19 min read

25 | Growing a Spectacular Customer Education Community w/Rhonda Keller

Oct 13, 2022 2:15:00 PM





1. Rhonda started out as a high school teacher and went into tech early on.
2. Learning: you can't install software on people.
3. Teach people to be successful in their roles first, then success with the software tool.
4. Keep the customer in the center of the process: sales, product, and engineering all have personas. Are they the same?
5. Have a cohesive pre- and post-sales process.


Rhonda Keller is currently Senior Director for Customer Experience at Sift Science, the leader in Digital Trust and Safety. Over her 26 year career, she has grown customer communities, directed education businesses, and defined success on cross-functional teams.

Connect with our guest, Rhonda Keller, on LinkedIn




[00:00:20] Islin Munisteri: hi, this is Islin Munisteri, host of the Rev Ops Careers podcast, with Theia Strategies I'd like to introduce Rhonda on the podcast. Rhonda Keller.

[00:00:36] Rhonda Keller: Hi, Islin. Thanks

[00:00:37] Islin Munisteri: for having me. It's great having you on. So Rhonda is currently senior director for customer experience at Sift Science, the leader in digital trust and safety.

[00:00:48] Over her 26 career, she has grown customer communities, directed the education businesses, and define success on cross-functional teams. I'm excited to have you. .

[00:00:58] Rhonda Keller: Yeah. Thank you. Thanks for [00:01:00] that intro.

[00:01:01] Islin Munisteri: No problem. So how did you start your career and your, it's a rev ops really customer success ops

[00:01:07] Rhonda Keller: journey.

[00:01:09] Yeah, it's it's funny, no one ever goes to school, right? To be a rev ops leader. It's just not a thing. And the same is true for customer success and I think probably more recently there are programs. Prepare people for, customer success jobs in the workforce. But certainly when I started, over two decades ago, that wasn't the case.

[00:01:33] So I actually exited college with a teaching degree and I taught high school for a couple of years. I taught English and critical thinking, and it was at the time, at the rise of the.com era, so we and software back. Very difficult to use. And there was really no, there were no rev ops tools

[00:01:56] there wasn't even a term called rev ops yeah. And so software was really hard to [00:02:00] use and we were all just in that, tech world of, the late 1990s, just figuring it out, So they at some point the software industry realized like, we've gotta educate customers

[00:02:12] on how to use software. And so they, I think a lot of companies started with we'll just get the people that develop the software, we'll get the engineers to teach the customers. And that did not go well. Yeah. It turns out working with customers and interacting with customers is very distinct skill set from being able to develop software.

[00:02:31] Impressive in its own right. So they I found a software company that said, Look, let's just go, let's go get teachers and teach the teachers the technical pieces and get the teachers to teach our customers. And so I in my early twenties, exited the public education system. And started teaching software and then from there, move to running the teams that we're developing software.

[00:02:56] And then we've seen an evolution in customer success around [00:03:00] what's required to create, make customers possible and now software isn't as hard to use, so it's a lot more about just equipping customers with the skills and many times the connections with other customers that they need in order to be successful.

[00:03:16] So that's where I've landed at today where I run, a customer community and am helping sift to build a customer community. So we have a whole host of tools that we use on the customer success side, and then it's really important to us, it's tied to the rev ops tool internally.

[00:03:35] Islin Munisteri: That's great.

[00:03:36] And then I guess, how did you how do you get to. Like getting to the customer education part, I guess how did software companies realize that software education was something to that they needed to do?

[00:03:51] Rhonda Keller: Yeah, it, like I said, it was just, it was, software was really hard to use. There was and it was also OnPrem.

[00:03:59] So [00:04:00] when we would sell to our customers, We would have to have like basically a team of people that we would deploy on site. Like none of this is remote, right? So we would go to the customer site, install the software on their equipment, and I would travel with a team and the technical part of the team that was doing the software installation, they would ahead of time.

[00:04:24] We're gonna, we're gonna be on site on Monday. This is the equipment that you need to have, this is the server that needs to be on site. These are the specs for that server. So we could be very specific on the technical requirements but you couldn't say, Oh, and you need to have people that are open to this project and willing to learn new things, right?

[00:04:43] You can't deliver a set of specs for humans. So it became. That we needed somebody to bridge that gap, to prepare individuals to learn before we even teach them. And that's really, those are teaching specific skills [00:05:00] as opposed to like engineering.

[00:05:05] I definitely agree

[00:05:06] Islin Munisteri: with you. Cause like the cause, Cause I know being an engineer, like I, I was a patrol engineer before I went into rev ops. Like it, Yeah. Like education is definitely a different set of skills. Like trying, like my, my partner does HubSpot onboardings for our clients.

[00:05:23] And what he does is a lot more, I guess he, he goes in a lot more into the technical than other folks do which is part of his engineering background. But

[00:05:34] Rhonda Keller: You can't install software on people, right? Not yet. .

[00:05:42] Islin Munisteri: That's awesome. That's a good quote.

[00:05:45] And what was your biggest challenge like throughout your career?

[00:05:50] Rhonda Keller: I think, and this is probably true for anybody that's in customer success or rev ops the human based challenges that we have are consistent [00:06:00] regardless of kind of what decade you're in. People are people, but the software just so radically changes and the way that we interact with software changes.

[00:06:08] And, I went from a time in, at the beginning of my career when we were writing education around a piece of software that software could live in the world where, I'm not kidding, Islam. Five years, right? So we would spend a long time like writing these really in depth courses, these beautiful encyclopedic books on how to use the software and it was worth investing that amount of time because we were delivering a very high education product and we knew that it would have a shelf.

[00:06:39] That would last for years and we were monetizing the education. And fast forward to today where software could change literally every two weeks, with the advancement of Agile and software development organizations that move very quickly. So you, and that's a whole other issue around whether or [00:07:00] not end users or customers want their software to change every two weeks, but it's a reality of this world that we have, that it can, And so for me, the one of the hardest challenges has been adapting the way that humans behave to the speed with which software is progressing.

[00:07:18] And, I can only imagine that, that will continue, right? Cause there are things. Even today that we do on our phones or with software that we would not have imagined five years ago.

[00:07:31] Islin Munisteri: Yeah, I agree. It's funny like my partner would be onboarding someone in HubSpot and he'd be like, I just onboarded someone else two weeks ago.

[00:07:41] On the same feature and they moved the button and it's different. Yeah, it's different. It's just Whoa. Hold on, . Yeah. I swear I am the expert. It just, they just moved the

[00:07:50] Rhonda Keller: button. . Exactly.

[00:07:52] Islin Munisteri: So how do you change change human behavior to match the speed of software development? Like how do you get that [00:08:00] customer engagement and not.

[00:08:02] Whether not piss off your customer by changing your software too often, but then you know, making sure you have engaged customers as well so you don't have. As much churn.

[00:08:14] Rhonda Keller: Yeah. I, I think it's a balance between really making sure that an entire software organization moves as one unit, so you don't have the engineering team off developing features that no one ever asked for. Or releasing a feature that is a. Internally as well as externally. So part of it is one, getting the entire organization to move together in a in a manner that is valuable for the customer. And I think a lot of software organizations at times struggle with this because, they're Like the software team is creating something because they have a story on it and they're, they might not even know what, like the use case is in the real world.

[00:08:56] We are, we're making things to hit [00:09:00] OKRs or to hit our metrics or our numbers, and if we are very focused on making things that will make our customers successful, then it becomes easier to modify. Customer behavior because it, everything that we have built was designed for improving their experience.

[00:09:20] And it's a lot easier to educate someone when the information is good news to them. When it's things that are in their favor as opposed to our CPO didn't like where that button was, so we changed it. Like that, that just is hard. And there's not a great answer for that.

[00:09:38] And customers are becoming, less and less tolerant of that today, we just expect. Stuff to work. It's not 20 years ago people were okay with coming to a five day class to learn how to use a piece of software, and now they're like, forget that. Like what? If it's that hard to use, then you need to do a better job [00:10:00] of building and designing it, right?

[00:10:01] So now what we focus on in my industry is much more around teaching people. Not to use a piece of software, but to be successful in their roles. What are the best practices that will help you be a rockstar within your organization, supported by the software?

[00:10:23] Islin Munisteri: That's great. And I think I guess a lot of people forget that it their job is not just the software, right? It's like it's to develop and deliver an end product by using. The software, like the software is just a tool at the end of the day.

[00:10:38] Rhonda Keller: That's right. And our customers our users don't forget that.

[00:10:40] They show up and they they're accountable to their boss to do, a great job inside of their role. And the things that we are producing are tools for them. But many times those of us who are producing those tools, Start to feel like the tool is the end all and the be all, and we really have to stay [00:11:00] customer focused.

[00:11:03] Islin Munisteri: And I, I guess when you're running like a customer education community, I want to shift more into that. Like how do you start with a customer education community? Like how do you do the building blocks and then how do you get customer engagement?

[00:11:17] Rhonda Keller: It really, it comes back to that conversation we were just having around keeping the customer in the center of everything that you do.

[00:11:26] So when you start to build a customer community, the very first thing that you do is figure out who are my customers? What is the persona? And your, your sales organization will certainly have personas, right? But many times those are focused on the buyer. And so we have to make sure that we understand our user personas and what exactly they need to do in order to succeed.

[00:11:51] And this is where it makes a ton of sense to really partner with your friends in product and engineering because ideally they [00:12:00] have personas that they're building toward. And I've worked with some really good like CX people in the past and they had persona cards that were right down to This is who is going to use this feature, and this is what kind of car they drive, right?

[00:12:14] Like just really knowing the spec of that person, like the average user of your software, like really understanding them as a person. The step one is to understand your audience and be very focused on what they need to do to succeed in their. So there's a lot of things, especially because we tend to love what we're developing and we tend to love our software.

[00:12:38] There's a lot of things that we wanna tell our customers, but those aren't always the things that our customers need to hear in order to be successful. So you figure out who your audience is, you get very focused on what they need for success, and then you ensure that the information in your community supports what they.

[00:12:59] For [00:13:00] success and provides it in a way that will be easy for them to access when they're on the job. So it can't be like, Okay, we've got all the information you need. It's in this three hour video. Go sit and watch it. It's it's gotta be You are day one with our company. Here's the 10 minutes you need to know right now.

[00:13:20] Here's what you need to do for your implementation so that we're giving them the information they need when they need. And then that takes care of kind of the building blocks of the community. And it will also, when you start inviting customers in and they see that value, then they will, they'll come back.

[00:13:37] They won't, It's not a, If you build it, then they'll show up. But if you build it and you demonstrate value, then they will use it. And then you just have to make sure that there are your community platform supports engagement. So that they keep coming back and they start networking with one another. So it's not just you teaching your customer, but it's customers learning from one another.

[00:13:58] And this is, that's a [00:14:00] tricky thing to do. A lot of customer communities are very focused on like case deflection or they're a library of information for customers, but there's nothing in there that would encourage a customer to talk to another. Outside of, I have a question and another customer is an expert.

[00:14:18] So that customer is willing to dive in and answer the question. You need to have connection points beyond that so that customers will network and interact with one another.

[00:14:28] Islin Munisteri: And I guess like when you're, How so I guess, what's a recommended like community platform? You would use to have that

[00:14:35] Rhonda Keller: engagement.

[00:14:37] There's, there's a ton of community platforms in the market right now, and they go down two paths, right? One of them is. That case deflection path. So it's very focused on publisher knowledge base. Articles make it easy for customers to ask and answer questions, and that's a valid part of community.

[00:14:55] But there's another set of platforms, and this is actually not as common. There's another [00:15:00] set of platforms that, in addition to that case deflection piece does promote customer interaction. And when I say it's not as common It's surprising but true. If you go on to. Slack or LinkedIn, any of those like forums where you're used to short forum communication, interacting with other customers.

[00:15:21] A lot of those don't exist in community platforms, like you can't, there aren't many community platforms where you can just go and make a single post. I was interviewed by Islam today, like you can't do that on a lot of platforms. You have to go, Here's the article that I'm posting and here's the subject and here's the body of the article.

[00:15:38] I was like it's not like conducive to individuals talking to one another. I lean toward the few platforms. That have, that allow that short form communication and anybody who's researching can can look into that. And I would recommend that, that's one of the things that they ask vendors like, do you do long form and short form communication?[00:16:00]

[00:16:00] Great. And

[00:16:01] Islin Munisteri: I guess, so when you say long form communications, you're talking about like the what I call like the email forum based communities where you're like, you have the subject and then you have, you type out whatever, and then yeah. Send it out into the world and hope. Hope to get a response.

[00:16:15] Rhonda Keller: That's right.

[00:16:16] And then and many of those communities you can post a they call it an article or a blog, right? And you have that subject and then you've got your body, and then people can comment below it. But there is even in those communities, those platforms don't allow threading within the conversations.

[00:16:37] So if user A makes a comment, Then user B makes a comment and user C wants to comment on user A. Then they can't just inject and thread in there and comment like you can on LinkedIn or like you can on Slack. You can't do that in a lot of the popular community platforms and it just really shuts down.

[00:16:58] It's a [00:17:00] barrier to communication and it's ridiculous because, come on, like it's, 2022 and this technology exists. I know that a lot

[00:17:10] Islin Munisteri: of different communities are on Slack or on discord, right? But then it's hard to find information. Let's put lightly like research Slack. You'll never find it again.

[00:17:26] Rhonda Keller: I've tried, and those are all short form. We need short form and long form. And that's what a really good community does, is it allows you to hold that knowledge base to pontificate on something that, you might be really knowledgeable in. But also just to chat about an one of my old communities that had really great, like best in class engagement, our customers would.

[00:17:49] Just come on the community and go, Hey, on my way to work today, I saw some ducks, and post a picture of it. And that's that's the kind of interaction we want. We want our customers that comfortable communicating with [00:18:00] one another. Cuz when they're talking about ducks one day, then the next day they're talking about a challenge that they have and how to solve it.

[00:18:08] Islin Munisteri: And I think that's important to post the, like all the stupid stuff about ducks and about their lives. Cause it's about gaining a level of like comfortableness in the community and also just, I think that sharing kinda helps you get that engagement too. It's it's not quite like LinkedIn where you share something and then you have five or six or 10,000 people are looking at it or something like that.

[00:18:34] But it's. Just the people in that community.

[00:18:37] Rhonda Keller: Yeah, and it's, we walk a line with that because nobody wants their professional community to be Facebook. We don't we don't even want it to be linked in, but we do want to create an environment of trust. And in order to do that, it's necessary to view people as people.

[00:18:55] So another thing that we would do when we were first when I, that I do when I first launched a community [00:19:00] is you really encourage people to put some kind of avatar in. It doesn't have to be your picture or your face, but give us some representation of who you are so that you're not this like shadow, that's interacting with everyone.

[00:19:15] And and the communities that I've run, because they are customer communities, we don't allow anonymous. Post, you have to log in, you have to say, you stand by the things that you say, and that helps to keep it professional as well.

[00:19:27] Islin Munisteri: And I guess like with those community platforms, do you have a community manager?

[00:19:32] With that I don't know. At what point do you hire like a community manager for the platform? Is there like a certain number of posts or people on the platform that you hire the community

[00:19:41] Rhonda Keller: manager? Yeah, I think my experience is atypical with this. I, believe like if you follow any like community round table or industry community groups, I think that the, right now the benchmark is say maybe five.

[00:19:56] Individuals who are on this community team and some one of them [00:20:00] might be doing like infrastructure, just making sure, like sort of administration of the community platform and there might be some tech writers and then there would be like an actual one or two, like face of the community managers in my experience.

[00:20:16] I've just never had the budget or resource to have what I think is probably a best practice community team. So I have been the community manager and thankfully I've always had the privilege of working with a really good community administrator, like someone who will go in and figure out the tool.

[00:20:37] So I wasn't having to do all of the account creation and all of those pieces, but I was interacting with the customers and as somebody that is responsible for customer success or customer engagement, it's actually a really great opportunity to. Talk one to one with customers. My former organization, I knew a lot of our customers including whether or not they saw [00:21:00] ducks on the way to work.

[00:21:01] And that's not something that someone in my role typically gets to do unless you're managing a community.

[00:21:11] Cool.

[00:21:14] Islin Munisteri: That's super exciting. That's, I guess that's why, like from all of your roles that you've had, like what role have you enjoyed the most?

[00:21:24] Rhonda Keller: It really comes from to the opportunity to interact with customers and make them successful. So I, I loved when I was 25 years ago when I was an instructor.

[00:21:36] I loved that job, right? I loved being able to take someone who didn't understand anything about our tool on Monday and make them by Friday an expert. And those were in person classes, so you got to see the person and watch the transformation and, you know, equip them for success. And then as I moved into the development [00:22:00] of an education team I got to watch.

[00:22:03] The members of my team make customers successful and had the privilege of working with really talented people and equipping them for success. So I love that as well. And I think, it's I've never been one to say, Oh, high school was the peak of my life. Like I, I feel like every role that I've had has been my favorite.

[00:22:22] Role I would be, it would be sad and depressing if I looked back and said Oh, that one was much better. So I love where I am today in the sense that I do get to work directly with customers. I just, a couple hours ago was on a it was a live webinar where we just had, there's probably nine, just individuals, so it wasn't a big group of customers, but just nine customers talking about some of the challenges that they see in their field and sharing with each other.

[00:22:48] How they can overcome those challenges. And to me that's just super rewarding. That a lot of people in tech, particularly a lot of tech companies like to say, We're changing the world, right? [00:23:00] We're making the world a better place. And I don't know, that's maybe true for 1% of them, but but we do in customer success, genuinely get to say, we are making people successful, we're making them better at their jobs, where we're making things a little bit better.

[00:23:15] Every day by, improving somebody else's work experience. Yeah I think right now is my favorite part

[00:23:21] Islin Munisteri: Right now is your favorite part. That's awesome. . That's wonderful. And I guess knowing some of the listeners here, like what's your single source of truth in your tech stack?

[00:23:32] I know. They're like, everyone is running like on Zendesk what's your single source of truth?

[00:23:37] Rhonda Keller: I'm just, I'm not like a, a tech loyalist, And I have, I've throughout my career I've obviously had to use all kinds of different piece of software.

[00:23:48] And then you know, you, when you're in a large organization, Then they use like the Microsoft Office suite and all of those pieces and you realize like how much stuff is run on Excel, which is scary. , the [00:24:00] whole world is spinning on Excel. And then in the times that I've been in startups, then they use the Google stuff and that has its own set of.

[00:24:08] Benefits and challenges and but across the large and small organization, I have never worked for a company that did not use Salesforce as their crm. So for me, I don't know that, and I, like I end up referencing. Salesforce data a lot, so I wouldn't say like I'm a Salesforce champion or a Salesforce loyalsit

[00:24:33] And there are certainly like SFDC evangelists out there. Yeah. But I would say it's really just more important to me that you have a single source of truth, that you do have some place that you are keeping track of your customer information, what they have purchased and. It, it sounds super basic, right?

[00:24:55] But who, their account manager is, who's on their CS [00:25:00] team where they are in their journey, what use cases they bought the software for. You need that in a single source of true Salesforce or whatever. I don't know. The options are, and you gotta make sure it's valid and update and then find, marketing and Marketo.

[00:25:17] Oracle Marketing Cloud and Qua, and all of those people can feed into it from marketing side. On the customer success side, we can get in there with King Side and Zendesk and a community platform like, higher logic or inside. There's so many things. As long as you have one, I think is all I all, I require

[00:25:38] Islin Munisteri: Awesome. I think that's useful that you shared like what you needed to have. In the crm from a customer success standpoint, right? Cuz you need the, you need to have the basics of who on your team is servicing the client and why they buy the software, which seems like pretty basic data, but I don't know if that's really discussed in post sales.

[00:25:58] So why did they buy it? It's I closed the [00:26:00] deal, I closed the deal. It's and then they, it gets punted over fence. It's what? Okay, so why did you, Close the deal and they're like, Wow, ,

[00:26:09] Rhonda Keller: And like how many organizations are aligned pre to post sale on what the value is of the software? So presale, there's a, there are, there's selling points and there's a pitch deck, and then there's post sale.

[00:26:21] What we can legitimately implement, right? And it's so important that those two. Match up and that the customer agrees that, what we're gonna deliver is what they initially purchase.

[00:26:36] Islin Munisteri: Gotcha. So yeah, we don't wanna, we don't oversell the the apply platform. Yeah. That's important.

[00:26:46] And I guess as you look back in your career, like what's the best piece of career advice you. You would tell your younger self or someone you're, mentoring.

[00:26:57] Rhonda Keller: Oh wow. I think definitely [00:27:00] don't be afraid to work hard, but when you feel like something is, Unnecessary or pointless, don't pursue it.

[00:27:12] Like I, and this I pause on this because I have a, my daughter just turned 18 yesterday, and the workforce that she will enter, when she gets outta college, assuming she goes to college, when she gets outta college it's just I feel like it's radically different like Gen Z is. Much, they approach work in a different way, I believe.

[00:27:34] And so when I was younger, going into the workforce, there was very much a, take whatever job you get put your head down and just do it. , don't ask questions, don't be a problem. And and I think that by, even when I was younger saying, Okay, I can put my head down and I can work really hard, but this seems like we are toiling.

[00:27:54] To an unnecessary end. Like I'm not a cog in a machine, right? I'm a creative [00:28:00] thinker and to standing up to the necessity of having work have purpose, I think was probably one of the things that kind of led me on this path that I'm on where I can say every job that I had is my favorite.

[00:28:23] Islin Munisteri: So I guess like with that being said, like how I guess every, every job that you've had is your favorite job. So I guess every job, was for you was fulfilling a life

[00:28:36] Rhonda Keller: purpose. Yeah. At that time, Yeah. I wouldn't, I'm not trying to go back, .

[00:28:40] Islin Munisteri: Yeah. But at that particular time, when you had that role, it was fulfilling.

[00:28:44] That's right.

[00:28:45] Rhonda Keller: The purpose. Or I didn't do it. And so I think that's that's probably the best career advice I would give my earlier self is to just make sure you're doing things that you enjoy. And you're not afraid to work hard at it.

[00:28:59] Islin Munisteri: Gotcha. [00:29:00] Cool. Is there anything else you'd like to cover in the podcast?

[00:29:04] Rhonda Keller: I'm good.

[00:29:05] Islin Munisteri: Yeah. Awesome. I think that wraps it up and Awesome. Look forward to releasing

[00:29:10] Rhonda Keller: soon. Okay. Sounds great. Thank you. Thanks,


Islin Munisteri

Written by Islin Munisteri