Thank you for having me as your Monday Guest! I’m Abi Bryant Spolar, currently serving as the Global Head of Customer Success at Notabene, a Crypto Compliance SaaS company specializing in Travel Rule Compliance. I’ve dedicated 9 years of my career to the field of Customer Success, with the last 5 years specifically focused on the Crypto industry. I reside in Manchester, UK, with my husband.
Throughout the past 9 years, I’ve had the privilege of joining early and mid-stage startups, often as one of the first or early hires in Customer Success roles. I’m deeply passionate about creating Customer Success teams and processes from the ground up and contributing to a company’s unique understanding of what Customer Success means to them.
Building high-performing teams is another area close to my heart, and there’s nothing more rewarding than witnessing my team excel and mentoring them along the way.
We asked Abi to take us through a journey telling us about her career path, how she spends her workday, what advice she can share with someone starting as a customer success manager, and many other questions.
Enjoy reading this interview
Tell us about your career path?
I have been in customer-facing roles since I was 14, even before I knew what customer success was. We often overlook those early part-time jobs that we take and the critical skills that we learn as we are waiting tables and working in retail serving customers. But when I look back, I see how critical these early experiences were in developing the key skills required for a CSM, such as problem-solving, empathy, and active listening.
I joined my first start-up Kognity as a Product trainer, where my role was to teach customers how to best utilise the product and ensure that they were getting the most out of the partnership. In this role, I built up processes and eventually hired a team of 4 globally to continue training our growing customer base. At this point, I also took over the Customer Support team and hired an additional team globally.
After three and a half years at Kognity, I was ready for a new challenge and joined a Crypto Compliance start-up called Elliptic. At Elliptic I joined as a Customer Success Manager, initially managing accounts globally, helping to build out the CS team, and eventually focusing on enterprise customers in the EMEA region. I then took over the EMEA team, recruiting two additional CSMs in the region and helping to recruit the wider global team.
I then joined Notabene, which was also in the Crypto Compliance space. Notabene was an even earlier-stage company, and I was the first CS hire. The prospect of taking everything I have learned and building a team from scratch in such an innovative industry was an opportunity I couldn’t refuse. Since starting I have grown the team, managed a number of our enterprise clients, built our processes from scratch, and overseen the implementation of a CS Tool.
How did you join Customer Success?
After finishing my Law degree, I embarked on a journey to travel and teach English in Thailand. During my time there, I met my future husband, who was working remotely as a Product designer—a concept that was relatively uncommon at the time.
Inspired by his ability to work online, I decided to apply for a Product trainer position at a Swedish Edtech startup. At that point, I wasn’t familiar with Customer Success, but I was able to leverage my teaching experience to effectively communicate with the company’s end customers—teachers. Once I started to dig into the world of Customer Success I couldn’t get enough, and haven’t looked back since.
How would you describe the ideal CSM candidate?
This can look differently depending on the business model, the product, and the industry, but in general, for me, the key is someone who has high emotional intelligence.
This means someone who can put themselves in the shoes of their customer, understand what motivates them and how to work cooperatively with them.
When interviewing candidates, I am always looking for examples of where a CSM has been creative with how they build relationships with their stakeholders and also where they are able to demonstrate empathy.
What one piece of advice would you give to someone just starting out as a Customer Success Manager?
I often think there is a misconception about the purpose of a CSM, as people will tell you our role is to “make customers happy”. While there is an element of that, in my view, our job is to ensure that our customers are getting value from the partnership and can achieve their goals. Sometimes that means pushing back on our customers and advocating on their behalf. Often by focusing on value realization and our customer goals, happiness comes as a by-product.
Therefore my advice to someone starting out is to be curious and understand what your customers are trying to achieve in purchasing your product. Ask lots of questions and understand what metrics or goals they are working towards and how your product fits into that.
“Be curious and understand what your customers are trying to achieve in purchasing your product”.
Can you take us on a journey describing what your workday looks like?
One of the things I love about my role today is that every day looks different. I have a unique role where I wear two hats; the first is as a CSM for enterprise customers in the Americas and in EMEA, and the second is as the Head of Customer Success.
Primarily I start the day by checking Slack messages and emails and checking in with my team in Singapore. My day is a mixture of external calls with my customers, which could be anything from running a training, facilitating a call with one of our Subject Matter Experts, or checking in on how my customers are utilizing our product.
I also work extremely closely with several of our cross-functional teams, including Product, Solutions Engineers, Sales, Marketing, etc.
This is really where the focus is on advocating for customers internally, building and leading projects that will improve our customer experience, and also I have a big focus on scaling.
What makes you feel inspired or motivated?
Two things inspire me; my team and being a part of such an innovative industry.
Being a part of the crypto industry, I am surrounded by trailblazers who are building what best practice looks like and shaping the industry for the future. To be a part of that is something that I never will get bored of.
The Notabene team is made up of some of the most driven, curious, and empathetic people I have ever met. Working alongside a group of people who have a genuine passion for their work and for solving problems never gets old. I am very lucky!
What’s one thing that people are generally surprised to find out about you?
I was an army cadet and very nearly joined the army after school. I guess when I think about it the thing I loved the most about that experience was building and being a part of strong teams who trusted and relied on each other to succeed.
Who do you look up to the most?
In my previous workplace, I had the privilege of connecting with a group of remarkable, passionate, and driven women. Despite now working in separate companies, they remain a source of inspiration for me. While they aren’t in Customer Success, they all excel in diverse fields such as Product, Operations, Marketing, People, and Regulation- they all drive excellence in each of their roles. They have served as my support system, offering guidance when needed and challenging me during moments of self-doubt.
I have often said that the key to building your career is finding your tribe that pushes you to be the best version of yourself. I am so lucky that I have that with this group!
What are your top 3 priorities now?
The first focus for me is recruitment; I am currently hiring for a US-based CSM to grow Notabene’s CS team to reflect the growth in our customer base.
Secondly, I am focusing on scaling our processes as we look into 2024. This means rolling out a CS Tool, finalising key metrics and while also ensuring that we are continuing our commitment to ensuring our customers get value from our partnership.
Finally, I am focused on ensuring that I am facilitating relationship-building between Notabene’s internal teams such as Product and our customers. Nothing is more important than ensuring that the voice of your customers is heard across the business, and by facilitating these interactions as a CSM I can ensure my team hear first-hand what is important to our customers.
What advice would you give to Customer Success Managers to grow and develop their careers?
Don’t be someone who just finds problems and waits for solutions to be given to you. Be someone who identifies areas of improvement and suggests a solution. Often in a start-up, it’s not a question of what needs to be done but rather a question of when there is capacity to do it. It’s therefore incredibly valuable to have people on the team that are focused on how we can actually solve problems or improve processes and suggest a way forward – Be a doer.
What’s your favorite book, and why?
The Alchemist – Not a CS book but one that has meant different things to me as I have read it at different parts of my life. The main takeaway is that if you really desire something or want something, you and the universe can make it happen. I think that sentiment is important for us all to remember, especially as we get caught up in the day-to-day.
» Check out the 10 Books a CSM should read to advance and improve their skills.
Have you had your “I’ve made it” moment yet?
I don’t know if I have had an “I’ve made it moment” exactly – I am someone who always wants more… wants to learn more, wants to achieve more. But very recently I hosted a private dinner in London for some of our Enterprise customers to celebrate the UK go-live of Travel Rule regulation with whom we had been working towards with our customers for some time.
As I sat at the table surrounded by some of the industry’s top compliance leaders along with our CEO and UK team, I really just had an overwhelming feeling that this is why I do this job. Spending time with industry leaders responsible for shaping the industry with the help of Notabene is such a privilege, and I count myself very lucky to have these experiences.
What should I have asked you but didn’t?
We have covered all of the work-related questions so perhaps a question on my life outside of work.
I am deeply passionate about animals; my dream is to live one day on a piece of land by the ocean surrounded by as many animals as I can care for.
Additionally, the creative side of me loves to sing and I currently sing in a women’s choir which allows me to have a refreshing break from all of my screens.
Lastly, I have a deep love for traveling – a passion that my job fortunately enables me to indulge in frequently.
Where can people go to find out more about you?
To learn more about me, reach out to me on LinkedIn. I am always open to meet others in the industry, share a virtual coffee and even to mentorship.
Thank you, Abi, for sharing your knowledge and for the opportunity to know you more.
Do you have a Customer Success Leader, Expert, or Influencer you would like to know more about?