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


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Three-Part Series by Jeb Dasteel

This is the second 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.

Creating a New Approach for Collaboration

In the first installment of this series, we discussed the steps companies need to take to systematically invest in their customers. In this article, we explore five gaps or organizational challenges that often can get in the way of executing a successful customer strategy.

The reality is your company and customers will only partner effectively when you collaborate to create consistent value and business outcomes. This requires a deeper level of alignment within and across your company, with your customers, and with your distribution channels. Ultimately every interaction with customers across functional areas needs to deliver value. While this sounds simple in concept, it’s extremely difficult to implement. In fact even the most customer-centric companies today experience problems with the execution of the strategy.

Based on research and conversations with more than 200 leaders focused on customer success, here are 5 gaps or organizational challenges that most often get in the way of companies defining and executing a successful customer strategy:

1. The Goals Gap.

Attainment of goals is in the eye of the beholder. Our customers have different objectives, individually, by market, and by segment. And we have different objectives for our own business, of course. How we choose to invest in different customers should vary widely, based on striking the best possible balance between maximizing the value to be realized by the customer, our own goals, and the affordability of the investments we make.

Organizations inherently have scarce resources. A thoughtful, disciplined customer segmentation strategy is the underpinning of the best customer experience and the best, most efficient outcomes for each customer segment. The lack of this sort of alignment is called the Goals Gap—when your goals are misaligned across your organization and disconnected from the goals of your customers.

As Mike Marcellin, CMO, Juniper Networks explains, “you need alignment on your goals, a common set of metrics, and clarity on decision-making. At Juniper Networks, we do this through a governance process at the executive and working team levels. While there’s a bit more coordination, this model ensures that we’re all completely bought in and, because each of us is intimately engaged with customers at various stages, we bring our unique perspectives and learnings to the table.”

“To ensure commitment and accountability around those metrics across your organization, you also need specific incentives tied to key client metrics,” shares Brian O’Neill, the Chief Client Officer at FIS. “It is critical to align incentives to the behavior and outcomes you want to achieve.”

2. The Knowledge Gap.

Being data-driven is a recurring theme in a lot of business literature. What’s more important is choosing the right customer data to apply to decision-making, as well as sharing customer stories and anecdotes to help bring that data to life for employees.

Organizations can have elegant business intelligence and customer feedback mechanics, but they will fail time and again without the ability to take those raw materials and tell the story about why some customers are successful and why others fail.

This is the Knowledge Gap. Companies not only need to discover and apply customer data to improve institutional knowledge. They also need to put those insights and data into a strategic context. This requires measuring for specific outcomes they want to achieve with customers.

“Companies need to gather and share customer stories, while also teaching everyone how to use those stories to influence, teach and inspire” shares Rachael McBrearty, Chief Customer Officer, LeanData Inc.

Think about the current knowledge of your organization. Some customer data or insights are more valuable than others. “We get data from our software products, our digital marketing engagements, our service, and support interactions, and every day via our sales teams,” shares Marcellin. “The trick is triangulating it, figuring out the data that matters, and then agreeing on the actions.”

Organizations can bridge the knowledge gap by asking the right questions to better understand their customers, their specific needs, and how they define value. “While anecdotes can provide richness and empathy, sourcing the best available data will help you make the right decisions and scale your improvements” notes Marcellin.

3. The Development Gap.

Despite the best intentions and efforts of companies, customer success programs and strategies often fail because they aren’t designed in a way that supports employee development. This is the Development Gap.

Executing a successful customer strategy “requires teaching everyone how to have an ‘expand’ mindset,” shares McBrearty. “No matter what customer-facing role you are in, you should know how to make recommendations to the client on how to deliver additional value.”

To successfully execute a customer strategy, organizations must empower employees and leaders across every level and functional area. Ultimately, employee engagement and satisfaction are the mirror image of customer engagement and satisfaction.

“A key mantra within The Client Office at FIS is tied to the equation of EX + CX = RX where a positive Employee Experience is combined with a strategic and thoughtful Client Experience to drive Revenue Expansion and retention,” explains O’Neill. “This approach has served us well and has kept us focused, yielding results that are indicative of that commitment.”

In the wake of the pandemic, companies have also had to completely rethink how they approach remote learning and employee development. “I scrapped an entire agenda and presentation the other day when I realized it wasn’t the most effective way to engage employees around our strategy,” noted McBrearty. “By focusing on the specific learning outcomes, getting crystal clear and prescriptive, we were able to structure the sessions in a way that drove stronger participation.”

4. The Connection Gap.

There are a number of remarkable exceptions, but the majority of chief customer officers, customer success teams, and CX projects today are arguably too process-focused. Many CCOs are viewed as not carrying the weight that their fellow executives saddle for tangible business results (e.g., branding, demand generation, revenue, products, services delivery, expansion of markets, and profitability).

The gravest point of failure for customer strategies is that the orchestrator of the strategy is viewed as someone focused on process improvement without the day-to-day responsibility for creating top-line and bottom-line results. The second crucial point of failure is the inability to get the entire executive team on board with the customer strategy. I call this, collectively, the Connection Gap.

Having the right customer strategy means establishing the right connectivity across your own lines of business and with customers.

“Overcoming challenges always starts with an understanding of what it is at the heart of the issue that may be preventing the successful execution of an approach,” O’Neill shares. “For FIS, our approach is oriented around effective communication, driving commitment, and ensuring accountability among all stakeholders.”

5. The Value Gap.

There are many organizations that have achieved operational excellence enabling them to efficiently develop products, execute deals, and promote thought leadership in the marketplace. To complement that, we see an opportunity for leaders to be more focused on defining and creating value for customers—for the benefit of the customer’s business and yours. This is the Value Gap.

Organizing your business around creating value for your customers means you need to build the right relationships and then collaborate in new ways.

As O’Neill notes, “it is the simplicity of the experience and the removal of friction from traditional client/company interaction” that matters most.”

The goalposts of what defines success with customers are constantly moving. Companies have to stretch beyond the functional benefits of their product or service and the tactical CX improvements to deliver a customer experience designed to increase value over time.

Up Next: Bridging the Leadership Gap
In part three of this series, we will explore another organizational challenge that often gets in the way of a successful customer strategy – what I call the Leadership Gap.

As we all know, hiring a Chief Customer Officer or another leader to orchestrate the customer strategy is only the first step for any company. To successfully define and execute that strategy, companies need their entire senior leadership team to fully commit. This not only requires creating alignment around goals, but also a unified vision of what success looks like with incentives for employees tied to specific outcomes. Without that alignment, selfish interests and old behaviors will win the day.


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