Many companies claim to be “customer focused,” but translating that declaration into action is very difficult. Traditional silos for marketing, sales, operations, finance, and human resources can impede any effort to build a customer-focused culture. But a truly customer-focused culture, backed by great systems, will drive customer success and if your customers are successful, you will be successful. Getting this right can drive huge revenue and margin growth. Customer success should be a strategic imperative.
“If your customers are successful, you will be successful.”
To drive customer success, you need to engage with your customers seamlessly, whether at first inspiration, in front of a salesperson, or when there are issues or complaints. The benefit of a great integrated system is that you can drive cross-selling, adoption, utilization, and customer success. If your product or service helps your customers to achieve their objectives, they will be loyal and will buy more. If your service is clunky and siloed or customers have trouble working with your team, they will be dissatisfied and leave.
Part of the challenge is that many companies are upping the bar and customers, whether business or consumer, are getting used to high-quality service. Companies like Amazon are generally a pleasure to deal with. The website is easy to use. You are recognized quickly as a repeat customer. They remind you of what you purchased in the past and make suggestions for things you might like in the future. If you absolutely want a purchase to arrive on time, you use Amazon.
Apple makes it as easy as possible to do business with them by packing their stores with highly trained staff. The wait is never very long and salespeople are knowledgeable. Often they can solve walk-in technical issues on the spot. The folks at the Genius Bar can teach you to better use your MacBook, iPad or iPhone. Their systems are integrated and they are set up to drive customer success.
A focus on customer success requires a concerted commitment by management and a culture shift for many companies. Marketing people who are paid to generate leads may not care about retention. Salespeople who are paid to close on leads may not care about operational issues. Operations is often focused on reducing costs, reducing time spent with the customer, minimizing call times and closing tickets as soon as possible.
It requires a large investment in CRM and customer engagement systems. Older systems are not typically set up to take account for the number of variables that need to be tracked. Functional departments may not be connected in any way. We have all experienced the frustration of typing in your account information, only to have the customer service agent ask for it all over again, and then pass you to another customer service agent who must ask for it all a third time.
It requires a heavy commitment to data collection and analysis. You need to be able to track customer activity, utilization, and various measures of customer satisfaction. You need to be able to identify problem ‘hot spots’ and immediately allocate resources to reduce the friction. Once-a-year customer surveys don’t cut it. Good companies are finding ways to measure customer satisfaction weekly using transaction surveys and data analysis.
Several new functional titles are emerging:
- Chief Customer Officer
- Integrated Customer Engagement Officer
- Customer Success Officer
Work must be done on the organizational structure for these new leaders to be successful. They need to report as high up as possible in the organization and with as much direct control over resources as possible, so they can drive change and be held accountable. It is also critical that the CIO/CTO be fully on board. Regardless of the title, the goal is to empower senior people who have enough authority and scope of responsibility to drive coordinated end-to-end integrated customer engagement.
As an example, one of our SaaS clients has 15 sales people and 150 service people who manage customers after the initial sale has been made. Generally, this customer service team covers three major areas: 1) onboarding, set up and technical issues, 2) up-selling and cross-selling; and 3) professional services and consulting to drive utilization. In a world where retention, repeat business and up-selling is critical, this integrated approach to customer service is very powerful.
The executive recruiting challenge is that these concepts are new and there are very few people with many years of experience. This means finding executives who have sufficient industry experience and the right personal characteristics, possibly from a different function. Traditionally trained customer service leaders might be too rigid to envision new organizational structures. It might mean finding someone who has 60% of the required skills and allowing them to hire direct reports with supporting skills. They might be senior sales leaders or engineers who have moved into marketing or business leaders who have managed multiple technology projects. These ‘bilingual’ executives are incredibly valuable. They should also have proven ability to operate at relevant scale.
To build a customer focused organization, a cultural shift may be needed, the organizational structure may have to be realigned, new systems may be required, and the right people must to be recruited who can drive systematic change. These people may come from different functions or different industries. Our strategy is to help our clients clearly define the key attributes they are seeking and then cast a net wide to find exceptional, high impact executives with proven experience. Recruiting the right people might be critical to your company’s success.
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