One of the most important trends in business today is the new focus on customer experience. It's no longer enough to create an appealing product or service and sell it. Businesses today must ensure that their customers' actual experience of the offering is as good as the promise, which requires continous engagement throughout the sale and long after. That entails a complete rethink of the tools and processes surrounding sales and customer service.
Vendors of CRM software are at the leading edge of this re-engineering of the customer experience — not only because their customers rely on their technology to transform their own capabilities, but also because the vendors themselves ought to be showing how it's done in their engagements with those customers. So among the interviews I did last week as part of our coverage of Zendesk's product announcements, I took the opportunity to catch up with Chief Customer Officer Elisabeth Zornes.
What has changed most in how Zornes sees Zendesk engaging with its customers today? She tells me it's the move away from one-time metrics such as net promoter score (NPS), which focus on capturing customer satisfaction at a given point of time, to more continuous monitoring of how customers are using the Zendesk service:
It has very much moved from a point-in-time assessment to a composite view on where the customer wants to go, and comparing that with the actual journey.
Mapping the golden path to customer success
There's a "golden path," she explains, that maps out the ideal lifecycle journey for each customer. While NPS still figures, it is put together with many other metrics, which machine learning then uses to evaluate where the customer is in their journey, and triggers alerts if action is needed to help correct course.
Some of the things we're doing is to truly understand what is the journey they would like to be on, and then use a whole set of different data to understand what that golden path would look like.
At any given point in time, where would we expect the customer to be with a whole composite of metrics? That could be product usage, that could be engagement, that could be satisfaction.
So we're using a whole set of data that we are familiar with from the customer. We look at it in a composite way, and put machine learning under it to say, is our customer on that golden path? Or are there things we should be doing, or we should be encouraging the customer to do, at this point in time, to put them onto that most successful journey where they can leverage the product in a way to achieve their own goals and objectives?
This reflects increasingly standard practice among Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) vendors, who have been at the leading edge of exploring this more connected model of customer engagement and experience. It's now spreading into other industries as more and more businesses become digitally connected to their customers in the much the same way — a trend that diginomica calls the XaaS Effect, where XaaS stands for Everything-as-a-Service. The experience throughout the product lifecycle becomes just as important as the product itself, if not more so, says Zornes, quoting research the company has recently had carried out:
Up to 80% of customers, depending on the geography, use the experience they have or they anticipate with a given brand as part of the purchasing decision.
So experience has become a critical differentiator for companies right after product feature/functionality — in some cases, and in some geographies, even before feature/functionality, which is fascinating to see. With that, companies are realizing it's no longer about just 'developing an amazing product and selling it'. It is really about accompanying the customer on their customer experience journey, and being purposeful about that and successful and differentiated.
Trending in brick-and-mortar businesses too
This trend extends way beyond the SaaS and digital sectors into many "brick-and-mortar" businesses, from healthcare to financial services, she adds:
Who would have guessed 10 years ago that we would be in a place where customers choose their bank based on the ease of transaction through their mobile device?
The industry has moved on dramatically and even some of the traditional, regulated industry, brick-and-mortar experiences are being either enriched or even dissolved with some of the approaches that companies are taking to build a bespoke experience.
One consequence of having to deliver the right experience throughout the product lifecycle is the growing importance of customer service and its convergence with sales — a trend that plays to Zendesk's strengths. Zornes explains:
We are seeing the lines blur, in terms of the traditional roles that you might be familiar with from a sales organization, and then a support organization.
One saying I like is, 'Selling doesn't help, but helping sells.'
In its own business, Zendesk has found that customers who engage with its customer success organization are far more likely to expand their use of its products and to renew their contract, she tells me.
We see dramatically better results if we're able to manage to engage with them, be it sales, be it success, be it our advocacy team or professional services, over the journey of their lifecycle.
That's, I think, really the next frontier as we think about customer experience. It is not a single organization. It is not a single engagement. It's not a single score. It is really about the orchestration of all the various interactions we offer to the customer, or the customer requests from us, that leads to those outcomes that the customer is looking for.
With technology, with the underlying CRM, with the data we have, with the orchestration and the workflow, luckily, we have the technology to allow us to do that.
From Zendesk's vantage point, the customer experience is much more than what's measured by a survey response at a given point in time, and we agree. Businesses must use the full range of digital engagement and monitoring to discover how customers are using their products and services, and then take appropriate actions to help improve that experience over time.
This is becoming a very sophisticated field where a lot of innovative thinking is going on. Check out, for example, how Zendesk customer SaaS payment processor GoCardless has built a QA program to measure how effectively its customer service team is answering customer queries. Or read my colleague Jon Reed's account of how spend management vendor Coupa is harnessing community intelligence to help its customers benchmark their performance and improve results.
Businesses who are still at the stage of collecting simple metrics of customer satisfaction need to take a look around them at how the state of the art is changing. Their customers are going to demand much more.