Category Archives: Technology

Customer Success leadership as we move into 2019

Copied from a  recent guest blog post that I did recently for Simon Cooper from KUPR Consulting.

2018 sees us well and truly in the age of the customer and we’re seeing more and more organisations rethinking about where their growth comes from and about the right level of investment needed in their customer facing teams (not just Customer Success). Customer Success continues to grow as a way of working, as a discipline and as a new exciting career option – the role of a Customer Success Manager has been the number one advertised job on LinkedIn in a number of different countries around the world.

With this growth, the need for very good Customer Success leadership is becoming more and more critical, to ensure we’re delivering the necessary outcomes for and growing value to our customers.

I’ve worked with and within a number of different technology organisations – both startups and global enterprises – and each has its own unique challenges and circumstances but with a number of common key themes.

Why is being customer centric important at the leadership level you might ask?

It’s not only the obvious, i.e. that your customers stay loyal when they have good experiences and when product and sales are delivering on our promises, but also as our customers keep evolving and changing, so too are the ways that we operationalise this and how we support our customers. You become customer centric when you deliver on-going growing value to and for your customers.

But it’s not just about having a Customer Success team and having Customer Success managers in our companies. Having a Customer Success leader gives you:

  • Visibility – to see what is happening to your customers
  • Clarity – to understand the changes when a prospect becomes a customer
  • Balance of power – the third pillar for focus (alongside sales and operations)
  • Sales focus – sales focused on new business with no customer distractions
  • Feedback – understanding what is really happening outside of the business
  • Signalling – that critical external messaging that we are customer centric

I had the privilege of co-hosting a webinar recently with Jason Whitehead (the CEO and Founder of Tri Tuns) where we talked through some of the key questions around Customer Success leadership. Some of these are covered below – you can also find the webinar recording and details of other ones in this series here.

The challenges today

There are some amazing Customer Success leaders internationally and I’m lucky enough to know a good number of them (and I’ve learnt so much from them) but there are some big challenges that we’re facing. I’m going to look at a number of these now.

(1) Lack of Customer Success experience – it is a new and fast changing area, and there just aren’t leaders around with long track records in this world called Customer Success. That’s not to say there aren’t leaders with solid world class experience in customer facing roles but it can make finding the right person more of a challenge and require a wider search. This can be seen especially when we need more strategic thinking and planning.

(2) Customer and business maturity – the vision of what Customer Success means to a business depends on your own organisation and your specific customers. Sure there are guidelines and principles that are consistent, but our own maturity and stage as a business can and does impact what we want from Customer Success and our Customer Success leader on day one or even day 501. We may be in a stage where our Customer Success team are acting as firefighters in a more reactive position than driving new value and outcomes with customers more proactively, and the key is understanding this and where we are now. The maturity of our customers is also important to understand and by this I mean where they are in their own stage of growth, their overall adoption of new technology services and their expectations from our services.

(3) Investment being made into sales not Customer Success – for a lot of businesses, sales (in terms of new business) is still (seen as) the main growth engine and not the existing customer base. As businesses grow and expand and extend their services and offerings this is changing but it requires a shift in mindset for our CEOs and founders. This investment includes our Customer Success leader, our Customer Success managers (with different levels of experience) and potentially other Customer Success roles.

(4) Expectations for industry specific knowledge – this continues to be a growing challenge where organisations are looking through multiple lenses when hiring their Customer Success leader and looking for very specific industry and even technology experience, as well as solid experience in Customer Success and other customer facing roles. Many Customer Success leaders are amazing business generalists, and well skilled in working well in many different industry verticals and with broad (rather than deep) technical skills. 

(5) Short tenures – a number of the challenges above mean that many Customer Success leaders have had to move around in different organisations and whilst this has given a solid benefit of broad experience it can be seen as an issue. I’d always encourage good conversations with my Customer Success leader candidates to understand the drivers behind different positions and moves, and not simply put this as a blocker (which it often is).

(6) Are we a customer centric business? I don’t believe there are organisations who would say that they weren’t all about their customers but without the necessary customer focus and thinking at a strategic level, our Customer Success leader and team will not function and deliver as we need them to.

What makes a great Customer Success leader?

There are three traits that I believe are critical in great Customer Success leaders and strangely enough these are the same three traits I look for in new Customer Success managers joining my teams:

  1. Passion – a level of drive and motivation about your values and Customer Success
  2. Empathy – for customers and their teams and companies
  3. Broad technology and industry experience – broad not deep

Yes these are quite broad but they are at the essence of what Customer Success is. The last one I really like, as I think the breadth of experience in multiple customer facing roles and with different companies and technologies is a differentiator. You need to understand the bigger picture with your customers and where you and your company’s service and/or technology fit in.

A couple of other important things to add are:

  • Experience growing and scaling teams and businesses
  • Customer focus (of course)
  • Being bold – you’ll need to try new ideas and influence change
  • Being agile and not averse to change (or managing change)
  • A like for processes is a must have – you’ll have to define and build new frameworks and ways of working (and these have to keep evolving as your customers do)
  • You are the ultimate voice of the customer – and that can be a lonely place but you need to be there and you need to bring the customer (voice of and feedback) into every meeting
  • When you start, go and meet (all) your customers – hear what they’ve got to say
  • And Customer Success leaders often also take on responsibility for certain key accounts and there is no better way to learn

Does the title matter?

Yes and no. It really depends on the organisation and titles can and do vary. You may be head of Customer Success, director of Customer Success, VP of Customer Success or even the new chief customer officer (which as the newest member of the C-suite I’m happy to report that we’re continuing to see more appointments of this level).

Customer leadership is often the missing piece when companies look to be more customer centric – irrespective of the title, the role is all about increasing customer value and bringing the customer conversation to the board level. You need to be ultimately responsible for your company’s customer relationships.

Are there any differences in Customer Success leadership globally?

On the whole no – you need the same core skills, core traits and type of customer focused experience, and you will be working to and driving a similar vision and approach. There are of course the more subtle (or not) cultural differences and as you grow and expand the teams and regions you work in, you need to be very conscious of these – both for your teams and your customers.

Local language is so important as well – look at Europe as a great of example of this. I’m always a fan of having local language people in the local region to help drive value and better outcomes for my customers.

I always talk about differences with the likes of NPS and this is a good example I think of where you, as a Customer Success leader, need to be aware of potential cultural differences. We all know that only a 9 or 10 rating on an NPS results in it being classed as a promoter. Our US based friends and colleagues might often give 9’s or 10’s as ratings but in the UK – and I hope I’m not generalising – 9 or 10 is better than excellent and very, very rarely happens. That’s like 100% in an exam. A 7 could be a very good score but that only means your passive in the world of NPS. This changes how you might view the scores that you get, and where your true baseline is.

You are the voice of the customer

We all know that our customers are already talking to other customers and future prospects, – I want them to say the right thing!

It’s critical to build and to lead a voice of the customer programme. You, as the Customer Success leader, need to be constantly and consistently listening to and hearing what your customers are saying and then empowering your teams and companies to take actions.

There is a huge ROI in finding out what went wrong (and yes things always do go wrong) and fixing it and letting our customers know we’ve listened and what we’ve done.

Where do I find them?

I’m going to close off this blog post with this final point. We all know that Customer Success as its own separate formal discipline is relatively new and so, by definition, they aren’t many people with many years experience in the actual role itself. But that’s not to say that there aren’t some amazing Customer Success leaders in the industry around the world. Many come from other customer facing roles and even from multiple customer facing roles (and leadership roles). Some great examples include customer support, professional services and consulting, project management, service delivery, account management and sales roles. All of these roles bring some fantastic experience with them – from building and growing customer relationships, delivering value and outcomes, and handling difficult and challenging customer conversations.

WEBINAR: “The Jasons take on Customer Success Leadership”

November 27, 2018 10:30am EST / 3:30pm GMT

Come join us for this unplugged conversation with the two leading Jasons in customer success. Jason Noble, a UK based visionary customer success executive and leader, and Jason Whitehead, a US based customer success and software adoption leader, discuss a variety of topics and issues of importance in the field of customer success.

This conversation will focus on global customer success leadership. We will examine a variety of challenges that customer success leaders need to address. We will also examine the qualities it takes to be an amazing leader of customer success and how you can grow customer success leadership talent.

Go to the registration page to sign up.

What is digital transformation really about?

It’s the Service Desk and IT Support Show over at Olympia next week and I’ve been invited to take part in a panel discussion on Digital Transformation, hosted by Barclay Rae with fellow panelists Matthew Hooper and Adam Haylock.  It should be a very good session with a lot of insights into what Digital Transformation means for businesses and their IT services and functions.

Digital Transformation continues to be a hot topic for many businesses but many are still struggling with what it means for them and what they need to do.  Our panel session, and a number of other sessions at the show, will help business leaders gain a better understanding of what it means and the implications for them.

As part of the Digital Transformation sessions, I have also been asked to participate in a blog series for the Service Desk and IT Support Show which I am looking forward to.  The first article covers the fundamentals of what it actually is all about.

I look forward to seeing many of you at the show next week and talking more about Digital Transformation and how it’s impacting you as a technology leader.

 

Are we ready for real 24×7 connectivity?

We’ve had the key note and it was impressive – I’ve never had my family members watch one with me, and all be excited by the new technology!  What technology you say?  The Apple Watch…

Apple Watch

Yes I’ll admit I’m an Apple fanboy at heart – it’s their whole customer experience and the simplicity of the Apple ecosystem that does it for me.  It’s the idea of a “service bubble” again (as I’ve blogged about before – i.e. when you’re there with a brand and the whole experience is just right – from every interaction you have and you know it’s them), it just works.

The Apple Watch won’t be the first smart watch on the block (just like the iPhone wasn’t the first smart phone), but it will work and it will sell and it will have the same consistent simple experience we expect and that we want.

I don’t wear watches any more and I haven’t now for probably 30 years, but I’ll be one of those looking at spending £300 on an Apple Watch when it comes out.  Yes it will tell the time like a traditional watch but I don’t need it for that (when in 2014 are you somewhere where you can’t find the time out?).

It’s the ability to do so much more without having to find your phone and pull it out.  Maps telling you the direction to go, a heart rate monitor (that you don’t have to strap around your chest and get friction burns from – that’s another story), messages from friends and family, access to my photos, online shopping, a camera and access to passbook (boarding cards, loyalty passes and more), to name a few.  It will ultimately replace my trusty Garmin Forerunner 305 (that’s beginning to drop the signal a bit more than it should) but maybe when v2 comes out with GPS included (running with the Apple Watch and having to have an iPhone on me, doesn’t work for races just yet).

Apple Watch apps

But – and this is the big question – am I prepared to never be offline?  Never offline – this was the title of Time Magazine this week – have we even considered what this means?

Time Magazine Never Offline

You may say that you’re never offline now, with a smart phone always near by.  But you can put it down.  How often do you take a watch off?  Rarely if ever.  Always reachable, location always known and apps reacting to you realtime giving advice and directions – 24×7 365 days a year wherever you are (yes assuming you have a mobile data connection).  We’ll get to a point when retailers know where we are and can automatically make recommendations on what to do, where to go and what to buy.  We’ll see consumer behaviour changes that we’ve not even thought about yet.  A lot absolutely will make sense and after a while we won’t know what we did without them (just like smart phones).  But we need to consider the implications of some and work to make sure we don’t create a situation where having a smart watch becomes a necessity and if you don’t have one you lose out, to some extent.

We need good – no make that excellent – mobile data coverage everywhere as well, to make most of the use cases for smart watches work.  Not just global coverage, as in in all countries around the world, but even within countries and regions.  Even near the great city that is London, solid 3G and 4G coverage isn’t there yet.  And then there’s good old network roaming – just imagine travelling around the globe as we do, and suddenly being hit by extortionate data charges – it won’t work.  Telco’s and other businesses will need to rethink their existing business models and come up with ones!

It’s an exciting time!  I can’t wait to see how things go when the Apple Watch hits the streets in 2015!

Apple Watch this space!

Are you delivering excellent service?

I too often hear the phrase service excellence used these days when describing technology delivery services, and in most cases there’s no definition of what this actually means.

Service excellence word cloud

Let’s go back to basics then and look at we mean by excellence in this context.  From the Oxford dictionary, we have “The quality of being outstanding or extremely good”.  Another definition is as a quality that people really appreciate, because it’s hard to find, and as being the quality of excelling, of being truly the best at something.

I like this last one – being the best at something and excelling – so going above and beyond the normal expectations, and importantly setting new standards.

It’s this excelling at something that hits the mark for many customers when it comes to service.  Many of the organisations I’ve worked with and for, have been in challenging situations around their customer service, customer experience etc, and one of the focuses for my role there has been to revitalise their approach and work to transform the way they engage with customers, be they internal or external customers.

In this day and age, we’re all consumers (outside of the normal workplace) of goods and services and our expectations have changed significantly over the last few years.  It’s now all about a truly anyhow, anywhere and anytime culture, and this has a huge impact on how organisations need to work and change and adapt.

To add to this challenge, some of the more legacy technology services that we’re delivering – as well as the new innovative solutions an services – just have to work.  Email is a great example.  If your email service is 100% available, 24×7, and can be accessed wherever you are on any device, is this an excellent service or is it just expected?

I read an interesting article a few weeks back, on cio.com, titled “7 Steps to Excellent Service Delivery“, by Phil Weinzimer – do take a look, there are some really good ideas here.

7 steps to excellent service delivery

Phil sets out a 7 step plan that CIOs can use, to improve the delivery of their services to the business, and the core theme is understanding the business objectives better and delivering to meet those.

In summary the 7 steps that Phil’s lists are:

  1. Identify the business and commodity services required by the business units
  2. Identify the key stakeholders and priority for each business service
  3. Build and develop the enterprise list of business services, for each unit
  4. Socialise and communicate across the enterprise
  5. Develop and execute the work plan, and get stakeholder buy-in
  6. Continuously measure the service delivery – and build and use business focused SLAs
  7. Continuously improve – regularly evaluate the service with the stakeholders and users

I really like this approach.  It’s critical as I’ve mentioned to engage more with the business and key stakeholders, and to be able to respond in a very agile manner to their needs!

How does your service measure up?  And what does excellent service mean to you?

 

6 great customer success principles to live by

… and you learnt them all in pre-school. A great article that I read today and well worth a re-post.  Written by Dennis Hennessey – Six Great Customer Success Principles To Live By – and published on the BUSINESS2COMMUNITY.

Customer success

The first blog post I’ve written in 6 months, far too long. Busy with a a new exciting position and opportunity with Appirio in our London head office, helping to drive and build customer engagement and customer success, with some great customers, helping them innovate and transform their businesses with cloud technology.  And working with an amazingly talented and passionate team.

This article really resonated with me and as principles they’re very simple to remember, understand and build into your own customer success and customer engagement teams…

  1. Listening
  2. Empathy
  3. Honesty
  4. Be polite
  5. Keep your promises
  6. Be helpful

Customer success workshop

Not rocket science by any stretch of the imagination but very powerful principles and all key to helping build, improve and take your customer relationships to the next level.

What customer success principles do you use and are any of these missing from your organisation?

How does your company culture stack up?

A great article from Mashable – by Lauren Drell on improving your company culture.  All the tips make perfect sense and are not too difficult to do – but they may require change in your thought process.

Take a read… 9 Tips for a Better Company Culture.

Google company culture

Your company culture is the killer differentiator between you and the competition – it’s why guys want to work for you in the first place, and why they will in many cases go out of their ways to secure a position with you.  They like what you do, your vision and the opportunities with you and want to be part of your journey.  Take Apple, Google and Amazon as prime examples of well known companies with great cultures where people want to work.

Apple company culture

Lauren suggests a number of different tips on how you can change your company culture for the better.  I’ll summarise these below:

  1. Hiring should be a continuous process and not just when you have specific vacancies.
  2. Encourage entrepreneurial thinking.  What would people do if it was their company.
  3. Hire fantastic people, remember people are your business.
  4. Lead by example – culture starts with you.  Show passion for the company and vision.
  5. Character counts – hire people for attitude and positivity.
  6. Don’t forget the freelancers or recent graduates.
  7. Your gut reaction is more often than not right – listen to it more.
  8. Encourage ownership and flexibility – we want happy people.
  9. Continue to build your company culture.

Lauren sums it up very well in one sentence…

“Hire in tech, product or business, but only take people that really wow you.”

A great culture, means an even better team, resulting in better productivity from the guys, improved services, better relationships with your customers and a great vibe in the market about you.

Culture word cloud

Nothing will ever top this Volvo ad

A quick follow-up post on the viral Volvo ad with Jean-Claude Van Damme (JCVD) in – after seeing more posts of the ad on our favourite social media platforms!  The headline on the latest post is great…

Advertisers Should Just Quit

The viral YouTube ad is now at 40 million views.  That’s 9 million more than yesterday.  That level of viral-ness is staggering!  Give it a month and where will it be?

Now, of those 4o million views, how many are from prospective truck buyers or people looking for trucks?  Probably not many.  But we’re talking about it, and yes now even more 7 and 8 year olds are (and they love it and are very impressed by Mr. Jean-Claude Van Damme – some demos of splits yesterday at school).  And these views are only online – there’s no TV ad running for it.  Is there one coming?  That would be cool.

Volvo trucks

The strange life, death and rebirth of the CIO and what it means for the future of technology

A re-blog from a very good article earlier this month on ZDNet (by Steve Ranger – the UK editor-in-chief of ZDNet and TechRepublic) which follows the same theme as my recent posts on the changing role of the CIO and CTO in organisations and what this means.

Which way to go

The way companies buy, build and use technology is changing rapidly, which means the teams that build it and run it will need to change too.”

Technology business alignment

Are you as a technology leader changing quickly enough and giving the necessary direction to your teams and the business?

We’ve faced some huge shifts in technology services and provision of these in business over the last 5-10 years.  First outsourcing and offshoring, then the cloud and technology as a utility, then more recently consumerisation and the whole BYOD phenomenon, and this is forcing us to make big changes in how we lead and manage technology teams and functions in businesses.  These changes will accelerate over the next 2-3 years and new changes will emerge.  Technology will become more and more critical to businesses and needs to be more agile and responsive to change.

The challenge for us as technology leaders, is to manage increasingly conflicting business expectations – to increase efficiency, reduce costs and come up with new innovative ways of using technology to create new business opportunities.

 

Creativity, advertising genius and a bit of flexibility

Every so often I see an ad that is so mind-blowingly clever, and it can be for something I might have no plans of ever purchasing!  Case in point last week with the Volvo advert with Jean-Claude Van Damme (JCDV) that went viral (31 million views of the video as of today – 5 days after it was released; that’s viral at a whole new level).

Volvo trucks

Most of us know JCVD from his martial arts movies – some good, some not so good.  It was “Bloodsport” (in the late 1980’s) that got me hooked – and not just because it was set for part in Hong Kong (my home town).  JCVD’s martial arts skills are somewhat impressive and he’s extremely flexible.

I can remember some shots from “Bloodsport” of some unbelievable high and targeted kicks.  I’ve studied karate for a few years since those days and know a bit more about how the body works and what static and dynamic flexibility is all about, and know even better how difficult things like this are to master!

If you’ve not seen the video yet watch it before reading further…

Epic split doesn’t do it justice!  It’s unbelievable.  It took me 2 takes of the video to realise the trucks were going backwards!  The skill of the professional drivers is amazing as well – they’re not driving that slowly but in a perfect straight line!

The genius of the advert for me is on so many different levels.  The music is perfect – very relaxed and almost mesmerising.  It’s “Only Time” by Enya and all of a sudden the track is up in the charts on iTunes and conveniently a whole £0.20 higher in price than all the other tracks on the album (that’s 13 years old).   Yes I’ve downloaded it through iTunes now and listened to it a lot.  Even the little Nobles know the name of the track.

I also now know a bit about Volvo Trucks and their amazing dynamic steering control (2000 readings per second for the steering goes into the trucks’ on-board computers) and have even watched a few YouTube videos showing how it works – and it is very impressive.  A hamster can even steer these trucks with a bit of help and a fan case!  Some of the ads Volvo have done for these trucks are pretty cool – do take a look at Volvo Trucks on YouTube and check out the others.  Did JCVD know what he was letting himself in for when he signed up for this?

A very very clever ad.  Sure most of the people viewing the viral ad won’t be buying a truck but they will know about them and are sure talking about them.  I was only helping on a school trip today for my little girl’s class (7 to 8 year olds) and telling them about JCVD and his splits!  Viral marketing at it’s best.