ops.
We spoke to Asaf Klein, Director of Client Services Strategy & Operations at AppsFlyer. He talks about his transition to CS Ops, the experience and skills that helped him make the transition, the challenges he faces in CS Ops and how he takes them on, and what he finds the most enjoyable about working in CS Ops.
Here’s the conversation between him and Sri, co-founder, Rocketlane.
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Sri: Let’s start with a little bit about your journey. Tell us how you landed a CS Ops role and what you were doing before that.
Asaf: It's a pretty good story, if I may say so myself, and I think it could help others in their career path. My career started in finance. I was a back-office analyst at an insurance company on their investment portfolio side in Israel. While I enjoyed that role, I wanted to grow professionally and do more. I moved to Canada, where I worked for the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC). I was an analyst and got to work with some pretty big companies as my customers. The 2008 financial crisis led me to think it was a good time to move into risk management and finance, and I took up a course on risk management at the University of Toronto. I moved to RBC capital markets, where I was an analyst for the risk management team. It’s the biggest financial institution in Canada—the creme de la creme of the finance world.
My first son was born in Canada, and we decided that we wanted to move back to Israel and raise him closer to our family. When we moved back to Israel, I worked as a risk management consultant, and I understood that I wasn't enjoying what I was doing, even though I had a good career path. Someone I know told me I have a great set of skills and suggested I used my consulting background to find a job in high-tech. It wasn’t called a CSM back then, so I was a Customer Experience Consultant. I joined a company called Clicktale (now Contentsquare), took my consulting background, and started using it for tech. I advised companies on how to improve their websites, user experience, etc. I got to use the same traits I honed as a consultant; all I needed to learn was the product.
After that, I moved on to another company called Yotpo, an eCommerce marketing platform (which is a unicorn today). I joined when they were about 50 people strong as a CSM. I got to experience a startup’s hyper-growth, managing tons of clients - enterprise, SMBs - making it work, then making it better. It is a unique mentality; you get the opportunity to learn best practices on how to scale and focus while keeping your head above the water. It's a good challenge to have, but it is still a challenge... Within a year at Yotpo, I started managing the Israel team and was involved in many initiatives influencing the company’s growth. By the time I left the company, it had more than 300 employees in three offices around the globe.
After Yotpo, I moved to AppsFlyer. When the CCO, Ziv Peled, brought me on board, there were 70 people in the CS organization. It was the biggest function in the company at that time. He needed help managing the function and strategy and wanted me to come on board to take on the challenge. The CS function felt like a startup within a startup. CS Ops wasn’t a thing back then. I saw a good challenge and was excited to sink my teeth into it. Three and a half years later, AppsFlyer grew from 300 people to 1200 people across 20 offices worldwide. The client services team has 265 people. I now manage a team of 13 people who support this massive international team daily. We're doing amazing things in terms of scale, and we’re involved in anything that's going on in CS. Because the CS Ops team is so strong, we often get involved in other strategic initiatives. In the end, as a customer-obsessed company, everything boils down to the customer’s success.
When I first moved from finance to customer success in tech, I thought I had wasted nine years of my life. It was only when I moved to CS Ops that it all came together. In this role, I use my knowledge of finance and analytics, management skills, and customer success experience. Put it all together to improve and innovate in CS, and it works beautifully.
In the beginning, if you don't have metrics, how do you prove the need for resources? It was initially just many good people making things happen. Everybody knew things were going right, but nobody measured them. Resources were limited. I started proving things only with Excel: I took whatever I could, the low-hanging fruit like small processes that the Salesforce team gave me, one day of effort. Everything I did, I started measuring. At the end of this process, I had a team full of data-oriented people bringing valuable insights, which is the basis for the CS Strategy & Ops group today.
Sri: How is the team organized?
Asaf: At a certain point, the company started giving us more tools and resources, which created the need to hire analysts to leverage these tools better and utilize resources. I would break it down into three entities today:
Sri: This is interesting. Usually, organizations move some people from CS to CS Ops. But here, you came in as a leader for CS Ops, and you did the work until the team was in place. If you were to do it at your own company, would you bring in the CS Ops leader first, or have a couple of analysts to start with and then figure out when to bring in the leader?
Asaf: I’m very happy with the way I built it at AppsFlyer. I don’t move forward without feedback from people on the ground—Customer Success teams. I respect the data, I live it, but I also know it’s limited. We need people to work on the data with us. For every project we do, especially at a global company like ours, we need to work with at least one person from each region who’ll be our pilot and beta user. This way, we’re connected to them, and they’ll be our advocates when we release it in their region and train the teams on the ground.
You need strong analysts. They understand the data, and now they’re working with the people on the ground (CSMs) who aren't necessarily data-savvy... I don’t need them to transition completely to the Ops side, although I’m always open to it.
Sri: If someone were considering a role in CS Ops and you broke down how you have these three different pillars that you're building, what skills do you think they should have? Or, what typical functions do you think they would be coming from to be effective in there?
Asaf: Whether you’re hiring for Customer Success or CS Ops, it’s important to be client-centric and have the right mindset and skills to learn and grow. When I look at a candidate’s background, it’s not enough that they were a successful student at their University or that they cracked an SQL or Excel test and gave me insights. I check if they are service-oriented and if they are pleasant to work with. This is because even though they’re exposed to so much data and information, you want to know they will be able to work well with people at the end of the day.
I also see if they know how to extract insights from the data.
On the enablement side, they need to bring something unique to the table—their experience must be something people from the company can learn from.
They need to be self-reliant, independent, and process-oriented. They must be good at structuring things. Multitasking is another great skill: the Ops team constantly deals with questions and requests; therefore, they need to know how to prioritize their work.
Sri: What kind of people can succeed in a CS Ops career?
Asaf: People who are strong in both data and relationships, as the connection between the data and people on the ground is vital for success.
Sri: How has your focus on CS Ops changed over the years? What were the CS Ops goals for Year 1, Year 2, Year 3?
Asaf: The goals were as follows:
Sri: What do you see as the future of the CS Ops function and its importance?
Asaf: I am sure CS Ops will continue to grow as companies understand that CS has unique processes, goals, and state of mind that no other entity can do without being part of the CS function.
Sri: Ok, my last question. What’s your advice for people looking to make a switch to CS Ops from other fields?
Asaf: For people in analytics - start getting involved with and help out the CS org, fully understand the CS mindset. Research the different CS trends and understand what the CS responsibilities are.
For people in CS - get your hands dirty by playing with excel, learn SQL and try to make data-driven decisions.
Sri: Awesome, this was a great conversation, Asaf. Thanks for your time.