Meet Sammy Kolt, Vice President of Portfolio Operations
April 25, 2018
For Sammy Kolt, no two days are alike as he combines his passion for people with his enthusiasm about operations and enablement. He filled several different roles at Aptean, a great benefit when it comes to leading Portfolio Operations - a group that encompasses a number of very different areas from product management to M&A integrations to Customer Success.
“Never accept the status quo” is his mantra, and “always ask questions” is the way he goes about his business of improving processes for functions that touch both customers and team members. We spoke with Sammy about his start in technology, some of the exciting work he’s leading and what keeps him going.
Tell us about your background, and what got you interested in technology.
I didn’t think I would get into computers and software. When I was young, I wrote music and played bass guitar so I thought I would be a musician. I joined the army at 18; growing up in Israel, everyone serves at least three years in the army. I used a lot of technology in the six years that I served, which sparked my interest in the field.
I started college later, after leaving the army and spending six months backpacking in South America. By that time, I knew that I wanted to study computer science. Originally I wanted to be a video game developer. When I graduated, I joined a company developing enterprise software, but after a few years, I realized writing code wasn’t exactly where my passion was. I thrive around people; I want to be in front of them, solving problems and improving processes using technology. There will always be problems to solve and ways that technology can be used to solve those problems.
Your role with Aptean is Vice President of Portfolio Operations. What does Portfolio Operations cover?
In a nutshell, I lead internal operations for TVN Reddy, our Chief Operations Officer. Our mission is to enable our product portfolio team to be successful in retaining, expanding and growing our existing and acquired businesses. The team brings together customer success operations, M&A integrations, renewals, product management, analytics and learning. I support, guide and help make decisions for eight distinct areas in my group. There is very little overlap between these areas, so I make sure they have the right initiatives in place and that the teams are aligned to the goals set by the executive team.
I am responsible for defining, implementing, managing and supporting processes that simplify and enhance the customer experience. I work with the M&A Integrations team, integrating acquisitions with minimal business disruption and ensuring added value to the acquired business. I’ve created a learning team to provide ongoing training and tools to support the day-to-day activities of the product portfolio team. Most of all, I want to establish a culture of continuous improvement within the product portfolio team.
The Customer Success Team is one of the newer teams. Why was it created, and what do team members do?
The main driver in establishing the Customer Success Team was to ensure that our approach to customers is a proactive one that translates to more successful customers. In a reactive customer service model, a fire has started and the vendor’s house is burning, figuratively speaking. At that point the vendor is scrambling to fix the problem and preserve the relationship. A proactive approach means looking at the customer’s support tickets regularly, measuring their engagement levels and assessing their status – essentially, monitoring customer health. Going back to the fire analogy, we’re checking the wiring in the house and repairing anything that’s frayed before it has a chance to spark and start that fire. While we will always have the traditional approach to support – responding to calls, emails and tickets – we also want to empower our team to be more proactive in their relationships with our customers.
We’ve also implemented Kanban methodology to deal with customer issues. In the past, when a customer had a problem, it was referred to development for resolution, but there was no communication back to customer support about the status. If the customer called back to follow up, customer support wasn’t able to give them an update, which is obviously very frustrating for everyone involved. Now there is a high level of visibility and a sense of collaboration between customer support and development. We also created a dedicated team within R&D to work specifically with customer support to improve our retention.
Customer success is not an easy task; we are constantly refining it and putting more tools in place. For example, we are adding an ideas portal on Aptean Connect to give our customers another channel to provide input on what improvements they would like to see in their solutions. We will also give them a way to prioritize those ideas, to determine which ones will be incorporated into subsequent releases. This portal will also help manage the entire workflow of product development. Our customers will be able to track the progress of their ideas from concept to delivery.
What motivates you to get up and go to work?
I love learning, and I’m a big believer in getting involved and learning something new every day. I learned that I have a passion for operations and enablement. I want to make life easier for those in front of our customers. I’ll take those mundane, non-value added tasks and allow them to focus on the value-added. In order to be effective, to ensure that those everyday activities are done and done correctly, you need to know a lot horizontally across the organization. When I started with Aptean as Director of Strategic Programs, I ran projects that crossed teams, functions and countries. As Business Leader for Computron and Relevant, I gained deep vertical exposure to that role. Working with M&A gave me greater insight into the nuances of integration, to work with everyone within a wide range of functional areas. Because of my broad range of experience, I feel confident that I know what is needed, what is missing and how to fill that gap.
I am a strong believer in continuous improvement. Aptean is such a dynamic company; we’ve made several changes over the past several years, and through these changes, I’ve continued to learn. I talk to my team all the time about getting projects to the finish line, and how the project shouldn’t stop there. Revisit that project a month later, a quarter later, a year later and ask “what can be done better?” I feel that the status quo is our worst enemy. I want to always strive to get better.