From 0 to 60 with Privy VP of Customer Success Erica Ayotte

What was your journey to VP of Customer Success at Privy?

I’ve been in tech for 17 years. I started my career as a marketer and made the transition to sales and support nine years ago. I joined Privy in 2018 when there were just two support agents and thousands of customers. I was excited by the challenge of building the entire function from scratch. Today we’re a team of 22 in-house employees and 11 PartnerHero associates, a team of 30+. 

Tell us about the transition from Marketing to Support. What do you love about Support?

I had been in marketing for about 10 years - I was an early adopter of social media for business marketing and was a huge fan of Hootsuite. They offered me a position in sales - it felt like a big departure from marketing and I wasn't sure if I could do it. What I did know is that I had been in the customer's shoes, I was able to articulate the reasons why I loved the toolset and how to use it. I was in that sales role for a year when we signed our biggest customer ever, a multimillion dollar deal that had 10x the deployment needs of any customer we’d ever had. I was offered the role to lead the post-sales relationship. I jumped in, was really successful with that account and never looked back. I really liked the strategy piece, being able to problem solve and the variety of issues I helped the customer with. It challenged my brain in a way I found really gratifying.

When you are in marketing you have more of a relationship with data than you do with people. In customer support and success you are working with all the pieces: sales, marketing, product, engineering but especially you are working with people. The product, and the value the company delivers became so much more real when I left marketing and joined support. I love having first hand knowledge that allows me to be the internal advocate for customers. You also access so much qualitative data that is different from marketing data. It's incredibly valuable for any company to incorporate it into their feedback cycles. Companies often use marketing data to inform sales and support when really it should be the other way around.

What is your support philosophy?

My first tenant would be “a great customer experience starts with a great employee experience.” When you have folks that are in the right role and you treat them well, listen to their ideas and compensate them fairly then they will be good at what they do then they will transfer that experience and attitude on to the customer. They will be willing to go the extra mile. Rule number one is that If you want happy customers make sure you  have a happy customer support team. 

The other part of my philosophy is to be honest. I’m a “what you see is what you get” person. If something is not working out, if the customer has a reservation or if there are mismatched expectations it is going to come out one way or another so you are better off digging for that information than waiting for a customer to be unhappy. You have to balance that realism with being solutions oriented and being a voice of leadership for the customer and inspiring them. My goal is to strike the balance between being inspiring and being forthright. 

Tell us about the evolution of the PartnerHero <> Privy relationship.

I’d heard about PartnerHero from a friend of mine whom I really respect in the field. The challenge I was trying to solve was that we had thousands of customers mostly on a freemium model and we had to find a way to support all our customers regardless of whether they were paying us or not. Even though they were using our service for free we knew that ultimately our paying customers would come from this group so there was a big incentive to use support as a way to convert people from freemium to paying customers. We had a huge volume of tickets even though our business was relatively small. The initial use-case for bringing on PartnerHero was to extend our email support hours. I had never worked with a BPO before and was skeptical so we started with just one person, Marcel, and he’s been with us ever since! We had a great experience with him so we grew the team. As volume increased we also had new goals like supporting four languages (English, Spanish, Portuguese, and French) and extending chat support on the weekends. Offering multi-lingual support proved pivotal to our success and we were able to do it because of PartnerHero. 

A lot of the way that we build our business is through the Shopify marketplace. The more positive reviews we get, the more people download. If you look at our reviews you’ll see that every other one is about a great experience they had with our support team and often it's a PartnerHero employee that they are talking about. Our support is a big reason merchants choose Privy. We offer a level of support that our competitors don’t come close to matching. When we saw that those public facing reviews were helping our demand engine grow, we knew it was important to keep investing in the support team. 

What has worked well about working with PartnerHero?

The thing that has made our relationship work really well is that the PartnerHero associates are an extension of our team. They are truly embedded on our team - they are in our Slack, they have access to our documentation and they escalate issues directly to our engineering team. Over the years PartnerHero has really gotten to know what types of candidates succeed at Privy and we’ve even extended our relationship to include associates in other types of roles, like customer onboarding and training. We’ve been able to extend the hours that we offer those services which is a big deal for our customers. As small merchants, they don’t get that level of support from anyone else in our industry. 

Tell us about a career moment you are most proud of. 

The work I’ve done at Privy is the project I am most proud of in my career. I built the foundation, hired the team and developed the systems that ultimately had a huge impact on our business. We see that the merchants who engage with our team earn more money than the other merchants - not only did we help Privy grow but we are also directly helping all the entrepreneurs who use Privy. 

If I had to pick one thing that I’m most proud of it is that every single manager and director on my team has been an internal promotion. Developing talent, mentoring and coaching is my favorite aspect of this job. That opportunity to grow in your role at Privy is part of the reason we’ve had such great retention both within Privy and with our PartnerHero associates over the years. 

What are you passionate about outside of work?

I’m just a giant nerd, and not a cool nerd. I love to read - history, biographies, essay collections, especially by female authors. I love to cook, I love to garden. Basically I’m grandma in training, I’m going to be really good at retirement. I’m also a dog mom to a neurotic chihuahua. I love to hike and be in natural settings in the mountains and throughout New England. 

When people ask me what my five-year plan is I always say, “I’ve never had a five year.” The truth is I’ve always just leaned toward the thing that makes me happy.  Luckily that’s worked out really well.