Practically every organisation claims to be customer-centric, or customer-obsessed. It’s all over their social network posts, and their “Our Values” pages. But what does that really mean from the inside? Do organisations really focus on the customer first? Should they?
I’d love your thoughts on this episode! Comment below, and like/love/share/support if you found this inspiring, thought-provoking, or useful!
Charlotte Ward 0:13
Welcome to Episode 55 of the customer support leaders podcast. I’m Charlotte Ward. This week is another panel episode talking about customer centricity. So stay tuned for seven other leaders talking about that very topic. Today we have a big panel of previous podcast guests to talk about customer centricity. Welcome back first to Hilary Dudek. Hilary is director of customer support for North America at Glooko. Welcome again also to Craig Stoss. Craig is senior lead of Shopify plus escalated support. And welcome back to Matt Dale Matt is VP of support at illuminate education. Welcome to Ash Rhodes Ash is director of customer support at vid IQ. Welcome again to Simone Secci Simone is based in Berlin where he heads up customer support for doodle. warm welcome back to you to Lauren Rose Eimers. Lauren is the support lead from big cartel. And finally, welcome to Josh Magsam. Josh is director of partner operations at partner hero. Let’s jump right in. Welcome panellists. Thank you for joining me today. And the topic for this conversation is customer centricity. And I’m particularly interested to go through a number of points with you but really, our overarching theme is to talk about how customer how customer centric you really are and your organization’s where they are, right now or historically, organisations that you’ve been involved with. So firstly, I’d like to talk about is we hear so much about being customer first about Being customer centric. Is it really the right approach?
We know there are other priorities we could give our businesses we could aim to put our employees first. Many businesses we know put shareholders first. What’s the value in choosing one over the other is customer first really the right approach?
Hilary Dudek 2:20
I think customer first or maybe close to first is the right approach. And I think there’s a difference between putting customers first and perhaps saying the customer’s always right. And I also don’t think it’s an either or situation. I think you could have put customers first and maybe have them tie with your employees for example. And striving to put them first means you know, putting out a product and providing support that improves the customers lives. And so so I think it is very important to put them first or close differs, but I think like I said it, the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle and there’s a way to balance that with also putting your employees first, for example, it may call for compromises in some trade offs, but I don’t think it’s impossible.
Simone Secci 3:10
Yeah, so my I will put the things into this perspective, rather than choosing one or the other, my point of view is that you should put people’s first. So that could be customers and employees at the same time, shareholders, unless you’re in a very lucky situation already believe in the company. So I hope you don’t have to convince them too much. Otherwise, you’re, you know, if you have shareholders that are a little bit shaky about their company, then you’re in trouble. But, you know, what they mean when putting people first is that when I started working in, in tech, in general, I believe that, you know, the old field was a lot about technology. And I remember reading articles about our, you know, a lot of the other startups especially Around 10 years ago, we’re making products that they liked, rather than products that people like or people found useful. And I you know, and so, I see them maybe the issue that you should avoid is focusing on features focusing on technology, focusing on this sort of like artificial environment and more focusing on what works for people. And you know, what if you will people at the centre fold of like, Euro variations that been the weather you through your employees, the weather you through your customers, the bottom line is listening. So, you know, I went around before this panel and asked people in my company at different levels, what’s customer centric, from your point of view, right? So for sales is like, being for product is for support as a thing, but what we have in common is that we listen. You know, when the sales call we listen to the customers Were you know, product we do extensive testing on people when trying to listen to them and gather all the evidence that we have to base our product choices on and in support. We try to gather the feedback on only then listen to people when you know when we have to say no especially. It’s always, you know, from my one will always tell agents. Why don’t you ask more? Like, even if somebody is leaving, like, why are they leaving? What can we do like what didn’t work out? To me, it’s all about putting people first. It’s all about listening.
Lauren Rose Eimers 5:42
I love that. And I have to echo what you both just said, and I don’t think it has to be an either or situation or customer first or employee. First. I think we have to understand that, you know, companies, corporations, businesses, are living breathing things and we have to pivot with the times and having this like either or situation. And this very defined like who gets to come first, I think that’s detrimental. And if we hail from a place of empathy, and if that can direct our decisions, I think that it benefits everyone, even even if you are working for a place where shareholders do have a lot of say, hailing from a place of empathy, and care and trying to make, you know, the best choice again, like you were saying, people centred, I don’t think you can go wrong in that respect. So instead of it being like this binary way of thinking, why not a spectrum, and there are going to be days and weeks where you have to focus more on your employees because as a leader aren’t your customers to like you need to be putting your team first and you need to be advocating for them. And then there’s going to be other quarters or months or weeks where you really have to drive and put those customers first. And people might be having to put in extra hours or, you know, maybe having to, you know, login during an outage. But again, if we’re able to pivot with the times, and if we’re healing from that framework of empathy, and putting those people first i think that that really is a winning scenario as the therapist, of course, but I really don’t think that there’s a lot of places you can go wrong if you’re trying to do good by your team and the people that you’re serving as your customers.
Matt Dale 7:32
I think you’d you develop kind of your strategy to when you’re when you’re thinking about what do we mean when we say customer first or shareholder, like any of those terms, they have a lot of baggage probably for each of us. And if you asked each of us, we might mean something slightly different. As we talk to our team and the people that are actually on the front lines, you know, talking to our customers, it’s important that we have a clear understanding in our organisation, what does that actually mean? When we say, hey, if for example, we said, Hey, we’re a customer centric company, you No, does that mean the customer, any customer, we have to do whatever they tell us like? And I think that would be a way that a person on our teams could see that and say, Yeah, I need this, this customer is saying they need this. So we need to do this for them. In reality that I think we’re saying is looking at the the customer base as a whole and saying, what is actually good for them, both from kind of our perspective of we know, how we built our product, or our service works, and we know how its intended. What makes the most sense from that perspective, while at the same time being really open to hear how people are using and what their actual needs are. Because I think it’s very easy. You know, I work in a software and service company, it’s very easy for us to get in this mindset, like the engineers are like, This product is perfect the way it shipped, as long as nobody uses it, we’re great. And then on support, we kind of come up against that wall where the customers are using they’re saying hey, like, this doesn’t work the way I’m expecting it to. And so I think on support our role is to to hear and be the voice of that customer hear what they’re saying, hear how they’re experiencing it. Marrying that with our wisdom and understanding how the product Built to say, cool, how can we help? How can we make it a better experience for for the customers as a whole, not just this person who’s calling in right now but but but our whole customer base and how can we prioritise appropriately? This feature versus this feature? How, which one should we focus on? And unless we have some clarity on our teams and in our in our guiding principles that say, this is what we mean by I think it’s going to be very hard for us on our teams and also the company as a whole to make the right decision for our customers.
Charlotte Ward 9:27
Awesome. Yeah. So listening, listening is absolutely the key, isn’t it? I think thatit takes us really nicely into the second discussion point I want to hit which is if we are listening, which I think we’re saying is really the the true exhibit of a customer centric company and a customer centric approach. What value does that customer centric approach have for your company or your team or even just you.
Craig Stoss 10:03
For me, the To me, it’s all about providing an environment where your employees are free to explore the actions right for a given situation that arises. Often you talk about customer centricity and then you start putting restrictive policies around Well, you know, you can only give refunds and this set of 10 criteria are matched, or, you know, if someone takes 20 minutes on a phone call and your guideline is 12, they get reprimanded. You can’t start putting in these types of policies, and then talk about being customer centric. So, you know, when I talk about value of customer centricity, it’s that people are allowed to solve the problems. And, you know, you’re create as a leader of the ecosystem, that they don’t fear management of reprisals. They don’t, they don’t have a playbook. They have a set of guidelines and are judged based on the outcome. The Customers achieve whether that be a cset score, whether that be you know, using your software more or using your product more or getting a feature they want whatever it might be. I kind of talked about providing like meandering lines in sand that can move by the wind, not hard brick walls. And I think that’s the the value of being customer centric is driven by that type of attitude and ecosystem.
Charlotte Ward 11:27
Yeah, that echoes Exactly. Something I heard somebody say at a presentation like a year ago, I think it was the head of support at Rapha cycling in the UK. When I asked him how he formalised such a customer centric approach, and he said that he defined procedures that were pretty bare bones, but that he gave his agents the freedom to Zig zag across those procedures, which I felt was a really nice way of putting it.
Craig Stoss 12:05
I’ve always used the analogy of a planet, right, Every company has its core policies that, you know, without that the planet could exist, you know, then you have the mantle, which is kind of the land that we all live on. And that’s kind of, you know, we can kind of tangibly see things around us and, and maybe you can reach out to the next door neighbour or the store and, and get a few tools that we might need, but they’re all within reach. And then there’s kind of the aeroplanes that fly through the first layer of, of what, you know, the atmosphere, the sky, and they can see the breadth of everything, they see all the tools, they see all the things that are there available to them. And two can access it at any time and they have that freedom to explore the whole planet. And then you don’t have the you know, the too far you get into the out atmosphere where there’s not enough oxygen to breathe and there’s chaos and fire and things burn and, and so you know, you have to find that happy medium of letting your boys fly through the sky without flying too high or being stuck on the ground or worst of all being chained to the to the core.
Ash Rhodes 13:09
I can honestly say I’ve never heard that metaphor before but I dig it. Other other than things on fire in the upper atmosphere, that’s that sounds unpleasant.
Charlotte Ward 13:22
So Ash, what about what about you? What value does being customer centric bring to you?
Ash Rhodes 13:30
Being customer centric is it provides a core it proves it allows our customers to know that that we are always a resource to them. It will we my current company has not only a Very strong competitor, it is a very quickly growing competitive market. So, we have to build our our value proposition based off of more than just the fact that we exist. So we have to have things like fantastic. I mean obviously fantastic customer service but also just the the the best data and the best x y and Zed. So, being always customer obsessed being we in fact it is one of our core values is we are creator obsessed. And so this entire conversation being customer focused, is what we do, what is what I preach to my my employees is will always have their backs, which is refers back to what we were just discussing. Finding that that delicate balance. But also we have to always be trying to help our customers be successful in in whatever way they possibly can be. We’re not going to roll out entirely new features just for one individual person, we have 4 million of them, but we’re going to do whatever we can to find the solution that that will work for them. So there you have it. Yeah,
Charlotte Ward 15:37
yeah, that’s quite an interesting challenge when you’ve got that volume of subscribers or customers to deal with, particularly when they’re as an eclectic or bunches. I imagine creators to be there. There are other balancing acts out there, Josh, and maybe you’ve got something else. To say here as well, but at partner hero, you’re kind of dealing with two sets of customers as well. You’re dealing with your your partners, the people who really are buying your services, but their customers as well.
Josh Magsam 16:15
Yeah, you know. And that’s, that’s an interesting balancing act that we have to pull in. And I think there’s also something I want to reach back to in a minute to what ash and Craig are saying about, I think relationships because I think this is something we practice a partner hero, for sure. Businesses always kind of been about relationships. That’s kind of a truism. You can sort of slice back through any disruptive tech paradigm, whatever you have, and really the relationship is at the core of it. But yeah, with with partner here, I mean, we we definitely have, you know, a number of situations where, in my role and our managers, we’re working with our partners, we’re trying to figure out what they need for the success of their business. We try to be strategic their business, the success of their business is the success of our business. So, you know, we’re not going to spend our time trying to sell them on a new line of services or sort of calculate, oh, what if we just added a few more folks to this team? How would they look for our bottom line? We want to understand what they need to do, where they’re going, how their businesses evolving? Do we need to plan to add a service to help them? Do they know that we already offer that service, you know, so that does tie back to that relationship. If we keep in close contact with our partners and know where they’re going or what they’re doing. We can help serve them in the ways that they need to and in the current economic landscape that’s being flexible when a lot of them are coming to us saying, hey, things aren’t looking great. How can we kind of keep this team together? But, you know, kind of figure out what that looks like for the six months and saying, you know, absolutely, we want to be here for you. But yeah, we’re at the same time. Sort of coaching our people, whether they’re based in Boise or HQ if they’re in our Manila hub, or one of our hundred offices, that if they’re with a Boston based e commerce company, you know, they need to work with our partner context and understand what they need and service them, but they need to understand how to service that business’s customers first and foremost, and, and then how to be the voice of the customer. And that’s been one of the things that’s been interesting is where some of our teams have eventually kind of taken over sort of a full line of product support and to where the partner is kind of transitioned most of that to us. And for our team to, you know, understand, hey, partner, your customers are asking for this. Let’s put together sort of a presentation to show you what your customers are asking us for. We can’t deliver that you need to take this back to your engineering team. So you It definitely is multiple levels they need to understand, hey, is the partner happy with my team’s metrics? But also do they know what their customers are transmitting to me? How can I pass that on to them? And again that for me that keeps coming back to that relationship question do you spend time with your with your partners with your customers? Do you get to know what they want? What they need? At at Discogs we would go to record shops we’ve talked to record store owners sometimes we be in a city we drop in we started our own business started its own brand of record fairs to bring sellers together and to talk to them and say, Hey, we get support of a question you folks all the time, but you know what? When we’re on the floor in real time, what what you guys need to do? What do you guys need us to build? You know, and I, for me, fundamentally, I grew up in a small town with a family business watching my dad interact with other business owners go into the small town. Bank to get his loans and work with things and it was all based on relationships and, and I never knew anything different to the point of when it came time for me to get my first car loan. I just drove down to the bank and and walked into my dad’s bankers office and said, Hey, Rick, I need a car loan and he just was like, Okay. And he called my dad later. And he’s like, that was great. He’s like, he has no idea how this business works, does he, you know, because I just knew Rick, and I went in there to talk to Rick right? And I got my car loan, and it was a sweet car. So that was great, but you know it, I just had this innate sense that it’s like, I know, Rick, Rick’s gonna take care of me and, and he did, he did have to tell me how, who I needed to talk to and how that was going to happen. But you know, it was really about that relationship. And it wasn’t about the name on the outside of the bank. I ended up leaving that bank when I moved to Oregon because I didn’t like the way that branch out here handled my business, right. So it if you don’t keep in touch with that, you lose that that contact. It’s over.
Charlotte Ward 20:59
You Yeah, so and building those relationships so so that kind of active listening and and that two way communication that you can build over time is about trust, isn’t it? So, you know, you, you might you might well be approached to hand out alone, but at some point or something,
Josh Magsam 21:17
it would be a very small loan but you know that
Charlotte Ward 21:20
Lauren as a, another organisation that deals with creators of a very different sort. What’s your take on what you know what the value of being very customer centric is?
Lauren Rose Eimers 21:34
Well, we are given as the customer support team, we are given a lot of autonomy and how to help our customers and back to kind of, you know, the aeroplanes flying over, you know, our our leaders and they’re giving us boundaries in which we can operate from I like to kind of liken it to women’s lacrosse. If you’ve ever seen a women’s lacrosse game, there is no out of bounds but We all want to kind of stay together so we can play ball, right? But you can really go, you can really go way out there to try to, you know, reach your goal. And as long as we’re given these boundaries, and we operate within those boundaries, you know, we’re given a lot of autonomy to better help our shops. And I think that, you know, it kind of echoes, I don’t know, Craig, I think it was you basically saying like micromanaging is the way to kill that kind of autonomy, to be empowered to help your customers. And boundaries are healthy in both directions, though, because we aren’t doormats in which customers can you know, take out their you know, profanity or the bad day that they’re having like we are also allowed to stick up for ourselves and say, like, you know, what, if we can’t keep these conversations civil, I’m a real person, I’m not a bot. And I reserve the right to cease service with you if you do not treat me like we With a modicum of respect. And it’s been interesting, once, you know the team was super clear on that, not only the morale that was boosted for us, but to see the respect that was also returned from, you know, shops like once we did set a boundary, I have an instance where a customer who he did think that I was a bot. And I own that my verbiage in my email was very bought, like, emailed back with all sorts of colourful language and I set a very hard boundary. I was like, Listen, I’m here to help you out, but you have to be respectful. And the conversation that ensued. It turned out that he was a struggling artist in Australia and the monthly fee that we had just charged him had caused his bank account to overdraft and he was rightly really frustrated. So, again, since I had been empowered by leadership to like, help this artist out, I pushed out his billing, I refunded his payment. I said I’m so sorry. Like, we’re here for you. He’s been using us for years now. So I think, going back to that, you know, having boundaries is so important in every human relationship, right? We don’t want codependency in any type of our interactions. But giving your team boundaries, allowing that autonomy to operate within those boundaries, that again, that women’s lacrosse game, like we’re all trying, we’re all on the same team. We’re all trying to like, you know, get that ball in the goal. But let’s do it in each in our own unique ways. And so especially when it comes to like helping artists and people who are creating their side hustle, it’s been really it’s been a wonderful experience to have those boundaries so I can help them but also help myself when those boundaries are being breached.
Charlotte Ward 24:47
I think that’s something that’s slightly peculiar to being a woman in support. Right, some of the stuff you described there and it moves us very nicely on To discussion point three which is talking about pitfalls and difficulties in focusing on the customer and you hit some really nice points there about particularly as a female in the front line, some of the some of the interactions you can have and how free you are to deal with those, you know, as you want in an appropriate manner, how, how far you are supposed to support the notion that the customer is always right, and that you do everything for the customer. These are all things that we have to think about all of us, whatever our gender on the front line, but I think there are peculiar difficulties to being female in front line. Hello, you know, I’m coming to you with this.
Hilary Dudek 25:43
Yes, I do it. I mean, that is one of the pitfalls is that you can’t please everyone and I think as a woman, you feel this pressure, especially to be a people pleaser. And it also doesn’t help when I know there’s other people in the support driven community That have written about, you know, how customers respond to email messages from a female signature compared to a male signature. And so it’s added pressure on us to to please everyone. But if a company or support team does try to focus solely on the customer and pleasing the customer, it’s so easy to fall into this place where there is no respect, then the customers kind of riding roughshod all over you. They’re depending on how far it goes. They’re dictating your product roadmap, even your business goals. So like, like she said, it’s it’s like any relationship if you’re building slowly to please the customer, you’re going to lose sight of your own vision and goals and you’re going to lose credibility, both as a PR agent as a as a team and as a company. And I don’t know to quote Hamilton, if you stand for nothing, what will you fall for?
Charlotte Ward 26:54
Very, very true. Does anyone else have any other difficulties Focusing on the customer Ash..?
Ash Rhodes 27:02
I do without throwing anybody under the bus in my own organisation or previous ones when you become more focused on doing the right thing by the customer, I mean there are associated costs with it, there’s people costs, there’s actual financial costs in refunds or developer time and so on. And I mean, there can be pushback, there can be significant pushback both in the developer departments engineering, upper management when your you might find your refund or churn rates go up. Ideally, churn rates won’t go up but refunds might. Man I like it can be a hard sell to for all of that. And ideally, people will share your vision ideally people will understand the larger picture of what you are doing. And that is going to have a longer term benefit for everybody and everything. But it can it can be problematic to get that cell that that this short term pain, it has a long term benefit. And it’s, it’s caused me problems. I don’t know about the rest of you guys.
Simone Secci 28:27
So yeah, no, I was just thinking of something related to this that one of the deadbeat faults is also related to how do you help your organisation grow? Right? I’ve been in different environments in support, and I started in social media, very emotional relationship with people. ad space business type of thing. I’ve been in e commerce. I’ve been an account management. Similarly, do you know what Josh was talking about? Before This door relationship. And it’s also like, Where do you want the organisation to go? What set of customers is more important as people know what they know what they want what they like now, but markets evolve technologies around you evolve. So maybe you want the product to evolve and change. And then in order for that to happen, you need to focus on a certain set of customers, whether the organisation to evolve and change and give people a better product, you need to make difficult choices, you know, maybe you or you have a certain business model, right? We, I mean, it’s from a support perspective, it’s easy to think, you know, make the assumption, Apple customer, the centrefold. I always want to get the best two people per leg. They don’t necessarily always know what’s best for them in time, you know, and then that might change. You want to be able to proactively know what’s best for the customer, right? And so you have to find this balance, allowing your organisation to evolve. Maybe you start from a business model, like, with ad space, you want to evolve into SAS model, you have to see what you want me to be how you do that, like how do you accompany this process? focusing on what type of customers so under I think it’s not a solution but like I understand this. It’s a very complex like how do I don’t leave people mind focus on these people. Now, the organisation move in the right direction, understand what the right direction is, for me for the organisation. And I think this is a very difficult balance, it can be a bit false on focusing on the wrong set of customers.
Matt Dale 30:52
I think kind of on those along those lines. I think, as I’ve seen our company grow from you know, early stage startup to a much more mature company. Over the last 10 years, I really noticed kind of a shift as we’ve as we’ve gotten bigger in the very beginning, we were doing things that we felt were customer focused. But but we’re probably kind of more in the almost abusive category of that where a customer said something, so we do it. And we make the change as quickly as we could. And it wasn’t necessarily bad at that stage. We had 20 big customers, and if one of them needed something, yeah, let’s let’s focus in and let’s do that, as we’ve grown, you know, we have, you know, more than 2000 school districts across the country now. And I, we can’t be as responsive to shift if one district wants something a certain way. We can’t just make that change unilaterally for everybody else that’s using the product. And so we ended up finding kind of going through the transition phase where we got original early customers kind of having to help bring them along to where we need to be as a company now to succeed and to grow, and to scale properly. The things that we were doing that were unsustainable, that were that were important in that early stage, but kind of making that transition, I think for customers has been a challenge. I think that was something that was not an obvious pitfalls. For me, as we’ve gone through it, it makes a lot of sense. But it wasn’t, it was kind of just like, hey, let’s do the right thing for the customer. And then, as we as we shifted, that the right thing is a little different in the customer expects, like, I’m this important person I’ve been with you forever, you need to make this change. It’s like, you know, we actually can’t because of our bigger picture strategy, which is being customer focused, but it’s not customer focused on you. It’s customer focused on all of our customers and what’s best for them as a group. So I think that was an interesting pitfall that we kind of ran across and have been dealing with over the last few years.
Lauren Rose Eimers 32:30
Well, wasn’t it Henry Ford that said, If I would have asked people what they wanted, they would have asked for a faster horse. And he went on to invent the automobile, right. So I think you bring up such a great point in that. Being customer centric, doesn’t necessarily have to be the customer dictating your zigs or your Zags or where you’re going. But you can advocate for that customer back to my whole empathy framework that I do everything from but if we can advocate for them while still keeping the unclear and what other arms of the company are trying to do. And kind of, you know, heading towards that Northstar. I think that’s where success can be found. And I know those people that wanted a faster horse were stoked when they were able to get a car, right. And I’m sure there were folks advocating for them. In my perfect little envisioning of how the automobile was invented, we all know it wasn’t that simple. But I think that there can be there can be a, an environment or a synthesis of being an advocate, but still seeing that Northstar and being able to, to bring your company into the future and where you wanted it to go. And yes, sometimes you do lose some of those folks that still want to ride the horse and that’s okay, because there’s other services out there for them to write. But again, it’s that advocacy and empathy framework that I think really helped them that success.
Matt Dale 33:56
I think we see a lot of examples of companies that has to have to do that or whatever. Choose to do that and are actually successful in some cases, because I think I was going back through some really old Macintosh articles about when the iMac first came out, and people were losing their minds because they had this weird new, you know, plug for they got rid of the apple desktop bus, it was this Universal Serial Bus, there’s nothing written like, there are no products, I get 27 products I can buy for my iMac. And that’s all that I can plug in. And printers don’t work and oh, my gosh, this is terrible. And, and the floppy disk is gone. What are we going to do the floppy disk? How are we going to transfer files? And, you know, we look back on that now and laugh, right? Like, Has anyone used the floppy disk recently, right? Pretty much everybody’s using USB of some form or another and had Apple not said this is their direction we’re going and it would have taken longer for that that standard to be adopted. And, and so I think I think there are cases where we definitely don’t want to be, you know, skating to where the puck is or where the customers are what they’re asking for. We need to be aware of what we can do what we’re trying to accomplish big picture and then and then being able to say cool, how can we actually get Somewhere in that sweet spot that is really actually advocating for them and giving them something that they need. But maybe right now is going to be a little bit of a pinch and uncomfortable as we move them, you know, from where they are to where they gotta go.
Ash Rhodes 35:11
Basically the difference between maybe capital C, customer as a group, and little c customer, the individual and acknowledging the difference between the two and knowing that little c customer might get upset about it, and and acknowledging with empathy, that but also keeping an eye on on the bigger picture.
Charlotte Ward 35:34
Yeah, absolutely. The the product side of this is interesting, isn’t it because as several of you have said now the the in different ways the, the vision, the visionaries in the product world, really want to drive in my experience in a certain direction. And that is often a great direction, but it’s not always a great direction. I think I think we’ve all encountered product groups or engineering groups who are just entirely fascinated with the shakiness of their own product and actually don’t necessarily produce something that’s of value or interest to the customer. Right? So I think that there that this is about there is some level here of listening and responding to your customer but also being an advocate for change, regardless of what customer with a big or little c says,
Matt Dale 36:30
Well, if you kind of think back talking about Apple, the company again, they’ve just kind of backed off on their on their keyboards, it was the best keyboard in the world because it made the laptop super thin. as they’ve moved on with the latest MacBook Air MacBook Pro models. they realised after four or five years of people being really frustrated with these keyboards that hey, keyboard is actually kind of an important part of the computer. We should probably ship it with one that’s sort of best in class instead of this one that makes everybody angry in the breaks all the time. And so, like there are definitely examples in a lot of situations where we think We know what’s best, but we don’t really understand who our customers are and what they what they truly need. And so I think there’s that, that balance between the arrogance of I know what’s best for you. And and I’m going to do whatever you say and the sweet spot somewhere in between those two polls, but but but it’s sometimes hard to see as you’re in the middle of it, and sometimes you don’t even know until you do that. And then then it’s that it’s really how do I respond if I’ve shipped something that is, you know, not working well or that we need to change? How can I be an advocate for the customer? How can I treat them with empathy, you know, in a less than optimal situation that I myself or my company my team has caused, and what’s my response there and how can I be customer centric in that response?
Simone Secci 37:41
This this specific thing about Apple made me think of something that I’ve been dealing with for the last 10 months, which is about you know, going into a different set of customers. So my company within this shift to b2b to business to business moving from B to C, you know, and then as like many startup environment with only 80 people now when I said they were like 40, giving 35 You know, we’re all have our shiny Macs, and you’re, like very much involved with that environment. We know a lot about that. In fact, I’ve been using MAC’s for works 2011 I do have a Windows computer at home, but like I never did work things with it. And then when we started to have this very large customers or canal scare, in, you know, in education, what’s their main set of products? It’s all Microsoft products. So outlook, it’s all you know, Ms. Something, so we have to relearn everything. Now. We have to become the biggest specialist in a product that we don’t know. Really, we didn’t know really well. We had to like, you know, we don’t have those machines. We have to figure out how to really research in that environment because that’s the environment that they you understand it better. Right? We had this like super incredible technology that we worked with with this Max, but like, customers don’t necessarily they have computers with Internet Explorer, you know, and then they have this like complex calendars like it’s No, they’re not Google calendars. They have this this office 365 exchange, you know them some local, some online, like, you don’t really know how to explain it. I feel like there was a lot of being customer centric. They’re like, put, like putting yourself in their shoes, like understand what they work with. And it was really like a sobering experience, I think, for especially a lot of our engineers, you know, like and that they get to understand this environment. And, you know, to me, I just had this, this epiphany today talking with somebody We were gonna we would just bring a new tier two person technical support into the team. And they were, you know, was trying to reassure them about the difficulty in understanding this outlook environment. Like, you know, I never had to deal with this before. It’s, it’s so complex, certain times, I am really like, feel like I’m behind. And I was like, I’ve been the whipping trying to understand this for 10 months, we still don’t understand completely, you know, so just to give you an idea of like, I don’t know how it this is like a discovery process. So it’s in a way not to understand what what people are dealing with what you need to do what you need to understand that the context behind it.
Charlotte Ward 40:45
Yeah, yeah. Well, let’s think about it from the inside then. How, how can you support this kind of customer centric approach? How do you build structures and processes that allow you to be customer centric in the right way, at the right moment with the appropriate amount of freedom. And and Is it is it kind of something you can measure or codify?
Craig Stoss 41:12
Charlotte knows I like my metrics. But you know, I want I mean, there’s the typical cset and stuff. But in NPS, these, these metrics are ones that are always bounced around. When we talk about customer centricity. I tend to think that, you know, maybe not necessarily a better metric, but a more business focused metric are the ones that the business uses already, you know, revenue renewal rates, repeat business. You know, I was consulting with someone recently and use the example of the Ritz Carlton Hotel used to or maybe still does, had a policy where any employee could spend up to $2,000 to solve a customer situation without any further approvals. And, I mean, that is clearly an example of the freedom I was expressing earlier about providing frameworks and tools. To your employees. But on top of that, I would love to see the metric of customers who had this policy used with them, versus the average of repeat business repeat stays at the hotel. Because I think that would show that would be a way of showing that that policy has an impact that that freedom that you’ve given your employees, has caused these people to return your hotel more frequently than the average customer would. And I would think that repeat stays is something that most hotels would would likely measure. I To me, the structure is all in around the the tools, the documentation, the escalation paths, providing test environments, if you’re in software, training, some budget like like I just said, swag, I mean, you know, everyone loves getting a pair of socks in the mail randomly, but providing you know those kind of things. And to build the structure around it and given those employees the freedom again, As I repeated earlier to me is the way to start doing that and then measure it using the the business metrics. You know, if if you provide too much freedom and all of a sudden you know, support becomes a cost centre or, you know, success is giving away too many pairs of socks for some reason, you know, you can measure those things against the business, not necessarily against some specific customer focused metric that that people like to invent around you know, cset NPS and CES customer effort score being the kind of the three classic examples.
Hilary Dudek 43:36
As a former front desk supervisor and receptionist at a hotel I can speak to that that it’s very empowering. And to have that freedom. We didn’t have a set budget amount. I worked for a boutique hotel at least 10 years ago as well ago. And in the heart of downtown Birmingham, Michigan, which is quite an affluent area. A lot of Famous people stay there, and a lot of teams and such. And so it’s a local hotel did well, but all my general manager told me, you just have to have one good reason for what you why you did what you did. And I’m okay with it. We can talk about it. Maybe it won’t be you know, maybe I’ll ask that you handle something a different way next time. Once you have one good reason you’re good. And it was not only really empowering, but it gave me the opportunity to be super creative and how I got people to either calm down if they were super angry about something or got them to come back. And remember one time there was some that stayed he had saved a piece of chocolate cake in his room. And he was saving that piece of cake housekeeping thought it was garbage, and they threw it out. And I sent a Bellman who is about to be off his shift. I sent him around the corner to Maxim Irma’s, I got that piece of chocolate cake for him and put it back in his room. That man came back for the five years that I was there, at least a couple times a year. So yeah, that story didn’t have much of a point other than that is really empowering. And I learned a lot of lessons from how people behave and react when you react with empathy, and you have the power to do these things for them. And I’ve kind of carried that with me in my support career forward.
Ash Rhodes 45:17
I can’t speak for everyone, but I desperately want to hear more stories surrounding like this boutique hotel, so I appreciate it. But yeah, the like. Yeah, totally. But yes, the the empowerment to like, if you have a good reason, do whatever it takes type of thing. I’ve worked for companies like that and I’ve, I’ve really loved being able to be that guy that’s like, do whatever you need to do. And, and all cover you just make sure that it’s make make sure you give me a reason that I can pass along. And those are the best ones. So if if you guys can set it up so that that’s the situation that you’ve got for your guys. Like, I think that those are really how you build lifetime customers. And certainly lifetime employees as well. Because they always know that they’ve got bosses who have their backs. So that’s, that’s my two cents.
Charlotte Ward 46:24
Yeah, totally. It’s back to freedom. And it’s back to the the balance between employees and customers. Doesn’t have to be a choice.
Matt Dale 46:32
I think we’ve talked a lot too about kind of how about that balance between empathy and customers? We haven’t talked a lot about how do we look at this, and how do we quantify the effect of what we’re doing? And that’s something that I’ve been struggling. My team is trying to say like, Hey, we’re really working hard to try to take care of our customers and have a customer centric approach. How can we how can we make a justification to my leadership team and say, yeah, this is worth this is worth investing in. And one of the things that we’ve been working on sort of not quite getting there, I’d love to Hear if anyone has some suggestions on that, you know, Craig, I know you love metrics and numbers. But on our team, we’re really trying to look at better understanding where the areas of friction are for our customers. And so, you know, we track things in our in our ticketing system where we have, what area the system is seeing issue in what type of an issue was it was a bug, was it a usability issue? And then we’re really trying to kind of dig in and use those to work partner with our, our co co workers on product and on our UI UX team, say, Hey, where are we seeing these challenges? What’s going on? And, and then, and then looking at those and saying, cool, we’re going to release this. As we look at this now over the next couple months, can we can we see a difference? Can we see a decline in the type of issues that we were seeing with this particular area? Did our efforts make, you know, to move the needle or or make a difference? They’re not easy from a like I just build a report in Zendesk Explorer. Perfect. I don’t have to think about it. Like it’s not that kind of reporting. But I think I think we can get into some of that and say, Look, we’re actually making making a positive change here because we’re seeing a decrease in this type of initiative. And that’s something that we targeted with our, with our team to try to say, hey, what what is actually good for the customer case and so, so I think that that is good. And then and then ultimately what we’re looking for is overall reduction to ticket volume or support interactions around issues in general to say, yeah, we’re actually we’re moving the needle. And I don’t know, we’re early stages of that. But I think that’s something that’s worth kind of thinking about and digging into a little bit if anyone else here has some suggestions.
Craig Stoss 48:25
One of my favourite implementations that was ever involved with it was a tool that we procured to measure and monitor the clicks and actions taken by the customers of the SAS product that we sold. And it would give you these complex reports that you could you know, you could do anything with this data. How many times did they click, you know, a bead and see how many times they click A, B and D. When when did this error occur? How often does it occur? All sorts of amazing data that was super rich, and to Matt’s point. One of the things you know Again, I was focusing on business metrics a second ago, but one of the things that I think is also important to metric, not just Metro sized, is if you’re new, if you put out a new guy, a new knowledgebase article or something that’s meant to hot help your customer succeed, you can start measuring are they going down the right path using this tool and and help them to be directed to be more successful. So if you know that a BD leads to some, you know, scary, you know, dragons, and ABC is the correct path. And you put something in place to prevent that, whether it be a you know, better UI, whether it be a knowledgebase article, whether it be a training programme, whatever it is, and then you start to compare, do people still do ABCD instead of ABC as their clicks, you know, you can start to see whether that worked or didn’t work and those tools there’s many of them on the market right now that that accomplish that in the SAS world. And I think it’s incredibly powerful when you start focusing on making your customers more successful without involving support. port or, or even product changes in many cases,
Simone Secci 50:03
There’s a number of things that I was thinking about. I was at the meetup A while ago with a with a very good support and, and, you know, service leading that one work for a company that does 3d moulds. Not the name, but it’s a company that started in Boston pretty well known. And he first brought to me the idea of customer effort score. At first I was very, like, now full of this, you know, like, I’m very like sceptical about it, like a new shiny thing and whatever business work, you know, and so I did a lot of research and I started from a place of scepticism is always a good place to start looking into things. And that also gives you puts you in a perspective that maybe like a product team is also in Like when looking at a UX is how difficult it is to get the information that people need. For example, like we’re looking, we’re talking about reactive support, right? But like, what about proactive? So you start looking at paths, for example, like, so like, like Craig was saying, like people need to get from here to here. How difficult is that? Now, just, for example, like, what we say, where do we put that? That chat window? Like, what’s the best place to put it? Like, what’s the strategic place to put it and then measure it in time? We made this change, how did that change impacted the business? Like how did that change impacted like the number of contacts, whatever those contacts may be, and depending on the on the support model, like, you know, phone calls, chat, conversation, tickets, you know, I made this change in the in the teeth you like on the in the forum, like whatever And some measure that over time, like, these changes impacts, right? This is very much like our our product team works. You made a change what impact that, that change, add, you know, so thinking also like this way and, and and then to relate to the idea of like churn for example you measure churn in, you know, for your, for your, for your customers, right. There’s also an idea that you can apply this immediate to a team, what’s a certain lead on the team? Right, how many people left? In what time? Like how choices that we’re making that impacting the team, right? You know, for me, I play a certain way to the customers in a certain way to myself, like if I lost a certain amount of people, what’s my return rate on the team and it’s a customer centric approach like you know, from puts together sales and marketing and support the churn rate. Success. And it’s also an approach that you can have with, with your team. To just it’s just you know, and this is a number of ideas and this many things that you can measure, like deflection, for example. There are ideas in in the path of deflection, like how many people you know, went to your, to your ticket form. They had some AI suggestions and then left or found the answer and didn’t write the ticket. If that works for that many people, you can think that that also works for a lot of customers, they can service themselves to make better articles you need to change the articles, a number of things that can inform your decision.
Charlotte Ward 53:48
Yeah, absolutely. Some really good pieces of advice and we’re straying into my final topic, which is a quick fire round on this panel which is Just as a closing notion or statement or two, what what is your one good piece of advice in this area about being customer centric?
Matt Dale 54:11
I’ll start off, I think my advice would just find that sweet spot between being overly focused on this particular customer’s needs. And, and and then not caring at all about anybody. So try to kind of get in that sweet spot and figure out what what what is actually really good for your customers as a whole. And kind of think through it from a 360 degree view instead of just that single focus that you might have, if you’re thinking about your product or thinking about the customer experience, kind of try to get a holistic approach and, you know, look at the big picture.
Craig Stoss 54:40
I think to pull this off, you need to hire employees and then play to their strengths. You know, if you have someone that’s more tech writing focused or has a background in that you might make sure they’re more involved in the knowledge base versus someone who maybe has more customer experience background and let them engage at the de escalation. level, you know, if you by doing that you’re going to engage with those employees more deeply, you’re going to build fit the job to the person, not the person to a job, and, and allow them to be the best people they can be. And by doing that, they’re gonna be more engaged, your customers are gonna be better served, and ultimately, that’s going to help your business I think that’s how you achieve a proper customer.
Hilary Dudek 55:21
I’m gonna say I agree with everything that’s been said so far. And I also think having company values or if your company doesn’t have any, maybe team values can really help drive home where the focus should be. So you can help guide your team and kind of keep it top of mind for them, for example, and my previous company was in the edtech space. One of our values was students first, we obviously had multiple user types employers schools, but knowing as a company, our students came first help set those clear expectations when working on projects. I would actually be in meetings where we decided business questions with those two words, students first Think having values that can be quickly recalled would also help
Ash Rhodes 56:04
kind of sort of along those same lines. I alluded to it previously, but we can’t just just because we are the face of the customer and the face of the company to the customer, doesn’t mean that we can do all of this alone. We have to have a strong backbench within the company. And so make sure that that you have buy in, like throughout the company and and spend the time building that buy in, of course, customer centricity because if you don’t have that, then you’re not going to be able to get the developer help the buy in for refunds for absolutely everything that you’re going to need down the road.
Josh Magsam 56:54
One thing that I think is has been important for me across multiple organisms. As how you speak about the customer and how you model that side of the relationship to your team’s, you know, partner hero, all of our clients or partners that’s in our internal documentation. That’s an internal planning session. That’s our internal conversation. They are partners with us. And we try to frame the conversation with our entry level associates on up to senior manager, how are we upholding that partner relationship? Rather than are we serving the client? You know, at Discogs it was, whether it’s a product presentation, whether it’s a support strategy session, do not refer to them as users. They are not platform users, they are community members, right. And we are going to talk about the folks that are in our community and how we are part of that community and how we serve them. And, you know, it sounds a little bit like, you know, rhetorical games playing semantics, but it really is meaningful and it really does provide a framework for how you think about the relationship that you have with these people and these organisations and how you service them. If you get into the mindset of what’s up with the users today, it just feels cold feels distance when you’re when you’re saying, how’s our community doing today, it just has a very different feel to it. And the more you reinforce it, the more your team will live it.
Lauren Rose Eimers 58:22
I love that and I think words have power. And I think kind of dovetailing off of that. My advice would be, if you can operate from a firm foundation of empathy with, you know, healthy boundaries, empowering not only your team, but giving them you know, the autonomy to serve those customers, but also having that clear Northstar, from your leadership. In the absence of micromanagement. I think you’ve got a really great little stew of success, customer success, customer centricity, team centricity and kind of that people first attitude, but words have so much power so I just have to like, give all the hearts to that statement, Josh, that was amazing. So I do feel like that makes such a difference in how you speak about who you are in a relationship with you are in a relationship with your customers and it’s a two way street. And we strive for healthy relationships with healthy boundaries with a good smattering of empathy.
Ash Rhodes 59:22
Record, I was going to wax eloquent about empathy, but I did not I, I have already gotten to know Lauren a little bit and I did not want to steal her thunder.
Matt Dale 59:33
So very empathetic of you
Charlotte Ward 59:35
Simone. Did you have a final piece of advice for us?
Simone Secci 59:38
I’m thinking of something that is in you know, in on the topic of communication and thinking of something that has been in our internal survey, a survey, you know, that we give to the entire company to employees. And one of the questions that I think it’s always important to me is, is the mission that we are With this product clear, do you know that it’s if it’s important to you, but is it clear to you? Like, do you understand why we’re doing what we’re doing? So I think if you’re working in an organisation where not really clear why we’re doing something, there is no real communication starting from all at all levels of the company, right? How can you, like, help your team help this customers? I think that it’s all coming from a place of understanding where we’re at, and what we’re trying to do, and cascade this communication and effective way to everyone, you know. And not everyone has to be convinced of everything all the time. We’re all individuals who have opinions, things sometimes work, things don’t work. But you know, we ultimately we need to provide a certain message a certain idea or A certain service that you provide to people and that communication is be as clear as possible because you’re working with a team that needs to communicate to people somehow. So they need to have the tools to communicate to those, to those people effectively. And it all starts from the, you know, the IQ level of the company if we want to put in the Iraq 10s I don’t really believe in that. But you know, it has to start somewhere. It might start somewhere else, but it doesn’t matter where it’s all about our propagates in our area, everybody is on board with it. And then I think in Nashville organically gets to your your support team. As a leader, you facilitate that communication, and you out the customer so to understand better the product because communication in your company is good in general.
Charlotte Ward 1:01:55
Yeah, I think that you asked a really important question. Of every action that we, we take in our organisations there and every action we empower our people to take. And that is, why are we doing it? And I think that’s a question we should ask a lot. Why are we doing this? What value does it bring to? Actually not just our customers, but all of the people that were involved in these relationships with so are our co workers and, you know, every part of the organisation I think, what this boils down to for me is, if we’re doing something that doesn’t benefit either our customers or our employees, or our staff, why are we doing it actually seems like a monumental waste of time. If it doesn’t benefit one of those two groups. That’s it for today. Go to customersupportleaders.com/55 for the show notes, and I’ll see you next time.
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