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Chasing satisfaction can undermine digital success

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright October 9, 2013

Eggs becoming omelette © Jag_cz -
You can't make an omelette without breaking some eggs, as the saying goes. Nor can you succeed with digital technology unless you're prepared to challenge ingrained habits and long-established business processes. They're called disruptive innovations for a reason: the ability to have real-time information and interaction wherever you are is changing the nature of business.

Therefore, up-and-coming vendors of these innovative technologies have a duty to shake things up a bit, to encourage their customers to think the impossible. A vendor that holds back from pushing its customers outside their comfort zone is letting them down.

Satisfaction? Not interested

This is why traditional measures of customer satisfaction become a trap for such vendors, argues Rob Bernshteyn, CEO of spend management vendor Coupa. Here's an excerpt from a webinar interview recorded last year:

We say very clearly to our prospective customers that we're not interested in customer satisfaction. We're not interested in satisfying our customers because it's very, very difficult to satisfy a CPO or director of procurement because they have so much pressure on them from all the constituents around the company. If you try to satisfy everyone in the company, you are going to wind up with a very sloppy deployment and low adoption levels. You're not going to reach the goals that you have for the project.

Coupa has just become a diginomica partner and this topic has sprang out of a conversation with Tony Wessels, the company's VP of marketing, when we met over coffee in London yesterday morning. By way of illustration, he recalled a software implementation at a previous employer that had taken more than a year:

"We were happy to give the vendor a high satisfaction rating, because we all understood the reasons why it was taking that long and how all these project goals had to be met. But it wasn't making us successful — there was no one who was actually using the software."

This is a trap that I've often witnessed vendors fall into. Cloud vendors end up supporting on-premise instances because they give in to large enterprise prospects that insist on running IT the way they're used to. Vendors who've gone to great pains to develop user-friendly interfaces end up adding unneeded complexity at the behest of influential customers. Here's another example recounted by Coupa's VP of customer success, Ravi Thakur:

A prospect asked for the timeline for bar code scanning capabilities during the evaluation phase. A typical response from a Solution Consultant would have been to log the feature request as a future enhancement to the product for the Product Management team to investigate for future releases. However, the Coupa solution consultant was not satisfied with that approach. He dug deeper. Why do you need bar code scanning capabilities? Oh .. there are paper invoices. What if we helped you replace paper invoices with electronic invoices? Needless to say, getting closer to eliminating paper invoices was the true road to success for the customer and the Coupa solution consultant helped him get there.

We often underestimate just how much of our present-day business processes date back to the days when they relied on typewritten forms produced in triplicate using carbon paper. Digital technologies allow us to finally cast off that legacy and find leapfrog efficiencies. But they require us to change the way things get done, and that's going to leave some people dissatisfied and unhappy.

Many of the companies we deal with and write about at diginomica are at the leading edge, working with early adopters who understand the strategic value of looking beyond the way things have always been done in the past. Indeed, our own approach to tech media publishing is a departure from established norms that makes some of our own prospective partners uncomfortable. We know what it feels like to convince people to try out unfamiliar territory.

Measurable successes

Bernshteyn's recipe for promoting success over satisfaction includes looking to build a community of referenceable customers who can point to measurable successes:

The best deployments we've had are the ones where we've clearly articulated in the beginning 'How will we measure success? Is there a certain level of adoption? Is there a certain impact to operating expenses? Is there a certain result set that can be mapped to profitability, actual shareholder value or uptick in stock price?' We will match the deployment against the objective. That's what keeps everybody focused.

The decision maker for that type of deployment is usually at a higher level than the head of procurement, Wessels told me. This is another point I've heard from other vendors who are taking new approaches to existing enterprise challenges. The person who's tasked with achieving day-to-day goals within a specific discipline often doesn't want to take a wider perspective; they just want to get their job done. Therefore the vendor must seek out executive leaders who can take a strategic view of the business as a whole and see how it can gain from making changes that cut across those existing disciplines.

Eventually, the late adopters will catch up. But in the early days, vendors who want to help their customers break the mold and do things differently should forget about customer satisfaction. Instead, their role should be to challenge customers to make disruptive choices that will lead to breakthrough success. In doing so, they'll give themselves an innate advantage over incumbent vendors who are mostly trapped in the customer satisfaction mindset.

Disclosure: Coupa is a diginomica partner.

Image credit: © Jag_cz -

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