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8 Ways To Build A Customer Centric Culture

Stuart Balcombe

16 min read
8 Ways To Build A Customer Centric Culture

A wise woman once said, “If you have a successful customer, it begets a successful company.”

That woman was Maranda Dziekonski, Chief Customer Officer at Swiftly.

It sounds like a simple concept, and yet, most businesses forget that the crux of customer success is about human interactions and the successes of customers.

Maranda has been in the customer success industry for a long time, pitching many CEOs on the importance of customer success and how it drives a company’s revenue.

To explain, Maranda dives further: “Folks that are not successful in your product or are not achieving value tend to churn, and that’s where customer success can really come in and help.”

It makes sense, right? I mean, there’s a reason why 86% of buyers will pay more for a better customer experience.

We all spend so much time focusing on internal measures of success and shipping things that we care about, but we forget to bring the most important voices to the table—the customer’s voices.

This is nothing against any business; I know your intentions are good. The problem is most folks don’t have enough buy-in from leadership teams to be able to exercise good customer success best practices.

Even for the businesses that are fortunate enough to have support from executives, still, many customer success experts don’t know how to report on results and communicate it across the organization.

Unfortunately, both scenarios lead to businesses not actually acting in favor of their customers—even though they may think they are.

To help you learn how you can build a stronger customer-centric organization, I’m bringing a collection of voices from people living in customer success every day.

Note: These aren’t all of the answers, but just some examples of how others are successfully doing it.

  1. Start with a framework
  2. Define your goals
  3. Bring everyone closer to the customer
  4. Be intentional with data collection
  5. Use data to advocate for your customers
  6. Start a customer advisory board
  7. Host regular experience reviews
  8. Build customer-centric habits and processes iteratively

1. Start with a framework

It can be overwhelming when attempting to change your company culture, but you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Instead, start with a simple framework that can help articulate the current state of your business, the changes you’re looking to make, and help you gather buy-in from the most important stakeholders.

Con Cirillo, Director of CX at Carro, recommends starting with Hubspot’s go-to-market flywheel framework, which essentially gives customers a seat in your overall growth strategy.

This means that customer success isn’t just a retention tool—it’s also key for acquisition. How? By providing a delightful customer experience, you can use the momentum to fuel referrals and attract new customers.

HubSpot GTM Flywheel

Next, within your framework, come up with the metrics that are important to your business.

“One of the first things I did was come up with metrics that were associated with the flywheel. Then said, ‘Okay, across the company, what are the things that we’re doing well?’ We can see that in one clear statistic and if we’re not doing well, we can see in another one,” explained Con.

This helped identify areas of opportunity and improvement for Con, “In the flywheel, I know what the core metrics are for attracting, engaging, and delighting. That’s how I evaluate where it makes sense for me to spend my time based on where the business is.”

You can use a framework like Hubspot’s flywheel to collaborate across departments and make it easier for everyone to get on board with focusing on customer success to drive their own marketing, product, or sales goals.

In the end, happy customers drive more revenue. Period.

2. Define your goals

Any customer success manager will tell you that it’s often difficult to track and measure success in this type of role. Do you look at overall revenue? Churn? Platform engagement?

To answer these questions, you have to define your goals. This also helps you know where to prioritize your time.

Con explains the importance of this well: “What can be tough is if you don’t prioritize or know how you’re going to tell the story of the work you’ve done.”

For example, the last thing you want is to not have an answer when the CEO asks you how your customer-centric initiatives are going…

Cons advice? A few KPIs to consider are

  1. Activating more users on the platform
  2. Getting users to engage deeper with the platform
  3. Getting users to make more money from the platform

But remember, your goals as a customer success manager have to be defined by your customer’s goals.

Align your goals with your customer’s goals

In a perfect world according to Dan Ennis, Scale Team Manager, Customer Success at Monday.com, he would be able to “magically wave a wand around having customer goals and CS goals be in alignment.”

I agree, Dan. And that’s why it’s key to figure out what your customers care about, what problems you’re solving for them, and how it relates back to your overarching business goals.

Essentially, everything has to come from the customer first.

“You get this mismatch where sometimes customer success managers are in companies where the goals aren’t in alignment with actually making the customers successful,” explained Dan.

This often happens because if it looks like the customer is achieving their goals, the company feels like it’s doing its job well. The problem here, though, is that success is subjective. Without making sure everyone is aligned, you can never be sure you’re actually doing the right thing for your customers.

Everyone—and I mean, literally everyone—needs to be closer to the customer.

3. Bring everyone closer to the customer

Here’s a shocking stat: only 37% of leaders have a dedicated budget for customer experience improvement initiatives, according to Forrester research.

Wow.

But don’t fret—this just means there’s an opportunity for your business to do better.

The question then becomes, “How can you make sure everyone on your team has equal access to customer data and what customers are sharing?”

You have to effectively share what you’re learning as a customer success manager with teams across the entire organization—and at every level.

“One thing HubSpot did really well is you could go to anybody in the company and you say, ‘how are you impacting customers?’ and ‘what can we do better?’ There was just this collaboration. It was all of us versus the problems our customers had. It wasn’t like, ‘services are dropping the ball—those guys suck.’ It was never that competition,” shared Con.

So how do you bring everyone closer to the customer?

There’s no one right way to do this, but rather there are various tactics you should be using all at once. Here are a few that I learned from these CX experts:

Have a strong partnership between teams—not a competition: If your team isn’t working closely together, how can customers expect to work closely with you too? Maranda suggests having strong relationships with the people who talk to customers the most. “We are pretty unified and have never had an ‘us against them’ thing going on, which is great. We view them as a tool to help our customers continue to grow and achieve value. It’s a joint effort because, quite frankly, if one team is winning and the other team is winning, then the company is winning too.”

Get everyone to pitch and share ideas: According to Con, having a feedback channel where everyone in the company can share feedback is key based on what they’re hearing from customers. This includes all teams, such as product, customer support, account management, sales, and even leadership.

Make sure everyone is giving the customer consistent value: Kristen LaFrance, Director of Community at Repeat, believes community and customer success are tied together. Her suggestion is to give value, conversation, and to make sure everyone on your team is understanding what’s happening in the lives of your customers before you sell to them.

“Customers who come in and understand your software, the value-add, and why they signed up are going to be excited. They’re going to be the ones who want to join your community,” said Kristen.

In her opinion, it’s about the long-term game. This, unfortunately, isn’t the approach most companies take, “If a sale doesn’t work, still talk to the customer about their larger goals. Then eventually they’re going to understand where your product fits in, why it fits into their tech stack, and why they should be using it. Maybe it takes a little bit longer to get them to actually onboard your product, but when they do, they’re now a best-fit customer, not a worst-fit customer.”

4. Be intentional with data collection

Everyone is focused on data collection, but more data isn’t always better. Stay intentional with what data you collect and why—and that means balancing between quantitative and qualitative data.

After outlining what metrics drive your flywheel forward (remember the framework I mentioned at the beginning?), you should have an idea of what makes areas of your business successful or not.

To this, Mary Poppen, Chief Strategy Officer and Chief Customer Officer at Involve.ai said, “the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. If you can understand your existing customer base and what’s making them successful, or alternatively, what is causing them to leave, you’re able to hone your strategy across the entire organization.”

On that note, what should you then do with the data you’re collecting? One idea from Dan Ennis is to compare all of your data across past tests—both failures and successes—to discover what works best for your customers.

“We really use a lot of that data to be our north star when we’re testing and following a scientific model of why we think this is what being successful looks like. Then, we compare it against the accounts that we know are successful,” explained Dan.

Another idea is to follow up with the customers you’re collecting data from. For example, if you’re running a net promoter score survey, you should have a plan to follow up with each person surveyed to learn more.

Don’t just host NPS surveys for the sake of collecting data, actually follow up. - Maranda Dziekonski

5. Use data to advocate for your customers

Discovering ways to advocate for your customers should be top-of-mind as a customer success expert. And if you can back up your ideas with real data, that’s even better.

Because the way that people view customer success has changed so much over the last decade, many people need a reminder of how important it is to align cross-functional teams around what your customers need.

Ellie explains this well: “I think the business landscape has changed a lot because they’ve democratized the insights gathered and they’ve transitioned the CX team to have more power. CX didn’t exist 10 years ago. Chief customer officer was not a thing 10 years ago, even five years ago, even today.”

So remember, if you’re spending all this time collecting customer data, use it to your advantage (and your customer’s advantage). With data in hand, the case can be made to teams outside of CX to focus on customer satisfaction, which will ultimately improve the rest of the business.

6. Start a customer advisory board

Here’s an easy solution for teams that want to do a better job of talking to their customers: start an advisory board.

This is a group of customers who you meet with to ask them for feedback; it could be related to the product, your support channels, marketing—anything!

“We put on a customer advisory board once a year and invite 20 to 30 different customers to come and share ideas and spend time together to build that community,” said Maranda.

While Maranda’s team does yearly, how often you meet is up to you. Putting one together at least yearly is ideal, but on a quarterly basis gives you an opportunity to gather insights before planning each quarter’s initiatives. It really depends on your business and the resources you have to work with.

Product onboarding is a good example of where customer advisory is needed. “If you build a really good onboarding tool and have good tracking, you can do a lot with understanding where your customers are, and then asking how you can strategically help someone get to where they want to be. There’s no amount of automation that can empathize in that way.”

As your company grows, including the voice of customers in a formal way will help you fine-tune areas of the product that your customers struggle with. This can lead to a faster time-to-delight with each user.

Niche down your customer conversations

Many companies host large, widely attended office hours or open-ended customer sessions. However, sometimes a more niche audience can produce higher quality conversations that provide value.

A great example is Monday.com. In the beginning, they used to host these wide-scale office hours but eventually pivoted to industry vertical office hours. Dan Ennis explained why, saying “It’s less frequent, but more strategic where we’re bringing customers together around their vertical, rather than around a component of the product.”

In turn, industry vertical office hours provide more value to customers as opposed to a more generalized approach.

7. Host regular experience reviews

Don’t kid yourself, customers take reviews seriously. Nobody buys anything without checking to see what other people are saying about it, and if you have a lot of negative reviews, it definitely hurts your business.

“If your customers are saying the thing that you do is sucky then you aren’t going to be very successful unless you fix it really fast,” explains Ellie.

So what should you do? One idea from Con is to sit down with customers who have churned from your product to ask them about their experience.

From there, it’s just about communicating what you learn to the rest of your team in an experience review.

“Every month or every couple of weeks we will sit down and look at who churned and why. And we do that across the board—like executives and frontline support folks will be in that meeting. Everybody has an innate curiosity to learn more about that stuff. We are really trying to make sure we’re hearing from brands and learning from them.”

Be proactive, not just reactive

In a business like customer success, it’s easy to be reactive to what you’re hearing from customers and team members. Maranda cautions against this, explaining the importance of having a proactive mindset instead.

While there will always be immediate fires to put out in a customer success role, you should also be looking toward how you can build stronger customer relationships to get to a more efficient future.

This proactive mindset comes from understanding that there are more ways to help customers than just the immediate fires that pop up. You have to ask what it is your customer wants to achieve and act as their trusted advisor to make it happen.

For example, if a customer says they’re looking for ways to be more efficient, your team should be partnering up with them to give advice or recommend add-ons that the customer isn’t currently using.

“You create that dynamic and you become the trusted advisor. That keeps the machine rolling and it helps the customer success managers be in a constant proactive state because you’re actually managing towards the future, and not always to the now… if you’re building that relationship right, collecting goals, and showing customers how you’re moving the needle continuously, you’re winning already. ” said Maranda.

8. Build customer-centric habits and processes iteratively

One thing is evidently clear: the key to customer success is… your customers!

Okay, all joking aside, your customers have to be actively involved in your day-to-day operations in order for your business to truly understand how to serve them the best.

That means

  • Having a strong framework and systems in place
  • Giving customers a voice at the table
  • Aligning all teams across the organization toward the customer’s needs
  • Collecting data consistently and using it to improve
  • Working toward a better future and not just a better “now”

Just remember, 90% of Americans use customer service as a factor in deciding whether or not to do business with a company (Microsoft).

So if you aren’t taking customer success seriously now, then your customers will find someone who does.

We’re not perfect. We have moments where we have friction and we realize, ‘this process isn’t working well anymore or needs to be revisited because we’re feeling friction.’ And when things start feeling fragmented or there’s friction, it’s time to go back to the drawing board and take a look at the processes again.

– Maranda Dziekonski

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