Tag Archives: Customer Experience

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.

Who’s looking after your customers’ success?

What a great question to ask. Do you know the answer, and if not, who’s finding it out for you? And even more importantly, do you know what your customers need to achieve to be successful?

Often as business owners and leaders, we naturally need to be focused on our company’s success and how we evolve and grow our business, building new products and services and acquiring new customers. 

We’ve seen a shift in the last ten years to the new world of Customer Success and the consumerisation of business services, where our business customers’ expectations are driven by their experiences as consumers. This has been and continues to be a huge change and a very challenging one. I say ‘new world’ here, but it’s not new as in ‘we’ve never done it before’ – just in that we need a different (and new) approach today.

How do we provide the same levels of services (and amazing products and platforms) that organisations like Amazon, Apple and Netflix do? They’re in completely different markets and you could see them as being irrelevant to the lettings industry. But many of your own customers use them – and many others like them – on a daily basis, and they just expect things to work and deliver, as and when and where they need and want.

Our customers are now more willing and able to leave us if we don’t do what they need or provide the value they expect – and they expect this level of flexibility. The so-called age of the customer is all about this flexibility – it’s about how businesses push value to customers, and ensuring customers become the focus and that customers are attracted to use them, not stuck with them.

When our customers are successful, and they can directly see the value our products and services give them, they will naturally gravitate more to us, use more of our services, grow with us and become great advocates.

I heard a great quote at Gainsight’s recent Chief Customer Officer Summit Europe 2018 that resonates so well and sums this up perfectly: “Make your product value painlessly obvious”.

Customer Success has to be a business-wide strategy and way of working, it isn’t just the responsibility of one team , one job function or one person , and you need a customer-centric culture to achieve this.

It often starts with one team – your customer facing team – but that team’s objectives and strategy and planning have to align with the rest of the business and radiate out to influence other teams and stakeholders.

This team absolutely can be – and often is – the starting point for this refocus back to the customer. They can plan and start new customer-based initiatives, projects and activities that then flow out across the wider business. In this fast-growing world of Customer Success, many organisations are leading the way and developing new and improved approaches that can be replicated elsewhere and by other companies, even in different industries.

How do you ensure Customer Success?

So what does a customer-centric culture look like?  At a number of startups I’ve worked with Customer Success has been a a core part of our operating philosophy from day one but in the early days it often starts with that team doing everything for customers. As you grow and expand as a business, so your Customer Success team and approach has to grow, and of course your customer-base. You move from being mainly reactive and often seemingly on the backfoot, to having a full single customer view that covers everything from commercial information, support details, customer sentiment, survey feedback, product usage, contractual information, sales information and much more. This is a critical part of our success and it continues to grow, with the right technology and tools (including a Customer Success Management platform). 

The teams have to also evolve and I’ve seen success in creating dedicated functions for onboarding and implementation (and customer education), customer and commercial operations, documentation and configuration and customer success management (that includes customer renewals, escalations, training, customer feedback, consultancy and advisory services, relationship management and customer advocacy and customer value reviews). All of these involve working very closely with the other teams and helping to make sure that customer feedback is being fed through the right channels, listened to and responded to in the appropriate way.

There is of course a balance needed between providing the level of services required (and achieving those desired customer outcomes) and over-delivering and over-servicing, and it can be challenging to strike the right balance. It’s critical to sometimes say no and to route our customers through the most appropriate channels into the business, for them to get the outcomes they require, and for this to be repeatable for them and scalable to grow with our business and our customers’ businesses.

How we measure Customer Success is critical to us – and that statement is even more powerful when reworded slightly… how do you measure your customers’ success?

There are a number of key metrics we can and do use for this, including Net Promoter Score. NPS is an easy-to-use measure to gauge customer loyalty and how it trends over time, and is used by many global businesses in many different industries. I’ve used NPS successfully in a number of different businesses, asking that one ultimate question – how likely are you to recommend us? – but also with a number of optional additional questions to get more customer insight. The score at a particular time is less important than the trend over time or the details and sentiment behind the score. When we receive completed surveys, the Customer Success Managers then carry out detailed feedback calls and campaigns with customers to understand better the reasons behind the feedback and to explore how we can improve.

It’s important to note – and this can be often overlooked – that Net Promoter Score and customers’ sentiment and feedback is not something that is just owned by your Customer Success team. These are and have to be company-wide measures and, ultimately, key business objectives. Your detractors ultimately aren’t getting the value they need and they can be calling in more for support and help, so what we need to do is help move these customers towards being promoters, and ensure that they are successful.

So the answer to the new ultimate question – the title of this post – is you and your company. Your Customer Success team helps you understand better what your customers’ success looks like, alongside of course your sales teams, and then works with the rest of the company to help achieve that success.

Customer Success is about both good outcomes and good experience and getting the mix right for that customer and what they need. If one of these isn’t right or isn’t working, you will not help your customers be successful.

Nothing is more important than your customers’ success.

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…

How simple should it be? Insanely simple. Please don’t complicate it.

I was invited to a conference at Imperial College last week – my old college from a few years back – given by Ken Segall, the author of “Insanely Simple, The Obsession That Drives Apple.”.  The conference was part of the Business Leaders Network (BLN) CEO Tales series of talks and kindly arranged by Mark Littlewood and his team.

As strange as it was sitting in the chemistry lecture hall, for a physicist from Imperial, it was a superb evening. Ken’s talk was inspirational and gave some unique insights into that amazing company that is Apple.

For more info on Ken you can visit his own blog and web site at…

Some great quotes from Ken’s talk were:

  1. “The customers’ job is to be amazed by our products.”
  2. “Apple is all about passion, simplicity and technology.”
  3. “You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple.”
  4. “Simplicity is not a trend. Simplicity is permanent.”

Number 2 is mine but fits the general theme of the evening and Ken’s talk.

The most profound thought for me was this:

Simplicity = Brains + Common Sense

It really does sound so simple.  What do customers actually want?  Things to work, products they like and good service – that’s it.  But too many companies get bogged down in complexity – the world is by it’s very nature complex and we are, but simplicity is where we want to be.  Too often I hear of companies saying they can’t do x, y and z because of their processes and the individual you’re speaking to is given no leeway with processes – they have to be followed, or else!  Why?  Surely the processes exist to ultimately find and retain customers.  Banks are a prime example of this.  A great example this week, trying to reset the password for an online account of Mrs. Noble and being told we then had to be sent the new password in the post.  Say what?  It’s an online account.  But processes were in place and it seemed there was no way around them.  Even trying to then close the account provided a challenge, though we got there eventually.  A surprising call from the customer complaints team the next day who couldn’t believe how the call had gone and were very apologetic.  These guys weren’t all singing from the same song sheet.

This call could have been handled so differently – the results were the same, but the reluctance to listen and to stick with complex processes that no-one quite knows why they’re there, is a common problem.  Thankfully it’s one Apple have dealt with and simplicity is at the very heart of their culture.

On a similar theme, the Apple Store in the Bentalls Centre in Kingston-upon-Thames, has undergone a facelift recently.  The store has been expanded and whilst expanding their moved upstairs they borrowed someone else’s shop.  Temporarily smaller, but the same great Apple experience and recession or not, the same high volume of shoppers in there and coming out with lots of new “i” somethings.  The new shop opened this Saturday and by complete fluke we went in to sort out an iPad problem.  Booking made for a genius appointment about 45 minutes before the slot and very painless on Apple’s support web-site.  Booking slot missed, as we were late but no problems, rebooked there and then by a friendly staff member and seen within 2 minutes of arriving.  Nice!

I’ll sidetrack a little to fill in gaps about the iPad problem – as it also nicely illustrates how good Apple are.  We bought our iPad back in 2010 when they first came out, and it’s been working perfectly and kept in perfect condition (touch wood) despite being actively used by the 2 growing up fast little Nobles.  It had to be replaced earlier this year as the screen was scratched by a car game that we bought in the Apple Shop.  Not their fault but they sold the product that caused the damage (when it shouldn’t have) and they swapped it no questions.  The replacement one has had issues with the USB connection since we got it but it’s taken me until now to go back with it – and 5 months after replacement it’s well outside of the normal replacement warranty.  The Apple genius listens, says he needs to check if they can swap it, comes back in 2 minutes and sorted – swapped at no cost and the replacement has another 90 day warranty.  This sort of service is exceptional, no-one else does this.  And this is why the shop is always so busy – people get this type of service and great products.

Back to the shop expansion itself, this was the morning the newly refurbished shop opened.  And wow, it’s nice.  Still the same amount of shelves selling kit but twice as many tables now for people to talk to Apple staff on and try out products.  And – and this is the good bit – more than twice (at least it looked that many) the previous number of staff in the shop all helping people.  This expansion has all been about expanding the service, it’s so very clever and very simple.

They even now have 2 kids tables set up, with kid’s cool chair things and lots of new iPads for them to play with, with kid’s games installed.  Again a very simple idea.

Apple do it right.  Sure I’m a huge fan but there’s a reason – these guys are passionate about technology and service and the customer, and so am I.

And finally a link to some pictures from Ken’s talk last week and a write up from the BLN.  Thanks Mark for the invite and a very enjoyable evening.

Good service counts even when you’re running

So how to mix a blog post on running and customer service…

I ran the London Marathon last week with the orthotics I had from the physio back in December last year in my shoes.  They gave more support in the Adizero shoes than without and by all accounts corrected the way my feet hit the ground.  They’re made by a company called Vectorthotics and clearly say on the package that if you are planning at doing any strenuous or endurance activities, the block bits should be glued on with more solid cement glue stuff.  Mine weren’t but they had held through all (or most) of the training runs and I’d had one pair already glued again by our local Timpson shop in Twickenham.

When it (the small blue block in the middle) has come loose before, you know it has as it clicks in the shoe a bit and you can hear it.  But I guess the noise of the other runners and crowd last weekend and total concentration on getting round, meant I had no chance to hear it, as it came off (and ended up towards the toes – maybe that’s why I didn’t run as fast as I had hoped… LOL).

So I needed to visit the shoe shop again and get them to glue it back on.  When I did this last time, they just did it, with a big smile and said don’t worry about paying, just put some money in the charity box they had in the shop.  Fantastic.  I’ll come back with service like this – we’d come back anyway as we’ve used them lots over the years and they’re good.  I ran in last Saturday early afternoon and the same guy was in and I asked the same question, if he could glue it on.  No questions asked he just did it.  And again no charge – just money in the box for charity.  It happened to be a rugby day on Saturday with a big Army and Navy game on at Twickenham Stadium and I got chatting to another customer in the shop (whilst we waited).  As I was chatting and waiting I noticed some signs on the walls in the shop.  One fine example below…

With a sign up like this from the company chairman, you know the service is going to be very good.  There are other similar signs up around the store, all saying it’s all about service and making sure they do right by you the customer.  And the same in all their stores.  I popped back today to take the photo and asked the guy before I did and explained why – and he smiled!

For me this is a huge statement, the guys in the shop are totally empowered to do what they need to to make it right.  And have the ok from the top to do so – no need to phone head office to check.  Make a decision there and then, to make sure the customer is happy.

This is unlike many other companies I know of who give the front line staff no empowerment and need everything run by the next level or two up.  Even for small things.  This does my head in – such a waste of time and effort on everyone’s part and 9 times out of 10, you get annoyed customers all the same.  Do we really need to check with HQ or the bosses boss if someone wants to bring a small item back for a few pounds or dollars and doesn’t have the receipt, it’s unopened and clearly from that shop?  No.  Think of the cost of checking and delays.  And the experience the customer is having.  Not good and as the customer you think twice about using them again.

Apple and Amazon are both great at customer service, and shining beacons for others to follow, and everyone knows they are good which is a huge huge part of what makes them so successful.  They are big and yes they have the money to do it properly but it’s not all about that, so it’s nice to see the little shops doing as good here.  Sure Timpson are a global chain but the shops are small and typically with one member of staff in – and ones you might not think of as leaders in customer service and customer experience – but Timpson do it very very well.  Thanks for the great service, we will be back.  And I’ve just discovered they even do a mystery shopper programme and you can sign up on the front page on the web site.  Nothing to hide.  Nice one!