From the Experts: A View from the Top with Kevin Hanes

In our ‘View From The Top’ Series we’re bringing together top C-Suite leaders and investors in the software industry to share their stories and elaborate on why investing in customer success has become a must-have for any business today. We’ll hear how these leaders have invested in customer success to help their entire organization increase revenue, reduce churn and drive business outcomes.

In this episode, we sat down with, Kevin Hanes, COO of Dell Secureworks, to discuss the evolution of customer success from a department to a strategy and what’s at stake for companies that aren’t investing in customer success. 


The customer success team might be the most critical, but it’s so often the least talked about department in the company. Why do you think that is?

Hanes: I actually think it’s the way we’re thinking about it, which I don’t think we should really think about it as an organization or a function in the company. There’s an evolution I think going on with this right now. I feel like a lot of organizations see it as a department, versus what I’ve evolved my thinking to, really a strategy, and a strategy for how to go compete when and even in some cases disrupt a market.

“I feel like a lot of organizations see it as a department, versus what I’ve evolved my thinking to, really a strategy, and a strategy for how to go compete when and even in some cases disrupt a market.”

A lot of times it’s not necessarily seen that way, as how we go compete or how we go disrupt. I think there are examples of that happening more, and where it is being used as just part of how you go compete. When that starts to happen, you start to really think about the whole thing differently.

Do you envision customer success woven throughout the company, or at least everything that the company does in somehow, some way focuses on customer success?

Hanes: Yes, I’m equating here customer success with customer experience. The experience that you’re hopefully designing into how either your SaaS platform, or your product, or your service is architected to deliver an experience, and having that experience be strategic, and how you go compete or disrupt the market. That’s how I’m thinking about customer success, is how is it in service to what I just said, versus it being a department that I think about calling up and dialing for renewals?

From your perspective, is it a little bit in the early innings when it comes to that view of customer success?

Hanes: I think so. There’s a lot of momentum in the space, and it’s great to see. I think as business leaders, and as even consumers ourselves, we’ll see better outcomes. That said, I do think it’s early. It’s cool that people are now using the term customer success,  they’re reading about it, and it’s getting more mainstream attention.

I still think that right now people are looking for, “Give me the org function that I put in place, the manual for this.” I think it’s after the fact in terms of, “I’ve got my product. I’ve got my company. I’ve got my strategy, and now give me the manual for putting in a customer success org or function.” I’m suggesting that the thinking can evolve to be, “How do I build customer success, really the experience, into my solution, such that it provides a disruption to the market that I’m in?” I think that it’s just a way of competing, right? It’s a way of delivering something in how you compete. I think that’s a fundamental shift that can happen, and there may be a few examples of where it has. But, I hope that’s how we start to think about it.

“I’m suggesting that the thinking can evolve to be, “How do I build customer success, really the experience, into my solution, such that it provides a disruption to the market that I’m in?”

We see the use of the word ‘experience’ more often now as well as we talk about customer success. What do you see?

Hanes: Yes it has been around. It’s not new. I think we have been scratching at the surface of what is meant by that. Really in service to things such as “we need to go ask our customers for feedback.”  Then we need to take that feedback, and we need to incorporate it into our priorities, and that kind of thing.

Certainly we need to be doing that, but I’m suggesting something that’s much more strategic. How do we even think about what is the experience that our customers would have with alternatives? Then how do we attack those things that aren’t desirable in the experience, so that we can truly be a different level of competitor.

And, not just understanding it, but designing it, architecting it, and then delivering it.

In this series we’ve been talking about companies that are investing in customer success and are pushing the limits of what customer success might be. What’s at stake for companies that aren’t investing in customer success?

Hanes: If you believe that customers are everything, then everything’s really at stake. One of the things I’ve noticed is how the world is evolving right now. We can see much, much faster cycles of innovation and much faster cycles of adoption of those innovations than we’ve ever seen. That’s causing a great amount of change and expectations on the part of customers and what they expect.

There are the merging of so many new technologies and what’s going on in terms of the social space and the consumerization of IT. You have all these things that come together for what I’ll say we need to be doing, which is a much faster evolution of our customer success, or of the customer experience.

Traditionally what we would do is go formally solicit feedback, maybe a couple of times a year, through a formal process. We would get that feedback, everybody in the company would kind of look at it and say, “Okay, what can I be doing about this? How do I set my plans and priorities for the next quarter or two, or maybe even the year?” And, we would go work those things. I think that’s too slow now.

We have to think about customer success as how do we evolve this? How do we start to see what’s going on, understand what’s going on in terms of expectations, and reality, and the gap that can sometimes exist between those two? And, how do we work to close those gaps at even a weekly basis, daily basis? If we’re not doing that, then we’re going to fall way, way behind, if we’re waiting for twice a year, once a year, kind of cycles for that.

“We have to think about customer success as how do we evolve this? How do we start to see what’s going on, understand what’s going on in terms of expectations, and reality, and the gap that can sometimes exist between those two?”

We hear similarities in your answer with a product’s team agile approach to development – so getting into a faster cadence, faster cycles, quicker cycles, you know, daily, weekly versus monthly or quarterly.

Hanes: That’s a great point. How you would be able to compete, or not? I think that’s kind of an interesting way to frame the idea of customer success. How often are you releasing in customer success? How fast are you evolving? Because, if you are not, someone else is because of all the new market entrants. A lot of times they don’t have any of the legacy to deal with, because they’re coming in fresh. They can start and architect a brand new experience. Where maybe you have a customer base, and you’ve got to worry about how do you take them on the journey with you? You can get disrupted really, really quickly.

Stay tuned for more interviews in our ‘View From the Top’ Series to hear why other organizations are investing in customer success. If you want to hear the full audio recording of Kevin’s interview, you can listen to it here. Have questions about retention? Head over to our Success Masters Community to chat with like-minded C-Suite leaders.

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