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James Pavolovich of ZAGENO: “Time to Value”

It begins with Time to Value. In sales, you often hear that “time kills all deals”, referring to being slow to respond to a potential customer lead. The same applies to customer experience. You have to start fast, onboard them efficiently, and get them to start using your solution quickly so they see the value […]

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It begins with Time to Value. In sales, you often hear that “time kills all deals”, referring to being slow to respond to a potential customer lead. The same applies to customer experience. You have to start fast, onboard them efficiently, and get them to start using your solution quickly so they see the value of what they just purchased. Explained another way, imagine you’ve bought a new Porsche. You are not going to put it in the garage for a few months until the driving conditions are perfect. If you’re like most people you’ll want to drive it — immediately.


As a part of my series about the five things a business should do to create a Wow! customer experience, I had the pleasure of interviewing James Pavolovich, Vice President of Customer Success at ZAGENO Inc.


Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

As the head of customer success for ZAGENO, I’m responsible for all of the relationships with our customers and suppliers on both sides of our platform. Along with my team, I ensure that customers are maximizing the value from their relationship with us.

Before ZAGENO, I held a number of roles with PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) where I oversaw the organizational transformations within the pharma R&D industry. My career began as an analyst for Pepsi where I was responsible for instituting change to its order fulfillment processes.

All of these were roles to support end-users. So, I guess you say that I’ve been working in customer-facing roles in my entire career.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

There’s one story from early in my career where suddenly a lot of issues occurred all at once and the memory of experience has clearly stayed with me.

It was a situation where a report on progress for overnight jobs simply failed. Simply put, it had to do with data and its effect on the business process I was managing. I recall feeling like my hair was on fire and could only think “everything is terrible.” I had no answers but only questions about what I was going to do.

Then my boss, at the time, sat me down to go through a timeline of events with me. He asked me to tell him exactly what had happened. He had a very calm and calculated approach and wrote down all the details on a whiteboard, which clearly laid out the timeline of events to best identify what had happened and begin ideating on how to fix it.

Breaking it down into small, tangible pieces made it easier to discuss. As a result, I was totally relaxed, which allowed me to take a rational approach to say, “okay, things broke; now let’s figure out what happened and get it fixed.”

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Yes. Early on in my career I was recruited into PwC’s Pharma R&D practice by one of the firm’s partners. After bringing me aboard he spent a lot of time with me to make certain my work was being done at the highest quality.

When I thought I had done a great job he would be there to assess things and provide a customer’s point of view, including what was missing and what needed to be added. He did a great job asking questions which taught me to approach my job much differently. In spending that kind of time with me he made a tremendous impact on my understanding of the customer.

Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. This might be intuitive, but I think it’s helpful to specifically articulate it. In your words, can you share a few reasons why great customer service and a great customer experience is essential for success in business?

At the onset, I would say that being in a position to provide customer service is a conscious decision.

Today’s economy is designed around the customer. From powerful crowdsourced ratings to citizen journalists whose blogs can challenge the biggest brands with the most sophisticated marketing organizations.

That said, working with customers can be a very enriching experience, especially when a partnership creates positive outcomes for issues and causes that matter to you.

ZAGENO is a perfect example of “the why” providing great customer service can be so meaningful. When we hear from our scientist customers about the time and cost savings they are experiencing from our partnership it is a reminder of why we do what we do.

We have all had times either in a store, or online, when we’ve had a very poor experience as a customer or user. If the importance of a good customer experience is so intuitive, and apparent, where is the disconnect? How is it that so many companies do not make this a priority?

I would answer this through an experience I had prior to ZAGENO when my career journey included nine years in management consulting.

In that role, I partnered with a lot of pharma industry executives. At the time we used to joke about it but there was some truth that my role was essential to make these executives look good and ensure — as our customers — they received all the credit.

They got all the accolades for ensuring a project, I had led, was improving the bottom line for their company. That “unique” experience was an important lesson for me. I imagine that if you don’t experience that kind of customer support experience it can be very hard to gauge a team-oriented success from one that is disconnected. It has certainly been critical in being successful in managing customer success at ZAGENO.

Do you think that more competition helps force companies to improve the customer experience they offer? Are there other external pressures that can force a company to improve the customer experience?

Of course, there are external pressures to be a successful company but I consider customer success as a critical component of being part of a successful team and company. As a team and company we are only as successful as our customers and suppliers are happy in the value they’re getting from our partnership.

Further to this, I would say that external pressure keeps us on our toes in making sure we’re a good company that’s developing our offering in ways that customers want and need. I can say that, at ZAGENO, we’ve made a strategic decision to consider outside influences as a company mindset to remain proactive.

Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided? Did that Wow! experience have any long term ripple effects? Can you share the story?

I’ve been involved in a number of projects when you’re dealing with a cross-functional issue. It sometimes occurs that leaders are not fully bought-in to the project. In cases like this, the best thing that you can do is bring them into the tent.

In doing so we make them an integral part of the project and the solution. In my experience, that’s been the most effective way to make sure a positive experience that places achieving goals at the heart of the engagement.

Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience. Please share a story or an example for each.

It begins with Time to Value. In sales, you often hear that “time kills all deals”, referring to being slow to respond to a potential customer lead. The same applies to customer experience. You have to start fast, onboard them efficiently, and get them to start using your solution quickly so they see the value of what they just purchased. Explained another way, imagine you’ve bought a new Porsche. You are not going to put it in the garage for a few months until the driving conditions are perfect. If you’re like most people you’ll want to drive it — immediately.

ZAGENO found that by standardizing the onboarding process we could significantly shorten the time when customers would begin understanding the value, first hand.

Tracking the Value to Customers is next on the list. If you are fortunate enough to have data to demonstrate in a tangible way what customers are realizing from their partnership with your organization you should lead with it — because customers will love it. It is a fantastic conversation starter at all levels of the organization that often animates customers to ask “how can we get more value from your product?” or “can you add a new feature to add value for this part of the organization?”

ZAGENO has data that shows how much scientific productivity gains have been realized to achieve faster times to milestone and productivity gains within operations to reduce overall costs to procure-to-pay processing and product cost savings on lab supplies. Customers present these metrics to within their organizations to show the decision to partner with us is benefiting the bottom line for their business.

Transparency is a critical part of creating a Wow! Customer experience. Let’s be honest, in business as in lifethere are going to be setbacks and near misses. Being transparent with customers when issues arise is the key. Always be willing and prepared to answer “what happened? “why did it happen now?” and “what will you do to correct this? As well as “how do we prevent this from happening again?”

At ZAGENO, we work hard to always be transparent with issues as they arise so that we can work with the customers to get a speedy resolution. Being proactive inspires confidence that, as a business, you are putting the customer’s needs first.

Put Customers Need Above the Next, New Thing. If you’re a Software as a Service (SaaS) company like ZAGENO one of the most exciting parts of the journey is rolling out new features. But you have to take a deliberate approach to develop new features with customer’s success in mind.

At ZAGENO, we learned quickly that when a customer asks for a new feature or enhancement we need to first spend a lot of time understanding the issue we are trying to solve for first. It begins with exploring why and even “if” a feature is needed. With a holistic view, we can get to work on designing the best features and then add in the “Wow Factor” with added features they didn’t ask for, but will further help solve their issues.

The last thing that founders and CEOs need to know about creating a Wow! Customer experience is to Not Be Afraid to Say No. Instincts may tell you to always say yes to every “ask” from a customer. But beware in unintended consequences of adding new requests that could lead to project overruns, which will ultimately disappoint customers. Customers can be pragmatic; ultimately they want a partner to help solve problems.

As a bonus consideration, I want to suggest that great customer service organizations Hire Great People. Although this is really hard I have learned that there’ve been times in my career when I’ve hired great people and other times when I hired somebody that I thought was great and only to learn later that they were not. Hiring is difficult. There’s no way around it. But there are a couple of critical things you should consider. It begins with you — make sure that you have a clear understanding of what skills are important for the customer service role before you begin the interview process. Ask candidates for the role of examples of situations that align with the role you sketched out. As an example, if having a team with the ability to say no to a customer is important for your clientele then you will want to explore experiences that they have done this.

Are there a few things that can be done so that when a customer or client has a Wow! experience, they inspire others to reach out to you as well?

Earlier, I mentioned the idea of bringing customer-side partners “into the tent” when you sense they are not fully engaged with the partnership you are pursuing. These situations can be transformational for all involved because it is possible that within a matter of weeks or even days your biggest skeptic can become your most ardent champion.

It’s not complicated to understand that good communication is at the heart of satisfied customers who go on to become advocates and encourage others, within their network, to consider your company as part of the solution to their challenge.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I feel very fortunate that I am able to combine my professional journey with a personal mission that’s meaningful and truly resonates. ZAGENO’s mission is to remove barriers that scientists experience in managing their labs so that they can focus on scientific discovery. While it sounds simple it is actually a very complex challenge to solve but little by little and one successful customer after another brings us closer to turning the tide of systemic underinvestment in the life science industry.

With ZAGENO, I have a personal stake in the ultimate outcome of better health for humans and animals as well as solutions to ensure food safety for the world. That’s quite a movement!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Of course. Please connect with me via LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/james-pavlovich/.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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