How We Act: Customer Success in EdTech

Edtech is a quirky industry. The industry — in its latest iteration — is relatively new, sometimes questioned, and yet fairly established. One could say the same for customer success as a career. There are conferences and books, and yet I find myself needing to explain the role to colleagues. So for those of us working in the venn diagram of both customer success and edtech, there is little canon on how move throughout the space*.

As a result, the customer success team at Schoolzilla — that’s Sarah, Caroline, Jessica, and I — sat down and created a “How We Act” guide. Just like a company’s core values, this document does not provide answers, but rather it guides how teammates should approach challenges. Undoubtedly, there are occasions when we fall short of fully living this approach, but the value of front-of-mind, action-oriented tenets remains.

  • We are Authentic — With customers, teammates, and each other, we provide real, substantive thoughts and feedback. If we have failed the customer, then we say as much. We do not exaggerate our successes, and we do not dismiss our shortcomings. While we do believe in being thoughtful and tactful, we believe authenticity is an essential ingredient to all ongoing partnerships. We believe this serves our company and our partnering schools more than saving face.
  • We Understand and Advocate — Deeply knowing the reality of our partnering schools — i.e., their reality, their hopes, and their needs — and adeptly surfacing that reality is a primary function of our team. In other words, using both data and rich qualitative anecdotes, we are Schoolzilla’s storytellers. A key ingredient to understanding and advocating for our customers is developing multiple, deep, respectful relationships. Finally, a subcomponent of understanding is holding the perspective of our super users. At their organization, super users are the face of Schoolzilla, so understanding and advocating for these people is especially critical.
  • We Thought Partner — Rather than collecting and responding to requests, we are active agents in the conceptualization, creation, and development of customer needs. This means providing well-supported opinions, bringing in other resources, and at times, giving respectful pushback to customers. Notably, this approach aligns considerably with that of The Challenger Sale.
  • We are Proactive — We aim to have the foresight, expertise, and tools to proactively interact with customers. This means pushing customers’ horizons, helping them consider the unconsidered, identifying problems and strategies before they do. Although we may never be 100% proactive in our customer interactions, we aim to continually increase the ratio of proactive efforts to reactive ones. This is especially important within the seasonality of schooling; for example, Back To School preparation should hit inboxes before anyone leaves for July 4th vacation.
  • We Follow-up when We Say We Will — On the surface, this appears to be a permission-to-play approach for all professionals, but because following-up is (a) so frequent in the complexity if our work and (b) key to establishing trust, we must excel. In short, when customer success teammates say they will do something, they must do so and ensure that their teammates do the same.
  • We are Student- and Impact-Focused — Above all else, we strive for, measure, and celebrate impact on schools and students. Specifically, we refine impact measurement, generate interventions when we do have not have impact, and we help our customers zero in on impact as well. Because we are deeply aware of the need, inequity, and gaps in our sector, impact on students and schools is what keeps us up at night and fuels our sense of urgency.
  • We Assume Best Intent and Effort from Our Teammates’ Products and Services — Customers can (and should) have high expectations for the products and services we provide. When we fall short of excellence and customers come to us with concerns, negative feedback, and frustration, we begin with the well-founded assumption that those products and services were completed with best-intent and extraordinary efforts from our colleagues. This means we, as the customer success team, balance deep empathy for the customers’ experience, staying authentic with the situation, AND a strong respect for our teammates.
  • We Balance Needs for Students and Well-Being of our Teammates — We are artful, smart, and measured about when to ask teammates to go beyond the call of duty. Namely, there are times when asking a teammate to work over the weekend will have a profound impact on the students and a partnership with a school, and there are times when this is not the case. We take the responsibility of making these calls and “pulling the fire alarm” seriously, because of there can be significant trade-offs between our core values of Teammates Matter and Mission Driven. Cross-sector examples of this balance can be found in Small Giants.

I look forward to hearing others’ tenets of “How to Act” in our role and sector. You can learn more about us and Schoolzilla here.

*Of note, there are analogous resources for edtech developers (via the Department of Ed) and for edtech sales people (via GettingSmart and LearnLaunch).