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In this episode of the Customer Service Secrets Podcast, Gabe Larsen is joined by Michael Windsor and Vikas Bhambri to learn about managing CX teams across the globe and building a strong foundation for success. Listen to the full episode to learn more.
Why You Should Expand Your CX
Senior Director of Global Customer Experience at Skybox Security, Michael Windsor helps leaders expand their CX teams worldwide. For some, this may seem like a daunting task; however, Michael clarifies the importance of scaling teams across the globe if a company wants to retain its international customers. When customers outside of the United States are connected to agents who understand their perspectives culturally, they feel more connected with the brand as a whole. The first step to creating a global team is to truly understand what you are offering to your customers.“You really have to understand what you’ve promised to customers because again, if you think about customer success or customer experience, it’s all about what you need to do to make them successful just in the services and support that you offer through them.” As teams expand across the world with a common understanding of their customers and brand mission, it builds a sense of empathy for how customers interact with their services. Trust and empathy create a bond between brand and customer, resulting in lasting loyalty.
Educating for Cultural Differences
One of the most important aspects to scaling CX teams globally is educating agents on the appropriate cultural norms for the areas they will be servicing. Cross-culturally, there are many differences in human interactions that are acceptable depending on the region of origin. When discussing his CX team in Israel, Michael mentions, “Israelis by chance are very direct to the point… sometimes that can come across as disrespectful.” To help close the gap between cultures, Michael suggests that CX leaders should actively be engaged in educating their agents as well as their clients on market expectations:
I think as a whole, North America or the US in general would be considered more of a customer centric or more customer-satisfaction focused than a lot of countries, but that’s not necessarily the case. It’s really just adjusting, educating peoples on ideas and opinions they have about those markets.
When both agents and customers are educated and have a common understanding, operations can run much smoother. As more leaders make this a priority, surely they will experience some cultural bumps along the way. Michael ensures that success comes in increments, through operational tweaks – leading to company adaptation, growth, and “customer stickiness.”
Effortlessly Globalizing Your Teams
A strong global team starts with a solid and consistent foundation of understanding, which is essential for success, according to Michael. For leaders who are expanding their teams, he encourages them to start small and take wins and losses into account before broadening their reach. He explains, “That’s how we initially started it. We didn’t want to roll it out all at once just as in any project. Let’s do it in a smaller sample set. Let’s do lessons learned and then kind of grow from there.” On top of that, Michael adds that customer-minded companies can scale easier because every decision is made for the betterment of the customer experience. “Really understand your customers. Really understand what their expectations are… Really understand their pains or threats of discontent, understand their entire journey.” When teams are consistent throughout the entire organization, leaders can do their jobs more efficiently, without getting lost in the details. Many experience what Michael calls “analysis paralysis” from overworking their efforts to fit each team, rather than building on a basic set of expectations for all global agents. Ultimately, for the greatest CX management globally, a strong foundation is key.
To learn more about managing international CX teams, check out the Customer Service Secrets podcast episode below, and be sure to subscribe for new episodes each Thursday.
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Full Episode Transcript:
How to Grow & Manage a Global CX Team | Michael Windsor
Intro Voice: (00:04)
You’re listening to the Customer Service Secrets Podcast by Kustomer.
Gabe Larsen: (00:11)
All right, welcome everybody. We’re excited to get going today. We’re going to be talking about managing global CX teams. The why, the what, the how. We got two special guests. I’ll let them take just a minute and introduce themselves. Michael, let’s start with you.
Michael Windsor: (00:27)
Sure. My name is Michael Windsor. I’m the Senior Director of the Global Customer Experience here at Skybox Security. Work in the cybersecurity space. Excited to be here.
Gabe Larsen: (00:37)
Yeah. Yeah. It’s a fun company. Exciting career. But before Skybox, Michael, where are you? You’ve done a couple of things in the space, correct?
Michael Windsor: (00:46)
Yeah, so I worked for a competitor actually called AlgoSec, where I ran enterprise support that included technical account management globally for the company. And then prior to this, I actually worked in the HCM space. So I used to work for a company called SilkRoad Technology. So it’s, I actually was the Vice President of Global Support Services for the company. I could talk about that position for days, but, started there and been in cybersecurity the last seven, eight years.
Gabe Larsen: (01:20)
I love it. Love it, again. Well appreciate you jumping on. It was fun connecting with him on LinkedIn. And cool story. Thought it’d be fun to share with the audience here today, Vikas, over to you, man.
Vikas Bhambri: (01:29)
Vikas Bhambri, Head a Sales and CX here at Kustomer. Gabe’s a partner in crime. Mike, I’m looking forward to the conversation. We here at Kustomer are embarking on scaling out our support team globally. So this is, selfishly, this is a great learning opportunity for me as we’re in the midst of our strategy here at Kustomer. So we’ll go to the conversation.
Gabe Larsen: (01:52)
Nothing better than free consulting. I didn’t tell that, but that is actually the reason that we’re doing. I got you for the next hour, Michael. You’re on camera now, sucker.
Michael Windsor: (02:03)
Gabe Larsen: (02:03)
So start big picture, thinking about managing this idea of global CX teams, where do you go? It just seems such a, like a, it’s like how to solve the world’s problems. It’s a big topic. Where do you start to even digest a topic like this?
Michael Windsor: (02:23)
Well, I mean, ultimately you have to understand, so to give you some backstory – when I came here to Skybox Security, I came in, it was a brand new function that we had never had. And so they’re like, “Mike, tell me, explain to me actually how we’re going to do this, what it looks like, what are some KPIs?” But the first and foremost thing is that you have to really understand where your customer base is. Here at Skybox, we work with clients and partners, and so we had to figure out exactly where we wanted to have, as I say, boots on the ground. So ultimately, we started in North America, I hired my first person, he’s kind of my right-hand person now. His name is Greg.
Michael Windsor: (03:05)
And so we essentially said, let’s build out this model. Let’s look here in the US. Let’s do lessons learned. And then from this let’s scale it globally. Not only looking at one, where our customer base was, but two, where our offices were. So ultimately there’s this whole premise to say, “Let me keep a team closer to my backend services such as RND and support,” and I think there’s good and bad with that. So, I mean, in terms of how we structured that, those are the two things that we really looked at is offices and where our customer base was located virtual versus how much we wanted boots on the ground. Because I always say, pre-COVID is that there were a lot of countries like Germany, as an example, when you want to build trust and respect with them, you have to have that face-to-face interaction. I’m trying to do things over Zoom and virtual meetings and go to meetings and all the other platforms that are out that exist now is sometimes very tough. So, I mean, that’s how we initially started it. We didn’t want to roll it out all at once just as in any project. Let’s do it in a smaller sample set. Let’s do lessons learned and then kind of grow from there.
Gabe Larsen: (04:20)
Hmm. I like that. Do you feel like the offices thing is always interesting to me. So you guys now have offices in a handful of places, correct?
Michael Windsor: (04:29)
We do. That’s correct.
Gabe Larsen: (04:30)
And how did you choose the different offices? Was that just based on the customer base? Is that where you decided to kind of anchor it or were there other reasons that kind of came into play?
Michael Windsor: (04:40)
No, I mean, it’s part of it. One is, being in cybersecurity, we’re in Silicon Valley. We have an office, big office in San Jose, which is where most of our executive team sits. The thing also about cybersecurity, I have a big office in Israel and for people that have done business in Israel that know Israel, they are very, very good in the cybersecurity space because they actually kept, most everyone has been in the military. And so when you were doing that to keep your country safe, as opposed to working for a corporation, you usually get the brightest and smartest people from that. So we do have a big office in Israel for those exact reasons is that there’s a big, strong cybersecurity presence in the IDF, which is the military in Israel. And so we have a lot of people that actually work within that capacity that actually work for our company. And you’ll find that in a lot of cybersecurity companies that you talk to in the, that are over in Israel.
Gabe Larsen: (05:42)
Vikas Bhambri: (05:44)
Michael, one of the questions I have, I see a lot of not just us at Kustomer, but a lot of our clients, in the early days try to have a hobbler initial location, which they create their support team from. I think you said you kind of did in your journey and then kind of pushed the limits of how far they can stretch that team. Maybe starting earlier, ending later. Maybe support the three US time zones, but then maybe Europe. And then you get that tipping point where it’s like, “Okay, this is no longer going to scale because,” and I’m curious as to, is that an effective strategy? Do you need to go global right away? And then when there’s the question of global, I always think there’s that crossroads that most companies face, which is organic versus BPO. What are your, some of your experiences with some of those challenges?
Michael Windsor: (06:37)
Sure. What I would tell you is that even taking a step back, you really have to understand what you’ve promised to customers because again, if you think about customer success or customer experience, it’s all about what you need to do to make them successful just in the services and support that you offer through them. So, one is, what did you contractually agree to? Again, we offer like a premium support product that is 24/7. So I had to develop a follow the fund model as part of this, to be able to support them kind of in, again, multiple time zones. I think my team right now is in 16 different time zones. And so we had to make sure that, as based upon what we have contractually agreed to, that we actually had a support offering to actually mimic that.
Michael Windsor: (07:27)
So you want to push that, but again, when you start talking about a global team, it would only make sense depending on what you propose or offer to your client base, right? So again, if that’s something and if you have clients again, whatever you contractually agree to, one, you have to start off with that foundation. But two, as you start talking about expanding it, the whole thing about customer experience and customer successes is client stickiness. I use this term and you’ll hear it in a lot of the CX or CX space, is that you really need to think about, “Okay, what foundation do I need to start off with to make ourselves successful?” And then in terms of your question is that, “What do I need to do to go above and beyond that?” So what foundationally do I need to do to really start off with a good focus base? And then from that, what other additional offerings we need to offer such as a customer experience team, customer success team, technical account management team, which all worked very closely with the support side to make that happen.
Gabe Larsen: (08:33)
Yeah. Got it. Do you feel like Michael, I mean, so many different countries, so many lessons learned, as you’ve kind of went from one country to another. You mentioned Germany as an example, a little more face-to-face in that environment. Has there been other lessons learned whether it’s country-based or just setting up new offices that would be kind of fun to share to the audience?
Michael Windsor: (08:53)
Sure, absolutely. So, it’s like we have an office in Israel and for those people that have done business in Israel, Israelis by chance are very direct to the point. And sometimes, that comes across to, if you’re taking a team like in Israel and supporting other countries, sometimes that can come across as disrespectful. So again, APAC. Again, the whole thing with our teams in India, sometimes there’s preconceived notions about what those teams do, how they operate, how they interact and stuff like that. And then that client base again, just in those regions have different expectations just in terms of how you’re going to work with them on a day in and day out basis.
Michael Windsor: (09:35)
So it’s really understanding, okay, you have these teams based here. Here’s who they are, culturally. Here’s how they interact day to day. You as a leader have to figure out, okay, so if you’re going to support clients outside of that region, what do you have to do from a training standpoint to get them to make sure that they understand or don’t come across a way that might be considered disrespectful? And then, how do you set proper expectations with your clients, just in terms of dealing with those teams? I think as a whole, North America or the US in general would be considered more of a customer centric or customer, more customer-satisfaction focused than a lot of countries, but that’s not necessarily the case. It’s really just adjusting, educating peoples on ideas and opinions they have about those markets.
Vikas Bhambri: (10:33)
How much of it is consistent? Obviously you’re a company, you want to service all your customers. How much of it is consistent across the board? And then what’s the variability from region to region?
Michael Windsor: (10:47)
Foundationally, it is consistent across the board just in terms of what we do and something that my leaders train their team on is just to tweak those expectations, to tweak those opinions. So foundationally, it’s all the same. And you want to have a consistent foundation because as you’re building functions, if you don’t have a consistent foundation, you’ll get, I call it analysis paralysis. That you’ll get lost in the details. So foundationally yes, they’re all the same again, because ultimately the customer experience or customer success starts from when that first sales call all the way in terms of how they’re supported. So not only do you have to make sure that the teams that you manage are aligned with that, you really need to understand that entire customer journey and keep it foundationally the same. Yeah.
Gabe Larsen: (11:41)
Yeah. Do you feel like there’s certain, we obviously play in the technology space, so probably less vendor names than otherwise, but as you think about really scaling globally with technology, any lessons learned on that front? It seems like you’ve got security things, you’ve got, I assume there were some challenges trying to get everybody on the same page across different areas and regions, et cetera.
Michael Windsor: (12:07)
Yeah. It really wasn’t a challenge because I think the tools nowadays that most people use and the tools that we use, and I won’t mention any names just to show favoritism for that, I mean we use one of the largest CRMs, again, from the front end of a back end. The web conferencing tools that we use are very internationally-focused tools. So there wasn’t a lot that we had to do. We had to understand data privacy and there was some specifics from a security standpoint that we would have to understand, but most of the tools that you use as you’re building it out, I mean, again, if you don’t have access to these tools, you just have to make sure that there’s no country restraints. Now, thankfully for us, we used some very big global tools to begin with.
Michael Windsor: (12:53)
So we didn’t really have those constraints or concerns as we got into it. But one of the things that as you talk about now with the diverse workforce as part of COVID is that you really have to understand when you start, you just take a centralized team and you disperse them to their homes, what exactly does that mean? And that’s what security challenges are, but we have a very good security team in place that went in and addressed that as we went along, but working with our vendors, it wasn’t hard because not only did we have these challenges, other large companies did as well.
Vikas Bhambri: (13:32)
Michael, one of the things I’ve seen as people have gone and scaled their operation globally, is they’ve taken the pod that they’ve built in the HQ, the country of HQ, which might be the US it might be, UK, Israel, et cetera, and basically replicated that pod in the next location and then the next one. I’ve seen others that have said, “We’re going to have a pod here in HQ location that HQ country, that’s going to remain the same and then we’re going to have a tier one in other countries, but tier two will remain here in HQ,” and then people are sliced and diced in various ways. What was your approach to scaling globally in terms of how you thought about each additional region that you added on? Was it a different skill set or was it just a replicant of the initial premise? How did you go about that?
Michael Windsor: (14:23)
It was actually a replica because again, one of the things that I said that I wanted to make sure is that we were consistent in the process, but really this goes back to your customer base, is that again, what did we contractually agree to as we were doing this and then foundationally, what did we need to put in place? So like, I’ll give you an example. I have a tier one team in the Ukraine. I have a tier two, tier three team, not only in Israel, but also the US. Foundationally, what they do is exactly the same, because the thing is, you’re building a team and as you start taking a pod and then kind of replicating it, you really need to think about what you’re going to do from a leadership standpoint. Because again, if you have a leader in the US, a leader in Israel, a leader in somewhere else, and you start trying to change that foundational function of what they do, you get into leadership challenges, not only from a senior leadership standpoint, from my standpoint, but also leadership challenges as those as those teams work together. So foundation, we started with what we said would work. We looked at the nuances just in terms of what happens within these other countries and other regions, and then ultimately built from that foundational model.
Vikas Bhambri: (15:39)
Any difference in hiring? obviously you’ve got different skill sets in different regions, but anything that you’ve looked at or you want to share with the audience about hiring personas or hiring profiles in the different regions that you operate in?
Michael Windsor: (15:52)
Yeah, and I think the big thing when it comes to customer success, customer support, client stickiness, one of the things that you have to make sure, always make sure that’s consistent, that when you start talking about different languages. So one is the languages, language and region. Also that whole verbal and written communication skills. So say you have a tier two team and let’s just take Italy as an example. They only speak Italian and you say, “Well, can I really need them to help my US team?” That’s probably not gonna work. So you have the nuances of, again, what is your customer base? Again, most of our clients around the world speak English, I think some choose, it’s easier for them to speak in their native tongue.
Michael Windsor: (16:38)
But with that, you have to think about, “Okay, what is my customer base? How do we communicate with them?” But two, how are we going to make sure those individuals that we hire communicate with our internal teams that might only be English speaking? And then the third part of this is that all the tools that you use day in and day out, if they only speak or understand something, as an example in Italy, how are they going to work with tools that are only in English? So again, it’s tools, it’s what your client’s expectations are. And then two, as you’re hiring, back to your original question, it’s just making sure that when you set up this model and you’re saying, “Hey, here’s who they’re going to support that they actually understand that there’s probably some good verbal and written communication skills, and there’s also maybe some customer satisfaction or customer success skills that you’ll have to tweak based upon the different cultures.
Gabe Larsen: (17:40)
What do you say to CFOs or executives that look at first thing when you tell them, “Hey, we’re thinking about,” especially for US-based companies, “thinking about setting up a support operation globally.” They’re like, “Oh, cost arbitrage, right? We’re going to be able to save some bucks.” What do you say to those people who are looking at it maybe just from a cost saving perspective?
Michael Windsor: (18:02)
Sure, I would tell you that, again, there’s a premise that it’s not about you. It’s not about your CFO. It’s really about your customer base. And if you start with the customer success or customer-focused approach, again, when you start talking about hiring teams in other regions or other countries, as an example, you have time zone constraints that you have to deal with. And I will tell you, it’s easy to set up as I call it a first shift support function, support organization. But if you start looking at second and third shifts, second and third shifts, you worry about burnout. You worry about quality. You have to have leadership to support those functions as well. So I would say yes, ideally, again, a CFO’s premise is to save money, do more with as little as possible. You got to take yourself out and say, “What is best for our customer base?”
Michael Windsor: (19:01)
Once you understand that you have to say, “Okay, what team do I need to be to put in place based upon what my client expectations are?” And three, “How am I going to manage that from a leadership standpoint as we do this?” And I think once you answer those questions, you can figure out the best model because the misnomer is yes. If we take it overseas, it will be very, very easy for us to do. It will be more cost effective, and that’s not necessarily true, just so you know, based upon some countries that if you decide to do this, but with that being said, you really, it’s not really about you, it’s really about your customers. And then you just have to make it about you once you understand that focus.
Gabe Larsen: (19:46)
I like it. I like it. Great words, Michael. It is really interesting to hear about how to kind of shape this global sales team. As we wrap, I’d love to hear kind of a summary. We hit on a couple of different things. People, technology, process, some of the lessons learned. For those people who are trying to build this out on a global scale, any summary statements, or kind of leave behinds you’d give to the audience?
Michael Windsor: (20:06)
I would just tell you, I would say really understand your customers. Really understand what their expectations are. I have this thing that a client’s perception is always my reality, and that will forever be burned in your head and your audience’s head because it rings true. So it doesn’t really matter what you think or what you want. It’s really what your customers think and what you want. Really understand their pains or threats of discontent, understand their entire journey. Again, start with a small pod and then build this out. Don’t try to do it all at once and then scale your operation as you get in once you feel that you have foundationally figured out what you need to do to make your clients successful. And I think from that, there’s no doubt that you’ll have success.
Gabe Larsen: (20:57)
Love that. Vikas, anything you want to add as we kind of wrap?
Vikas Bhambri: (21:00)
No, I think this has been extremely insightful for me. And I thank you, Michael. I think the one thing I’d leave the audience with is I just, my big takeaway from what Michael is sharing with us is there’s no playbook, right? And I think a lot of times we, as operational leaders are looking for the playbook. We’re looking for the sales playbook, we’re looking for the support playbook, the marketing playbook, et cetera. And I think with this, if you really start with your customer in mind and what is your obligation and what is the expectation of the customer that then will drive your playbook and strategy. So I think it’s going to be very different from company to company, depending on who they are, where they are and where they are in their maturity level, but more importantly, where their customers are. So that was my big takeaway. And I thank you, Michael, for sharing that with the audience.
Michael Windsor: (21:49)
Absolutely. And I will tell you, and again, that if anybody wants to reach out to me after this, again, I’m sure that you have, I mean, I would be glad to help them. I have an amazing team. I can even bring on some people on my team, of course, outside of work hours for all my executives that are listening to this, I would be glad to just to help you and understand because it’s a, I’m proud of what we built and I know there’s things that we could share that could help your listener audience.
Gabe Larsen: (22:18)
Thank you. Love it. Love it. All right. Well again, appreciate the time Michael. Vikas, as always. For the audience, have a fantastic day.
Michael Windsor: (22:25)
All right, thanks everyone.
Exit Voice: (22:30)
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