Thank you for inviting me to be a Monday Guest! I am honored to be part of this great initiative.
I am currently head of International Customer Success (EMEA and APAC) for Forrester Research having joined in November 2022 so I still feel like a bit of a “newbie”.
I am Scottish but have spent most of my adult life in the south of England and France. I now live in Winchester since we moved back to the UK in 2017 after 12 years of living to the west of Paris.
We “keep our toe” in France through our apartment in the Alps where we ski and hike.
My husband and I met in our first week at university in Edinburgh way, way back in 1980 and we have 2 grown up children; our son is a sports scientist and our daughter is a fashion designer.
We asked Shirley 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?
Given how old I am, I won’t give details of everything I have done!!! Despite advice others might give, I have never planned out my career but I have been very deliberate about making the most of opportunities that have arisen and doing the right thing for me throughout the various stages of my life.
I started my professional career as a teacher of Economics and Business in Scotland. Although I quickly knew teaching 12-18-year olds wasn’t for me when I was in my mid-20s, I have never regretted my short teaching career since it taught me so much about how to work with people who come from different backgrounds and have different motivations and personalities from mine.
I moved from teaching into a software training role and immediately knew technology was where I could thrive in environments of constant change and helping customers be more successful in their business.
I was lucky to join Oracle UK at a time of incredible growth and to work with so many amazing people who became lifelong friends. I learned so much in my first management role at Oracle and I am forever grateful for the business and leadership skills I developed at that time.
Following the arrival of my 2 children and a serious illness, I had a different perspective on life and stepped back from corporate life for a period of time. Soon after, we had the amazing opportunity for an adventure “en famille” to move to France with my husband’s work.
After settling the family in, I started teaching again, this time teaching English to business people. From there I landed my first CSM role, then after a few years found myself back in leadership and in corporate life again, and, as they say, “the rest is history”.
How did you join Customer Success?
While in France, an ex-colleague offered me a chance to work for an online English-learning Saas company as an account manager which quickly changed to “customer success manager” which not many companies had then.
I knew I had truly found my ideal job, working with tech, using my knowledge of training and people development, and using all my customer and business skills as a CSM.
It was an opening into a profession that I care deeply about.
How would you describe the ideal CSM candidate?
In the same way, as there are so many variations of what the CSM role is, I think the ideal candidate varies.
As a hiring manager, I try to see the unique skills that each person can bring to the role which may not fit any cookie-cutter description.
However, when I am interviewing CSMs I am looking for curiosity and a growth mindset, good listening skills, ability to collaborate, well-organized, customer obsessed and to be a decent person that customers and colleagues enjoy working with.
What one piece of advice would you give to someone just starting out as a Customer Success Manager?
Never take anything for granted, ever, especially not that a customer will renew or that your own company won’t change. The only constant is change so always have a strategy for possible change and adapt quickly.
The only constant is change so always have a strategy for possible change and adapt quickly.
Can you take us on a journey describing what your workday looks like?
I work for a US-based company, and my team is based in EMEA and APAC, so my day starts with catching up on emails or chat messages that have come in overnight from either the US or APAC, or catching up with the team in APAC.
The morning is mostly focused on whatever is going on in EMEA (1:1s, team meetings, sales meetings, etc), and then once the US is online, the focus switches to more strategic, global CS leadership meetings.
I have been a homeworker for many, many years and it is my preferred way of working.
However, I do try to get to the London office once a week so those days look a bit different with train travel and face-to-face meetings.
At the end of the working day, I like to do an exercise class of some kind, either Yoga or BodyPump or Spin to draw a line under work and to keep a work/life balance.
What makes you feel inspired or motivated?
Throughout all of my career, my motivation has been to help people be the best they can be, whether as a school student, a customer, or a team member.
I love to see people I work with achieve personal success like getting a great new job, being recognized for an impactful initiative, or traveling somewhere amazing.
I am also very inspired by those who are allies to those who are disadvantaged in any way (economically, gender-based, race, education, etc). We all deserve to belong at work and in society, and we all deserve equal opportunity.
What’s one thing that people are generally surprised to find out about you?
As a child I was quite an accomplished Highland dancer and I still have my (blunt!) practice swords for the Sword Dance this Youtube video is not of me but I grew up close to Braemar where these Highland Games are held every year with the UK royal family in attendance.
I haven’t danced for many years but I still have my medals and trophies which mean a lot to me and looking at having my swords by my desk is a reminder of growing up in a beautiful area of Scotland.
Who do you look up to the most?
The diplomatic answer is my husband! I hugely admire Sir David Attenborough who has done so much for the natural world by educating us on the impact of humans on the planet in his unique way which encompasses both powerful and gentle leadership.
What are your top 3 priorities now?
– Reviewing H1 and preparing for H2
– Simplification and globalization of CS responsibilities
– Having time in my happy places of Scotland and France over the summer to recharge and refocus
What advice would you give to Customer Success Managers to grow and develop their careers?
Find a mentor outside of your company either by connecting with someone you admire e.g. from Linkedin or a conference, or through programs such as PowerUp (an initiative through Women in Customer Success).
Educate yourself and participate in webinars and initiatives such as Customer Success Middle East! Your career is in your hands and if you put time and effort into being part of this incredible network, it will pay dividends for you as a person and your career, I guarantee it!
What’s your favorite book, and why?
Professional – Five Dysfunctions of a Team which is a very easy read but makes clear simple points on how to cultivate a high-performing team
Personal – To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee which made a huge impact on me when I read it for the first time at school. I recently saw a theatre production of To Kill a Mockingbird and it still evoked the same powerful emotions of shock at injustices in society and admiration of Atticus Finch’s character.
» 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?
For work, no, however Every time I am selected for a role I am always surprised and feel a bit of having “made it”. The closest I have come to it was a sense of pride at each of my children’s Masters’s graduations and thinking “My job is done”, knowing that I had done all I could to help them “fly” 🙂
What should I have asked you but didn’t?
What would I change about customer success if we could start all over again?
– avoid the “keeping the customer happy” narrative that existed for too long and hasn’t helped the profession be taken seriously as a revenue engine. 🙂
Where can people go to find out more about you?
Please connect and say hello through LinkedIn
Thank you, Shirley, 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?