There is no customer strategy without human connections. Your business relationships with customers are vital to near-term success and future growth. Despite this, we often see companies (including those that describe their organization as customer-centric) struggle with basic steps needed to establish and sustain strong relationships, deliver value to customers, build loyalty and foster brand advocacy.
Creating a living, breathing customer strategy means far more than the typical lip service so often paid to customer success or customer experience. It requires a commitment from the entire organization so that every leader has a clear role to play in developing and executing a strategy and measuring its impact—both in terms of value delivered to customers, as well as the return on investment.
To fully invest in customers, companies need to shift their culture. As Brian O’Neill, Chief Client Officer at FIS, notes, “it’s not enough to merely focus on CX. Companies have to fully commit to the client and center the entire culture around their experience—hearts and minds, not just technology. That is where true transformation and differentiation occurs.”
In this article, I’ll explore one of the major gaps organizations face getting in the way of implementing a successful customer strategy—what I call the connection gap.
Customer expectations and the definition of value have evolved.
To deliver business outcomes and long-term value to customers, companies need an overarching customer strategy. Each member of the executive team needs to take on distinct accountabilities to successfully implement that strategy. And there must be one person whose sole purpose is to orchestrate every aspect of the strategy, so it’s a cohesive company-wide effort. This orchestration is the job of a chief customer officer. I’ve seen leaders with the title of CCO do this—and I’ve seen CMOs and COOs do the job as well.
Many organizations are embracing the role of the CCO, and some make that role a truly strategic one. For example, Nationwide Insurance recently created a new CCO position, hiring veteran customer success leader Amy Shore. Her job is to “build customer strategy core competencies in the enterprise and influence the culture of the company so that all associates understand what extraordinary care looks like,” notes Shore.
In many cases, however, organizations today are inwardly focused on process improvements rather than the delivery of tangible results to customers. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with being inwardly focused. That’s necessary for every successful enterprise, but a balance must be struck. Without that balance, the connection with customers will be eroded, and that ultimately impacts partnership with customers, the level of trust that exists, customer success, your revenue and attainment of your strategic objectives.
Holistic customer segmentation strategy plays a big role.
Larger, especially siloed, organizations struggle to gain a unified view of customers, their objectives and opportunities for new and extended business. Organizations of all sizes and constructs have to make tough decisions on exactly how much to invest in their customers. This is why strategic segmentation is so important.
A thoughtful segmentation strategy is a must for many things, including how an organization connects with different types of customers. A few considerations to get you going: Which customers are your most valuable and why? Have you considered how different departments value customers differently? How will each department in your company follow one approach? Do their current practices and investment models coincide with the overall customer strategy?
Assess your core capabilities.
Once you have a clear view of your customer segments, you then need to establish alignment on strategic and tactical goals and metrics. Lastly, look at the capabilities and programs that you will employ to implement the customer strategy across your organization.
Core capabilities to assess when developing, refining or renewing a customer strategy include customer and employee engagement, customer feedback and analytics, customer success management, customer marketing and transformation programs.
Connect your organization to your customers.
Consider the various levels of management within your organization. What are the organizational impediments to connecting with customers? And what role does each functional department need to play in improving that connection? If managers and departments are left to their own preferences and whims, customer connections will be chaotic, not orchestrated. Remember that each element of the customer strategy is all about orchestration.
Obviously, sales and marketing play critical roles in developing and executing the customer strategy. Under pressure to deliver top-line revenue, however, engagement with customers can become transactional. With the majority of the focus put on new customer acquisition, there’s often not enough focus or clear ownership by sales or marketing when it comes to delivering long-term value to customers beyond tactical CX improvements.
As Juniper Networks CMO Mike Marcellin shares, you need to have “an orchestrated customer journey company-wide across all touchpoints, as well as a common, data-driven view of customer health and engagement. Making this investment at Juniper has led to historically high customer satisfaction metrics.”
For companies who are selling directly to B2B customers, it’s often incumbent on the services team to help with the successful deployment of the product and ensure customers have a flawless and customized experience.
Engineering and development departments also have a vested interest in forging strong relationships across different people in the buyer organization. Even finance, operations and supply chain teams have important roles to play.
By harnessing the strengths of every department, companies can implement a comprehensive customer strategy that supports the overall company strategy and strengthens customer relationships over time—moving them from transactional in nature to collaborative and then to brand advocacy.