Is Your Organization Truly Customer-Centric?
Many of today’s software companies claim to be customer-centric. Yet, only 14% of marketers agree that customer-centricity is a hallmark of their companies today (CMO Report, 2020).
In order to be truly customer-centric, a company needs to have an organization-wide commitment to improving the customer experience, which puts the customer at the center of each and every business decision, both strategically and proactively (HBR, 2016).
Adopting this customer-first approach can be difficult, especially in enterprise companies that have been around for 20+ years. Given these challenges, how can you successfully accelerate customer centricity in your organization?
This week, I spoke with visionary customer success leader, Christy Ransom, who leads the Customer Success Strategy consulting team at Valuize. During our interview, Christy shared her bold vision for championing a customer-first culture, which is hinges on customer-facing team alignment and optimizing the customer success motion.
An Interview With Christy Ransom, Customer Success Strategy Director At Valuize
Q: What was your first job?
A: “My first job was working as a waitress in a local cafe in Princeton, BC. I was a fourteen when I started, so it was a great opportunity to get out and interact with customers from an early age. I’ve realized that being a waitress is the ultimate form of customer service, so it prepared me well for what was to come!”
Q: How did you get started in customer success?
A: “I was working in web development and really wanted to work for a startup software company. I saw a job posting for an account manager with a new, cutting-edge community software company, which I was intrigued by because community platforms weren’t really a big thing yet. At the time, there was no customer success domain and account managers were responsible for handling anything and everything that would help the customer be successful with the software. The account manager oversaw everything from customer management to training and education to customer support, so it was a pretty broad role to fill. While the goal of customer success as we know it today was ultimately the same, the domain itself hadn’t been created yet. As the industry evolved, the term of customer success came in and the role became more distinguished.”
Q: How have you seen the customer success domain change since starting your career? How do you think the domain will continue to evolve?
A: “I think customer success started as a “catch-all”, with the role of the customer success manager being a swiss-army knife and doing anything that would help the customer be successful with the software. Back then, I think CSMs had to have a really strong technical background, as well as comprehensive business acumen, in order to be successful. Today, I think customer success has evolved to be a lot more strategic and less weighted to technical support. I think this is due to the fact that products have become more intuitive for customers based on developments we’ve seen on product teams, as well as the establishment of customer support teams within these organizations. Together, I think this has given CSMs the ability to focus on helping the customer achieve their goals strategically and proactively.”
Q: What role does the integration between sales strategy and customer success strategy play in a software company seeking to maximize growth? How can leaders in these companies optimize this integration?
A: “This is such an important question. I think bringing the pre- and post- sales teams together early on in the journey will ensure that all of the customer-facing teams are defining and tracking customer outcomes together. Sometimes the sales cycle can be as long as two years, so that sales rep is getting to know that customer and their goals incredibly well. Aligning these insights from sales with your customer success and product teams ensures a seamless approach to delivering on your customer outcomes. The collaboration between these three teams, working collectively to help the customer achieve their desired outcomes, is what will truly help accelerate and maximize growth.”
Q: What do you think are 3 important qualities a CS leader needs to have in order to be successful in 2021?
A: “Mine are all going to be very people-focused. I think the top three I’d say are empathy, listening, and curiosity. The CS domain is constantly changing, so an eagerness to learn and willingness to embrace change is also really important.”
“Where I’ve seen this work really well is having an account executive on the sales side being partnered with a CSM. For example, it could be done on a domain expertise basis where a sales rep and CSM with specific industry experienced work on the same account. Every time that rep brings in a new account, it’s passed off to the CSM and they’re aligned to deliver on a certain set of KPIs that helps both the team, the individual, and the customer be successful.”
Q: What’s the future for the customer experience (CX) domain considering the explosive rise of the customer success (CS) domain in recent years? How do the two relate to each other?
A: “It depends on who you ask! A lot of people say CX and CS are the same thing, but I’ve always seen them really differently. To me, customer experience is the end-to-end customer journey that includes all of the various touchpoints that the customer has with the brand. CX includes anything that contributes to the overall customer experience, from marketing to sales to support. On the other hand, customer success is focused on helping customers achieve their desired outcomes by using the products and services that a company provides. “
‘The CS team plays an integral role in the overarching customer experience, as CS is usually the team that’s building the closest face-to-face relationship with the end customer. As more companies are becoming aware of improving the customer experience at all touchpoints, the insights that are coming from CS can help the organization recognize the benefits of putting the customer first as it relates to the business.”
“I’ve seen companies that have both CX and CS teams, and I think that works really well. I’ve also seen companies that only have a CS team that’s expected to manage the entire customer experience, which can be a bit trickier. In these companies, you sometimes find that teams think that because they’re not customer facing, they therefore don’t play a role in driving any improvements for customers or in the customer experience itself. But in reality, the customer’s pain points are often things like how they receive their invoices, which does directly impact the company’s customer experience and brand impression. One way that leaders can facilitate this is to have a representative from each department attend an organization-wide meeting that’s dedicated to CX-related knowledge sharing and ideation.”
Q: What piece of advice would you give customer + revenue leaders that are interested in building and scaling a successful customer success organization?
A: “A piece of advice I would give is to have a segmentation strategy for your customer base. It’s important to understand who the ideal customer profile is for your business. Whether it’s a smaller CS team with fewer resources or you’re scaling an enterprise-size organization, a clear ideal customer profile will allow you to focus your efforts on giving the customer the best possible experience they can have.”
“In my experience, if you attempt to segment your customers after you’ve already offered a higher level of service to everyone, it’s really difficult to then dial these offerings back to the customers that don’t actually need it. As soon as you take something away from someone, the natural reaction is to feel like they’re now missing out on something, even if that thing is not providing any actual value. Therefore, I think starting with segmentation to figure out the different levels of your customer profiles, and then providing services that are customized to each one is really important.”
Q: When it comes to optimizing the retention and expansion of customers, what do you see as the biggest opportunities for customer + revenue leaders to pursue in 2021 and beyond?
A: “Aligning your entire organization around customer success. This starts with determining what the customer’s needs are and then identifying the products and features that can help them achieve those goals, with input from all of your pre- and post- sales teams. By making customer success a company-wide initiative, the customer will be empowered for success at all touchpoints in the customer journey.”
“I tend to find that many organizations have yet to view customer success as an company-wide effort. Given this, I think that there’s a huge opportunity in the domain to acknowledge this, and then make it an organizational effort to prioritize customer success as a way to promote customer centricity.”
Bonus Q: What’s your favourite way to spend a Sunday?
A: “It depends on the season! I like hiking in the summer and snowshoeing the winter. My Sundays any time of the year also include some reading, spending time with my family and meal prepping for the week.”
Here are some of Christy’s key recommendations for creating a customer-centric organization:
- Bring your pre- and post- sales teams together at the beginning of the sales cycle, and hold them collectively accountable for delivering on customer outcomes. This powerful motion will ensure that your customer-facing teams are all aligned and incentivized to help your customers succeed.
- When building a strong CS team, don’t underestimate the power of people skills. Many of today’s leading tech companies evaluate success based on having leaders with strong interpersonal, empathy, and communication skills.
- Improving the customer experience needs to be an organization-wide commitment. One way you can facilitate this is by establishing a recurring meeting that includes representatives from each department and is dedicated solely to CX-related knowledge sharing and ideation.
By taking these next-level steps, you’re on the right track for creating an unstoppable customer-centric motion in your organization. If you’re interested in expert counsel from Christy and her team on customer success strategy and team empowerment, get in touch with Valuize.