<span id="hs_cos_wrapper_name" class="hs_cos_wrapper hs_cos_wrapper_meta_field hs_cos_wrapper_type_text" style="" data-hs-cos-general-type="meta_field" data-hs-cos-type="text" >Christopher Warren-Gash on: Strategies for building a winning customer success team</span>

Christopher Warren-Gash on: Strategies for building a winning customer success team

  • 40 minutes
  • Candidate Experience, Talent Acquisition
  • Ep 22

Customer-first. That’s no longer an expectation but a norm that businesses are vying to build. Because without customer excellence, consumers can and will go elsewhere.

So how can you build a thriving customer success culture? It all boils down to developing a best-in-class CS team.

In this episode of How We Hire, Alva’s Head of Customer Success & Customer Support, Christopher Warren-Gash, shares his insights on the importance of emotional intelligence in Customer Success, why culture fit matters, and how to successfully scale your CS team with evidence-based recruitment methods.

With practical tips and a step-by-step guide to hiring a stellar CS Manager, this episode is a must-listen for anyone looking to take their CS team to the next level.

Key takeaways

  • How to spot the CS quarterbacks for your team
  • Your need-to-have-list when evaluating CS candidates
  • How to tailor your recruitment process to the job description
  • Setting the right goals and measuring impact in Customer Success

On the show

Helene Hasselskog copy-3
Christopher Warren-Gash Alva's Head of Customer Success & Customer Support
Linnea Bywall
Linnea Bywall Head of People & Operations at Alva Labs

Christopher Warren-Gash

  Christopher Warren-Gash has a proven track record of success within the field of customer success. Christopher has held leadership positions at several high-growth SaaS companies, including Triptease and Swogo.

Here at Alva, Christopher’s focused on taking customer success to new heights by developing and executing innovative strategies that deliver measurable results.

As head of Customer Success, he has played a critical role in building and scaling Alva’s customer success team. Christopher’s leadership has helped drive customer retention and growth, enabling companies to make hiring better for everyone.

Linnea Bywall

Linnea Bywall is a former NCAA athlete turned licensed psychologist – and Head of People at Alva Labs. Linnea was recently listed as one of the most inspiring women in tech by TechRound and was featured as one of the 22 Innovative HR Leaders to follow in 2022 by AIHR Academy to Innovate HR. 

From attracting and hiring to onboarding and growing Alva's employees, Linnea's main mission is to change the world of hiring every day by challenging biases in recruitment.


Show notes

-Top qualities of a Customer Success Manager-5:02
-How to find the quarterbacks for your team-6:16
-Your need to have list when evaluating CS candidates- 7:53
-The ins and outs of structuring a high-performing customer success team -11:37
-How to map out your recruitment process to the job description-14:25
-Pairing company values with structured interview questions to assess culture fit in candidates-16:57
-A step-by-step guide to hiring a stellar Customer Success Manager-20:25
-Setting the right goals and measuring impact in Customer Success-30:00
-Running a case study with customer success candidates-36:40
-Combining all evaluation methods to find the right candidate and offer them the role-41:30
-Biggest learnings for hiring for these types of roles-42:25

How We Hire Podcast Episode 22 Transcript

Christopher (00:00):

Unfortunately, I come from a country where evidence-based hiring is not a thing. So my previous recruitment methods were probably everything that I now preach against, to be honest. I have read CVs, I have had no way of deciphering what I was looking for. I've run unstructured interviews. And all of these are now, in an Alva setting, what we view as the cardinal sins. So I think really what I've learned of late, to be fair, is that having structure is not just a nice to have, it is a must have.

Linnea (00:42):

Welcome to How We Hire, a podcast by Alva Labs, with me, Linnea, licensed psychologist and head of people. This show is for all of you who hire or just find recruitment interesting. In every episode, I will speak with thought leaders from across the globe to learn from their experiences and best practices within hiring, building teams and growing organizations.


On today's episode is Christopher, the head of customer success and customer support here at Alva Labs. With a proven track record of success, Christopher has held leadership positions in several high growth SaaS companies, including Triptease and Swogo.


Here at Alva, Christopher is driving customer success to new heights by developing and executing innovative strategies that deliver measurable results. As head of customer success, he has played a critical role in building and scaling our customer success team here at Alva. Christopher's leadership has helped drive customer retention and growth, enabling the companies to make hiring better for everyone.


Welcome to How We Hire, Christopher.

Christopher (01:46):

Thank you very much, Linnea. Nice to be here.

Linnea (01:48):

I'm going to make sure to not be too goofy since I know you. I'm going to be a bit professional. We'll see how I can own up to that promise. For those who don't know you and what you do here at Alva, why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself and your role?

Christopher (02:03):

Sure thing. Thanks for a very generous intro.


Within my role at Alva, I lead the customer success and customer support functions. Essentially that means that I ensure that my team have what they need to support and to grow their customers over time. And I really try to champion the customer. I mean, I see it as my job to ensure that the customer has a strong voice at Alva and that their needs are heard when we make big decisions. I'm also the token Brit around the Stockholm office.

Linnea (02:37):

And that's an important role to have, for sure. And I mean today we are going to focus on customer success, how to hire for that team based on how you've done it before, how we've done it here at Alva, and try to be as detailed as possible. But before we dive into the hiring rabbit hole, why don't you just share a little bit about what inspired you to go into customer success to start with?

Christopher (02:58):

So I can't, in all honesty, spin you a virtuous story about being customer obsessed from the moment I left the womb. The truth is I was just in the right place at the right time.


So about 10 years ago at Triptease, we pivoted from having a B2C dream to starting to sell to businesses. And so we won a customer and realized that we needed somebody to look after them. I'm pretty social. I think I'm a, what, 9 out of 10 on extroversion. So I put my hand up and it all started from there. I realized I really enjoyed customer success. I really enjoyed working with the customer, understanding their pains, understanding their needs, helping them to have success with the platform.


And over time, started to climb the ladder working with different types of customers with different levels of complexity. Moved into leadership positions as well, management positions. Tried my hand at some recruitment as well, which I'm sure we're here about. But I have to say I was really lucky insofar as about 10 years ago, CS wasn't really a thing. This was at the very, very beginning of customer success being known as customer success.


And so at the time, Charlie, our founder and I, we were debating what should we call this department and what should we call this role? And we were ashamedly toying with the idea of calling it customer love. So I have to tell you, Linnea, I am absolutely delighted that I don't have customer success or customer love manager on my CV.

Linnea (04:30):

Well, I mean technically since I'm in charge of titles, I might change some stuff around.

Christopher (04:38):


Linnea (04:38):

Head of customer love. Okay, so if we then dive into the bucket of hiring, I think the obvious place to start is the job description. So I would love for us to just really unpack the key qualities, key characteristics that you are looking for when you are hiring top performing customer success managers to your team.

Christopher (05:02):

Yeah. I mean, I think there are some key traits that you tend to look for in customer success. I mean, what you usually hear is empathy, communication skills, analytical skills, clearly having a customer-focused mindset. And these are all fantastic characteristics and all true of good CSMs.


I think for me what makes the top performers stand out, from my experience, and to borrow a sporting term, which hopefully will be my last sporting term of the podcast, is for CSMs to be quarterbacks for their customers. And this means that they coordinate the attack, they run the plays that ensure that their customer has success with the product and sees value from the service.


And this doesn't mean that you make every pass yourself, but instead that you're coordinating internally to make sure that, no matter what, the customer has access to the people, to the tools and to the information which is needed to foster long-term relationships and of course positive commercial outcomes.

Linnea (06:10):

How do you find the quarterbacks?

Christopher (06:13):

Yeah, it's a very, very good question, a lot of questions in a structured interview around what a candidate has done in the past to work internally to provide a solution for a customer.


And this doesn't mean that you need to have worked in a CS setting in the past. I think there are product managers, for instance, who will coordinate different pieces of information, translate that information into something which is customer focused and then provide that to the customer. The key is looking for experience or trait or natural abilities to work with other people in order to gather together information or outcomes to send across to the customer.


And then in an ideal world, I mean I really see customer success as it should be a two-sided loop. The CSM will work to send information from the company out to the customer and then gather as much information as possible to bring that feedback back into the company to inform product evolution, to inform improvements in ways of working and ultimately to represent the customer's needs of course.

Linnea (07:33):

There's so many different aspects of the CSM role, but what would you say? What are some of the buzzwords that you see other companies looking for that you could scrap? Meaning what don't you need to have on your need to have list?

Christopher (07:53):

For me, I think it starts with experience. So I think if we take a step back, I mentioned this in terms of how I got into customer success, I mean the maturity of customer success as a function is still very low. It's a new function. With that means that in the market you have some people that are working in customer success today, which perhaps doesn't look like customer success at an Alva or another company down the road.


And I think that given this is a new field, it means that it can be less common to find candidates that have done CS before. So for me this means needing to cast the net wider, being open to candidates that have held roles in the past, different types of roles or even in different job families. And I think that's even true of the way that we've looked to recruit the customer success in Alva. Very few actually have a CS background and this has helped to foster diversity of background, like skillset diversity in the team.


And I think that the first thing I would look at scrapping is that you have a requirement for someone to have worked in customer success for X number of years in the past. That hasn't been the key to our success at Alva. We've looked at spaces which are relevant to us, no doubt. We've had a openness to all different types of experience, having worked in all types of different roles in the past. But we're very open to those that come from maybe the assessment space, others from more of a pure TA background.


It's really a case of understanding what is the experience or knowledge or skillset that our customers would benefit from. And for us, someone having worked in CS could be a benefit, but it's certainly not a must have. And so I think this isn't a buzzword of course, but I would really challenge needing to have customer success experience as a vital part of the role.

Linnea (10:06):

And I like how we have talked about this in our startup meetings, when building out your team, that we've said that it's nice if you either have a customer success background, not a need to have, but it's nice to have, or it's a nice to have if you have some sort of background within the field that we operate in. Given that's hiring, we have people that are psychologists or have a TA background and so forth. But again, that's not either a need to have, but a nice to have.


But dividing it into either you are used to dealing with customers or you're used to that industry, that field. Ideally both, but then again, you can learn both on the job. So I think that's just, at least in my mind, I think those two legs have been helpful to think about experience from.


Another thing that you and me have been discussing a lot, especially when it comes to, I mean startup. You came in quite early. You inherited half the team and have hired half the team, but that's also team setup, because I think that's such an important aspect when you do hiring. It's not just nailing that one role, but it's also laying the entire puzzle, like how does the team look like today? What will it look like in the future?


So can you just describe a little bit about A, what the team looks like today, why that is, and B, how does that come into play when it comes to hiring?

Christopher (11:37):

Absolutely. So our team is comprised of three sub-functions. So we have an onboarding sub-function, an ongoing sub-function, and then an expansion sub-function.


And so for the onboarding sub-function, they work with the first four months of the customer journey. The ongoing sub-function, which is made up of customer success managers, which is typically what a CS org could be hiring for, this is the ongoing relationship management piece, taking the customer, an onboarded customer to multi-year successful relationships. And then the expansion sub-function is more of a key account manager role. So not working with any specific customers, but instead offering a commercial hand so that we can help to maximize the value that we do deliver for our customer base.


Part of the reason that we moved towards this structure, and I think this is really important when thinking about cultural fit for customer success teams, is that customer success teams operate very, very differently from company to company.


In the past, you mentioned, Swogo, I've run very highly commercial CS teams, meaning that you'll prioritize assessing for someone maybe with a very revenue-generation, very revenue-driven mindset, whereas other CS teams might have more of a focus on the onboarding aspect, the customer education aspect in order to drive adoption. And so there you might be assessing for softer relationship building skills.


So I think it really depends on how you see your CS team and the KPIs that you have as a department as well. At Alva, our KPIs are commercial, but then at the same time we have a great deal of focus on ensuring that we've got strong satisfaction, that we've got real champions within our customer base and we're incredibly proud to say that we do today.


And so for us, that broader need for us to rethink the structure of the team so that we have a dedicated resource for the onboarding activity, ensuring that our customers are set up for ongoing success. And then at the same time also ensuring that we've got more commercial mindsets so that we can work with customers to help them to realize the value of working with Alva and to work alongside CSMs to drive that growth of the account over time as well.


So I think it really is a case of understanding what are our KPIs, how can I have the team that helps us to deliver against these KPIs?

Linnea (14:25):

And then a followup question would be how does team setup come into play when you set the role description, how you run the recruitment process for any of these roles?

Christopher (14:37):

Well, they're three very different roles. So we'd have three different role descriptions and the entire recruitment process would look different. So everything from the interviews, the structured interview questions would be different if you're recruiting for an onboarding specialist versus recruiting for a CSM.


We like to run a case as the final part of the recruitment process. The case would look very different depending on which role you're applying for as well. With there being a specialization with the team there of course would be a specialization in the recruitment process as well.

Linnea (15:13):

For me, now I'm meta thinking a bit about talent acquisition and hiring in general, but this speaks so much how a talent acquisition person or HR person, whatever your title is, can really make a difference when it comes to the company building, the strategic role it can play just by adding a new hire.


The easy way to go is just like, "Okay, we have a spot to fill. Let's just write a job description and go." But when you can really like, "What is this person going to do? Why? How does this impact the rest of the team? What's the future going to look like? What's the team structure?" I think that having that super tight dialogue with the hiring manager not only will make you do better hires and that's great, but ultimately it will also push the manager to have that plan in place to think about it long term.


And I think that's such a neat dance when you get it right and so, so, so important. Yeah, just thinking out loud how, I think, our hiring processes have actually helped us set a lot of the structure for the team. And then that team structure then informs the hiring and it's an ever-evolving and ever-evolving process.

Christopher (16:36):

Yeah, it's a virtuous circle.

Linnea (16:38):

Yeah. Long rant. Okay, so you mentioned culture fits very briefly. What's your stance? How do you take that into account? How important is it? How do you evaluate it? That was like a gazillion questions in one, and go.

Christopher (16:57):

That was a gazillion questions in one. Cultural fit is super important across the board. I think it really depends on how well-defined your culture is as an organization. And I think that specificity ... I can't believe I got that right ... specificity ... I know.

Linnea (17:20):


Christopher (17:21):

... of how you ... No, no-

Linnea (17:22):

Don't cut this out.

Christopher (17:23):

... please don't, keep it there. The specificity, third times the charm, of questions that you ask in the recruitment process I think will very much depend on how clear the culture is that you have as an org and the way that you articulate your values as well.


So I mean, I think in our case, I like to use our company values to inform structured interview questions and I feel that we're in a really, really privileged position to be able to do that. In previous companies I've worked at, we haven't had as well-defined company values or at least we haven't been as fluent on the company values and therefore it's not really something that we've lived and breathed by. So it's not really something that we're going to look for in the recruitment process.


At Alva it's quite different. So for example, I like to ask questions around, "Tell me about a time you went above and beyond for a customer. What was the context? What was the outcome?" This is a very clear question to ask insofar as it speaks directly to Alva's company value of raising the bar.


So I think cultural fit and looking to recruit for that is really, really important, but it can't be forced. If you don't have a very clearly articulated culture, it can be quite difficult to look for people, candidates, new team members that are going to fit that culture.

Linnea (18:53):

And I think what I like about your example, because I think I can be semi-allergic to when people say that they hire for culture because a lot of the time as you say, you don't have a clearly defined culture. I mean culture is what happens when people come together. It's like, you can try to highlight it, but you can't necessarily game it and create it from scratch. Often you have this idea of what it is, but it might not actually be a fair description of what the reality is like.


So I think what I like with your example is that okay, we have clearly defined values, great, but you still link it to specific behaviors that are needed for the role that you're hiring for. So it's not just about adding people that will be similar to the people that you have, but rather what behaviors are needed, how can we examine that and assess that in a structured way? So I think I really like that approach because it's a lot more dependable at the end of the day.


I would like us to just open the books of the process because don't we all love a process description? So if you are sitting here wondering, "How on earth should I hire a customer success manager?" Christopher, walk us through the process. What happens when you start hiring for someone?

Christopher (20:25):

Okay. I think you're going to have to help me out here because I might miss a couple of the steps, but-

Linnea (20:30):

The beauty is I can help out because we do this together, right?

Christopher (20:33):

Exactly, right? But then unfortunately I can't actually bullshit you because you're going to know that I'm saying the wrong thing. So we're going to have to work on it together. A team effort.

Linnea (20:42):

Team effort. Team effort.

Christopher (20:45):

That's right.

Linnea (20:45):

You can be the quarterback, though.

Christopher (20:46):

I can be the quarterback. Perfect. A team that calls never falls.


All right, step one, identify a headcount need. I think one thing that we do pretty well here is that we tend to take a future-looking view at headcount rather than waiting until it's too late, we're drowning in too many customers we can't unfortunately work with, that we can't keep our heads above water. We tend to take a very proactive, very thought-through view towards headcount.


Once we've decided on which role we're going to hire for, we have a startup meeting. And the startup meeting involves everybody that is involved in the recruitment process, both on the CS side, which would be myself and a member of my team that will join the case exercise that we'll hear about later.


And then on your side, we have yourself, Linnea, you join and ... Exactly.

Linnea (21:48):

I do.

Christopher (21:49):

And a talent acquisition manager as well.


Once we've had a startup meeting, we'll put together the role description. The role description will be a pretty collaborative effort. We'll make sure that it sounds great, but also sounds very reflective of reality, the types of responsibilities that you're going to have, what it looks like to work at Alva, what the process is going to look like as well. After that we publish the role.

Linnea (22:19):

No, no. Wait, wait, wait. We have to ... I mean this is our favorite part, when we do the job ad.

Christopher (22:25):

Oh yeah, exactly.

Linnea (22:25):

So far we have done a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles themed one.

Christopher (22:32):


Linnea (22:32):

We've done one Back to the Future, right?

Christopher (22:36):

Yes. Or did we do a Guardians of the Galaxy? Maybe that was another one.

Linnea (22:40):

We did do Guardians of ... No, I think we did one of those.

Christopher (22:43):

Yeah. But do you want to hear-

Linnea (22:44):

So I think-

Christopher (22:45):

Do you want to hear a podcast exclusive?

Linnea (22:47):


Christopher (22:48):

So we did the Guardians of the Galaxy one. I wrote the job ad and I have to be honest, I haven't actually seen Guardians of the Galaxy.

Linnea (22:58):

Me neither.

Christopher (23:03):

Great. Super.

Linnea (23:03):

Another podcast exclusive on that one, the job ad you wrote, you're a brilliant writer, but I think it was like two and a half pages. You got some bullshit from me for that one because it was way too long.

Christopher (23:15):

Yeah, which is amazing given that I haven't actually even seen the film. Yeah.

Linnea (23:20):

Touche, sir. Okay, so we've had to start, or we have acknowledged what role we're going to hire, we've done the startup to flesh out the job description, we've written the job ad, we've shortened it down so that it's a digestible amount of text.

Christopher (23:36):

That's right.

Linnea (23:36):

What happens next?

Christopher (23:38):

Then we post the job ad.

Linnea (23:39):

We do.

Christopher (23:40):

Yeah. And after posting the job ad, we will wait for applications to come flooding in. Fortunately with CS positions, we tend to have quite a lot of candidates applying.


We then wait, what, two weeks or so before we start to reach out to the candidates that have applied? First step in the process is that they will receive the tests. We send a logic and personality test to each of the candidates. We'll wait for the candidates to run the tests and we'll start to see which candidates have got a high role fit versus those that don't have a high role fit.

Linnea (24:20):

I can also add, we also actually have screening questions as a first step.

Christopher (24:25):

That's right.

Linnea (24:25):

So when you apply or when you hit the apply button, you get some screening questions. And that goes back to what we discussed before with the need to have versus nice to have, we try to identify if they have some previous experience. We never specify how much they need to have, but either from the field that we're working in, so hiring, or from customer success. So I think that those are the two screening questions.


We have tried something around working in B2B as well. But again, it's two to three questions. They never exclude anyone, but they help the talent acquisition person to sort between candidates that have, as you said, the right role fit, meaning the right potential for the role and also somewhat relevant background.

Christopher (25:11):

We've now sent the tests, everyone has run the tests. We've got a number of candidates that we decide to take forward for first interview. First interview is with the talent acquisition manager. They will tend to take, it depends on the number of candidates with great role fits, but it tends to be for us, what, like 30 or so first round interviews?

Linnea (25:35):

Well, it depends on how many people we're hiring. I would say we typically do somewhere between 10 and 20 first interviews for one position, but it really depends on how complex it is, the quality of the candidates. So we obviously strive to never waste any candidate's time, so only interview really highly relevant candidates that we believe that we would be able to hire. But it's somewhere between, so average, maybe 15 first interviews or so.

Christopher (26:09):

About that? All right.

Linnea (26:10):

And here we have a plot twist because we do use structured interviews of course. And given that we work together, you will get special treatment in this podcast, but in a bad way, meaning I want us to use the podcast as an interview example.

Christopher (26:30):

Wow. That sounds awful.

Linnea (26:35):

Meaning I want to showcase what a interview can sound like when hiring for a customer success manager position. So I will actually ask you one of the questions that we've used and I want you to give an actual answer and I will rate it.

Christopher (26:51):

Okay, that sounds good. I'm going to have to ask you a couple of qualifying questions.

Linnea (26:55):

Yeah, that's okay.

Christopher (26:57):

First one, in fact, just one qualifying question. I mean the podcast is called How We Hire. Is there any risk at all that I give a terrible answer and then you decide to, live on the podcast, unhire me? Fantastic.

Linnea (27:11):

No. I'm legally obliged to keep you. Okay. So when we do the first interview, it's a structured interview, meaning we inform the candidates of what we're going to run through. So we set the scene, "We have this amount of time, I'm going to ask some questions. These questions will be asking you for a specific situation and I will want you to describe what you did, your behaviors and what outcomes that led to."


And then we will have maybe five-ish of those questions and then obviously save a lot of time for the candidates to ask their questions, talk about the role, et cetera, et cetera. But the first question of that interview would be related to the area of result orientation. So Christopher, could you please describe the last time you set up an important goal for your own work?

Christopher (28:02):

We work with a number of customers. Many of them are very happy. We are looking for ways that we can ensure that our very happy customers say lovely things about us so that we can hopefully win other very happy customers.


So in order to set a goal, I thought about how we could structure this into a goal that I and my team can chase down. And we decided to devise a scoring method so that there was simply a relationship between the leverage or the quality of the social proof that we can get from our customer base. So everything from five points for a video, for instance, all the way down to one point for a quote.


And then set a target for a four-month period as to how many social proof points, which is what we called them, we wanted to gather knowing that if we gathered that many social proof points, then our sales team would be in a great position to use these social proofs to help generate demand, to help book meetings, to help close new business.


So set a desire, to get more social proof. Set a structure as to how we can go about winning the social proof and what the social proof would look like. Set a target, so that we could measure the social proof that we would get in. And then the outcome, fortunately ...


In fact, this is a podcast exclusive. As of today, we had a four-month period that started on the 1st of January. We are recording on the 18th of April. So we've got 12 days to go in this four-month period. As of today, we hit the target.

Linnea (29:51):

Yay. What feedback did you get from your team, from your manager, from your peers, your coworkers?

Christopher (30:01):

From the team, pretty positive feedback, reason being that this is very much a controllable input for customer success. We've got a number of targets which are somewhat within our control, but then there are other conditions which mean that they're slightly outside of our control, whereas this is directly within our control.


And so I think the fact that the target that we had was both specific and it was measurable and it was achievable and that it was timely and that it was ambitious, but also born from a place of realism meant that the feedback from the team in terms of using it as a motivator to chase down this target was pretty positive. There are things that we can do differently, I think to coordinate the attack earlier on, so that we actually give ourselves a even greater chance of hitting the target even sooner.


Feedback from my peers have been pretty strong as well, but that's because my peers largely sit in sales and marketing. It helps them do their job better, so win-win.

Linnea (31:06):

And then for the sake of this podcast, I think we can pause and say thank you for this interview question. If it was a real interview, I would probably have asked some followup questions around how you coach the team, getting to know really the details, how you communicated the goal, how you followed up on it, to understand the day-to-day work of using the goal. But I think let's stick to hiring and not social proof score since I think that will be more interesting.


But then what the talent acquisition manager would do in this situation would be to rate this, your answer, on a scale from one to five and where all the different numbers will have behavioral anchors. So it will guide the assessor into what is a good answer or not.


So if you get a five out of five on this one, you will need to showcase behaviors for identifying the best actions, realizing what are achievable results, coaching others, helping others to both set, evaluate and measure their goals and so forth. Where if you get a one out of five that you're maybe not really aware of how goals relate to the outcome, you don't really set the goals, you don't use them if you set them, and so forth and so forth.


So I think you would get a high ranking because it's really measurable, it's super structured. And the important thing here is it's not necessarily the outcome that's always interesting. It could have been a five out of five regardless of if you hit the target or not. So I think it's again, what we want to assess are the behaviors.

Christopher (32:49):

Well, that was nerve-wracking and quite fun all at the same time.

Linnea (32:52):

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Thank you for exposing yourself.

Christopher (32:55):

That's okay.

Linnea (32:56):

But we're still on the answer of-

Christopher (32:58):

Am I still hired?

Linnea (32:59):


Christopher (33:00):

Okay, great. Fantastic.

Linnea (33:02):

It was a great answer.

Christopher (33:02):


Linnea (33:04):

And again, legally I'm obliged to keep you by contract. But we are still in the process of describing what the hiring funnel looks like for hiring a CSM. So we've started the process, we've launched the job ad, we have screened candidates, we've done the first interview in a structured way. What happens now?

Christopher (33:25):

Then there will be a short list of candidates that are passed to the hiring manager and the hiring manager is me. So I will then run a interview. That's not even true. So there will be a short list of candidates and then after that point, this short list of candidates will receive a written case and this case contains I think, what, four questions?


And the idea is that the candidates can fill out their answers to each of these questions, which speak to behaviors that we look for in the customer success team, like experience, outcomes from previous work, and they've got a few days to give written answers.


Those answers then come across to me. I review them before I take a second round interview with this short list of candidates. And within this interview, I have a prepared set of structured interview questions, which will depend, depending on the role that I'm hiring for. And I will also look to dig into the answers that I've received in writing as well.

Linnea (34:36):

And I think, I mean zooming out, what we're trying to do is obviously first identify potential, identify the people with the right soft skills in the test and the first interview, and then from there move closer and closer into the more technical hard skills readiness. So that's why we do a mini case so that you can ask super relevant questions in your interview. What also happens, parallel to that, is that we do a phone a future coworker thing. Do you want to just tell people what that is?

Christopher (35:16):

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. We have a 15-minute call which we offer with a member of the team. And the idea here is for the candidate to ask any questions that they want about what's it like to work at Alva, what does the position actually look like? What will my day-to-day responsibilities look like? Is Christopher a terrible boss? All of those things that you might want to know, all of the things that maybe won't be surfaced in a job description or will be on the careers page. There's an opportunity really for the candidate to get the inside track of what it's actually like to work in the position at Alva.


And I have to say, I've been on the other side of that meeting as well, and that was one of the ... I was impressed at every single step of the recruitment process when I was applying for my position at Alva.

Linnea (36:09):

You have to say that because I'm in the room.

Christopher (36:13):

I do and because I wish to legally be hired still, but it's also true on this occasion. One of the really nice steps in that process was getting to meet a member of the team and understand a little bit more about what customer success really looked like.

Linnea (36:30):

If you as a candidate get past the hiring manager gatekeeper being yourself, what lies ahead?

Christopher (36:40):

What lies ahead? It's the most fun part. There we have a case.

Linnea (36:44):

We do.

Christopher (36:45):

And there'll be two people from the Alva side, it would be myself and also a member of the team. And within this case, we're looking to reflect a true life customer interaction. And so this customer interaction will depend, again, depending on the role that we're hiring for. If we're hiring for an onboarding specialist position, then we'll be looking to run a kickoff call with the information that you have about Alva with a certain set of goals.


But if we're running a case, for instance, for a customer success manager position, then we have a set of instructions that we send across to the candidate which are very clear in terms of here's the scenario that you find yourself in. These are the desired outcomes from the call. These will be the assessment criteria. So the idea is that we've got a uniform candidate experience firstly, and that we can expect consistent results. Everyone's on the same playing field, if you will. Would you want me to go into the-

Linnea (37:54):

Another sport reference.

Christopher (37:55):

Yeah, that's true. It's an even playing field.

Linnea (38:00):

But I guess you were going to ask if I wanted to get into the specifics of the case.

Christopher (38:05):


Linnea (38:05):

And if so, yes please.

Christopher (38:06):

Okay. How specific can I get?

Linnea (38:08):

I mean, sky's the limit, right?

Christopher (38:11):

All right. All right. Very, very good. Okay, so in our case, so we're looking at the CSM role here, the scenario is that the CSM candidate will run a business review with a theoretical customer that they've recently taken over from a colleague. So very, very specific criteria.


The idea is that the meeting will be 40 minutes or so and that the business review itself might be 30 minutes, 25 to 30 minutes, and then we leave a 10 minute to 15 minute window at the end to ask followup questions specifically about how did you go about preparing for the case? How did he feel the case went? Tell me about why you looked into this thing, tell me why you didn't look into this thing. Really looking to understand the mechanics of the case preparation, really looking to test for how does the candidate go about preparing for a real customer meeting.


Within the case, the theoretical customer here is Spotify. Can I say that? Yeah.

Linnea (39:20):

I don't know. I guess. They're cool, yeah?

Christopher (39:23):

Yeah, they're pretty cool. Spotify, if you're listening, we'd love to have you as a customer. And in this case, and this now makes me sound a little bit creepy, I will play the role of the global head of talent at Spotify and then a member of my team will play the role of talent acquisition manager at Spotify as well.


We then give a lot of criteria or a lot of business context around the customer, around how long they've been working with us, when their renewal point comes up, the types of positions that they are hiring for with Alva, the types of positions they're not hiring for with Alva and some trends around their usage as well.


We then have assessment criteria and within the assessment criteria we let the candidates know that during the case, we're going to be assessing for building trust, for their stakeholder management, making it very clear that they have met the talent acquisition manager before. That's their champion, it's their day-to-day contact, whereas they've never met the global head of TA before. The structure and the clarity of the meeting around agenda, having clear outcomes, having clear actions that come off the back of it, and then also product understanding.


But really here we're looking to anchor around how well the candidate understands the hiring space rather than how well they understand Spotify's hiring methods or how well they understand the Alva product. We completely get that not everyone is going to be an Alva product maestro from day one.


And then we run the case. I play the role. I become schizophrenic and I move into my position of being the global head of TA at Spotify. My colleague becomes somebody else at Spotify. And then afterwards, we will write down how well each candidate has performed against each of the assessment criteria. And at the end of that process, we're usually in a position to make a very informed decision on who we want to make an offer to.

Linnea (41:33):

Yes. And I think what happens in the final step is that we weigh all of these aspects, like the tests, the first interview, the second interview and the case together in what we refer to as a combined role fit so that it's a as data-driven decision as possible, so we don't stand there at the end of the process using too much of our gut feeling and ending up hiring someone that we like, because we tend to favor candidates that are very similar to ourselves and so forth. So we try to be as data driven as possible.


Thank you for walking us through this. I would love to, because I think it's time to wrap up. One final question for me would be, I mean you've hired for customer success at various companies, what's your one, two, three biggest learnings for hiring for these types of roles?

Christopher (42:26):

I have to say, unfortunately, I come from a country where evidence-based hiring is not a thing. So my previous recruitment methods were probably everything that I now preach against, to be honest. I have read CVs, I have had no way of deciphering what I was looking for. I've run unstructured interviews. And all of these are now, in an Alva setting, what we view as the cardinal sins. So I think really what I've learned of late, to be fair, is that having structure is not just a nice to have, it is a must have.


At Alva, we're very intentional, very forward-thinking. By using the tests I'm able to bypass looking at the CV. Our interviews are now structured and that really helps just getting the basics in place. So I think you've almost got the hygiene factors of ensuring that you do a decent job with your recruitment and not leave it to total randomness. So I mean, it might sound incredibly basic to you or to anyone who's listening, but that was the first massive learning that I take with me.


And then I think the second is around candidate experience. And here again, we've got the hygiene factors of ensuring that you avoid a bad candidate experience. But I think what's been really helpful to me is to ensure that we've got uniform, great candidate experience across the board so that every candidate that I meet with and then end up making an offer to have the greatest chance of putting their best foot forward in the recruitment setting and being fairly assessed to one another.


So I think getting the principles of recruitment right, I mean those have been the biggest things that I've learned in the past few years.

Linnea (44:20):

Thank you for sharing that. And I think it's hard to forget that it's often the basic things that can make the biggest difference.


I strongly believe that we need to constantly improve how we hire. That goes for us. I mean, the next time we do a CS position, we'll probably do some of it differently based on what we learned in the retro that we always run after each hiring process. But it's so easy to forget that it is those basic, like setting the structure and getting the hiring manager to really understand the value of that. That is so important. Regardless of how fancy your process is, it comes back to those basic principles. I think that's great learnings to share.


Thank you so much, Christopher, for joining How We Hire. It was an absolute pleasure. And the beauty with this is that we can now go out and high five because we're in the same place.

Christopher (45:18):

That sounds fantastic. We can even high five with our fancy socks.

Linnea (45:22):

We can high five with the fancy socks. I can't even remember when the joke started, but the joke started that we had great podcast socks on today.

Christopher (45:30):

Yeah, exactly.

Linnea (45:31):


Christopher (45:36):

And then it dawned on me that a podcast is an audio tool first and foremost, so no one will actually get to see our socks. So listeners out there, just take it at our word that we're both wearing absolutely fantastic socks. You can see them on the Alva LinkedIn post.

Linnea (45:50):

For sure. We will share the socks and we will share the podcast. Thank you for listening. Hope to have you all back in two weeks with another episode of How We Hire, but until then, ta-ta.