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Customer Centricity Prevailed: Key Themes from Totango’s Customer Success Summit 2017

Customer Centricity Customer Centric Organizations
Customer Centricity Customer Centric Organizations

The community of Customer Success gathered in San Francisco this past week to attend Totango’s fifth annual Customer Success Summit.  The group of over a thousand Customer Success professionals in attendance heard from visionaries and leaders within the industry to learn about Customer Success.  Here are the top 5 key themes I took away as a first-time attendee:

1. Customer Centric Organizations

Customer centricity dominated the dialog at this year’s conference.  No longer are we as an industry talking about whether a customer centric approach to business is the way to go - the research has conclusively proved it is the winning business model - rather how to establish customer centric organizations.

Customer experience is the new battlefield.  Understanding what the customer wants (including anticipating it if they don’t yet know) and aligning business operations to deliver the value the customer requires is the competitive differentiator.

Many speakers made note of how Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, has an empty chair at his executive meetings to represent the customer’s seat at the table to demonstrate how strategic thinking from the customer’s perspective has become.

2. Observe the Customer Journey to Understand the Behaviours of Your Customers

If operating from a customer centric perspective is the winning business model, then understanding the behaviours of one’s customers is the foundational first step.  Before a company can operate around the customer, they must understand their behaviours and needs.

In his keynote at the VIP track, Eric Benhamou, Founder and General Partner BGV outlined observing the customer journey as key to understanding customers.  The journey allows companies to deeply understand how its product is being consumed, the behaviours of its customers and how customers experience the product, all of which are leading indicators that allow for proactive engagement and effort prioritization.

Tiffany Bova, Global Customer Growth and Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce, continued the theme of anticipating the customer’s needs as a competitive differentiator by showing statistics that indicated sales teams are 1.8x times more effective when they understand the customer and can foresee what they require.

Sam Boonin, VP Product Strategy at Zendesk, drove the message home with his insightful story about Zendesk’s customer journey from a product person’s perspective.  His witty anecdote of how Zendesk uses customer observation and feedback to evolve the product demonstrated the power of listening to one’s customers.  He concluded by stating that the concept of Customer Success is so “heady” and hard to understand that it’s important to make sure every employee understands how they contribute to the mission.  Understanding the customer journey is conducive to this.

3. Democratize Customer Data

The other key theme was customer data.  Not surprisingly with the concept of artificial intelligence knocking on Customer Success’ door, much was discussed about the importance of using customer data and knowledge to proactively anticipate customer needs to provide differentiated experiences.

In the opening address of the conference Totango’s CEO, Guy Nirpaz, announced Zoe, Totango’s Slack bot that facilitates team collaboration and uses natural language understanding to answer employee questions about customer and company data.

The main message being that when everyone has data about the customer, better informed decisions are made and better corresponding actions are taken to deliver greater value to the customer.

4. Be More Human

The human side of the equation was also well represented at the conference.  Technology to drive automation is critical for scale and success, but it can not be done at the expense of the human component.

In each of their key notes, Claire Burge, CEO & Founder This is Productivity and Don Peppers, Founding Partner CXSpeakers, drove home the point that empathy is the primary driver of customer centricity.  Technology and data is important but how the alignment of the organization is structured to create a culture of customer curiosity and empathy is key.

Customers would like to be better understood, to have the vendor empathize and to be asked the questions required to understand them.

5. Manage the Change

The final key theme I took away was the notion of change management.  Customers adopting technology are making changes in the way they conduct business.  In many cases these are fundamental changes and customers want to know that the vendor is there to manage them through that change.

In Rav Dhaliwal’s keynote, the Head of Customer Success at Slack EMEA reminded the audience that when deploying software at a customer it’s not about the software, it’s about change management.  Adoption is about introducing change and helping people through that change, and he stressed the importance of communication.  He shared Slack’s maturity model for driving change management and research showing that making the case for change early increased the likelihood of customers making that change by a factor of 6x.

Change is hard.  Remove barriers to adoption, make the case for change and communicate frequently.

Bottom Line

The Customer Success community walked away from the conference with a lot of great ideas and use cases for becoming more customer centric.  They key message I walked away with:

Customer centric organizations are key to delivering differentiated experiences to customers and key to a company’s growth.  To operate around the customer, a vendor must understand it’s customer and use that understanding in combination with human empathy to manage customers through change and create value.

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