Monday Guest Stella Ikhnana

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Get to know Stella Ikhnana

By: Mohammed Alqaq   |  June 05, 2023

My name is Stella Ikhnana, I’m currently a Customer Success Manager at a PR and Marketing SaaS company. I’m a career pivoter and I recently celebrated my first year as a CSM.

I’m all about bringing the human to SaaS. I love to learn, travel, and attending a Wimbledon match is on my bucket list.

Stella Ikhnana_Headshot

We asked Stella 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?

The majority of my career, I was a Special Education Teacher. Each year the responsibilities increased and the creativity + autonomy I once had rapidly decreased.

Another factor for my transition was the educational system was heading in a direction that no longer aligned with my moral compass. As a result, I questioned my future in education and started my search for what I could do beyond the classroom.

I was looking for a role where I could continue to help people reach their goals.

How did you join Customer Success?

I pivoted into tech in 2021 after 10 years in education. I joined Carrie Conover’s Classroom to Boardroom program. Through her courses, monthly live sessions, and activities such as reading job descriptions of different roles in tech, I went all in on customer success.

I utilized LinkedIn to connect with CS professionals and made a point to learn from various people: individual contributors to VPs of CS. I joined communities such as Gain Grow Retain, CS Insider, and CS Ladies to learn from CSMs.

I learned the importance of having a solid narrative of my pivot to tech and translating my educational skills to CS. After 4 months in a contract role as an Onboarding Specialist, I started my full-time role as a CSM.

How would you describe the ideal CSM candidate?

In my experience, the key factors of a CSM are connected to the ability to understand humans, since they are our end users. The ideal CSM leads with empathy, actively asks questions to continue to learn about customers needs, and builds realistic goals + short term objectives with customers.

What one piece of advice would you give to someone just starting out as a Customer Success Manager?

Lean on your team, and be open to asking questions as they likely have experienced it too.

Also, schedule time to meet with people across the organization, who are not in CS, to learn about their roles and how best to collaborate with their team.

Can you take us on a journey describing what your workday looks like?

🙂 My day-to-day can be summed up in a few buckets:

1. Research – When I receive a new account, I need to learn about the company and its goals. I check the CRM to understand what led them to purchase the software and research the current industry challenges. For current customers, I check usage rates and create messaging for proactive outreach.

2. Meetings – Customer meetings where I lead platform training or partnership meetings/QBRs where we listen to feedback from the customer on current progress and goals. There are also internal meetings in which our CS team meets to learn about updates and strategize with other CSMs.

3. Communication – Replying to customer requests via email, escalating requests to the support team, and sending follow-up emails to recap meetings with actionable next steps.

What makes you feel inspired or motivated?

I’m motivated by helping people meet their goals. I love getting feedback from customers that they were successful with a task or they accomplished their task in less time than before. It is a great feeling to be a small part of their success.

What’s one thing that people are generally surprised to find out about you?

I’m an English language learner! I was born in Iraq and moved to the US when I was 6. I credit my teachers for helping me learn the English language and social norms/traditions. My positive experience as a student inspired me to become a teacher.

Who do you look up to the most?

I look up to my mom the most. She sacrificed a successful career to move to a new country to ensure my sister and I have a safe future filled with opportunities.

She persevered through the many obstacles thrown her way and has always been supportive of me. Love you, Yim! (Yim means mom in Assyrian)

What are your top 3 priorities now?

 – I’m very excited about meeting my mentor, as part of the Women in Customer Success mentorship program.

–  Learning all about community, as I believe it’s an integral part of the success of customers!

 – Planning a trip, I miss traveling and a vacation or two is needed this year.

What advice would you give to Customer Success Managers to grow and develop their careers?

The CS community is very kind and helpful. Staying active in the CS field, learning current trends and connecting with CS professionals from other companies are some ways to grow in your career.

What’s your favorite book, and why?

One of my favorite books is Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. I highly recommend listening to the audiobook, since Trevor narrates his own story. It’s a phenomenal example of the ability to overcome challenges and build your own path to success.

» 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?

In November 2021, Heidi Solomon-Orlick invited me to write a chapter in Heels to Deals: How Women Are Dominating in Business-To-Business Sales. The book was published in March 2022 and I traveled to Boston to meet the other co-authors for the book launch.

As a former writing teacher, seeing my words in print was an amazing accomplishment and a career highlight! 🙂

What should I have asked you but didn’t? 

I enjoyed the variety of your questions!

I’d like to learn from others what they wish CS would focus more attention on. I believe CS should focus more energy into learning about human behavior and change management, as this will help support the success of customers.

Where can people go to find out more about you?

The best place to find me is on LinkedIn. 

Thank you, Stella, 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?