3 tips for companies pursuing a customer obsessed culture


One of the best parts of my job is being able to experiment with and learn from our clients’ marketing, customer success, and customer experience groups. These customer-facing practices have been steadily evolving and advancing over recent years—becoming more design-savvy and customer-centric, and better at understanding what really drives customer experience. For the senior leaders out there who are charged with driving a culture of customer obsession, I have a few lessons learned from our clients to share with you.

Put the customer into your Customer 360 initiative

Customer data platforms are all the rage these days. Targeted at CMOs as a definitive customer database of record, they’re designed to integrate data from all your properties—marketing, sales, support, and so on—and bring it all together so you can move people through the funnel faster. Of course, that’s not the same thing as building a better experience—but it can seem like it, and that’s where the danger lies. The 360-degree view promised by these platforms leaves out the most important perspective of all: the human element. While data can help point you in the direction of a problem, it can’t tell you what’s driving people’s behavior or how they’re really feeling about the experience you provide. 

Data can sometimes even mask the kind of problems that only interviews can bring to light. When I was at Citrix, we felt like our strong license renewal rates were a sign that we were doing everything right in customers’ eyes. But then we dug deeper and discovered that for many, it was really a lack of better options and the effort involved in switching that kept them around—and we could lose a big chunk of our renewal business overnight if an aggressive competitor, with the promise of simple migrations, came around. Based on this finding, we started initiatives to improve the experience of customers who were already renewing. Data does not equal experience, and qualitative research can help you avoid the complacency that strong numbers can foster.

Also, we all know that it’s what you do with the data that matters. And when it comes to motivating teams to do something and address customer challenges, you’ve got to reach out to the kind of qualitative data that resonates with employees on a human level. That means listening to the voice of the customer—not just poring over their numbers.

Make sure your Customer 360 initiatives don’t leave out the most important piece of customer data – the customers’ actual experience with you as a vendor… 

Use Experience Design to influence your Customer Success team

Experience design and design thinking methodologies are commonplace in Product Design teams and even in Customer Experience teams more recently. These methods allow teams to go beyond customer research to actually redesign the future-state experiences of customers. In fact, I presented at a TSW conference with Phil Nanus last year where we highlighted the importance of going beyond just the current state experience when Journey Mapping, and in addition, to leverage experience design to envision the future state experience for customers.

Within the last year, I’m starting to see the more mature Customer Success teams also embrace these methodologies in the form of service and experience design—sometimes even called “playbook design.” (You can read about some of the challenges customer success teams are having while adopting these approaches in this blog.) Regardless of the challenges, I believe this trend will continue across the customer success industry.

Here’s why it makes sense. Think about the playbooks customer success teams develop for handling various scenarios: onboarding new customers, leading success planning meetings, dealing with the departure of a key customer sponsor, and so on. They can be a great way to align the team—but what is the team being aligned around? The reality is, customer success teams are better at thinking through processes than experiences. All too often, these playbooks are invented by someone with little or no direct customer interaction, let alone customer research, and little or no prototyping and testing with real customers before rolling out. Taking a more customer-centric approach to building playbooks will result in better experiences.

What kind of a difference can this make? In one engagement, my team was supposed to deliver a series of helpful-hints type emails for a client’s customers at specific stages in their onboarding journey—a standard tech-touch customer success play. But first, in keeping with our iterative, customer-centered approach, we quickly prototyped and tested the emails with live customers before investing any time or money integrating with their customer nurture platform—and quickly discovered that they were unlikely to be opened at all. It turns out, their customers weren’t interested in unsolicited emails, no matter how helpful they were intended to be. What they really wanted was a 24 x 7 safety net to help them find what they needed more easily, whenever they needed it.

Do your customers really want to take the lead on product configuration, or do they want your expert recommendations? Would they welcome a new implementation concierge role, or would they prefer better support from their existing project manager? Remember, when you’re off-target with the customer’s need, it’s pretty much impossible to deliver the right solution. That’s where experience design comes into play—and customer success teams will continue to invest in that skill set in 2019.

The most powerful voice is your Customer’s voice. So put it to use.

We’ve seen so many creative ways to “bring the customer into the room” in an effort to connect employees to customers in a more empathetic way. From interviewing customers on stage at all-hands events to creating video personas to “speed dating” where employees sit across the table from customers for a quick chat. These are all worthy techniques with varying levels of effort, cost and ability to scale. The latest approach that we are testing with clients is to directly tap the power of their customers’ voice – authentic, unscripted, and direct. Why? I’ve written before about the unique value of the customer’s voice in experience design but I see more signs now suggesting that it’s the perfect timing for audio to make a comeback.

In a way, history is repeating; a century ago, audio defined the leading edge of media. More recently, television, film and video have dominated the attention of viewers. But this is starting to change. Storytelling through audio is making a comeback thanks in part to a few popular podcasts (Serial, Joe Rogan Experience, Fresh Air, TED Talks Daily) that proved audio alone can be just as gripping and addictive as Game of Thrones. The companies behind these audio productions are proving that by eliminating the visual distraction, you actually open your mind’s ability to listen and connect with the story in a more profound way. Audio also opens up the possibility to consume content in the margins – commutes, workouts, etc. It’s time to start listening to each other again—not through talking-head customer reference videos, but through raw, uncoached, and spontaneous conversations.

We’ve found that audio is a great way to add that missing human dimension to customer data platforms, conveying nuance and emotion that you can’t get any other way. I think customer audio is the purest and most direct way to learn what matters to your customers—what they need, how they want to get it, and how they feel about the experience they’re getting. At Method Garage, we’ve seen enough evidence to go all-in on Audio Journeys in 2019, giving our clients a simple way to let their whole company hear the voice of their customers and to truly understand what it’s like to be a customer of theirs.

Those are just a few tips that we’ve picked up over the last year working with clients. What other tips can you share in the comments?