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How BetterUp Uses Role-playing Games to Level-up Customer Success

What does customer success look like in a faraway land? 
November 9, 2021

A fog rolls in over the mystic and hallowed lands of Customeria. The villagers grow restless, unable to see their fair countryside through the haze. If only there was someone who could help! If only a valiant customer success wizard with the power of laser-sharp insight was there to bring clarity to the legend of the QBR and restore order to the town. 

But they are. And it’s your team. You’re the heroes of the story. 

The importance of role-playing, improv, and other performance skills in customer success. 

If you’re looking for interesting new ways to manage your team while serving customers better, you won’t want to miss this episode of Humans of SaaS, featuring Porter Williams, Director of Customer Success at BetterUp. If the intro wasn’t a dead giveaway, this episode focused on the value of role-playing (think RPGs), performance skills, and what they can bring to customer success. While you may be conditioned to look for past CS qualifications before conducting an interview or planning a training session with your team members, what other skills, training, hobbies, or hidden talents may come in handy? And how can you use this information to better manage your team and improve scenarios for your customers? 

The value of role-playing in customer success 

If you think about it, no video game or tabletop game is rudderless. Everything designed is intentional, created to move the player in a certain direction or force a decision. There is no neutral game design, just like there’s no neutral customer success approach. Much like role-playing games, what you choose to focus on has a real impact on the story you’re trying to tell. It can also help drive user adoption of your product. 

A CSM with RPG experience can tap into their knowledge of how things are gamified and connect that to the experience they give the customer. How do you incentivize a certain direction? How do you help people reach their goals and yours in a way that feels like an adventure? Porter recommends the book Switch for any CSM looking to add more gamifying elements to their approach. 

Compelling role-playing games have multiple paths to success. They have emergent wind conditions, where things change in the game based on decisions the player makes early on. Think about what multiple paths to success might look like for your customers. The more you can adapt to changes in their goals or use of the tool, the better you can get at guiding them to optimal results. 

“Yes, and”-ing the CS experience 

While Porter acknowledges that his path to BetterUp could never quite be duplicated, he does see strong value in candidates with theatre and improv backgrounds. Being an improviser means that you have to think and act quickly. You’re also responding to what the other person says by accepting and building on it, as opposed to denying, detracting, or ignoring the contribution. Adding to what has already been said is a great way to show that you’re paying attention and add value. 

Theatre alums also have extensive practice in receiving and applying feedback. Performers are taught to say “thank you” to their directors and figure out how to apply the feedback. When Customer Success Managers are hosting QBRs with customers, they can’t respond to negative feedback poorly. Someone with strong performance skills knows how to take those moments in stride and move them to a more positive place. 

Actors also have the gift of presence. When you’re presenting to a customer, you want to do it so that what you are saying feels like the most compelling, important thing they’ve heard that week. Porter’s goal at BetterUp is to have customers look at other vendors and ask them “Why can’t you be more like BetterUp?” The data you present should tell a story, and you’re there as the narrator. As long as your data is as strong as your story, your customers will come on the journey with you. 

Coaching, mentoring, and training CS employees 

Outside of skills Porter looks for before he hires, he also likes to work on developing skills with his CSMs. Here are a few things he likes to emphasize in training, coaching, and mentoring programs. 

QBR Certification 

When customer success team members start at BetterUp, they engage in a QBR certification exercise. The activity includes the technical work of preparing slides, data, analysis, and workflow. However, the true heavy lifting comes when they sit down with a team of experts and present the insights portion of the deck. 

Porter acknowledges that this is the hardest part of the presentation to sell as credible, clear, and accurate, so he makes sure to provide a lot of feedback to help his team members grow and improve. 

Mentoring vs. Coaching 

Every employee at BetterUp is also a BetterUp user, which means that every team member is assigned a personal coach, and many are also managed and mentored. Porter sees a different value in each relationship. A mentor is typically someone who has walked in that person’s shoes and is providing advice on how to advance. A superior may train on very specific aspects they want to see improve department-wide. BetterUp coaches help facilitate more vulnerability and exploration than a manager or mentor may be able to provide. 

Going Beyond Adoption Metrics 

An early positive indicator for a tool is adoption rate. As time goes on, it’s more important to think beyond adoption - what are customers doing with the tool? Are the activities aligning with their ultimate goals? Strong data and feedback-laden training help push CSMs to dig deeper with their customers. 

Educating Product Champions 

Beyond training for CSMs, BetterUp also prioritizes educating product champions on the customer side. When a CFO comes to your customer and asks them why they’re spending a hefty subscription price on your tool, it is critical to your survival that your customer can explain exactly what they are getting out of the tool, and why it is worth every penny and then some. If your customer needs you to tell them what’s important, your relationship is in jeopardy. 

Future Focus: Talent Density 

Moving forward, one of the goals Porter has for BetterUp is a greater focus on talent density. When there is a weak link in an organization, it can drag everyone else down. Companies can improve talent density by building employees up, helping A players get even better, and hiring strong talent for any current weak spots. 

Want to hear more? 

If we got you hooked, listen to the full interview with Porter Williams on Humans of SaaS.

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