Episode 137 : Achieving Customer and Employee Success with the Seven Pillars

Wayne McCulloch is one of the world’s leading customer success experts and a Top 100 Customer Success Strategist, Wayne works with Google Cloud’s entire SaaS portfolio as the Customer Success Leader. He’s a keynote speaker and the recipient of multiple industry awards with more than 25 years of experience in customer-focused roles.

Wayne began his software career at PeopleSoft and Vignette before becoming an SVP at Salesforce, the Chief Customer Officer at Kony, Inc., and the VP of the Customer Success Group at Looker.


  • Could you tell us a little bit about your journey, we always like to hear from our guests, in their own words, a little bit about how they got to where they are today.
  • Could you share with us what those pillars are and maybe if you were to pick maybe one or two of those pillars that a business owner or a manager in charge of customer experience or customer success in their business would need to focus on what would be maybe one or two of those things that you’d recommend they focus on, especially in the climate that businesses are currently operating in, just trying to emerge out of a pandemic.
  • So you started off by talking about on-boarding. Does on-boarding include the recruitment process? Or based on how you wrote the book, is the recruitment step before or do you have it all summed up as one with on-boarding?
  • How do you ensure that in the recruiting process, getting the right people for the organization, it matches back with what you’re trying to achieve on an organizational level. How do you know that the people you’re hiring can actually love the company they work for so much that they literally walk and speak good things about the company all the time, even when things may not be going so well?
  • What’s the one online tool, website or app that you absolutely can’t live without in your business?
  • Could you share with us maybe one or two books that have had the biggest impact on you? It could be a book that you read very long ago, but it still has had a great impact on you. Or it could even be something that you’ve read recently that you found to be really insightful or impactful?
  • Could you share with us what’s the one thing that’s going on in your life right now that you’re really excited about? Either something you’re working on to develop yourself or your people?
  • Where can listeners find you online?
  • Do you have a quote or a saying that during times of adversity or challenge, you will tend to revert to this quote, it kind of helps to get your refocused or get you back on track? Do you have one of those?


Wayne’s Journey

Wayne shared that it’s interesting when he looks back, because there’s no possible way he could have created a plan to get to where he is today, which made him totally rethink how he thought when he was in the early 20s trying to think about what’s his career going to be? What is he going to do? Where is he going to be?

And it really, really is a journey that hasn’t been planned in any way shape or form from a long term perspective, but just made up of a collection of opportunities that have presented itself. But he got into the world of software for a strange reason, it’s because he was working in a sort of more traditional space and one of his friends got a job in software, and they said, it’s amazing, they have Pop Tarts in the fridge and you can cook up and it’s casual clothes, and it’s like flexible work from home.

And this is back in the 90s when that was just so foreign to him working in a more traditional business environment. And so he joined a software company for reasons nothing to do with software, and yet it to become part of his life for the last 25 years.

And for him, he started off in the world of education, enablement, adoption of software in the B2B space and really love that for 15 years of his career and then realize that this whole customer experience, customer success movement, especially in the world of software with cloud and the way we can easily download apps and use any product very quickly, which is very unlike software in the 80s and 90s, he realized that that was a space he was very interested in is how to enable people to get success with these investments, with these software applications, and so moved into the world of customer success and that’s where he’s been ever since.

Pillars That Business Owners or Managers Need to Focus On Emerging Out of a Pandemic  

Me: So Wayne, you have this new book that was released recently. It’s called “The Seven Pillars of Customer Success” so could you share with us what those pillars are and maybe if you were to pick maybe one or two of those pillars that a business owner or a manager in charge of customer experience or customer success in their business would need to focus on what would be maybe one or two of those things that you’d recommend they focus on, especially in the climate that businesses are currently operating in, just trying to emerge out of a pandemic.

Wayne stated that it’s a very unique time right now. As an author like Yanique, he has much more respect for people that write books than he did before he embarked on this journey 3 years ago. He was very motivated. It’s similar to when you join a gym, you get really excited, you start working out and getting up early, and then you start missing a couple and then eventually you just stop going and writing a book for him was like that, he was so excited.

And then he’s like, “Wow, this is really hard. And it’s not what I thought it would be.” But ultimately, they got the book done and launched as The Seven Pillars and it really was a collection of a lot of experiences.

But for him, The Seven Pillars wasn’t anything ground-breaking, it was more how do we create or construct a framework by which we can base our business on how we service our customers, because there’s lots of great books on why customer service and the customer experience is so critical for a customer’s success.

And there’s lots of great books on how to execute that as far as like sort of activities, things you need to be thinking about. But for him, he was missing a framework to pull it all together. He knows it’s important. He knows there’s really cool things about creating customer delight and all these other sort of tactical engagement type things but what he was missing for him to make customers successful was what’s a framework that he can build that conflicts with his business as it grows or shrinks but can also accommodate a consistent sort of value proposition, a consistent theme, a consistent what he calls narrative when he’s speaking to his customers.

And so, the book for him was about constructing these seven pillars which really focused in on three main areas. The first one is your company. The second one is your customer. And the third one is sort of the people delivering that experience. And it’s funny, he’s talked to people and like, “Why do you start with your company? If this is about customer experience and the customer success and servicing that customer, why do you start with your company?” and he said he has a saying it’s, “Customer success equals employee success, and employee success equals customer success.” And it really starts with the employee or employees, and it starts with your organization, you need to build a foundation as a company or as a business that can sustain and deliver a great experience for your customers.

So it actually starts with your own organization. And so, he developed sort of 10 tools, very specific to the B2B world in software, but certainly applicable as a framework in other contexts, which is, how are you going to run your business at scale, having a consistent voice, having a consistent value proposition into the market and that’s what the first pillar is all about.

The next 5 pillars are all about the customer’s journey with you as a company. And for him, it starts off with on-boarding.

On-boarding a new customer, a new consumer into your business, and how to go do that right. And he actually has a story in the book, it’s about a hurdler in the 2016 Olympics and he was representing Haiti. And he was in the semi-finals so he’s super pumped because such a small sort of population of people can have someone at the Olympics at the highest level, potentially getting into the gold medal race and he was watching with great enthusiasm. And unfortunately, he tripped over the first hurdle fell down and didn’t qualify. And he feels like that’s kind of like customer service, it’s kind of like running a business, if you trip over the first hurdle, it’s really difficult to recover, really difficult to come back. And it doesn’t mean you can’t finish and it doesn’t mean you can’t have some success but it’s really difficult to win. And so, for him, on-boarding was the first pillar.

And then there was the second pillar of the customer journey, which really focused in on the adoption of your product or service, like how do we get true adoption and by adoption they don’t mean just using it, but they mean getting full value from it. How do we do that?

The third sort of pillar on the customer journey was really focused in on how do we cement that value proposition in that person’s mind? So they’ve on-boarded well, they’re using or leveraging the product in some way and now they’re getting maximum value that it can provide because that leads you to the fourth stage, what he calls the fifth pillar, which is around the value expansion. How do we now give that consumer, that customer more value?

How do we create an experience for them even better than what we have done, whether it’s through more of the same product or additional products and services?

And then finally, a really important one, which he hopes they talked about later is when Yanique mentioned what the most critical one would be around advocacy. How do we create advocates of our brand, of our products, of our services into the market because that is, in this day and age, one of the easiest, fastest and most scalable ways, certainly the most affordable in order to attract new business.

The final pillar, the seventh pillar is all about the people delivering on that promise, that value proposition, that great experience, and how do we invest in those people.

And he co-created a model with a friend of his, Shane Anastasi who also has written a book on the consulting side, and it’s called The KSE Model, which is knowledge, skills and experience and if we think of our people at the frontline delivering service, we think of what knowledge do we give them? What skills can we have them acquire and then how do we give them the experience and the feedback in order for them to improve and be better? And so, that kind of rounds out the whole book, he jokes that no one needs to buy the book now, they almost have it all in a podcast.

Does On-Boarding Includes the Recruitment Process? 

Me: So you started off by talking about on-boarding. Does on-boarding include the recruitment process? Or based on how you wrote the book, is the recruitment step before or do you have it all summed up as one with on-boarding?

Wayne stated that it’s a great question. And it’s funny, because to answer the question, it’s after they’ve acquired the customer. But in the book, he actually has a secret eighth pillar. And it’s funny because when he was writing the book and he was at 345 pages long, which is pretty big for a business book, and the publisher is like just get the book published, how much more can you put in there? And he’s like, another 345 pages, there’s so much content.

And he said, he actually thinks there’s an eighth pillar, potentially, he’s not sold on it yet, but he does believe it exists. And the publisher is like, you can’t make it eight pillars of the books called The Seven Pillars and all the graphics and all that, all this work had been done around The Seven Pillars. But in actual fact, he talked about the fact that the eighth pillar is pre boarding, he calls it pre boarding, it’s like getting on a plane, it’s called pre boarding which is, how do we set up the customer for success before they’re a customer.

And even in this day and age defining what a customer is, is different because you might have a service that you give a free trial, well, they’re not paying for the service, so they really not a customer of your business from a financial standpoint, but they’re consuming the service, so they are a customer. But it’s a trial, so this notion of pre boarding customers, getting them ready to engage with you is something that he definitely added into the book at the end.

Recruiting the Right People for the Right Organization

Me: So one of the things I think is so critical sometimes when we’re dealing with customer experience, you definitely need to get the right customers, but you also need to get the right people internally. So, there’s an internal customer service.

How do you ensure that in the recruiting process, getting the right people for the organization, it matches back with what you’re trying to achieve on an organizational level, at the end because one of the things you spoke about was you want your internal and external customers to become your advocates, your evangelists, your word of mouth advertisers, but how do you know that the people you’re hiring can actually love the company they work for so much that they literally walk and speak good things about the company all the time, even when things may not be going so well?

Wayne stated that this is a challenge facing every industry that has service professionals. And he calls them service professionals deliberately, he feels like when people talk about service industry, it’s not referred to in a way that he thinks really highlights the importance that the role that service people play, it is so incredibly important to service professionals. The one thing that have been his experience where he’s had successes when he hires people, he doesn’t hire for skills, he doesn’t care if you’re finished high school, he doesn’t care if you have a Master’s, it doesn’t matter to him, in service that’s relevant, it does not matter.

What matters is empathy, to him, that is all that matters. If he can find people that can demonstrate the capability of being empathetic, can show examples of how they’re empathetic, then you have a winning service person.

Wayne McColluch

And it doesn’t matter if you’re in a very technical field, if you’re in the retail field or whatever, the person has to have that empathy. You can’t really teach empathy, it’s something that you have, you can amplify it and you can certainly improve through learning and experience.

But ultimately finding people with empathy because they don’t just have empathy for the customer, which is so critical to delivering a great experience, but have empathy for your business.

They get it’s difficult, they get there are tough times, they get the challenges are going to come that make it necessary to make tough decisions as a company, as a business.

And so empathetic people can work through that in a way that allows them to be comfortable and allows them to also be more appreciative of the environment they’re in. And then other things like communication, sharing, listening, collaborate, all those things that we would want to make sure that we provide as an environment from our people are all important, he’s not saying they’re not but to him, the critical skill is empathy.

He worked in a software company called Looker, one of the best companies he’s ever worked for, for culture. And there’s probably one other company in his whole life called PeopleSoft in the 90s, they had just amazing culture.

And the founder of Looker has this phrase that he uses when he started the company. He said, “Great software is an act of empathy.”

In other words, if you’re using software and you can’t use it, it’s frustrating, you get stuck at breaks, you are ruining that person’s day potentially impacting their career. It goes beyond creating a great, in this case – application, it’s about people being able to do their jobs and be successful. And so, great software is an act of empathy.

But they sort of built on that and said, “Great service is an act of empathy.” That’s really what it’s about, it’s about putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. And it’s great when things are good, I want to buy something, I’ve got great experiences and that’s great. And we should celebrate and service people with empathy that they lead with can enjoy that and can celebrate and make that a really unique, fun, positive experience for both the consumer and for the service person. But it’s also when things are bad is when empathy shines through and that comes through in a genuine way.

We’ve all been there, he doesn’t want to say that the cable company because they always get used. But let’s just say we call someone and we get frustrated, we get moved around. “Sorry, that’s not the right department, I can’t help you.” And we get that in big companies. And that just means they haven’t worked out how to intake the questions appropriately or you get a chatbot that just keeps asking you 50 questions.

And you just get frustrated, you’re not getting someone who’s empathetic, who’s saying, “Look, I get it, your time is more valuable than ours. Time is all you have, you can’t buy more of it. So every minute you spend trying to solve a problem with us that we’ve created in your life, a hassle, an issue or problem or difficulty, that’s on us not on you. And yet you pay the price as the consumer.”

And so, people who are empathetic can empathize with that. And for him, that creates a different dynamic between people in your company. And then inside your own company. As he said, empathetic people get that sometimes things get tough and they’re going to rally, they’re going to support because they genuinely know that you as a business owner, or as a company, you believe in that customer centricity, it’s not just a moniker, it’s not just a mission statement, it’s not just something painted on the wall, it’s demonstrated by a group of empathetic people trying to make the best experiences possible for their customers.

Me: It’s funny that that whole characteristic that you have to have as an individual, empathy, it really as you said, it’s something that it just cannot be taught, it has to be something that you have from within. And just on your experience, Wayne, do you feel that as you grow older, especially like as a parent, because I believe empathy is one of those social skills that you should have, just general things like being polite, being courteous, empathy is something that should be a part of your socialization. But what I have found is that because it requires that you tap into your emotional intelligence, at what age do you think persons start to really exercise empathy, maybe in their teenage years to just get a better understanding of connecting with other people, maybe you have a friend who is going through something and you empathize with her, that way when you actually get into the work environment, well, I don’t think you’d have mastered this skill, but you definitely would have had some exposure to it. What are your thoughts on that?

Wayne stated that he can be really frank here and say his answer is now different than what it was 5 years ago. Because 5 years ago, he had kids. And so, he was raised by his grandparents and so he was brought up in a more traditional environment when it comes to manners, when it comes to morals, we’re talking people born in 1920.

So, the environment he grew up as a child was very polite and actually, in many regards, was very empathetic and so it enabled him to understand the impact that we have on other people when we meet them.

And so, now that he’s had children, he’s like, well, he wasn’t born in 1920 and he certainly doesn’t have all the morals and manners his grandparents had. Hopefully, he has a lot, hopefully, his grandma would say he still has some. But really, when it comes down to it, he thinks about how does he instill values? And how does he practice empathy with his children when they’re in an environment that was very different to his, where he was able to hone that for him.

And it’s simple things at Christmas time, is, you know, sponsoring a family that might have financial difficulties in buying presents for their children and so going shopping with your 5 year old kid and saying, “Hey, what would you like for Christmas?” And they’re like, “Oh, I’d love this Barbie Set.” And he’s like, you know there’s people out there that actually don’t have this opportunity to pick out a toy. They’re not lucky like we are, they’re unlucky.

Does that make you sad that they can’t have the fun things you have? And while he gets the comprehension is limited, it’s starting to have a conversation and a dialogue, not everyone is on the same playing field, not everyone has the same opportunities, and we can make a difference because we can. And so let’s pick up a toy, what sort of toy do you think a girl of your age would enjoy. And she might say, it’s a Tonka truck or it might be a tennis racket or something. And so we’ll go buy it and wrap it and go give that to a family.

And so, over time we look for opportunities to broaden the thinking of our children, our life, our world, what we have is not the only thing that exists because in the world of customer service, you’re dealing with people that have lots of different backgrounds and lots of different challenges.

And having an appreciation that we’re just one more problem they’re having to deal with if they’re frustrated or one more opportunity to create delight for someone who might not have that. Everyone has that in their life to varying degrees, some worse than others. So in his mind, he thinks you can start exploring and understanding things like empathy as early as 5 years old, because that’s where he’s starting. He’s not sure if it has an impact, he’ll tell you in 15 years’ time. But he does think it’s something we can explore with our children so that as they grow, they can have a broader understanding of how other situations people find themselves in, which in customer service, we touch everybody, from all walks of life, good and challenging.

Me: And it does cement also that there is research out there that says you do form your personality by age five. So it’s good that you’ve started that conversation, because it means then as your kids get older, and you may not be the centre of influence in terms of information that you give them, because now they’re exposed to the school system, they have teachers, they have friends, by the time they turn teenagers, what their friend said to them is of greater value than what their parents said to them. And so it’s good those core things are built in from early.

App, Website or Tool that Wayne Absolutely Can’t Live Without in His Business

When asked about an online resource that he cannot live without in his business, Wayne shared that for him, it’s not really directly for his business, but he lives in LinkedIn. He’s noticed social media person, he’s not on Facebook, he doesn’t have an Instagram account. He’s not a Twitter person, that’s not for him. They’re very private as a family and they’d like to keep it that way. But for him, from a professional and business sense, he finds that networking through tools like LinkedIn enables him to connect with people who have similar situations or been on similar journeys and that’s super critical.

Because one thing he learned writing a book and talking to 50 Plus of his peers in the industry is none of us are as smart as all of us. Doesn’t know who said that but he heard that one time when he was younger, and he really gets that. We’ve all faced different challenges and overcome them and have experiences and have had impacts and we can all learn from that. And then one thing that he’s learned on LinkedIn is by connecting with people and either mentoring or getting mentored by or just simply saying, “Hey, I really love your career, I love what you’ve done, I’d love to grab 30 minutes of your time just to talk about what you’ve learned, what I’ve learned.”

More often than not people like absolutely, like, this is great. I can learn from you; you can learn from me. And learning strategies and concepts and ideas and techniques from other people, for him is a powerful way to help the business. So, he would say something like that because it’s such a unique way to find people with common backgrounds and explore experiences together which is cool.

Books That Have Had the Greatest Impact on Wayne

When asked about books that have had the biggest impact, Wayne stated that he read his book recently and he thought it was really good. He agrees with everything in the book. But there’s a lot of great books out there. And in his book he actually referred to a book from the 80s that talked about moments of truth. And there was a more recent book from Chip Heath and Dan Heath, it was about the power of moments.

And one thing for him in understanding a customer journey, which is really all the touch points a customer will have with your brand, whether it’s digital, physical, online, with you present or not like a website, the power of those moments are incredible. So there’s a book called The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact, which he thinks helps to highlight that when you’re trying to create a great experience for a customer, you really have to understand what are the moments that really require that effort, because you could put a lot of effort into a moment that is not as impactful from an advocacy, a loyalty, a delight kind of experience. And so, understanding that he thinks is really cool. So, he felt like that book was pretty cool.

The other one he really liked, which was a recent book is called Hug Your Haters: How to Embrace Complaints and Keep Your Customers by Jay Baer. So, for him, that was really difficult concept because in your business, especially if you own your business, you love that like you love your children and that makes you a little irrational sometimes.

And so, when people complain or get upset, you immediately become defensive and because you know that that’s either not true or this is not fair, or because you’re kind of bias. But learning to hug your haters is great. He remembers watching and it was an Apple plus TV show called Ted Lasso, which is an incredibly different show, but wonderful at the same time. And there’s a scene where one of the players sort of talks to the coach and basically tells the coach that he doesn’t like him and really upset. And the coach, when the player walks away, the coach says to the assistant coach, “Well, he thinks he hates me now wait until he loves me.” And that phrase for him and then later in the show, that player ends up loving him and actually says, “You make it so hard to love you.” Because he’s sort of frustrated at something. And then he’s like, “Did you hear that, he loves me like.” And that to him is exactly how we view our customers, is when they’re upset, like, here’s my chance to make them love me. And so, that books great too. There’s plenty of others. He can’t consume all the books he wants to read just for time purposes but they’re the two that have had impacts on him recently.

What Wayne is Really Excited About Now!

Wayne shared that he just released a book, which is very scary, because you’re putting out there, this is what I believe, this is what I think, this is what I’m suggesting or advising people to do and that’s really scary. And as you write the book, you’re often asking yourself saying, “Well, do I believe what I’m saying here? Am I saying it because I read it in a book? Am I saying it because I experienced it? Am I saying it because I truly believe it.”

And so, when you finally put it all down, you send it out in the world. And so, what he’s doing now is he’s talking to people who read the book and saying, “What’s missing? What did I leave out? What did I get wrong?” And for him, that’s amazing growth opportunity, like, “Oh, did I get that wrong? Actually, you’re right. I didn’t think of it from that point of view. I don’t know everything. I know a lot. And I want to share that but I don’t know everything.” And so, that’s what he’s working on right now is really uncovering the gaps in the book, the gaps in his knowledge, the gaps in his skills, maybe who knows, one day he’ll do a new edition of the book and add some chapters in or make some modifications. But really, that’s primarily what he’s focused on.

And he’s just started writing a second book with two other authors. So he’s going to do this with two other people, hopefully, it will make it easier. There’ll be more information coming out about that end of the year. But it’s really about the fourth industrial revolution and how we’re going to displace a lot of workers through AI, ML, robots, that’s accelerating. And so, how can we re-skill hundreds of millions of humans on new opportunities in a very coordinated way, which he doesn’t think we’re doing as a society right now. So it’s a little heavier than the book he just wrote, but equally important.

Where Can We Find Wayne Online

LinkedIn – @waynemcculloch

Website – http://www.cspillars.com/

Quote or Saying that During Times of Adversity Wayne Uses

When asked about a quote or saying that he tends to revert to, Wayne stated that he does but will give a quick background. He went on something called an Outward Bound Standard course which is basically 28 days in the bush in Australia.

And literally you’ve got a piece of plastic, you pull your shoelaces out of your shoes every night, put a bit of grass in the corner of the plastic and you tie your shoelace around and tie that to a log and that creates this kind of tent they call it a BV whack around Australia and you really live outside for a month with no phone and no electricity, nothing. You’re not allowed anything of that. And while he was there, you got one mail drop that sort of day 20. And one of his friends wrote, just literally he opened the letter and it was one piece of paper with this one phrase on it, nothing else, didn’t have his name, didn’t have “I hope all is well, here’s what’s happening.” All it had was this phrase, which was “Tough times never last, tough people do.”

And for him, that helps him get through when he’s feeling down, when he’s feeling like things are going to be difficult. He’s like, it won’t last, we’ll get through it. And as long as we get through it, we get stronger and we continue. So that’s something he always think about and refer to in his professional career as well as his personal life.

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