No Wild West here - Workday's CEO on customer satisfaction

Den Howlett Profile picture for user gonzodaddy November 16, 2017
Workday maintains an iron grip over its implementations. That is a direct contributor to customer satisfaction. Aneel Bhusri, CEO Workday expands on this theme.

Aneel Bhusri, Workday
Aneel Bhusri exhorting the Power of One

Aneel Bhusri, CEO Workday is proud of Workday's achievement of a 98% customer satisfaction score:

Customer satisfaction is the most important metric. It's good business to ensure that customers are happy because I believe that revenue and profit follow satisfied customers.

His remarks came both during an analyst Q&A and in a subsequent conversation to catch up on what's happening with the company at its Workday Rising Europe event this week.

I wanted to follow up with some of Brian Sommer's open questions from the first U.S. Rising event. To recap, Brian wanted clarity on how Workday assembles its customer satisfaction statistics and wonders what the next 10-12 years hold for the company.

Customer satisfaction

On the question of customer satisfaction, Bhusri says the company regularly surveys customers using a combination of yes/no questions along with open questions that are used to obtain feedback and which are used by Workday's internal analysts to determine both a satisfaction rating and a form of Net Promotor Score.

Part of any customer's satisfaction rating comes from the quality of implementation. This is a burning issue for all enterprise vendors. In a recent rant entitled Wild West of the SAP SuccessFactors Consulting Partner Ecosystem, Jarrett Pazahanick had this to say about SuccessFactors certification:

It is crazy to me that more than half of the of the 191 SuccessFactors Service/Implementation Partners do not have at least one consultant with Professional Certification in any of the 11 modules.

In our conversation, Bhusri unwittingly channeled Pazahanick's remarks saying:

There's no Wild West here. You cannot work on a Workday implementation unless you are Workday certified for the work you are doing. If we get a complaint and discover that the partner has uncertified people on the implementation then we tell them they have to get it fixed. We're not afraid to remove an implementer if they're not playing by the rules. We've done that in the past. It's simple. We stand by our customers and we cannot have a failed implementation. To be clear, you can have non-certified people working on things around the implementation but not on the implementation.

Crystal clear to me and a surprise to colleagues accustomed to a more relaxed attitude elsewhere. It is an open question how Workday scales as it attracts more customers but I didn't discern any concern in that area. So how effective is Workday's approach?

In my conversations with Workday customers over the last year, customers have showered the company with praise on the company's efforts to ensure everything goes to plan. I don't normally include those remarks in my reports because, for me, it is a check mark for the future rather than an item that contributes to an assessment of the project. But then check what Paul Wright of Accuride said to me recently:

To answer your specific question I think the customers are ready, willing and able to adopt all the technology coming at them. The questions were solid from the audience around the complexities they have in their business, and there were people in the session from all kinds of verticals. The PMs weren’t stumped by anyone. I heard similar stories from my guys who were in sessions around HR, prism analytics, and PaaS. My team was very impressed by how they constructed the open platform, and can’t wait to play with it, we’ve already got some apps in mind.

Protecting investments

Another part of customer satisfaction comes in expectation setting. In that context, Bhusri was peppered with questions about the recently announced Workday Cloud Platform.

The company is clear that it is in learning mode because the answer to most questions was 'ask that again in a year's time.' That's fine as it relates to outcomes at this stage, but I wanted to get more clarity on how Workday will protect customers on applications over which it may have little control. Bhusri again:

Right now what we're seeing is what I'd call small pieces of additional functionality rather than applications that have a larger purpose. So the potential impact is limited. You can bring whatever code you want but, we curate and certify everything that goes into that platform and will continue to do so. We have to because we have a responsibility to ensure that customers remain compliant.

Bhusri's answers reflect the careful, considered approach the company has always applied to code building. But uncertainties remain. Bhusri wants to encourage development among partners for white spaces where it may never go which may include vertical markets.

We are approaching verticalization and extensions differently to others. We are curating everything and will discuss our plans with partners so that there is a clear line between the areas we will enter and those where our partners will have a free run.

My take

Analysts always want crisp answers but Bhusri is rightfully circumspect on topics that are not fully formed or where a decision isn't in clear sight. For example, on broad questions about how the impact of machine learning techniques will impact products and services, Bhusri prefers to keep his views off the table. On the other hand he is firm about one important thing:

Workday wants to be a good citizen in everything it does. We took 100 Veterans and trained them to be Workday administrators. All 100 were placed in jobs that will give them a good quality of life.

Whenever testing a company, you have to look at many different facets of that company's way of doing business. Whether that's a commitment to quality, customer satisfaction, partner plans or, as in this vignette, paying back/paying forward. They form a totality that describes the company's culture, an important aspect of vendor selection.

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