Rants of a Customer Success Analyst: Flipping the Spoon – Your Data

April 22, 2022

Justin Garlock

Category: Customer Retention, Customer Success as a Service, Customer Success Maturity, Customer Success Strategy, Voice of the Team

The Reason

My wife and I have been married for almost seven years. We were the couple that got married fast and haven’t looked back for a second. She is my best friend and the only person who knows me completely and wholly. Of course, I loved her before we got married, but there was a specific moment on our honeymoon as she walked along the beach a few paces ahead of me, the clear water gliding across her feet as they slightly sank in the sand, the sun softly approaching the waterline of the Gulf enough to create a fusion of orange and blue in the distance—the first time in my life I can remember taking the time to admire the beauty of a sunset with honesty—that was the moment when I felt the simple and compelling clarity that she was my forever person.

However, despite the love we have for each other and the bond that we continue to strengthen, there is one disagreement that still shakes our foundation—one that still echoes throughout the hallways and corners of our home. A haunting memory that visits when we are most vulnerable—one that we even went public with, splitting our group of friends as we forced them to pick a side.

It was a Saturday, early in 2020, with whispers of an emerging and relentless virus in the air. We had gone to the grocery store to pick up essentials for the following week—we do most of our shopping on Friday nights now, and sometimes I wonder if that would have made the difference that week. It was dark outside when we got home, and after putting away the groceries, taking the dog out, and getting cozy for the night, we both scooped ourselves a bowl of ice cream—chocolate chip cookie dough for her, cherry cordial for me—and sat down in the living room ready to watch a movie. As I scrolled through our ten different streaming services trying to find something we both agreed on, I notice her take her first bite of the ice cream.

Now, this wasn’t the first time I had seen my wife eat ice cream; at that point, we had been married almost six years and we are no strangers to ice cream in our house. But something about this time, this night, a question that had been lingering in my mind and I had to ask: “why do you put the spoon directly in your mouth instead of flipping it over?”

Her silence stopped my scrolling as I slowly looked over to see her mouth slightly open, and eyebrows crinkled with confusion.

“What did you just say?”

The next 20 minutes were a blur; thoughts primed and unloaded through words that left hallow casings sizzling all around until we were resolved to each other’s glare. In a moment of empathy—perhaps weakness—I consented to try it her way. I grabbed my bowl and got a hearty spoonful. The ice cream was half melted at that point. I put the spoon straight into my mouth, the still frozen middle scraping my teeth, sending a chill down my back that caused my body to spasm.

“No. No one does it like this!”

It was time; both of us were holding the line, refusing to retreat—we’d come too far to lose now. We turned to social media. I confidently—probably a little arrogantly—typed out the question and hit send, smug and confident in my pending victory. The final battle of the war begun as responses flew in, and I watched as lifelong friends become foe. The Non-Flippers took an early lead, but the Flippers striked back with hard and sound logic: “would you lick a cone with the roof of your mouth or your tongue?”

By the end of the night, there was a clear winner declared: by a score of 29–17, the Flippers had been defeated, and to this day any time my wife and I eat ice cream, you can catch her slyly grinning as I give her brittle side-eyes while flipping the spoon to eat the ice cream.

To the Flippers still reading this article, I salute you. To the Non-Flippers, you’re in good company.

The (harsh) reality is there is no singular way to eat ice cream—there’s a whole faction of people out there who literally just shove their face straight into the pint. The idea of arguing about ice cream is obviously silly; I never thought it would bring such passionate, benevolent division among friends and family. Imagine the division that would happen if we started talking about more complex and tortuous problems…like your data.


The Rant

*Trigger Warning: this section contains the use of intense buzz words & phrases—see if you can pick them out*

If your organization’s data is flawlessly connected, complete, identifiable across systems, easily accessible, supports the documented KPIs of the business, AND there are processes in place for continuous quality and accurate hygiene…I hope you enjoyed the story. See ya next week! (Message me if you’re a Flipper.)

But considering each of the points above have a significant number of asterisks and sub-text—including definitions, documentation, stewardship, and risk mitigation—my guess is that every organization can target something to discover, streamline, or automate.

Let us start by baselining our understanding of the nature of data.

We love to talk about data as if it’s this aqueous organism, capable of rippling throughout our infrastructure with autonomy, unable to be influenced or refined—a perpetuated jester of mocking our inadequacies. And while I love the imagery of an Omniscient Data Leviathan, the truth is most of our data is none of these things. Our data is virtually tangible; it exists (hopefully). We have control and ability to act, and in most cases, we can influence and refine the operational processes around our data. And most importantly, where data doesn’t exist, we can change that.

So, why don’t we? Why do companies not have control over their data? Why are there so many gaps, flaws, and breaks in process that inhibit us from being able to collect, track, calculate, report, and model to get more predictive analytics to drive decisions based in data?

The short answer: it’s hard.

The long answer: it’s complicated.

The Customer Success organization is no stranger to complex business challenges; it’s what we address in our customers’ environments every day, and what we in CS Operations are tasked to navigate through for the Customer Success organization. We are seasoned in our resolve to progress forward through the intricate and sometimes adverse reality of the mountains we climb; for this reason alone, we are ideal to facilitate the conversations around “fixing” our company’s data. We need to be fearless and bold in our ability to disrupt the flow for the sake of unifying teams through complete data (and process) that will lead to decisions that come back to positively impact the customer and business alike.

To be clear, I am not suggesting it is the responsibility of CS Ops to be charged with resolving the entirety of your company’s data issues—though I have seen plenty of examples where this seems to be true. Facilitation of conversations that notify and alert is our responsibility, but resolution must be a company-wide investment in effort, initiative, and objective.

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We can ignore our data issues; we can continue to read by using the first and last letter as a guide and hope the metaphorical brain of the CS Ops organization will progress in efficiency and haste (unlikely given how hard it was for me to type the previous paragraph); we can evade and hope that another team will resolve, justifying our workload with anticipated effort, but almost all of our inefficiencies trickle down to impact our customers in some way—a variable most would not consider in the risk analysis of addressing the problems now.


The Resolution

Data issues are hard; they are complicated, complex, and challenging—so instead of trying to fabricate a “How To” five step guide, I want to close this week by giving some words of encouragement to those deep in the battle right now: to those who don’t have unique identifiers, to those who can’t measure ARR, to those who are questioning why so much weight is being put into NPS, to those who are struggling to create or test a customer health score, to those who can’t get buy-in from sales or marketing, to those who are struggling to connect your data sources—you are seen.

  1. Lead the Charge. Again, it is your responsibility to ask the questions that need to be asked. Asking the ‘Why’ and ‘Why Not’ often lead to responses like “because we’ve always done it that way” and give you a perfect opening to function as a liaison of change. Don’t be afraid of disrupting the flow if you see a problem being overlooked that will negatively impact a metric, process, or system down the road—it’s justified.
  2. Start Small. This isn’t going to happen overnight. If you are missing the capability to track a specific metric that can positively impact the customer and business, implement the small and simple operational steps to make it possible—at the very least start the conversations with the right people to get momentum on your side that you can build on later. Side Note: I also recommend starting at your most base level of data collection, contract level or deal specific data, to give yourself the ability to create a true bottom-to-top view of money/health/behaviors/etc.
  3.  You Got This. There is a reason this problem hasn’t been resolved yet; hard things require attention and the ability to be bold. Accept the failures—and there will be failures—you face this week and next if it means you win by the end of the month, knowing that the one win means all the positive, fancy CS buzz words and phrases.

The “doing” is the most important part—the progressing towards an infrastructure of data and process that enables you to deliver value to the customer. It doesn’t matter if you flip, scoop, shovel, or faceplant as long as the objective is clear—eat the ice cream.


Missed last week’s installment of Rants of a Customer Success Analyst? Go back and read! And keep an eye out for the next Reason, Rant, and Resolution next week.