How to Run a CS Community During a Pandemic

Anika Zubair
VP of Customer Success

Interview Highlights:

  • Increased frequency of meetups during COVID to maintain engagement
  • Focus on a niche and own it
  • Have a strategy for your meetup agendas and content topic

Can you please introduce yourself and what you do?

I’m Anika Zubair, the VP of Customer Success at InSided. InSided is a Customer Success software solution that helps customer success and support teams improve retention, customer growth, and advocacy - all in one platform. We’re all about community, and an engagement center for all your customers to come in and see everything about your tool. 

A bit about myself outside of InSided: I’m Californian, and I’ve been living abroad for the last 10 years: four and a half years in Germany, and five years in London. In that time, I’ve been really involved in a lot of different user group communities like CSM London, which I helped co-found. I run two customer success podcasts of my own as well. 

What motivated you to start CSM LDN and why?

I met my two co-founders Lauren and Marcel while all three of us were in London looking for an opportunity to network. We wanted to share and exchange ideas with others in the customer success field. There was no in-person or physical meetup for the wider community at the time. Maybe there were a few product-based communities, and Pulse locals or the really big conferences, but London locals didn’t have anywhere to meet regularly. So we decided to start meeting once a month. 

CSM LDN started in July of 2017, so we’re coming on four years this year, which is awesome. It’s crazy to think of how long we’ve been doing it, but there you go. 

How do you grow membership?

We’re completely vendor-neutral as well as non-profit. So we never charge for membership, nor do we change for anyone to actually sponsor us. We made the community so that people would have a space where anyone could learn about customer success. We just ask everyone to sign up for our meeting group and check out our blog, which is where we announce all meetups. 

Pre-pandemic, that was in a different location throughout London. So for example, we were sometimes at Mixpanel’s or LinkedIn’s offices, or any SaaS company that wanted to host. We didn’t charge for entry or membership then, and we still very much believe that philosophy now.


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What are the challenges of running a community from a distance?

Communities take a lot of energy and input from the people who founded and manage them. As you scale and grow and more people become involved, it ends up snowballing and you end up having so much more participation. People are keen to speak and be involved. 

Throughout COVID, we thought that not having in-person meetups meant we would have to just stop. But like most other businesses and groups, we were able to pivot online. So now we do all our meetups via Zoom. 

We did that in the first two months of official lockdown. We upped the frequency to weekly instead of monthly, and that helped the community stay engaged at the time. It was just crazy. Everyone was stuck at home. I think people were feeling a bit more bored at the time because nothing was going on. It’s funny - having digital meetups actually led to even more people joining than the live event. 

I’d say that the challenge during COVID is just moving to that digital space and staying consistent, because I think a lot of people will put out a few events, blogs or meetups, and then just drop off. 

What do you do during these digital meetups?

Customer success is such a diverse discipline with so many different niches and approaches that there’s so much to talk about. If we got a mixed panel at one of our meetups, for example, they would tell us how each of them approaches customer success. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned as a CS leader throughout my different organizations, it’s that CS is different at every organization. 

So whenever someone shares something - even if they’re sharing health scores or a renewals playbook - it looks very different based on the type of business and customers. There’s always something new to take away from any company that speaks. 

Another way we’ve kept up to date when it comes to content is panels. We usually talk about a hot topic within CS that month - for example, the move to remote working and how to manage teams remotely. That was a really relevant topic when COVID started. And then at the beginning of the year we talk about trends for the new year. It’s a combination of general advice and breaking down the basics. Keeping our content varied keeps our audience coming back for more. 

What would you do differently if you had to start the group again from scratch?

Looking back at how communities have grown over this last year, I would say I would’ve gone a little bit more niche a little faster. We’re CSM LDN, and we tend to put out content for customer success managers or even customer service managers who want to be leaders. That’s what we’ve always been known for.

But I’ve noticed other CS communities end up just covering it all. Like, all CS topics. That’s really broad and makes it hard to find the right content or the right speakers - or even the right audience. So I think just focusing on your niche and doubling down on it, will help you increase the quality of the content you’re putting out there. 

When is it a good time to create your own community?

I think everyone has their own voice, and everyone can definitely share. That’s actually why I was alluding to niches. I’ve seen a lot of CS communities blossom over this last year, and while a lot of that was fueled by COVID, they also want to make their voices heard. They want to have a community they can relate to and people to connect with. 

It’s important to start with your unique voice and niche. For example, some people have started meetups just for women in CS, while others have done CS leader-focused meetups or communities. And then you have us, CSM London, which again, we’re way more open than ever before for people to join us outside of London, but we’ve always been London-based and CSM-focused. 

There are many different ways you can share your own story in a community, and you don’t have to feel intimidated by others. 

What are the most common mistakes people make when creating a group?

A lot of people think in the beginning that it’s just doing a few events or publishing a few posts, and then everyone will be keen to sign up. That’s not true.

It takes a lot of inertia to get things going. You have to have a strategy for your content and meetups. If it’s a meetup, how many do you have planned? If it’s a digital-based community, do you have enough content ready for your newsletter? 

You will eventually have other people in the community willing to step up and do things for you, but in the beginning you have to be the leader. You have to be the one to start the conversation and ignite everything. 

Another thing - if you’re starting from scratch, get buy-in as early as possible. A lot of the most successful communities get other like-minded professionals who are super keen to be one of the community’s founders. Find people who can be advocates for your community and don’t be afraid to ask for help.


About 
InSided

Built specifically for B2B SaaS businesses, inSided is a Customer Success Community Platform that uses the power of community to measurably improve customer engagement. As a result, customer success is transformed to become a direct driver of business growth. Companies enjoy greater-than-average engagement, broader product adoption, higher retention rates, improved upsell, lower support costs and increased ARR, while their customer success and support teams get to focus on higher value initiatives and proactive outreach.

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