Rants of a Customer Success Analyst: Crocheting Chains – Customer Health Scores

June 3, 2022

Justin Garlock

Category: Customer Adoption, Customer Experience, Customer Onboarding, Customer Retention, Customer Success as a Service, Customer Success Maturity, Customer Success Operations, Customer Success Strategy, Voice of the Team

The Reason

Well… we’ve officially entered June—the final month of our second quarter here at ESG, and the final month of this series. For those of you who are still with me and are continuing to read and find value in these rants, thank you. For those of you who I lost as soon as I started talking about flipping spoons to eat ice cream, I’m sorry.

While I’ve enjoyed ranting about what I’m most passionate about over the last two months, I thought this week would be an appropriate time to take a step back and tell you a little more about myself. (And yes, I promise there’s a Customer Success lesson in here, if you’ll just stick with me.)

  1. My name is Justin Garlock and I’m from a small-ish town called Norwood in Ohio.
  2. I’m truly an analyst at heart. I over-analyze most things and need to see the data to support most of my decisions in life.
  3. I’m a drummer. I started playing saxophone in fifth grade, but in sixth grade, I threatened to quit band if I couldn’t switch to percussion. It worked.
  4. My wife, Jenny, is my best friend.
  5. My dog, Sox, is our boss. We exist only to make her life as comfortable as possible. Also…she refuses to learn how to handshake—but she can spin on her back legs on command so…that’s something.
  6. I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of Cincinnati. I started my college career in the Diagnostic Cardiovascular Medical Sonography program. There was also a time where I thought for sure I’d be an English professor—I used to get to class early to stand in front of an empty classroom and pretend to teach…was only caught once.
  7. I’m a true crime enthusiast—it keeps me grounded in the reality of the unsettling things and people that can lurk in the corners of a world I choose to see through naïve eyes. Name a true crime podcast and it’s very likely that I’ve binged it. Name a case and it’s almost guaranteed I have a strong opinion about it.
  8. Tennis and hockey are my sports. I could watch/play/talk about tennis all day. (Fedal for life!) And hockey has always been a part of my life, despite not being able to play—I could never get the skating thing down, but at least my fantasy hockey game is strong. I’m also the guy who watches a game and points out everything the broadcasters miss or mess up. It’s more fun than it sounds.
  9. My favorite movie franchise is Rocky. “Yo, Adrian…I did it!” It was the first time I ever saw Jenny cry…it was beautiful.
  10. I carried around hand sanitizer before it was cool, and a traditional briefcase after it was cool.
  11. I’ve always liked organization and order. As a young kid, I would fill notebooks with detailed diagrams of how I planned on reorganizing the furniture in my room. As a somewhat older kid, you could find me assembling and organizing my family’s movie collection—first by genre, then alphabetically. Even my drumming style has been described as “too organized,” but I stand by it—there is a place for every fill and every fill has its place.
  12. I never learned how to ride a bike. I know, I know! Stop looking at me like that.
  13. Writing has always been a passion, but I struggle with being completely satisfied with the content I produce. I had an English professor in college who refused to give 100% on papers because it implies perfection and perfection doesn’t exist—he had also only given one 99% in his career. It took until the end of the semester, but I became his second.
  14. I miss the days when PalmPilots and pagers were cool.

Of all the things listed above, there is one thing that I wish I could confidently say is a hobby of mine today; a hobby that I spent a winter almost a decade ago trying to learn—investing in tutorial books, kits, and supplies—consulting with those who were experts in my eyes based on what they were able to produce. A hobby that is the ultimate way to pass time, especially when technology isn’t available. A hobby that has a tangible, useful, and practical outcome. I’m, of course, talking about crocheting.

I can’t express the level of excitement and optimism I felt after I learned my first stitch—the chain stitch for the foundation row. Hook, turn, pull. Hook, turn, pull. I’ve never known such grace and finesse…not even in tennis (and remember, I’m a Fedal guy). I remember watching my hands in admiration as they waltzed in fluency and precision to complete the chain—the ball of yarn noticeably dwindling as the chain grew inch by inch, foot by foot. I’d finish one chain and immediately start a new one: different color, weight, fiber, or type of yarn. But I wouldn’t start a new one by starting a new row. I’d literally cut the yarn, tie it off, and start a brand-new foundation chain.

Despite my fascination with the craft, by the end of winter my fingers felt like they were never going to be able to straighten again, and I had quite the collection of chains. See, I was so focused on creating these long chains (and that I could finally say I knew how to crochet) that I never learned how to do the single crochet stitch—a crucial step that essentially begins the next row of the project. I never even tried to learn any other stitches or techniques; I found what I thought worked for me and never did anything differently. To make my situation worse, I learned the hard way (my mother telling me) that it isn’t ideal, easy, or smart, to try and sew or crochet chains together using the methodology I used—it’s best to execute the single chain stitch and continue the piece of work as a whole. With as many strands of chain stitched yarn as I had, I could have had a nice, albeit small, blanket—at the very least a functional scarf. But instead, I had done nothing and rationalized by telling myself I’d never have to buy shoelaces again.

The Rant

When it comes to customer health scores, we expect a blanket. We expect a customer health model that identifies risk and allows our CSMs to act, triggered by prescriptive data. But in reality, we don’t even have our data in a place to collect the metrics needed to create a health score—most of the time all we have is a ball of yarn we’re trying to untangle to form the foundation chain needed for the blanket.

To be clear, there is nothing wrong with that: there is nothing wrong with untangling the data and getting it in a place to start forming the metrics needed for an increased percentage of accuracy in your customer health scores. It’s where you should start. But, you can’t crochet a blanket with incomplete or missing rows; it’s better to build a foundation chain, then yarn over and hook to start building the second row instead of trying to rig a collection of foundation chains into something practical.

Show of hands…how many of you are letting a tool dictate your customer health scores?

Of those hands in the air…how many of you are confident that you, not the tool vendor, have defined what a healthy customer is for you, and have implemented that model into the tool?

Of the remaining hands in the air…how many of you are confident that your data is accurate and that you are using the correct metrics to calculate your customer health scores because your CS Operations team continuously analyzes the contributing variables and adjusts the model accordingly, perfectly eliminating the chance a customer will churn surprisingly and mitigating the possibility for your health model to incorrectly categorize customers?

If your hand is still in the air—nice try, but put your hand down. Much like my college English professor’s 100% philosophy, perfection in your customer health model doesn’t exist.

Much like everything else we do in CS Operations, your customer health score is a process, not a destination. It’s overwhelming, especially if you’re starting from scratch, and if you have a Customer Success Platform, it can be tempting to go with default settings or recommendations based on industry that may or may not align with your business model. Let’s talk about a different approach.

The Resolution

Invest in the needle and yarn. This seems basic, but I want to cover it quickly for the sake of being thorough. You have to take an invested interest in what defines a healthy customer in your organization, regardless of your role. This guiding post will help you as you add, remove, alter, or refine data points that make up your customer health scores. You need someone who will continuously ask and monitor if the variables being considered meet the definition of what your organization defines as a healthy customer. It’s never going to be concrete. Someone like a Customer Success Analyst can own keeping a pulse on if the variables in the current health model meet the definition of a healthy customer, on top of addressing data issues and defining metrics. Make that investment.

Crochet the foundation chain. You have to start somewhere. Starting with the foundation doesn’t mean your data issues are resolved. It doesn’t mean your metrics are all calculating accurately and completely in your Customer Success tool. It means that you’ve identified the data point that you want to serve as the foundation of your customer health model—a data point that you know impacts your business. It can be as easy as CSM Sentiment or more complex like Customer Lifetime Value (CLTV or LTV)—but only if those data points are readily accessible and accurate. You don’t want your foundation to be built on a faulty variable.

And for the record…I hear a lot of debate in the Customer Success community on whether or not customer sentiment should be incorporated in health score calculations. My stance: it’s not right and it’s not wrong. It’s not right if your CSMs don’t have a good pulse on their accounts because your Customer Success organization is early in its maturity or if they have a tendency to paint an overly optimistic picture. It’s not wrong if your CSMs know their customers well and your organization is more mature. My point is, no matter what data points your foundation is built on, make sure it makes sense for your business model, organizational maturity, and operational capabilities.

Learn the single crochet stitch. The imagery is fantastic: do you want your blanket to be warm, soft, cozy, and maybe a little fuzzy? Or do you want your blanket to be a collection of fuzzy strands of makeshift shoelaces taped together? Don’t get overwhelmed or tempted by all strands of metrics you see laying around the organization. Once you have your foundation built, it becomes much easier to add and test variables one at a time than to throw every metric into the equation simply because it exists. Unfortunately, I see this happen more often than I care to admit—metrics exist, and leaders want them utilized. So, without testing, analysis, or reconciling it with their definition of a healthy customer, they throw it in their health score—making it harder for the analyst who’ll have to unstitch that quilt.

Integrate advanced techniques and stitches. The number of stitches, patterns, and techniques involved in crocheting that pop up on a Google search is overwhelming—but those advanced variables serve as a perfect example for building on customer health scores. As we layer on additional variables into our models, we need not think linearly. Marketing metrics, community engagement, utilization metrics, support metrics, along with CS and CX metrics can all contribute to a robust customer health score. To any crocheting novice, it may come as a surprise to you that you can combine stitches and techniques all within the same project, creating a more robust, complete, and appealing outcome. Need I say more?

The final stitch. All good things must come to an end. I’ve never seen anyone at the airport crocheting a forty-foot blanket. You don’t need a blanket that big. Likewise, you don’t need a customer health score that accumulates forty variables or metrics to give you an output; less and direct with purpose is better than more and ambiguous with irrelevance. Remember, iteration in variables and weighting is ongoing and key as the analysis reveals gaps or insignificant variables in the model.

Alright…time to dust off the old hooks and go get some yarn.

Until next week.


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.