“We really want to make systemic and strategic changes that span the company, so we only tackle situations that our normal business-as-usual processes are not normally suited to tackle. Those tend to be situations that span multiple parts of the company, span multiple processes, and where there is no one that is holistically looking at a problem, that’s where our team steps in.”
Take a page from VMware’s playbook. In my Customer Experience Optimization talk show with Eric Wansong, VMware’s Vice President of Customer Advocacy, he explained how his team adds strategic value across all company departments. “To warrant the investment that the company is putting in our team, we need to be doing significant things to change the company, and to do significant things you have to involve multiple parts of the company, you have to create a collaborative situation to solve complex opportunities.”
Transformations this team has brokered within three short years include changes to their software development cycle, structure of R&D teams, and new product development positions focused on human factors and user experience (novel approaches for the company). Eric explained: “Behavioral change needs to first happen within. Prove yourself first, and that will ultimately improve the customer experience. You’ve just got to get to the root of a problem and it’s often very deep in the organization and not on the veneer. Only changing or improving the veneer that surrounds the company is a pretty fragile approach.”
My commentary: This is a departure from prevalent practices of many companies’ focus on changing customers’ behavior and on optimizing customer touch-points and customer-facing staff. VMware’s practices are a more strategic type of customer experience transformation relative to the typical one-by-one follow-up with customers who gave low survey ratings and single departments chipping away at voice-of-the-customer insights they unilaterally control. VMware does that, too, but the focus is on cross-functional transformation. While rare in today’s mainstream customer experience management practices, VMware’s approach is shared by several other companies. These firms comprised the best-practice profile in the four-year study conducted by ClearAction.
Note: systemic means holistic, whereas systematic means step-by-step. Both are needed in customer experience management in order to produce sustained growth.
A major driver of VMware’s customer experience methodology is the fact that customers now own more than one product across the VMware portfolio of solutions. “Now as customer’s use cases span multiple VMware products, their desires of us are not just functionally-oriented but they are becoming more experience-oriented.”
“If you’re myopically focused on a number it will drive unhealthy behaviors. Changing a number doesn’t necessarily mean you’re changing the customer experience. We do track a Net Promoter Score™ (NPS) for VMware. We use that as the most lagging indicator of how we are performing relative to our peers in the industry. We’re fortunate that we have a very high NPS score. We want to sustain that, and ultimately improve it. We use NPS as a guide post.”
My commentary: The term lagging indicator refers to measurements that reflect what customers have already experienced. By contrast, a leading indicator reflects what you are doing in advance of customers experiencing it. Lagging indicators are important big-picture measures of achievement, but they are not prescriptive, and therefore, they are not actionable. Leading indicators are internal operational measures that empower teams by letting them see a direct connection between their work and its outcomes (which are the lagging indicators).
“We are more focused on the satisfaction scores that we are directly in control of, which we can discreetly measure, and hold specific teams accountable for. People fixate on numbers because they’re easy. I like numbers because they tell you whether you are moving the needle in the right or wrong direction. But success is whether or not you’re actually driving changes in how a company invests its time, money and resources. If that isn’t happening, I think you’re wasting your time and customers’ inputs.”
“Through our analysis, we know that our most loyal customers spend almost twice as much as all of our other customers over a three-year period. We know those customers are familiar with twice as many products as other customers, so they’re more willing to try more products, they’re more willing to evolve with us, and they spend twice as much on professional services and educational services. And we also know that their view of VMware as a strategic vendor or trusted advisor is exceedingly higher than our other customers. This all helps to bolster ‘why’ driving customer loyalty makes sense. If you can’t answer the why, you’re not going to get people motivated to act on the feedback.”
Cascading Sponsorship & Action
“If you ask any leader here at VMware what they could do better, they probably have a list as long as their arm. There are time constraints, resource constraints, and financial constraints, so which ones do you tackle first? The biggest value that my team brings is saying ‘Here are the top two or three things that, if improved, would move the needle the most for our customers. Contextual information about the voice-of-the-customer helps to prioritize people’s thinking to change how programs are funded and resourced, and how projects are prioritized in response to that customer feedback.”
My commentary: Adding context to customer feedback ideally includes both internal and external data about what was going on in your operations and with competitors and other forces that preceded or accompanied customers’ perceptions. One of the best ways to do this is to present line graphs over time and super-impose contextual data on top of the customer feedback data. Percentages will be more compelling than averages because managers are motivated by seeing the size of their business that is at-risk or otherwise growing.
“After our analysis of our semi-annual relationship survey, the very first thing we do is we read out to our CEO and his leadership team. Then, based on the top drivers, we go out into the organization to the next level of leadership. We relay what was communicated to our executives, and we go into further levels of detail. Then we expand to every group within the company. So it is a cascade of information, and it typically takes about two months from the time the analysis is done.”
My commentary: A roadshow is a great way to build shared interpretations of customer insights. Cross-functional action planning workshops are one of the most powerful things you can do to inject customer-centricity into your culture, and simultaneously broker significant changes that your whole customer base will reward. After the first two or three roadshows you can train and coach people within each organization to conduct their own presentation as if you were there, in addition to driving progress within throughout the year.
The Customer Advocacy Organization
“Our voice of the customer, or Insights team is just 4-6 people, but handles and analyzes dozens of relationship, transactional and topical listening posts globally. Distilling literally millions of data points into business consumable, actionable content.”
“Our Engagement team is embedded within each geography around the world: 4 in the Americas, 3 in Europe, and 4 in Asia-Pacific. They have 3 primary responsibilities: (a) deliver the Insights as they are sliced and diced for those regions, (b) drive improvement programs based on what’s most important for customers in those regions, and (c) handle ‘exceptional’ customer situations. At the end of every quarter we analyze what was done and we aggregate that to a global perspective. We look at each case and we see what issues are starting to bubble up and become systemic. Then we root-cause using six sigma techniques and recommend remedies to prevent future issues.”
“Our Discovery & Transformation team oversees a portfolio of cross-company programs and projects that are intended to improve company performance in our top customer driver categories.”
“Lastly, our Experience team, comprised of user interface and user experience designers and analysts, focus on improving the ways customers interact with our portals and mobile applications.”
My commentary: Prevention of issue recurrence is the best way to drive customer experience ROI. Recurring issues are costly for many reasons: as your customer base grows so does your servicing of these same old issues, they take a toll on employee productivity and satisfaction, and they erode customers’ trust and the hard work of your branding team, and they incur great remedial expenses by marketing and service in attempts to make up for what should have been done right the first time.
“We’ve been doing this for close to three years now. First, we had to earn the trust and confidence of the executives that what we are doing is trustworthy and credible. Everything must be evidence based. Prioritizing top customer drivers of satisfaction and loyalty is key, keeps the company focused. Makes action planning easier. We often must bring disparate parts of the company together, for meaningful and systemic change to happen.”
“This job and this organization is a privilege. VMware existed before our team was in place, and did very well. We are evidence of VMware’s commitment to continuous improvement and the growing importance of the customer experience. But, we must smartly use the money that’s being invested in this team by delivering value that is not already being delivered by another part of the company. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be a good user of corporate resources. Therefore, we uniquely solve complex, multi-faceted issues that require cross-company collaboration and coordination.”
This article is part of a monthly series dedicated to “Optimizing the Business-to-Business Customer Experience“.
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