Remote Delivery and Client Success in the COVID Era: A Services Leadership Corner Interview with Carol Gersten, Chief Client Officer, Interfolio

This interview is the first in a series of conversations for our Services Leadership Corner

We hope you’ll tune in over the months ahead as our CEO, Denis Whelan, interviews industry leaders about the ways they’re adapting to today’s new normal, what they’re prioritizing across their organizations, and how they plan to deliver remarkable performance.

Denis Whelan: So why don’t you give us some background on what Interfolio does, and what you’re doing in the Higher Ed space. 

Carol Gersten: Interfolio is a SaaS solution focused on the faculty lifecycle: everything from hiring your faculty at an institution, review, promotion, tenure processes, and then through retirement. That’s really our mantra — everything about the faculty is captured in our platform, and we have a few different modules that follow the faculty member through their entire career journey. We’re located in Washington, DC, and have about 140 employees.

I am the Chief Client Officer, responsible for the entire client lifecycle, from pre-sales through renewal. The Services division supports the sales team with expansions and new sales opportunities, and my team is made up of the implementation, consulting, technical services, client success and the client support organization.

DW: What we’ve heard in talking with folks across the market; software, software-plus-services, or just pure professional services world, is that there have been a ton of challenges that have surfaced due to COVID. What are some of the best practices that you can share with the rest of the professional services community about adjusting to forced digital transformation and remote delivery? 

CG: In this environment, in terms of best practices, we’ve placed a lot of importance on having a learning management system we call Interfolio University — a resource not only for clients, but for internal onboarding. Hiring and onboarding must be fully online at this point. If you haven’t gotten there, you need to get there quickly. It’s important to have good instructional designers and trainers on your team.

In tandem with our marketing department, we had to pivot very quickly this year and go virtual for our user conference. We had over 800 attendees, compared to an in-person user conference we hosted last year with only 180 attendees. 

"We’ve seen more demand for clients wanting to connect with each other and learn best practices from one another. This has been so evident in the COVID-era."

DW: Yeah, it’s all about delivering for your customer; to your point, virtualizing conferences, giving more certifications and training through a user community, etc. Automating as much as possible while still keeping the human touch.

We see a lot of services organizations focusing on how to automate different parts of their operations — whether it’s tracking expense management, invoicing for services work, resource planning, revenue recognition, and so on. Where do you see the human element still being critical to services delivery?

CG: Relationship management, I believe, is still critical to creating, maintaining and building successful relationships with clients. You just cannot get that same relationship or trust without being face to face. Obviously, in the past nine months, we have been maintaining relationships remotely, but in general, Services inclusive of the support teams are responsible for the strongest client relationships across the client base. Our clients will be three years out from their implementation with us, and still ask about the Services team that they worked with during their project — It’s so important, especially for the project management team, to keep those strong connections even after we go live as we look to expansion and additional client engagements.

"I also think there's going to be a big shift towards the importance of client success and services. Due to COVID and the constraints on travel, it's even more important to get your clients engaged, up and running quickly, hitting their milestones and delivery goals. Zoom or no Zoom, we have a job to do, and client success, services and support are even more important than before."

DW: If you were to take a look a couple of years out from now, what innovations do you see coming to the implementations and professional services landscapes?

CG: I think that remote delivery is here to stay. Yes, relationship management is key and we’ll be traveling again at some point, but I think for now, we’re going to continue to build teams remotely. And in the future, teams are going to have to be more nimble, able to pivot, and provide real-time services as our clients’ needs change. And we’ve done that quite well as of now.

One thing I want to point out is the importance of having a diverse team. Diverse not just culturally and racially, but also in terms of delivery, skill sets, age, time zones and locations. Skill set diversity is especially interesting — for example, I’m going to want to tailor who I assign to a certain client based on their background, expertise, etc. If I know it’s going to be a data-driven client, I may put one of my more technical PMs on that account. If a client seems to want more hand-holding, I will pair them up with a more caring-type personality. 

"Years ago, people used to say 'everybody's in sales. It doesn't matter where you sit in the organization, everybody's in sales.' I actually see it a little differently. I think everybody should consider themselves to be a client success manager. Everybody should be focused on client success, client delight and excellent service, not just sales. Because if you focus that way, guess what? Your sales are going to increase. Treat your clients the way they want to be treated — the way you want to be treated — and it's a win-win."

ABOUT CAROL GERSTEN:

Carol has been focused on making clients successful through service, delivery, and technology activities and implementations since the beginning of her professional career. She has worked across a variety of industries (biotechnology, logistics management and higher education) leading organizations of professional services, account management, solution consulting, business development, and enterprise technology engagements.

Carol’s background in higher education began at Blackboard in the services organization where she led one of the largest client engagements of Blackboard’s technology, managing a challenging installation and teams of various sizes and skill sets. From there she joined up with Blackboard colleagues at Intelliworks, an early-stage education company focused on application and support management solutions for admissions offices. She built and led the delivery and support teams, which thrived as the number of clients increased tenfold while also solidly growing renewal rates to over 90%. While at Hobsons, she was the Vice President of the Outcome Consulting Division, responsible for creating, building and managing their Higher Education Consulting Services Division. More recently, Carol was the Chief Services Officer at Decision Lens working with federal, state and local and commercial clients, and was directly responsible for all client management, education and training services, and full lifecycle account management. Carol joined Interfolio in 2017 where, as Chief Client Officer, she leads professional services, consulting, support and technical services.

ABOUT INTERFOLIO:

Conceived by academics for academics, Interfolio is an education technology company headquartered in Washington, DC, USA and in Cambridge, England, UK. Founded in 1999, Interfolio operates the acclaimed Faculty Information System for colleges and universities, the Researchfish impact assessment platform for funders and research organizations, and the widely used Dossier service for individual scholars. Over 400 clients based in 15 countries choose Interfolio’s technology for hiring and recruitment, academic appointments and timelines, activity data reporting, faculty reviews and promotions, and research impact analysis. Interfolio provides scholar-first products for the full academic lifecycle — from job seeking to professional accomplishments, committee service, funding award compliance, career growth and advancement, administrative leadership, and beyond.

For more information about Interfolio, visit www.interfolio.com

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