Customer success from a Fortune 100 company to a start-up organization

Lauren Larson Diehl – VP of Customer Success at Synapse

About this episode

Today we interview Lauren Larson Diehl who used to work at Oracle and is now the Vice President of Customer Success at Synapse.
Lauren talks about the difference in handling customer success at a Fortune 100 company versus a start-up organization.

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Interview Transcript

Welcome to the Future of Customer Service Podcast.
I’m Andrea Palten, from Inbenta and I will be interviewing customer support and service professionals to see what is currently working well, what issues they’re trying to overcome, and the future success of customer service.

Andrea Palten
Today, we have Lauren Larson Diehl. She’s the Vice President of Customer Success at Synapse. Thank you so much for being here. Lauren, what exactly do you do for Synapse because I know there’s a lot more than just the customer success part that’s in your title.

Lauren Larson Diehl
Thanks, Andrea. Thank you for having me today and yes, absolutely. As the Vice President of Customer Success at Synapse. Synapse by the way is a FinTech company that enables our customers to quickly adopt the best best-in-breed financial services by leveraging our APIs and infrastructure and my role entails the customer services organization. So, anything involving customer questions, concerns, issues. Customer success, which is really about growing the business and the next step and looking at the overall strategy for our customers and how we are aligning to make them successful and competitive in their industry and the implementation services part of the business, where we make sure that all of our newest customers are getting a delightful experience and onboarding. So, in our kind of extensive onboarding process, make sure that we’re handholding them to success which they then hand off to my success part of the organization. So, they’re all the customer-facing elements of what we do at Synapse.

Andrea Palten
That’s a lot of work. You have like three or four hats that you’re wearing. 

Lauren Larson Diehl
Never a dull moment.

Andrea Palten
Love it. So, tell me more about what kind of customers you serve. Who’s your audience?

Lauren Larson Diehl
Yeah, so our customers are really our platforms and they build financial services on top of Synapse. Synapse becomes that platform that helps them fast track their ability to go to market. So, then their end-users could be any various amounts of FinTech companies, which are pretty fascinating. TreeCard is one of our customers that is building a wooden credit card, very creative, and they take the proceeds from this and then invest them in nonprofits. A really wonderful thing to do. 

Andrea Palten
Yeah, that’s super cool. 

Lauren Larson Diehl
It’s been very, very exciting to see not only the creative and innovative things that our platforms are doing but to really continuously streamline and optimize how we engage with them, how we can always do it better, stronger, faster as we go forward, and putting processes in place as we need to. Then, of course, going back and auditing those processes for continuous improvement.

Andrea Palten
Yes, and so offline, before we came on you were talking about who you used to work for a big giant. I want to hear a little bit about how you took the learnings from that big giant into Synapse. So, what I want to know is, what kind of things have you done to promote great customer service at Synapse?

Lauren Larson Diehl
Yeah. I am customer obsessed for sure and always have been. It’s always putting yourself in the customer’s shoes and the critical elements around doing that as a customer set is really around empathy, setting expectations, and continuous communication. So, those are the fundamentals of keeping your customers happy, trying to get ahead of their issues. So, prior to Synapse, I spent almost 30 years at Oracle where I in the last 20 years grew the customer success organization from two to $10 billion. Big number and you compare that to a startup but the great thing about that is all the experience and all the things that I learned about how do you bring on new customers? Since I managed through customers that were some of the largest businesses in the world, we’re now learning that very structured process and how do we leverage all of that and put that into place as you’re a startup and you’re growing. It’s been an incredibly exciting journey to make such a big impact multiple times a day. Not even every day or every week but multiple times a day. 
We’re looking continuously to look at and engage with our customers in their journey. A lot of it is again, that kind of empathy to we understand what your challenge is and then looking at, hey, how are we partnering and making sure that it truly is a partnership and through many years at Oracle, that that’s one of the fundamentals that I learned across our customer success management organization at Oracle. It was very much about making sure that customers recognize that it’s an investment that they’re making in their success. They’re investing in you as a company to help mutually be successful, but it is a partner in that journey forward. So, you do that by making sure that businesses were aligned. We’re looking around the corner for them to try to help them before they hit stuff and to kind of guide them around how to keep them competitive in their industry. Working on that at Synapse is fascinating. It’s going to be a long and continuous journey where I continue to streamline, optimize, repeat over and over again, just as we’ve always done.

Andrea Palten
Yes. So, what is it like to go from this huge, freight ship to a little speed boat? I mean, that’s such a difference going from Oracle to a small startup. What’s the good part? What do you like about that because you light up when you talk about the work that you’re doing?

Lauren Larson Diehl
Yeah, and the fascinating thing was the journey as to how I got here, and you and I had talked a little bit about that, and it was really doing lots of coaching and mentoring for smaller companies or individuals trying to break into customer success. The timing was very right where when the recruiter at Synapse tapped me, it was, wow, this could be an amazing journey. Something that I’m incredibly passionate about I get to do as a day job and not as a night job. So, that’s where I got there. So, incredibly passionate about that piece of it and I couldn’t have made a better decision and it’s been an incredible journey. I expect great things to continue to come. Really the biggest impact is you have a huge impact, a small company that really needs to leverage your experience and your obsession with customers and seeing that, just make a difference like multiple times a day, each, and every day, that’s self-rewarding in itself. It kind of keeps you going from moment to moment. 

Andrea Palten
Yeah. So, when you moved from such a big company to a more agile company, I’m assuming. A start-up, that’s what I think of when I think startups. What happens with resources? Because we all have limited resources and one way or the other whether that’s bandwidth, whether that’s staff, whether that’s a budget. How are you coping with limited resources, if you have any?

Lauren Larson Diehl
Yes, we all do. That was a continuous exercise in my years at Oracle. In those 30 years, particularly the last 15 it’s how do you continue to streamline and optimize, and hey, and this year it’s going to be, how can you do more with less resource? So how do you do that? That’s where you learn to innovate yourself out of problems. When challenges come your way, you can’t say I’m going to just throw bodies or money at it. Sometimes you can do that most of the time, you can’t. So how do you innovate yourself out of that? 
So, you have to dig in and figure out how to solve for X in a streamlined and creative manner. That approach just becomes, again, recyclable that you constantly look at challenges that come in. At Synapse I now run the services organization. If something is broken, I’m like, great now I can go fix it and how do I do that? We’re going to continue to iterate through the things that are working to continue to improve and then look at some things that just maybe aren’t working so well. So, we’re going to change those, and we know, and we can do it really quickly. That’s just the beauty of being at a startup. It’s like, yes, we can. Right now. Why not? Yeah. Right now. I think the first few weeks I was just so thrilled in the fact that I could, I can do it right now. I admit it.

Andrea Palten
I don’t have to ask for permission. I just do it.

Lauren Larson Diehl
I don’t have to ask. I’m just going to get it done. I’m going to do it right now.

Andrea Palten
That’s awesome. I did a similar jump like yours at one point in my career where I went from a billion-dollar company to a small startup, and it was so surprising. They’re like, you can just do it Andrea and I was like, whoa, okay. No permission, I’ll just go ahead.

Lauren Larson Diehl
Yeah. Who am I going to ask? I’m going to ask myself. Yep, I think it’s a great idea. That’s the beauty of the startup world.

Andrea Palten
Exactly. So, now that you’ve been in the role for a little bit, and you’re looking at what’s happening with customer success and if you guys are nailing it, or if there are things that you still need to fix, how do you measure customer success?

Lauren Larson Diehl
As they say, “What gets measured gets done,” and there’s a lot of truth to that. So, I’ll go back to an example at Oracle. Started with a very simple spreadsheet. How am I going to manage this set of accounts and what needs to be done across all of these accounts? Very simple, start out on a spreadsheet. I turned it into a customer success workbench where I had 26 different metrics. Just one of the metrics was around customer satisfaction, which combined three different elements. One was a transactional survey result from every engagement they would have with us and another one was a global relationship survey and then the third was that I directly created called an engagement review that really got to the heart of are we adding value directly to this customer and how are we doing that?
So, where’s that strategic factor in our relationship. Combined, all of those weighted and scored kind of gave us that, where are we, where do we stand? And we would rate and rank every customer in terms of how happy are they and how are we adding value to them? So, I’ve taken that, and this is a great thing. I’m like, yeah, this, this worked really well. It could always be better and we’re constantly making improvements, but I’ve applied that at Synapse and in the early stages of it. But today I’m launching our first-ever survey that will go out to all of our customers and then we have already scheduled a regular cadence and we’ll use this to develop where we are in terms of net promoter score, that is embedded within that. So, I combined a lot of elements that will give us an ability to measure, and what gets measured gets done.
Even though we already know some of the low-hanging fruits and things that we want to improve, this makes sure that we’re incorporating it in a very structured manner so we can take direct action and are measuring this. So, you can always say, ah, yeah, we know that we need to do X, Y, Z, but now we know, okay specifically why and then that continuous communication that goes back to our customers around, yes, we heard you and this is what we’re doing. That continuous feedback loop, that open dialogue helps to set expectations. There may be some things that are just going to take longer. How do we come up with the interim steps towards that but that we’re kind of partnering along the way with all of our customers? This is a big leap forward in enabling that to happen.

Andrea Palten
Yeah. You definitely know what you’re talking about. I’m loving this. I like the workbench idea to where it’s not just…

Lauren Larson Diehl
That’s coming next. Yeah. We just started so I’m actually managing a very, very, very large spreadsheet that’s kind of grown steroids with arms and legs, but in parallel to that, we have started to actually build a tool related just to that. You start simple. What do you want to measure? These are all the things that we need to measure and then how do we make it as automated as possible because you need to move from manual to automated so you can get to that next thing. Counting all of this streamlining and moving forward and everything that you can automate, automate. That’s just the beauty of where AI comes into play too. The more that you can just baseline, just get done, and knock off the table, the more that humans can use their creative brains to gauge what the next challenge is and how are we going to solve for that? And then once you kind of nail that down, automate that, and you continue to move forward.

Andrea Palten
And I love that you brought up AI because that is going to be my next question for you and I’m asking you Lauren as the expert. So, not in regards to Synapse or Oracle or anything just you because you’ve been at this for a long time you are a complete expert at customer success. My question is, what do you think this is all going to go with artificial intelligence? How do you think AI is changing customer success?

Lauren Larson Diehl
Yeah. it’s making customers happier because they’re getting instant gratification. We just can’t stay awake 24/7. So, if you’re going to rely on human intervention for all this, it’s tough then you’ve just got to continue, and humans continue to make errors. Not that we don’t code into AI and can’t, but it really gives us the ability, as I was trying to describe is to take this lowest common denominator of questions, concerns, issues that we can very simply reply back to a customer in whether it’s a chatbot or there are so many different forms of automation to just get embedded into everything that we do. You don’t even notice that it’s behind there and it continues to get smarter. So, it will kind of self-solve for some things and it’ll continue to do that as we go forward. 
It will ultimately be things we take for granted when milk will just show up at the door when we’re out. It could probably do that today. It’s actually not a stretch, maybe not so automated, but yes, I mean, these things would just become commonplace. So, you look at it in a customer success environment where we are at Synapse continuing to do that also. Yes, there’s constant AI built-in, and it really does just let us get to that next level of what are we going to solve for next. Once you’ve solved that, you just embed that into the streamlined process and automating, right and the AI cycle is right in there and it’s fascinating. I’m constantly fascinated by new technology as it comes up and computer science major so kind of geeky at heart still. So, all of that still fascinates me. I’m like yes.

Andrea Palten
It is. It’s so fascinating and it moves so fast too. So, I remember years ago, a lot of times people would say like, ah, I just want to talk to a human. Don’t give me a bot. I don’t want it. I don’t want to deal with this. I want to talk to a human. and lately, I’ve been hearing from people like, oh, I hope I don’t get a human on the phone. I just want to walk through this phone tree, or I just want to talk to a bot because I just want my stuff to get taken care of. I don’t need to talk to a human. So, it’s like the switch that’s been happening over the last years and it’s interesting to see where it will go and the younger people, that’s all they’re used to, so they don’t even know any different and so it’s going to just move faster and faster. 

Lauren Larson Diehl
Yeah, and that’s the perfect place we really want to get to where people prefer that and that means that it’s working. That means that it’s effective and sometimes people get frustrated. Well, I didn’t understand the question. Most of the time because you’re not really asking the right questions, but it doesn’t necessarily know how to prompt you to the right question, so you go around in circles. That’s not a great user experience. So, we have to continue to make it smarter and you need to continue to iterate on, okay, this is pretty good. How do we continue to streamline and improve that, and it needs to be continuous. But we’re in places. We are already at a place where yeah, especially our kids and younger generation everything they can do in 20 seconds on their phone with one hand, and then they’re done. 
It’s pretty incredible and we were not at that place 20 years ago, 30 years ago, even 10 years and the rate of change continues to ramp. It’s one of my favorite phrases and it continues to be true. It gets more and more exciting every day how fast we can change it and that’s where it’s exciting. Some people are like, oh yeah, it all changes too fast. No, no, no, no, this is great because we can change it.  We’ll be kind of riding that rate of change, that ramp and it’s not going to slow down and it’s that automation that we’re building into everything that we do, not even just even our day-to-day jobs and our just overall life. I mean, it’s from how do you sign up for your next COVID test if you need to have one. Then how are we streamlining and automating that? And you look at where we were in March or April when these things are almost non-existent to where we’ve come now. It’s come a long way.

Andrea Palten
Yeah. It is. It does blow my mind all the time. So, Lauren, I have one last question for you, and this is a question I would love, love, love your answer from too because I’ve asked this every now and then to a lot of the people that come on the podcast. But I love your advice so far. I think this is going to be really good for everybody listening. What is number one? You can only choose one. What is the number one advice that you have for customer service departments?

Lauren Larson Diehl
Yeah. The number one advice is to empathize with your customers. If you could only do one thing, it’s empathy. Whether you can solve a problem immediately, or it’s something that, hey, honestly, might just take six months to fix this. You need to enable yourself to communicate directly with them and really understand what they’re going through. That is the biggest skill and the hardest thing to teach. Some people either naturally have it, or they don’t and there is a little bit of teaching. Of course, solving the technical part of it compared to making sure that we get that empathy piece in there is easy. The technical answer is black and white. But that empathy piece is because it’s the hardest thing to train if individuals don’t have it. So, I would say harness your empathy skills. That’s where a customer could be in the dire straits, but you’ve emphasized with them, you’re partnering with them. They then build that trust with you that you’re effectively communicating in that cycle. So, that would be my number one thing. 

Andrea Palten
Yes, empathy, especially after 2020. 

Lauren Larson Diehl
We all need a little more empathy.

Andrea Palten
Yes. Yes. Well, Lauren, that was really great advice. Thank you so much for being here. I really appreciate your time.

Lauren Larson Diehl
Yeah. Thank you so much, Andrea. Have a great rest of your day everyone.

Thanks so much for tuning in. This podcast was brought to you by Inbenta. Inbenta Symbolic AI implements natural language processing that requires no training data Inbentas extensive lexicon and patented algorithms. Check out this robust customer interaction platform for your AI needs. From chat, bots to search to knowledge centers and messenger platforms. Just go to our website to request a demo at inbenta.com, that’s I N B E N T A.com. If you liked what you heard today, please be sure to subscribe to this podcast and leave us a review. Thank you.

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