From 4 Weeks to 4 hours: Using Cloud Elements to Move at the Speed of Our Customers
Industry: Feedback management software
Challenge: Implement and maintain a roadmap of CRM integrations
Solution: Cloud Elements pre-built integrations to leading CRM software
Hear from Khizar Naeem, Head of Integrations at Starred, on how they tackled their integration challenges. This story was first published on Upshot.
Time to market doesn’t just make you thrive as a business—it’s also what keeps you alive. We see endless examples of companies that simply couldn’t keep pace with the competition, or their customers’ needs, and fall by the wayside.
We all know when the customer wants that new product, new release, new feature: yesterday. If they can’t get it from you, they’ll find someone else to do business with. For us at Starred, we focus on quality instead of quantity. We try to prioritize our resources to have the biggest impact on our customers. But that doesn’t mean we get the luxury of forgetting about speed.
Start with the Human: Save Them Time
At Starred, our integrations are what heavily influence our time to market. The function of our SaaS solution is to increase customer—or employee—loyalty for companies. We make feedback and surveys fun and quick, instead of the long-form, boredom-inducing, disengaging questionnaires that make even our clients’ most satisfied customers start cringing.
It’s just like when you’re out in public on an errand and somebody stops you and says, "Hey, can I ask you a couple of questions for a study?" If you reluctantly agree, the next thing you know you’ve talked to that person for 30 minutes and realize you're late for your appointment. That’s what an online survey feels like. Starred changes that. We fix the feedback process to not only make it a great experience for respondents but also to help our users act on the data they collect to make it actionable.
Streamlining Integration, Eliminating Administration
"We didn’t have to reinvent the wheel, we just had to find the right wheel. Cloud Elements looked like the perfect solution to streamline our integrations and move at the speed our customers would demand."
- Khizar Naeem, Head of Integrations
In my role as Head of Integrations, I get to work with our customers very early in the relationship. The first question I ask new customers is: What processes do you want to automate and how can I add value? Most of the time, the process we’ll automate is a CRM integration. While that question might seem simple, it has major implications for myself and my team, since the integrations process can be incredibly difficult.
When I joined Starred, the team was already talking about using a solution called Cloud Elements, an API integration platform that would speed up our ability to implement our integrations for clients. I have to admit, at first, I resisted. But only because I was just coming into the role and wanted to learn exactly what the challenges were before adopting any new tool.
Like most other SaaS companies, our initial bottleneck for CRM integrations was paperwork. First, we had to get access to customers’ sandboxes, and then we needed to sign NDAs. That process can take a while, but with a platform like Cloud Elements, we could simply connect to the CRM and get to work. On top of that, every CRM has different API integration—there is no industry standard. This makes keeping on top of multiple integrations—and their regular changes—a pain.
It was difficult for us to move quickly and keep up with the time required to implement and maintain all of these integrations. When I joined, it took us around 3–4 weeks for us to even build proof-of-concept integrations. We had to move faster. When I saw what we were dealing with, I knew change was necessary. We didn’t have to reinvent the wheel, we just had to find the right wheel. Cloud Elements looked like the perfect solution to streamline our integrations and move at the speed our customers would demand. The other aspect that stood out to me when evaluating the platform was our meeting with their finance director. He told me that at the end of the day, their goal was to make us successful. Our talk stuck with me because I could tell those weren’t empty words. Working with Cloud Elements wasn’t shaping up to be a transactional relationship—it would be a partnership.
Authentication: The Gateway to Integration
Once we got up and running with Cloud Elements, all those necessary processes for each CRM had been eliminated. The way the platform bundled everything in one integration package made our lives much easier. We quickly went from four weeks for a proof of concept to just half a day. When you multiply that time savings out by the number of integrations we’ll do over the years, we’re talking about serious time my team has back in our schedules.
"We quickly went from four weeks for a proof of concept to just half a day."
- Khizar Naeem, Head of Integrations
But we didn’t just get back hours in the proof of concept phase—there were a couple other areas that improved our processes to make us more agile.
The first area of improvement was with authentication. Our software needs access to integrate with a system, but doing that authentication by ourselves means we would have to write code that makes calls and completes the authentication. Then we make sure our tokens are stored and then refreshed when they expire. The authentication—which is like the first gate you have to pass—takes a lot of time. Cloud Elements streamlines that process easily and their UI is incredibly user-friendly. You just define the URL and say what you want out of it, and it will redirect you to the CRM itself. As a customer, you can give access to Starred while knowing exactly what you're giving access to. It’s the same process we’re all used to seeing with Facebook or Google.
Cloud Elements takes care of all the tokens, refreshing, and everything else. All I have to do is say, "I want to connect to this CRM. These are my credentials and this specific part of that application is what I need access to." I have hands-on experience building this out the old way. It would take me two weeks to just build the authentication process. Now, with Cloud Elements’ UI, that process takes 10 minutes.
No More CRM Language Translation Headaches
"It’s a huge weight off our shoulders to know that no matter how a CRM formats the data, we can rapidly handle it."
- Khizar Naeem, Head of Integrations
My second favorite feature in Cloud Elements would be Resources. When communicating with a CRM, you get JSON data back. But every company has their own way of formatting that data. As a developer, it's plain hell to keep up with all the CRMs, especially in the SaaS business. Resources helps you define transformations, which makes the data clear. The feature allows us to modify the data so it’s compatible for CRMs like Salesforce, regardless of whether the data came in as camel case and needs to go out as uppercase prefixes, for example. We can customize the data without giving it another thought.
It’s a huge weight off our shoulders to know that no matter how a CRM formats the data, we can rapidly handle it. Now, it feels like we’ll always be on the same page as the data, regardless of the raw output we get back.
The authentication and transformation of data challenges may seem small, but they add up to a tremendous amount of wasted time. This isn’t hours we’re spending serving our customers better or releasing features faster. This is time spent working on tasks we shouldn’t be doing.
In the end, we save our customers—and ourselves—time and frustration. We’re empowering the conversation and we’re helping our clients build better relationships and products. All of this is possible when you realize that time matters to the end user, perhaps more than anything else.
Before Cloud Elements, me asking “What can I automate for you?” was scary. But now that I know how easily we can handle new integrations, I welcome the answer to that question. We know we’ll be able to take on new integrations and time won’t be a factor. We can’t deliver it yesterday, but we’re getting close.