Building a Holistic Customer Strategy to Invest in Your Customers (Part Three)

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Three-Part Series by Jeb Dasteel
This is the third article in a three-part series exploring what companies need to do to develop a comprehensive customer strategy and how to deal with the common challenges that can inhibit success.

Overcoming the Leadership Gap

To successfully define and execute a cohesive customer strategy, organizations need their entire senior leadership team to fully commit and to do so in a carefully orchestrated way. Executives not only need to have close alignment around their goals and strategic priorities. They also need a clear vision for how the customer strategy will roll out across each functional team and how success will be measured.

In the previous article in this series, we explored five gaps or challenges that get in the way of executing a holistic customer strategy. In this article, we explore another common organizational challenge – what I call The Leadership Gap.

What is the Leadership Gap?

We’ve all heard the expression, change needs to start at the top. Nowhere in business is this truer than in a company’s approach to customer success. A business may say it has a “customer-centric culture”, or that delivering customers value is a priority, but after spending time inside the organization, you often find that’s not the reality.

The Leadership Gap is an especially common challenge within companies where leaders play little or no active role in personally partnering with and delivering value to customers. In fact, over many years, I have been amazed to see how few CEOs or C-suite executives spend time proactively engaging with customers at all. When left unchecked, a lack of customer orientation by leaders can quickly impact how teams operate.

Depending on the culture of the company, your frontline sales, support, and service delivery teams may be the only staff that has any meaningful interaction with customers. If that’s the case, you need to come up with a plan for a more structured approach to get senior leaders from the CEO down involved in delivering value to customers.

Here are several steps companies can take to avoid “the Leadership Gap” when it comes to customer success:

1. Coach and model behaviors with a customer mindset

How many times have you gone to a meeting in your career where the leaders in the room discussed business, product, or sales outcomes they want to achieve with minimal mention of the customer experience or customer outcomes? This happens all the time and can quickly set the wrong tone.

Senior executives play a key role in modeling customer-centric behaviors for employees and in coaching other leaders – from the way they communicate to how they engage with customers. And this isn’t limited to front-line employees and executives. The so-called back-office matters too.

As LeanData Chief Customer Officer Rachael McBrearty notes, companies need to maintain an ‘expand mindset’, where they are constantly thinking about new ways they can deliver value to customers and learn through data, voice of the customer feedback, and stories.” Leadership teams that incorporate customer data, feedback, and stories into their decision-making and communication will achieve high levels of customer success over time.

Leaders also need to maintain a constant focus on customer outcomes. As Amy Shore, CCO of Nationwide, shares, there needs to be a strong connection between the company’s mission, values, and goals with how customer success is measured.

“The leadership team at Nationwide is constantly reinforcing our mission of protecting people, businesses and futures with extraordinary care,” said Shore. “This is further clarified with examples that bring our three customer experience principles to life – effortless, personal, and reassuring. Customer outcomes are tied to the key business metrics like new customer growth and customer retention which are reported on monthly and quarterly.”

2. Update your customer engagement playbook

Every year, Fortune 500 companies spend billions of dollars on segmentation research and data to better understand their most valuable customers, only to engage with customers in much the same way they did before.

To achieve long-term growth and success in the market, companies need to constantly improve their customer engagement playbook. This not only requires direct engagement by leaders with customers, but also experimentation with new channels, approaches, and deliverables to improve the customer experience and outcomes by segment.

“Our leadership team is highly engaged with customers,” shares Mike Marcellin, CMO, Juniper Networks. “We meet regularly with customers from major events we hold to roundtable discussions by vertical. Our sales leads are the quarterbacks who leverage these channels and ensure follow up on the feedback.”

Another key to success is measuring the success of your efforts over time, while also ensuring that knowledge and best practices are shared across the team. “At Juniper, we have a set of objectives and key results around the customer experience that we track and discuss at every company and team all-hands meeting,” notes Marcellin.

3. Develop an executive sponsorship program

Executive sponsorship is another key strategy for companies, especially in the B2B space, that will lead to stronger customer relationships, loyalty, and growth. The first step in any executive sponsorship program is creating a plan that details how all top executives will interact with customers and build relationships. This can take many forms including quarterly check-ins with customers, engagement at events, and ongoing consultations and collaborations where leaders help customers solve challenges and better reach their goals.

As McBrearty with LeanData shares “we established an Executive Sponsor program to enable us to deliver critical engagement touchpoints with executives in our customer accounts. This connection enables us to gain an understanding of their long-term strategic objectives, which provides the insights the team needs to be able to advise on the best way to apply our technology to achieve business outcomes.”

At B2C companies, internal and external executive communications play a pivotal role in brand perception by consumers.

4. Build thought leadership

Thought leadership also plays an important role for leaders in delivering value to customers. In B2B organizations, leaders can deliver value to end customers by sharing their expertise around trends, identifying future opportunities, or helping customers find solutions to challenges they are facing in the market.

As Marcellin shares, companies are constantly experimenting with new ways to deliver thought leadership in the market. “In addition to traditional channels such as earned media, digital engagement, and analyst engagement, Juniper has created an entire portion of our website called ‘The Feed’ where we include video and podcast content around our thought leadership and industry voices.”

Why this all matters

The inward and outward expressions of customer centricity by leaders are vital to any company’s success. Leaders must play a central and visible role in customer value creation, application of customer data and insights to decision making, and modeling what great customer engagement looks like. Ultimately, employees need to see a unified vision for success with incentives tied to specific customer outcomes. Without that alignment, selfish interests and old behaviors will win the day.

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