Join us in this week’s episode as we sit down with Cassandra Pazderny, VP of Customer Success at Verse.ai. As colleagues at Verse.ai, we delve into the transformative journey of turning a product with notable churn into a customer-centric renewal powerhouse. They discuss Verse.ai’s customer-centric approach, the importance of collaborative culture, and the critical role of customer feedback in shaping services. Key topics include customer onboarding, compliance in communication, and the qualities of a successful account manager. Whether you’re a small business owner or part of a larger organization, this episode offers valuable insights into creating a sustainable, customer-focused business model.
Cross: Hello and welcome to 73 and sunny, the podcast about the journey of getting things just right. We talked to sales, tech and marketing leaders about how they’re growing, dialing in best practices and getting closer to that sweet spot. This episode will be especially helpful if you’re a part of a business that would like to decrease your customer churn.
We are super lucky to have what can only be described as a client success and account management guru. We are colleagues at verse. ai and I have personally seen her transform a situation where we have a solid product, but also a decent amount of churn. Into a customer first sticky renewal machine, VP of customer success at Verse.ai, welcome Cassandra Pazderny. Thanks for being here, Cassandra.
Cassandra: Thank you so much for having me.
Cross: I thought it would be a good place to start. First of all, everybody knows we’re colleagues at first, no hiding the ball here. We work together and this podcast will be a little bit verse centric, but the lessons remain general and valuable across different industries.
So although this is going to be mostly about verse and customer success here, there are a lot of takeaways, but I wanted to start with what you’ve experienced when you first got to verse. When starting with a new company, what are things that you’re looking to correct it first? What are low hanging fruit or red flags in terms of the customer success process?
Cassandra: Great question. So when I first came to verse about a year ago. I was immediately impressed by our really collaborative culture more than anything. And so it was really refreshing to feel like I could voice different ideas or opinions and everyone would really jump on it immediately to try to implement changes.
So I think that’s really important as a customer success leader to be effective, to know that you have a company that will get behind you and your ideas and be flexible and agile. And it was also really awesome to see how seriously we take our customer feedback, because I spent. A lot of time during those first few months, really interviewing customers to better understand the lay of the land and figure out, what’s working well, what’s not, what opportunities do I have to really make an impact here?
And it was incredible to see how quick the team was to act on that feedback and listen to the voice of the customer and make some changes. So I think that really addresses the second part of your question to regarding the things that I look to try to fix immediately, because I’m a big believer in, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
So I had to identify what is working well before I, figure out what to focus on fixing. And once I determine those focus areas, I really plan to implement some strategies and processes that I’ve seen work well to solve those same problems at other organizations I’ve been a part of before.
So that I wasn’t really, reinventing the wheel, but rather implementing really proven techniques and then putting together like some tracking mechanisms to really make sure that I could evaluate whether they impacted. The change I, I was intending to,
Cross: do you have any examples of something that you see when you first get into an organization where you go, Oh, you guys, we should not be doing this, or here’s a way that we can get a quick win.
Do you have anything like that?
Cassandra: Yeah, absolutely. I think one of the first things that I look at in a new organization is. the way they onboard new customers. I think that the first 60 to 90 days of the customer journey tend to be the most critical time to shine. If a customer has a really bad experience during those first few months, or they’re not like quickly realizing value after they’ve made a big investment, It becomes an uphill battle to try to turn things around and try to win their business long term.
So if I see that we’re getting a lot of negative feedback about the onboarding process. Big red flag and in huge area of opportunity and I actually, I equate it a little bit to the difference between dating and marriage. It’s like when you’re first starting off a relationship, it’s a lot easier to walk away when there’s any issues or red flags.
But, once you’ve established the trust that comes with a long term partnership, you’ll naturally be a little more forgiving when an occasional issue arises. Cause no one’s perfect.
Cross: Yeah. That’s a really good analogy to dating, particularly in the SAS world where. Once you do start going out for a little while and everything starts integrating and it becomes way harder to break up.
And so if you can get through lock them down, put a ring on it. How can we get this experience to be really positive in the first few, in the first 60 to 90 days, so that once everything’s integrated, we become a part of the business. Is there something that, so that we talked about red flags when you walk into an organization, something that’s, that you can fix or you see that could benefit very quickly.
Is there something that you look for in a positive way? So something that, that they’re already doing correctly. That’s a big part. Do you have a checklist of things that you want to see a customer success team doing?
Cassandra: Yeah. I think the biggest positive that I look for is A proactive approach rather than a reactive approach.
I see this, especially with a lot of, startup companies that are less mature in the way that they run their customer success organization, that they’re just very reactive. It’s like they’re playing a game of whack a mole and just trying to address any issue that pops up. And so when I, when I.
See companies that are really proactive in their approach that have a process where they’re really trying to learn what the right touch points are to mitigate those problems from occurring in the first place. And they’re more just strategic and proactive. I’m like, check, that’s what we want to see.
We want to see them being strategic about how to avoid issues before they become a bigger
Cross: Yeah, that’s huge. So this is I’ll shift. Those are great answers.
Cross: I’m going to shift to a big topic within verse, which is compliance for everyone who doesn’t know what first does. We are a two way SMS platform.
A lot of what we do is powered by a I. That’s scary to people sometimes right off the bat, but mostly because we work in highly regulated industries, financial services, home services mortgage, real estate higher education, insurance. These are places where saying the wrong thing in the initial customer conversation can have ramifications for their legal teams.
We go through a lot of compliance there. So in, in terms of account management. Compliance is super important and part, they have almost a twofold job. One is to make sure that everything’s working the way it should. So there’s double layers there, right? So the, not only do they have to be making sure that the account is running smoothly, that everybody’s onboarding at the right time, but we’re also having to deal with compliance and making sure that the scripting that we’ve built for them.
Is not violating any compliance within the different regulations, different industries that we work in. So how are you leveraging the account managers to ensure compliance via SMS or compliance with these highly regulated industries?
Cassandra: Yeah, that’s a great question. It really comes down to being educated.
I think that’s why a lot of businesses are so scared because, whether you’re doing telemarketing or SMS marketing, you have to know what those compliance requirements are. Otherwise you’re going to risk, getting blocked or getting blacklisted altogether. And you won’t even be able to use those channels.
That’s really where verse comes in and our account management team, especially has to stay up to date and informed to ensure we’re aware of all the. Recent guidelines because they’re ever changing. Like we just saw with the recent FCC ruling and closing the lead generator loophole.
And our account managers work really closely with our in house compliance team to, flag any issues with the messaging to monitor constantly around the clock, monitor blockage and flag it right away. So we can address any issues and then just really providing our customers with the guidance and the best practices in terms of, how to protect their brand reputation and design the right type of messaging.
We’ve actually come up with a lot of best practice articles that cover everything from, words and phrases to avoid so that you don’t cut your messages, don’t come across as, gimmicky or spammy or fishy, as well as things like, message length and punctuation and emojis and things that a lot of businesses don’t even think about when they’re trying to craft a message.
When we talk about compliance it’s really becoming a more sophisticated, the ways that they, can scan and analyze messages to try to pinpoint what looks like spam. So you really got to know what you’re doing.
Cross: Yeah, that’s an, that’s a really good point regarding the carriers and we’ve had on, mandy Basra, who’s the our carrier relations director talking about what carriers are looking for when blocking text messages, because things have changed in the last 6 months to 12 months in terms of what the carriers are allowing businesses to message. They’re really trying to protect the SMS channel so that it doesn’t become like email and doesn’t become overloaded and that people are, constantly deleting or being annoyed.
It kind of text messages. So it’s all for the good. But sometimes these. The regulations seem arbitrary and there’ll be words that get blocked that don’t seem like they, it doesn’t seem if you’re a regular business trying to manage your own SMS, you wouldn’t expect that a certain type of, a length of a message or the number of messages that you send in a day.
Would be causing any issues. Someone who doesn’t know anything about it would probably have no idea that they were doing something that was risky or that would be for whatever reason flagged. So I’m sure there’s a lot of education that goes into the account management process too.
Cassandra: Totally. And I should also mention that we have a unique specialty role within our customer success team at verse. And those are our conversational design specialists. So these people really have deep expertise in the do’s and don’ts of scripting and, And the message length and the phrases to use and all of that.
And so during the onboarding phase especially they work hand in hand with the account managers to design campaigns based off of the customer needs, and then on an ongoing basis, anytime that we flag any issues or blockage, they’re the ones going in there and auditing and trying to optimize and see what we can do better.
Both from a performance standpoint. As well as a compliancy on point, because, messaging is critical for both things.
Cross: So you’ve got some inside knowledge on this. I’ll transition to that, which is, can we share what are some mistakes that you see businesses making with scripting or engagement strategies?
So what are businesses doing right now that are causing low engagement rates? Or if you, if a business is doing outreach to their customers, what are they saying that could be decreasing the chances that they get someone to respond?
Cassandra: Yeah I think the most common mistake that we’re seeing today is just people being either overly salesy with their messaging or robotic sounding because, most consumers want to feel like they’re talking to a real person when they’re engaging with a business.
And so if the message sounds like they’re interacting with a used. car salesman, it’s gonna, it’s gonna put them off or they may think that it’s, a phishing attempt or something. Not only does that it decrease their authority as a business but it can also impact the engagement rate and ultimately just damage the reputation as a brand if they’re doing that.
Again, we just have a lot of resources that help guide both our internal teams, our conversational design specialists, and our customers on, what to avoid so that they don’t get flagged by spam filters and that their campaigns perform really well and get people to engage because they think they’re dealing with an actual human the whole time.
Cross: It’s one of the things I come across in my role in business development versus. When, and probably the entire sales team, when we talk to new customers and prospective customers is when we ask about what their current strategies are. They say, yeah, of course, obviously there’s email where we have dialers where we have our sales team is making calls and we do have SMS already.
So I think we’re good. And then when you look at what they’re actually sending the SMS, it’s Hey. Click this link to get to the next step or, you’re opting in without any kind of massaging or without any kind of friendly or conversational language they’re launching into what is essentially click this link, like another call to action or using it almost essentially as an, as another landing page and what people fail to, and almost, it’s a failure of imagination to utilize the channel as a, as a.
As a conversational tool, because they’re seeing it just as a one way, like another way to as another touch point to have a, to, to connect with a customer, but they’re not using it for conversational purposes. And one of the reasons I think, and you can confirm or deny or add your own feedback, but one of the reasons I think that people don’t utilize SMS as a conversational tool is that if God forbid they respond.
So when, if you send out a conversational start, hi, this is Alex with SoAndSoSolar. We saw you were interested in X. Do you have time to chat now? If the response is yes somebody has to be there, right? Somebody has to be responding all the time. And so you’re inviting a queue of now customers who are waiting for a response.
And if that response isn’t coming quickly, or if the next response is robotic and doesn’t respond correctly to the previous question, then not only have you, you’ve burned this customer because now they’re, they. They’re they think this is an ineffective channel, but it’s also a crappy experience.
They’ve responded and now they’re waiting For someone to get back to them. So I think that might be one of the reasons why people aren’t conversational with it beyond them, not thinking of using the SMS as a conversational channel versus a one way push channel.
Cassandra: I couldn’t agree more. People are busy. They expect a reply quickly and if they raise their hand and say they’re interested in something. If you don’t get back to them within within a reasonable time, you’re probably going to lose their business. And if they think that they’re talking to, an automated system or robot they’re probably going to disregard the conversation altogether.
So I think that definitely plays a part in it. And then I also am constantly surprised by how few businesses have good tracking and analytics and data in place to see. If what they’re doing is working, if their messaging is effective or not, and that’s that’s another area where I think that verse can just, can just save businesses so much time and energy, because we have the insights that show you what your.
What your qualification rate is, what your ROI is and allows you to test different types of campaign and messaging, do AB testing to see what’s working and what’s not. And so a lot of what our account managers do and our conversational design specialists do is they utilize that data.
To continuously optimize our messaging and get better and better over time. And if you’re just, if you have some template scripted messages that you’re just pushing out there, it’s like throwing spaghetti at the wall, and seeing what sticks. So I would much rather take a data driven approach all day long.
Cross: That it’s, and so that’s what we, that’s obviously keeping track of. Of which campaigns are working. I think the tendency is probably for most marketing, usually it’s marketing who’s in charge of building these automated flows, sometimes sales, but I think they’re checking the boxes sometimes of did from the executive team, do we have email nurture, you go, yep, we did it.
Like we, we built it. Six months ago. And the same thing, the same messages have been going out or working on content via email, but they tend not to focus on content via SMS. And I think they, they do a set it and forget it campaign where, it’s initial outreach. We’ve built a cadence where we reach out seven times.
Every one of those seven times is like, Hey, click here for more. Hey you’ve signed up for the forum two months ago. And are you interested now? And rather than a conversational approach. And I think that’s probably just because again, due to lack of imagination or due to, people being busy and not an underestimating the channel.
I think they’re probably building those out and leaving them alone. What are some strategies? via SMS that you see working as far as engagement. So what kind of scripting do you see that gets a higher response? I remember I’ll let you answer, but I remember at some point in our cadence, I don’t know if it still happens, but at some point in our cadence we would put it, if a lead was unresponsive after seven or eight.
Attempts via SMS that we would just write their name with a question mark. And I remember that was like, five years ago, that was like it was in all the real estate forums. Have you ever tried this approach where someone who’s unresponsive, just say their name and write a question mark.
So can you, first of all, are we still doing that? iF yes, great. And it’s still working. Awesome. I remember it having. I remember it having a high response rate, but the responses were mixed in terms of some people going, who is this? And some people being angry and some people going yeah. Okay. I remember.
And I’m interested in again. First of all, are we still doing that? And then if not fine, but what are some other approaches that are successful?
Cassandra: Yeah, I think we still might have that in some of our scripts. But the good news is that our technology and our A. I. Is constantly learning. So if that leads to bad responses or doesn’t flow the conversation the way we intended to, then we’ll Scratch that and try something different.
So we’re always evolving the strategy to see what’s working best. But in terms of the messaging that I’m seeing be most effective right now, it really comes down to simplicity. A lot of customers come in and want to give their whole sales pitch in an opening message to someone and it immediately just comes off poorly, again, people are busy.
They don’t want to take the time to read two paragraphs and they don’t want to have to provide you with a ton of information if you’re asking a whole bunch of qualifying questions really early on in the conversation. So I think the best messages just feel very organic. As if you were on the phone talking to someone or texting, with a friend, keep it short, keep it sweet.
Don’t ask too much of the person on the receiving end of the message and just really focus on the end goal, which is trying to win the business. And if you overwhelm people or you’re too salesy or you’re not you’re not responding in the right way to what they’re saying and listening to them, they’re going to get put off.
So keeping it simple and keeping your end goal in mind, I think is the best approach.
Cross: You know what I found interesting? And this was in regards to long form leads. So leads come to verse in a bunch of different ways. Some of our customers are sending us their, it’s ads on Instagram or on Facebook or on socials where.
They’re scrolling, they see some offer they, it’s pre filled. So when they press the yes, I’m interested or contact us now button, all their information is prefilled and all they press is submit. So they really haven’t gone through a lot of information gathering.
And so when someone reaches out, sometimes it’s really initial, top of funnel first stage. Inquiries. And sometimes they come to us having answer having gone through a funnel, like a lead from lending tree or a lead from Zillow or something where they’ve answered a lot of questions about their journey, their, their age or their income and their credit score.
And if they’re married or veteran status or all those different things, one of the things that I found interesting was that even though We’ve gathered some of that information on the long form and we call those long forms right where they’ve gone through a lot of different questions sometimes even reconfirming those, the answers to those questions in the SMS was better than just sending a single text message that said, we know you filled out the form.
We have all your information. We know you’re interested. It was, we got higher engagement People were more likely to continue going back and forth if you confirm those answer answers rather than jump immediately to the get, let’s get on a phone call or let’s book an appointment kind of thing. Have you found that to be true?
And what other patterns are you noticing?
Cassandra: Yeah, absolutely. People want to feel if they’ve taken the time to fill out a form, they want to know that somebody was on the receiving end and actually took the time to, to review that. And I think nothing annoys people more than when they have to, repeat the same answer, give the same information over and over again.
Really showcasing that. Okay. That’s been handed off. We know X, Y, Z about you. Let’s continue the conversation. I think that’s so important. And then, I think scheduling is the other kind of big theme that comes to mind as like an important factor and sort of the lead or the customer experience is making it really easy to schedule time to talk to someone.
Or to schedule an appointment or to get your questions answered. And so I think that’s another big benefit of verse is, our seamless integration with so many calendar apps and really making that whole scheduling process. easier for our customers. Because that, that frustrates people a lot too.
When they’re like ready to go, they’re like, okay, I’m interested. But then it’s like all this back and forth trying to find a time to continue the process.
Cross: That’s a good question because people ask about that a lot. So when, let’s say you’re using something, whether it’s first or some other kind of automation or SMS engagement when do you, how did the account managers decide?
Whether a lead, whether it would be a good fit for a company to have live transfers. So getting someone onto the phone and then getting them transferred for an inbound call versus setting them up with an appointment scheduling, service, whether we use an external link to book appointments for them.
How do the account managers decide who would be a good fit for the inbound live transfers versus who would be a good fit for appointment setting?
Cassandra: Yeah, it really comes down to staffing. If you want us to be able to transfer those leads directly to your team, right when the leads hot, you have to have the people on staff to be able to handle that volume.
You have to be able to anticipate how much traction you’re going to have and have, enough people to pick up the phone. And if not, you can, rely more on verse and on our concierge team. Or on the appointment scheduling where we can either do like soft or hard type of appointment scheduling for you, but it really just comes down to bandwidth and staffing at the end of the day.
Cross: So I have a question about the account, like managing the account managers and their personalities. So what makes a good account manager or a customer success manager? And how do you manage, because those people manage relationships. So I imagine chemistry and personality has a lot to do with it. Tell me more about that.
Cassandra: Oh, yeah. Good account managers or good customer success managers are really hard to come by and it is, it’s definitely not an easy job. And, they do play such a crucial role in building and maintaining customer relationships. They’re like, they are essentially the face of the company.
They are the main point of contact for the customer. And I think most businesses. Realize that it’s easier to, grow your revenue. If you are able to effectively retain and grow your existing customer base. Otherwise your sales team is out there, constantly having to hunt for new customers to replace those customers that have turned the whole like leaky bucket analogy.
Yeah I’ve had a lot of experience in the unicorn hunting department, trying to find those unicorn type account managers. And I do have a long list of qualities and characteristics and skills that I look for. And I also have a golden list of interview questions I like to ask to help me identify those unicorns.
Some of the top ones that immediately come to mind is, they’re managing relationships. You have to have strong emotional intelligence, right? You have to know how to effectively communicate both with customers and internally. Problem solving skills and analytical skills. You have to be able to like leverage data in order to, drive strategy and decisions technical proficiency just because of the industry that we’re in, it’s complicated and not everybody can handle, some people are scared of.
Artificial intelligence. And we have to embrace that and embrace how fast technology is changing. And then I think sales and business acumen is super important too. Because. At the end of the day, our contacts turn over a lot, businesses change and expand and contract. And you’re often put in a position where you’re essentially having to resell the value of your product or service to a new person.
Or you’re trying to sell them on a new offering you have, or to take advantage of a different use case. So there, there’s not only that those sales skills and soft skills involved, but then you also have to have the business acumen to understand what are they thinking about right now?
Like what’s important to them. If I was in their shoes, how should I be positioning the value of this? Those are just a few things. And then to your initial point about, having to work with a lot of different people and maintain these relationships, I think of an account manager, like a quarterback.
They’re the ones that has to know the customer, understand the customer needs, but then they have to tap all of, our different resources and leverage all the talent and expertise on our team to bring in different people to support them. And so if if people don’t have a positive attitude, if they can’t change with the times, if they don’t play well with others.
Huge red flag to me, not going to hire that person or they’re not going to last here because you really have to, be able to work effectively with a lot of different people, both internally and externally.
Cross: That, that’s super insightful and Cassandra, you’ve done an incredible job with the customer success team at first and aggregating or curating those types of personalities and those quarterbacks, because you guys are rock stars and have been doing an amazing job.
I’m so grateful that you came on the podcast today. Everything that you shared has been super valuable for any of our listeners and we just appreciate you coming on. If you want to go back and listen to other podcasts, if you go back to episode three, four, and five, we actually cover parts of the the compliance and carrier relations issues.
So if you were interested in that part of the podcast, there’s more information on that. But thank you again, Cassandra for coming on. And thank you again for joining us on an episode of 73 and Sunny.
Cassandra: Thank you.