A guide to understanding customer success

Two relatively recent formal functions within businesses are those of customer engagement and customer success.  Clearly not new as in we’ve not been focusing on success or engagement before but in that it wasn’t someone’s job title or sole function.

Customer success

Or was it?  Customer success and customer engagement have clearly been critical to businesses, since commerce first came about and it’s always been – or should be – part of everyone’s job and the function of every department.  But what has changed is that a need has been identified to have individuals and teams who focus just on success and engagement, particularly from a leadership perspective – and ensure all other teams are working in a customer focused joined up and collaborative way, that results in the best experience and service for our customers!  All great to have.

There’s a great blog post from last month that looks at the role of someone heading up the customer success function from Dan Steinman (Chief Customer Officer at gainsight).  Dan highlights the key traits that are needed for a successful customer success leader and does so by asking his team about him in his role – a very interesting and insightful exercise.

Do read Dan’s post for full details but in summary the key traits are:

  1. A passion for customers.
  2. A willingness to get their hands dirty.
  3. A philosophy.
  4. An understanding of what the customer success team do each day.
  5. A knack for influence management.

Influence management

Passion makes perfect sense.  You need to have be focused on the customer and making things right for them and caring about them being successful.  And your team need to share the same passion – and then let it spread beyond just your team!  It can be a cultural shift but a critical one.

Getting involved when there are customer issues and challenges, means getting stuck in and doing what is needed and engaging with the customer and team.  And not just taking a back seat overseeing it all.  It’s about credibility.

As a new field, it is evolving fast and there are lots of new ideas.  You need to be committed to what your phillosophy on customer success is and what that means for your customers and your teams.

The better you know your team and what they are doing, the better informed your decisions are – not rocket science, but all about good leadership.

The last point is the big one I think – influence management.  You need to be working across all the functions and teams in your company so that they understand their roles in customer success – from sales to operations to development to product management to admin to support – so they can understand what and when changes are needed and implement them.

As an evolving new function, there is no commonly agreed standard definition of what customer success (or engagement) management is.  Having a team focused on customer success, has a strong message for both internal teams and stakeholders and customers.

Pay as you go technology

As technology moves more and more to a utility based – pay as you go – model and more focus is on long term relationships and not the legacy models where there was a huge upfront cost (as CAPEX – capital expenditure), customer retention becomes more critical.  This is where customer success and customer engagement both come in – ensuring customers are retained.  And key to this is ensuring customers can easily see the commercial value of the platforms and services you are providing.

These new technology models, have created a need to formalise and structure the customer success function, but it’s not just in technology companies where it applies.

The more value your services provide, the more successful your customers are and the more successful you are.  Customer success can be the focus of your VP of customer success, or your chief customer officer, or your customer success director, but their role is to make sure everyone understands what customer success is all about and everyone’s own role in it, and to make your customers successful.

Customer success

CIO Connect 2013 conference – thoughts, ideas and observations

I was invited recently to attend the CIO Connect 2013 Conference in London, billed as the IT leadership conference in 2013 and this year with a theme on the gaming changing CIO. It was a great 2 days spent listening to global technology and business leaders’ key note sessions, attending workshops and networking with IT leaders from around the world.

CIO Connect

Most definitely a conference that should be in your diary if you’re a technology leader and more importantly if you share an interest in the major business changes and disruptions, that are happening now and how technology can play the best role in them – and add the value to your business it should.

CIO Connect 2013

They had none other than Brian Cox presenting last year – sadly I couldn’t go – and the final presentation this year on day one was by Dr. Steve Peters, author of the Chimp Paradox (billed as a mind management programme to help you achieve success and almost gospel for the Team GB Cycling team and many other leading sports teams and players). Day 2 was rounded off with a session from Fraser Doherty who founded Super Jam.

Super Jam logo

I always find it useful to capture comments, thoughts, notes, observations and light bulb moments from conferences like this and play them back after the event. A blog gives you the ideal forum to do this with and to share them with a wider audience. Any comments and questions are very welcome!

The thoughts and more…

  • Kevin Segall was presenting on the idea of keeping things simple and reflecting on his time at Apple and working with Steve Jobs. I had the privilege of seeing Kevin a few years ago and he’s a great speaker and very entertaining. The simpler things are the better and simplicity never fails. People love simplicity. Even in the organisation structures we see in business these days, the simpler they are the better and more powerful. A great example of Apple and how Steve Jobs was the ultimate decision maker and could make or break ideas. It might sound harsh but at Apple it works.
  • The “I” in CIO is no longer just about information.  It’s now far broader and covers innovation, integration, intelligence, implementation and imagination.
  • CIOs need to be compelling in improving the digital customer experience.
  • As CIOs we need to work with our peers to define the business decision making criteria. Help build and maintain a “make $ and save $” register to record technology successes.
  • The concept of the PR of IT as people, processes and best practices and CIOs working to ensure these are all aligned.
  • We must see how the overall customer experience works for the business and how this fits with technology. How do we serve the customers (better)?
  • Big themes in 2013 for the CIO are (and continue to be) the cloud (and moving services to the cloud), BYOD (good old bring your own device into the business), big data and security (which ties in to all the above).
  • View IT as a benefit centre, not a cost centre. And as a benefit centre IT is then a value contributor to the business. This represents a big shift for many businesses where IT can still be viewed as a back office service provider for the business. But this is changing and there was a general consensus on how this change is accelerating now.
  • With IT as a benefit centre, prioritise what will get these benefits as early as possible.
  • Focus on people, not on technology and be compassionate.
  • CIOs and their (technology) teams will be the engine rooms for major business changes, over the next 3-5 years.
  • The new norm for how technology teams need to be focused is as 50% strategic, 30% tactical and 20% operational. This is a big shift from now where only 20% is strategic and the vast majority of time and energy is spent maintaining the status quo and keeping the lights on (i.e. BAU). This is all about looking at the commoditisation of IT and moving the BAU parts to be run as lower cost (well) managed services.
  • For business programmes and projects, move to working with the key stakeholder at the business owner, not just the project sponsor. And with the programmes being business investments, not IT projects.
  • The CIO needs to be viewed a business leader. And as CIOs we have a unique understanding of the complexity of the business processes.
  • In many companies there is a vacant seat on the board for the “Chief Customer Officer”.  This is someone who acts as a bridge between the CMO, the COO and the CIO divide, and most importantly this person owns the overall end-to-end customer experience.
  • We need to test the public view of stuff (services that we provide) and to get out and be a consumer of our services. Do they work like they should? And like we expect?
  • The “Chief Customer Office” is the new board member who represents the customer experience in the market.
  • Stop talking about something called digital, as something different. It’s all one now. Platforms, channels and media. We need a more holistic approach – something I’ve blogged about before.
  • We are now in an exponentially changing world, no longer a place where business is linear. Technology is a critical game changer in this new world.
  • And finally from Dr. Steve Peters, the two key areas to focus on for performance and success, are emotional skills and impulse control, and everything is about probability.

 

Has your service bubble burst?

Continuing the theme of the last post, and some good conversations that followed, I want to think about what happens when service goes wrong and the service bubble that was working bursts.

Bursting bubbles

And specifically what can you do to stop it bursting.  Like any bubble once the process starts, the burst is quick and more often than not catastrophic – there’s no going back!

Bursting bubble

I love the shot above – the bubble is actually made up of millions upon millions of individual droplets of water.  Your service bubbles are no different – they’re made up of different teams of people, multiple customer interaction points and channels, the overall customer experience and all your social conversations, and they all need to work together to provide your service bubble.

Don’t forget – the whole thinking behind the service bubble, is that it’s all about great service, in the bubble.

It takes just one of these different parts to falter and the bubble is at risk of bursting unless action is taken very quickly.  Once the bubble bursts, you lose customer loyalty, that repeat business you relied on before is at risk and your company reputation can be threatened.

To stop the service bubble bursting, you need to focus on two key components – making sure the customer experience works (by constantly listening to what your customers are saying, wherever they are saying it – as part of this you need to be listening and engaging with them on the different channels) and by having the right customer service focused staff on your team, who share and understand the company values (and believe them), and who are empowered to make the right decisions to help your customers.

Service bubble - about to burst

And yes, customers will be willing to pay a premium for service bubbles that deliver and provide the expected service levels.  Just make sure you’re investing sufficiently in the team behind the scenes and that service is one of the core values of who you are and what you do, as a company.

Thanks Bill Quiseng (@billquiseng) for your thoughts on this.

Have you been caught in a service bubble?

Bubbles everywhere

Service bubbles?  So what are they?  They’re the places you are when you’re being looked after and experiencing a brand’s great and amazing service – and caught in their bubble.  You may have never thought about it before, but we’ve all been there.

You’re shopping and having a great experience in the shop, or in a hotel and being looked after by their team – and getting great service.  The service is personalised to you, it is provided by service professionals whose job it is is to understand what delivering great service means and what makes it special, and it’s specific to that brand.

Apple Store

Take Apple – yes one of my favourite service brands:  you step into their Apple stores and are greeted by their Geniuses – easily recognisable, all smiling and friendly and all there to make sure you are helped in the way that you need.  And they’re proactive in providing good service.

Shangri-La Hotels

Another great example – is good hotel chains, like Shangri-La (well known in the Far East but with some great hotels now in Europe as well).  You arrive at the airport in a different country, quite often tired from a long journey.  You’re met after security by a hotel representative to take you to the hotel and you’re then in their bubble.  Again, friendly staff, personalised service (often greeting you by name) and with a smile.  Whilst you’re staying with them – as their guest – and being looked after, you’re in their care and their bubble.

The usual result of the bubbles?  You go away a happy customer, you remain loyal to the brand and come back for more, and you tell people about it.

Bubble

So what makes them bubbles?  They’re normally temporary for you – you step into them when you start an experience or journey and step out when you’ve done (a good example being when you leave a hotel, are taken to the airport and dropped off – everyone knows that feeling that it’s back to normality), the bubbles normally grow whilst you’re in them – with the service getting better as you complete your purchase or transaction and there is a only a thin line between the bubble and the outside world.

Many bubbles

You can imagine different service bubbles coexisting for different businesses and organisations, and moving from one to another and receiving different experiences in each – some good, some great, some maybe not so good.  Businesses that work well together as partners can even have bubbles that join together and your journey from one to the other, is seamless and there’s no need to step outside of them.

Airlines (and other forms of transport – e.g. trains) are another great example of service bubbles and they differ widely from good old economy, business class and first class!

How do different companies bubbles differ from each other?  How can you rate and compare them?  Quality and size?  Does and should good service demand a premium price tag?  Stay tuned for more on this in a future blog post.

Whose service bubbles have you be in and what were they like?  Do let me know…

And that is how you do good service – thank you Apple!

Apple Store

My trusty iMac (from 2008) decided to not play ball earlier this week.  It was way outside Apple’s warranty (even Apple Care) – by over a few years – but trying to fix it was beyond me and I needed help from Apple.  A call through to the local Apple Store (in the Bentall Centre in Kingston) and they advised that they had no Genius appointments that day but to come in with the iMac and they would see what they could do.

When we got to the store we spoke to one of their guys who said all the iMac tech team were busy all day with no slots, but to hold on and he would see what they could do.  A very friendly iMac Genius then came to have a look and ran a series of quick tests on the iMac.  As typically happens in these situations, everything worked fine and the iMac passed all the tests.  A number of restarts were done – where the problem had been before – but all working fine.

Apple Genius

The guy took down all the details of the problem as I’d seen it and advised that I could leave it there for them to take a more detailed look (which would probably take a few days) or take it back home and see how I get on (which I did and typically again the problem has re-occurred and I’ve booked to go back in tomorrow).

But, the whole point to this post is the exceptional level of service that Apple provided here, going way beyond what they were obliged to do, going out of their way to help as best they can, to listen to the customer and check and test accordingly, to offer options when the standard response (booking a slot for that day) was a no-goer and doing all of this in a friendly professional manner.

This level of service is what makes Apple so great and why people – like me – will now go back and go nowhere else.  It is exceptionally good service and yes you do pay a premium for Apple products but this is one of the major reasons why; it’s not just a great product, you’re buying it’s a full service experience.

It’s not the only reason of course, there are 3 reasons generally why you are willing to pay extra for a product or service.  These are:

  1. The quality of the product
  2. The level of service received
  3. The overall experience of using the product or service

These 3 are the major drivers to creating loyalty for you business and Apple yet again are are leaders here.  Fingers crossed that my visit tomorrow fixes the problem once and for all.

Bentall Centre

Bad service is not far behind…

Only a day after my good service is everywhere experience and post, I had a day of bad service experiences – mainly across companies in one particular industry/market.  I’ll leave it to the reader to guess where…

Mobile mast

Service doesn’t need to be not good and it can easy to do it properly, but it does require some thinking about and a strategic view on what service is all about.

Bad service

In this day and age, giving bad or poor service is really inexcusable.  It says so much about the person and company giving it.

There are a few simple points to take service to next (and better) level:

(1) Empower the guys providing the service – let them make some of the decisions as they see fit.  They’re the ones sorting out issues and queries on the front line.

(2) Give everyone training in good service – it’s a culture shift and mindset change.  And requires an investment to do it properly and making sure people know what is expected and what good looks like.

(3) Define good service or even better, excellent service.  Reach out to the teams providing the service and find out from them what feedback they’ve had from customers and what changes they suggest.

(4) Listen, listen and listen again, before you say anything.  This is so important.  Too often these days people want to tell their story or their version or side.  Listen first though.  The more you listen, the more you can understand and be better informed to make the right decision.

Decision

And smile – it makes a big difference to the person you’re speaking to.  Again as per the last post, start thinking in all the interactions you have with other people, “How can I help this person?”.

Good service is everywhere…

Yesterday was a day of receiving consistently good service – from a variety of different people, in different places and different situations.  And a very pleasant day as a result.

Excellent service

Good or exceptional service isn’t rocket science but it does require a change in mindset.  Some of the key things yesterday that made a difference to the experiences are:

Smile

(1) People were smiling and coming across that they were generally interested, and they listened.  Even on the phone this makes a huge difference.  It’s about empathy and taking the time to fully understand the query at hand.

(2) They were all looking to see how they could help me.  This is something I read a great article about recently, where you should be thinking in any interaction with anyone else, “How can I help you?”.  Not how can they help me, or what do I want, but what can I do for the other person.

(3) Everyone was going the extra mile – without prompting or being asked for something else.  They were all looking to see what else they could do.

(4) They all knew what they were talking about and the services or products they offered or sold, and were passionate about them.

(5) And lastly they were all empowered to make decisions and do the job, and trusted to do so.

This last one is key and a lot of companies and businesses don’t do this and add process upon process around what should be a simple decision, for no real benefit or commercial reason.

Good service is so important in all businesses and so often overlooked or forgotten. It really was a great experience yesterday seeing it done so well and how it should be.

How important is good service to you as a provider and how do you ensure it is delivered?

And as the great Yoda himself said…

Yoda

 

High street shops are fighting back

The emporium strikes back

Nothing like a Star Wars-esq headline to catch my eye…

“The emporium strikes back”

Following very neatly on from my last post – way back in April – I found a great article this week, talking about the growing “threat” from online retailers and what the more traditional high street shops (our bricks and mortar friends) are doing to come back.

Things like bundle deals, profiling great accessories, personalised high street shopping and shopping as an experience much like Apple do now are all coming.

The one thing that’s sure, is that for the customer and consumer, the shopping experience of the future is going to be very different from today!

Is this the future of shopping? Showrooming and paying to browse.

My first blog for a few months – this article caught my eye and is on a similar vein to some of my previous ones about the future of shopping.

A very interesting article from the BBC on “showrooming”.  Something you may have never heard of but like me something you do lots.  So what is it?

The peril of showrooming - BBC

You’re out shopping with the family and browsing a high street bookshop (for example) and find something that takes your fancy – your normal reaction now is to scan the barcode and check the price on Amazon (pretty much the de facto online shop for us all) and no surprise it’s cheaper.  You then order online and a couple of days later it arrives, backed up by the great service that Amazon provides.  The high street bookshop clearly loses out here and there isn’t much it can do – they have more physical shop space to pay for and staff to help customers.  Or is there?

Showrooming

 

We all do it.  And it saves us money as online is normally (much) cheaper.  But it doesn’t help the high streets stores.  Charging for browsing is an idea to tackle this growing problem and it only needs to be a small charge, that you get knocked off your bill in the shop if you buy anything from them.  I like it – it makes sense and it’s easy to do.  But unless the prices come down in the shops, it’s not going to help long term get us back on the high street buying, which is what’s needed.

Another interesting article over on Euromonitor talks about other ways retailers are looking to address this problem – in-store discounts, store loyalty schemes, online price matching and more.  Some I can’t see working – loyalty schemes can apply online and the likes of Amazon have their own loyalty scheme (attached to their credit card); online price matching hasn’t caught on – any price matching that is done now is very restricted and never includes online as it’s more often than not too big a difference to match.

Euromonitor - showrooming prevention

Jessops, HMW and Waterstones in the UK have all had this problem and in some cases suffered massively as a result – and gone out of business.

Is it too late for the rest of the high street to change?

 

But it does depend on good connectivity

All nice having streaming content when and where you want as per the last post BUT – and a big but still in 2013 – we have the limitations of our current ADSL broadband connections.  Generally they work fine, still down the same old telephone line we’ve always had, but now demanding more and more – and we’re pushing the limits!

Netflix working well today – some great kids’ programmes – and then Spotify through AirPlay on the iPhone to the Apple TV.  But struggling – jittery – playing a few of the tracks!  It’s ok but with more and more of us now getting everything online when we want is the infrastructure behind the scenes ready?  Not yet….

Telegraph poles

Telegraph poles