Growing B2B companies often struggle with implementing significant customer experience improvement. To truly succeed, it takes a company-wide push.
On his website, customer experience (CX) expert Bruce Temkin describes the role that his CX research and consulting company, The Temkin Group, plays with companies as “customer experience transformists.” Temkin chooses that label largely because he believes that CX improvement needs to be a company-wide initiative – rather than simply a marketing or customer service one — in order to truly be effective.
In other words, customer experience improvement involves much more than simply tuning into customer feedback and occasionally incorporating it into a company’s product development practices or marketing strategies. It’s about transforming every aspect of the business — every function, role, and department — so that CX becomes the driving force of everything the company does.
Temkin, who founded The Temkin Group after 12 years with Forrester Research, recently sat down with OpenView to discuss why customer experience improvement can be so difficult (especially for expansion-stage B2B software companies), and what companies can do to create stronger customer connectedness.
Throughout your career, how have you seen the importance and practice of customer experience management evolve? Where does it stand today?
If I go back to the early part of my career, customer interaction and experience was largely influenced by using quality tools like six sigma and lean methodology, with a dose of what was called process reengineering. That was before technology really started to play a critical role in holistically improving customer experience.
When CRM software emerged in the early- to mid-2000s, it marked the next big wave of change for CX. It started to change the way that companies looked at their interactions with customers and gathered feedback from them, and allowed those businesses to better track that information, gather it in one place, and analyze it in a more meaningful way.
Today, customer experience should be at the core of how an organization operates. It’s not really a clear evolution so much as it is a continuation of milestones and principles. Modern customer experience improvement is all about ensuring that company leadership is committed to and involved with customer interactions. And it’s also about acquiring cross-functional buy-in and relentlessly focusing on the people — customers and employees — who can positively impact and heighten customer experience.
Customer experience improvement can be difficult for companies of all sizes, but are there customer experience challenges that are unique to growing tech companies?
Absolutely. Startup and expansion-stage technology companies operate in a completely different environment than their larger corporate counterparts. They have different capabilities, skillsets, resources, and needs — and all of those things can be barriers to customer experience improvement.
When you’re talking about young, growing tech companies, I think there are three unique challenges in particular:
- Growing tech companies are often engineering and product-centric. And because engineers tend to focus primarily on product functionality, they tend to lack the customer focus that’s necessary to drive CX improvement. As a result, that technical staff tends to focus more on the product features that they want to build, rather than the ones customers want. To get to the next level, growing tech companies must begin to really think about their customers’ needs and wants in a broader sense, and allow that information to drive product improvements and functionality.
- Early-stage tech companies typically start by building very horizontal platforms. Those horizontal products often work well enough early on and they can be sold to customers in a wide range of markets and industries. As a company grows, however, it must tighten its focus and begin to segment its customer base. That can quickly lead to a diversion of requirements that forces a company to decide which customer needs and experiences are most important. If you don’t really understand your customers, then that can be a very difficult process.
- Growing tech companies invest in customer acquisition without proportionately investing in customer service. Often, when a company hits a point where it wants to step on the gas, the natural tendency is to implement aggressive customer acquisition strategies. That’s fine, as long as those customers are met on the back end with outstanding customer support and customer experience. Unfortunately, many growing companies fail to balance the two, and it leads to poor customer satisfaction and high churn rates.
Ultimately, all three of those things can undermine a company’s growth in a very significant way. I always advise growing businesses to balance the development of its product portfolio with its customer experience portfolio. At the end of the day, having the greatest products and features will only take you so far. If they’re not complemented by outstanding customer experience, then a company will lose customers quickly and fail to drive the kind of long-term growth it needs to survive.
What tips would you give growing technology companies that are struggling to drive customer experience improvement throughout their organization?
I think it’s very important to build listening systems into every component of your organization so that you can actually hear and understand what your customers are seeing and saying. Feedback — whether it’s from customers directly or from employee observations — is critical to customer experience improvement.
And it’s not just important to monitor and collect feedback after a customer has been onboarded. Customer experience principles must be implemented throughout the lifecycle of a customer — from product consideration and comparison, to solution selection, purchase, and installation. It’s critical to listen to customers at each stage and explicitly understand the unique problems they’re facing at those stages.
Lastly, you need to put that insight and information into action, and share it widely across the organization. That will give everyone in the company a greater understanding of the things that matter most to your customers, which will in turn allow you to construct a stronger customer experience mechanism, enriching every interaction your customers have with your company.
Bruce Temkin is widely viewed as a leading expert in customer experience. He has worked with hundreds of large organizations on defining and accelerating their customer experience journeys. He is the Chair and co-founder of the Customer Experience Professionals Association, and the author of the popular blog Customer Experience Matters. A graduate of MIT’s Sloan School of Management, Temkin previously held management positions at General Electric, Fidelity Investments, and Stratus Computers.