Are You Empowering Your Customers, or Are You Simply Enabling Them?

26 Jun

If I had to channel my inner Jim Collins, I’d say: “A good company creates a product that enables customers to solve a business objective and automate a process.  A great company creates a solution that actually empowers them to become better at what they do.”

Ongoing development of a solution is frequently shown as a continuous cycle.  You develop, get feedback, improve, rinse, repeat.  The focus of this blog post, is not so much on the iterative nature of the process, but on the role that the customer facing organization should play throughout that process in order to help empower customers to be better at what they do.

CustInteractionLifecycle

Listen

While this one may seem obvious, it all starts with listening.  In the following three ways: 1) listening directly to your customers as they interact with your customer facing organization; 2) listening to what the data tells you about customer usage, challenges, and how they obtain value from your solution; and 3) listening to what customers might say to other parts of your organization, on your portal, or on social media.

Look for early indicators to understand which customers are at risk, which ones are thriving, and which ones should be doing more with and getting more value from your system, and look for patterns in the data.  At a fundamental level, understand how you can enable your customers to better use your system.  The bigger opportunity here, though, is to identify how and where you can empower your customers to become better at what they do when they use your solution.  If you have more than a few hundred customers, the only way to really understand them is to look at and analyze data.  Look at transactional, behavioral, online, usage and other data that should help paint a good picture of what your customers need from your product and your company.  Too much data? Look at Avinash Kaushik’s “So What” test for some good ways to determine what’s useful and what isn’t.

Interact in a Relevant Manner

For the majority of your customers, think of this as a Marketing Automation opportunity where rather than moving prospects along the funnel towards a transaction, you’re moving your customers along a path to value.  Based on what your listening has told you, determine the best messages to help your customers get value from your solution by:  A) Providing answers that will help them be more effective with your product; B) Helping them become experts in the space by using content marketing.  Give away expertise and best practices via white papers, case studies, and thought leadership;  and C) On a case by case basis (or at a minimum, by segment) prescribing courses of action specific to those customers or segments that will help them be more effective with your solution based on their specific data.  In the case of your largest customers, this may be a very direct 1:1 interchange.  If so, great.  Just make sure that you take the learnings from that direct interaction into the next phase…

Communicate Learnings Internally

It’s vital that your entire company is Customer-Centric.  Fundamentally, you need value alignment around the customer, and you need good communication.  Then once you begin to scale, you need to ensure you have good processes to ensure that all of your internal stakeholders are getting relevant feedback from your customer base through an established process at a regular interval (weekly may be a good frequency, but it’s really dependent on the specifics of your organization.  In fact, you may want to increase this frequency when major events happen – new product release, acquisition, change in competitive environment…).  Enlist management from other parts of the organization – Product, Marketing, Engineering, Finance, Sales – to help you define what *they* want to know about your customer base so that their organizations can better serve them… and most importantly, enlist your CEO in ensuring there is a sense of ownership of the customer experience across the entire organization and management team.  Each of these organizations should own their aspect of the customer experience.

Improve Your Offering:

Now that you’ve enlisted the rest of the team and communicated customer pain points and opportunities, you can determine how best to proactively empower them and which parts of the organization need to step up to do so.  This may include updating your knowledgebase or self service tools to provide more information, or it may include product improvements to make your solution more intuitive. It may result in building prescriptive capabilities into your product and guiding your customers programmatically along a particular path when certain conditions exist.  Just remember that your “offering” isn’t just your product or your customer facing organization.  In fact, an improvement in your offering might include a consulting services offering until you make improvements to your product, and the real solution might involve solutions from multiple departments.

Deploy Offering:

Now that you’ve made improvements to your offering based on listening to your customers, let them know you’ve made the changes, that you’ve listened, and most importantly, how those changes can empower them.  Ideally, have multiple versions of your release announcement that focus on benefits for different customer segments, then send (or otherwise communicate) those different versions of the announcement to different customer segments. Your SMB segment might not care about multiple account administration or Single Sign On support, but they might be very interested in a simplified workflow.

An Example to Make the Concepts Real:

We’re almost there.  To tie all these concepts together, I’ll offer the following example to close.  I’ll use the hypothetical case of a technology solution in the digital marketing space:

Listen: In this phase, you discover a correlation between customer retention and the success (or lack thereof) of your customers’ marketing campaigns.  Upon further investigation, you identify a segment of customers whose campaign metrics are laggards when compared to the rest of your customer base and industry standards.

Interact: In this phase, you reach out directly to that customer segment (via email and/or directly via your CSM team) to provide them with insights, best practices, and guidance around campaign best practices.

Communicate Internally: In a standing meeting with your Services, Product, and Marketing teams, you identify the issue and follow-up with areas of ownership where Services creates a new best practices and strategy offering; Marketing creates some new case-specific content on landing page optimization, content strategy, and segmentation; and Product puts new playbook-based features on the roadmap to guide users through the “storm” when their campaign metrics fall below a certain threshold.

Improve Offering: Services, Product, and Marketing all work on their respective offerings with periodic checkpoints back.

Deploy Offering: When each of these offerings becomes available, the CSM function should communicate their availability and how they will help make their customers more effective marketers. Those communications should primarily target the customer segment most in need (as identified in the Listen phase).

How is your Customer Success organization helping your company empower it’s customer base to be better at what they do?

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