How to Win and Keep Customers for the Long-Term: 5 Tips from a Chief Customer Officer

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Customer expectations have changed. We now live in an experience economy where every customer values and expects high-touch, high-quality experiences with brands. With the rise of the cloud and subscription models, customers no longer buy software once and maintain it forever; instead, they evaluate each vendor every year and decide whether they’re providing value. They crave a relationship with brands at every step, innovation, and regular product updates, and an outlet to share feedback on changes they’d like to see.

This economy presents both a challenge and an opportunity for brand differentiation. With more apps, choices, and access to information anywhere and anytime, nailing customer experience in every interaction can make or break winning and retaining customers for the long-term. 



With customer experience topping the list of key brand differentiators in 2020, everyone across the company — from HR to IT, from engineering to the C-suite — must fully embrace the fact that customers are the first priority. Here are five ways Chief Customer Officers can drive an impactful customer success function within their organizations and weave a customer-first mindset into their company’s DNA.

Gain C-suite sponsorship 

You can’t create a customer-first organization without first achieving buy-in from the top. Both CEOs and top executives must sponsor and oversee the customer success team if you want its impact to reverberate across the company.

To start, all customer success functions should be aligned under a single, ideally C-suite, leader who has a seat at the exec table and is a peer to the leader of the sales function. Adhering to these two principles ensures top executives stay aligned on the value of the function, have complete visibility into it and that the company takes a balanced approach to retain existing customers and winning new ones. If either one of these gets out of balance, the long term health of a SaaS organization will be significantly hampered. This structure also enables the C-suite to communicate regularly and broadly about customer success both internally and externally, further underscoring its importance to your brand.

Think of your customers as partners 

If you encourage employees to think of your customers as partners, you break down barriers and enable seamless collaboration and teamwork. This mindset can help you create an open, ongoing dialogue that fosters creativity and spontaneity.

Making this teamwork happen means encouraging regular check-ins with customers, in-person meetings whenever possible, video calls, and leveraging communication channels that allow for quick communication. When you approach customer experience as a fluid, collaborative process, customers win, and you win too — you’ll see higher renewal and higher upsell rates as a result. Year over year, we achieve higher customer satisfaction scores and it’s largely due to our customers’ willingness to openly share their feedback and work with us to improve their experience.



Let go of the saying “the customer is always right” 

Contrary to popular belief, the customer is not always right — especially as a company matures. Instead of telling customers what they want to hear or absentmindedly agreeing with them, push back and share your recommendations and advice. This creates an environment where respect comes first and the customer knows you have their best interest in mind.

I see this mindset play out favorably all the time on my team. Recently, a customer wanted us to embed a particular resource on their team to drive the project forward, but we knew this resource would not solve the problem — and the root of the problem was miscommunication within their team. Rather than doing what they asked, even though it would have secured us a significant amount of money, we let them know this wasn’t the best path forward and suggested some ways we thought they could better align internally. We shed light on a better solution that caused a disagreement off the bat but strengthened our relationship in the long-run.

Nurture a customer success + engineering + marketing relationship

Creating an efficient customer success team depends on nurturing its relationship with other teams at your company. While many believe sales is the function that interacts with customers the most, engineering and marketing, among other teams, play a significant role in customer success too.

The marketing team, for example, must showcase successful case studies and plan customer-centric events, which means working closely with the customer success function to identify those stories and event agendas. The engineering team has to ensure a smooth and fast response to any customer issue or bug — again, requiring operational efficiency across the engineering and customer success teams. Without fluid relationships across customer success and any given team at an organization, you simply can’t drive an all-around superior experience. 

Make it real with a playbook

Once you’ve laid the groundwork for how you want customer success to play out across your organization, it’s time to enforce these principles. Make it real with a common vernacular and customer-first playbook that everyone at your company understands and can refer to in any interaction. Our Okta playbook has four distinct sections, broken out into the following categories: learn (ramp up & certify teams), deploy (design the architecture, integrate applications, go live), grow (expand architecture), and adopt (success planning and strategic consultation). 



And once you’ve defined your format and the key factors to include, remember that it isn’t set in stone. As your company grows, the core value of customer success will shift and scale with you.

1 COMMENT

  1. Hi Krista: these are good points and following your recommendations portend winning and keeping customers. But in achieving these worthy goals, there is much that’s out of the vendor’s hands. I mention this because many of my clients express surprise when we explore risks and reasons for account churn. “We don’t understand . . . we did everything right!” And, by objective measures of what they could control, they did. Well, maybe not everything, but most things.

    The challenge is that perception of certainty obscures serious risks companies face. It can give executives a false sense of confidence. Despite doing a stellar job supporting customers, creating delight, going through hoops to deliver superior value, and besting the competition in every respect, accounts churn for reasons over which vendors have little to no control. New regulations, trade restrictions, economic pressures, mergers and acquisitions, strategic changes, and turnover in the executive suite are behind many that I see regularly. In fact, if CX professionals were honest with themselves and fully recognized the powerful influence of forces outside their control in customer decision making, it would cause boatloads more Maalox to fly of drugstore shelves.

    That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t strive to implement your recommendations, but they shouldn’t put blinders on to the other risks they face. Rather, they must plan on them, and realize that their CX efforts, no matter now well intentioned and adopted, should never be considered failsafe.

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