Outside-In Customer Experience Is The Best Offensive Strategy

Author

Christine Crandell, Contributor

October 23, 2014

B2B companies are realizing that the real rockbed of building enduring customer relationships lies in the perception customers hold of value.  Value is increasingly not in the product but in the services – paid and free – that sellers provide.  While still a controversial concept, this realization is prompting many B2B companies to revisit their customer journey maps to ensure they value, as defined by their customers, is delivered at every step.

Yet, value is in the eye of the beholder.  As customers define what value is and is not, they’ll also admit there is no one definition. The definition changes along the relationship lifecycle.  Value in the pre-purchase stage helps the buyer make informed decisions that achieve their target outcomes.  Post-purchase, when the product has been used for a while, value centers on information, access experts and customers, and resources that are not commonly available to the public and help the customer address broader business issues. This shifting definition of value shouldn’t be lost on anybody looking to become customer-aligned.

While many companies view customer-alignment as a necessary change forced upon them, “it’s actually an opportunity to raise the bar in their markets,” says Jamie Anderson, Global Vice President of Customer Engagement & Commerce, SAP.  Value delivery along with process alignment and culture are key parts of operationalizing the customer-alignment transformation.   “Value is becoming the new credit/debit of the customer trust bank,” stresses Anderson.

A company’s ability to deliver customer-defined value is closely tied to its company culture; another topic that keeps coming up in the customer experience discussion.   It comes down to who is responsible for turning customer understanding into action?   It’s not technology, management or strategy; it’s your employees.  We’ve all heard the saying “happy employees lead to happy customers”.

Why is a healthy workplace key to customer loyalty?

For employees to own the customer relationship they need to understand how they fit into the whole engagement expectation equation.  Don’t assume they will ‘figure it out’; they lack the perspective and information to do that.  Leaders need to help all employees, not just those on the front-line, connect the dots between their jobs and how their performance is measured with customer journey steps and customer expectations.

If employees feel they are valued, enabled and set up for success, they will routinely go the extra mile to help customers realize value, achieve their desired outcome and have the experience they want.  Employee enablement is a key success factor in customer-alignment yet that depends wholly on the organization’s culture.

According to Ken Klein, CEO of Tintri, a smart storage technology provider, “there has to be congruency between how you treat your employees and how you treat customers.  Employees should be treated like customers.” If their customers are successful, Tintri believes it will be successful.

It goes beyond posters, free gourmet lunches and cheerleader company meetings, for Klein it means modeling the behavior you want employees to emulate.  “It’s not in what you say but how your actions demonstrate your values,” shares Klein.  “It means explaining to employees about how they act directly impacts customer and the company’s success.”

Klein walks the talk in ways that few CEO are brave enough to.  Aside from an astonishing level of transparency about the business with customers and employees, management enforces a ‘No Jerk Policy’. Repeated violations of the following ten rules and you’re out the door no matter how much of wunderkind you are:

  1. Intimidation
  2. Bullying
  3. Assigning Blame
  4. Taking Undeserved Credit
  5. Overly Negative
  6. Subordinating Company Interests to Individual, Group, Function, etc.
  7. Withholding Critical Information for Political Reasons
  8. Say “No” Instead of “How Can I Help?”
  9. Being Hypocritical
  10. Overly Complicating Things That Inhibit Progress

The policy exists for good reason because customers have direct access to anyone in the organization and the two groups are frequently brought together in a variety of forums.

Customer-centricity is baked into Tintri’s DNA.    That’s a good thing because there is a growing movement to humanize B2B interactions.  People have relationships with people, not with logos, corporate structures, and brands.    Personal connections and relationships are how value expectations are understood and delivered.

I had dinner in Chicago last night with 14 CMOs after a speaking event. We talked about our families, dogs, past employers, hobbies, etc. – we were looking for common interests.  No one wore their logos on their foreheads and at the end of dinner everyone knew each other’s name and who could help with what but each person was hard pressed to cite who their dinner mates worked for.

Tintri facilitates deep personal customer connections by rotating people through various roles in the company. Engineers rotate through the help desk and field sales, marketers rotate through various marketing and sales functions.  This institutionalizes customer alignment across the organization as it strengthens the company’s agility and resilience.  Smart agile companies respond faster and more effectively to market changes. Their nimbleness comes, in part, from consciously designed simplified customer touch points.

Anderson believes that “designing processes from the outside-in, from the customers’ perspective, not only simplifies the customer’s journey but helps brands stay nimble.”

Tintri didn’t set out with a grand plan to implement employee engagement as part of its growth strategy.  They set out to build a successful company by aligning it outward around the customer; it seemed like the logical thing to do.  The results are impressive – 140 percent year/year growth and a four percent attrition rate.

Klein will tell you that culture is paramount to success. There is no Chief Customer Officer or Chief Culture Officer in the company; these responsibilities are owned by the employees.  Culture values apply to everyone from Board of Directors down the organization and out to customers.  There is an expectation of authenticity, transparency and values guided decision-making in every interaction.

The personal relationship between employees and customers breaks down the fear that plagues most organizations that deeply involving the customer in their business equates to ‘giving up control’. “Employee engagement is the most important thing to company success,” shares Anderson. “Employees need to be empowered to simplify and make decisions on the spot that help customers achieve their goals.”

Tintri admits it doesn’t have it all figured out and it hasn’t gone through tough economic times to test its mettle but management believes the depth and value-focus of its employee-customer relationships is a sustainable competitive differentiator as well the fuel of future growth.  It probably is as TinTri is unknowingly on the forefront of new thinking in how to design and lead organizations.

Anderson sums it up in five key words, “Outside-in is an offensive play”.

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