Put Your Customers First Or Perish, Seriously

Business today has entered a twilight zone of sorts where what you used to know doesn’t really apply any more. From the firewall mentality in IT to traditional marketing and advertising approaches in marketing to the way you run your customer service desk — it’s all changing because of the digital transformation happening all around us. And you have to change too by putting your customer at the center of everything you do, or you could be risking the very survival of your business.

A big part of the problem is you simply don’t control the message anymore. It used to be about crafting marketing materials and publishing glossy brochures and website copy and the customers came to you. Today, with social media, that process has been flipped. Customers do their own research before they buy and they listen to their followers and friends. If you aren’t totally customer-centric, people hear about it pretty fast.

I had a personal experience recently that illustrates just how important this idea has become. I signed up for one of those product-of-the-month clubs that are becoming so popular. They send you merchandize automatically every month based on preferences you give them. My teen son brought the company to my attention, and the idea intrigued me immediately as someone who is not fond of shopping in stores.

But when it came to executing, the company failed completely. There were operations glitches getting me signed up, an inability to meet the expectations of their marketing materials and some disagreement over what seemed like a perfectly clear return policy. In the end, even though the merchandise was fine, I canceled my membership. They had failed to manage my experience.

It didn’t matter how good the idea was or how nice the stuff they were selling, because they put up too many obstacles to my total satisfaction.

This idea of managing experience has even developed its own buzz word over the last 12-18 months called ‘Customer Experience Management,’ and it has caught the attention of companies big and small including IBM, SAP, Adobe and a newer company called Medallia, a cloud service that works with major brands like Hilton Hotels, Verizon and Macy’s to help them understand just how well or poorly they are doing with customers.

In fact, Medallia announced today it got $50M from Sequoia Capital. The company, which started in 2001 and today has around 500 employees probably caught the attention of Sequoia because it recognizes the customer experience as central to a changing market dynamic. The $50M brought their total money raised to date to $105M.

CEO Borge Hald says companies must learn to put the customer at the center of everything they do. “What we see happening is, customer-centric companies who don’t just get marketing right, but get delivery right will inherit earth and those who can’t execute and be accountable to customers will have a hard time surviving.”

Hald says the easiest way to measure this is through customer turnover, because as was the case in my experience, I simply didn’t want to put up with it and I left — in a hurry.

Hald says his company’s products help his customers put their buyers at the center of the experience by being data centric. They collect data from a variety of sources including user surveys and listening to online chatter about the company. He says they make data available in real time and deliver it in a variety of channels to specific people in the organization who can take a strategic or tactical use of the data, depending on their role.

But they don’t stop there, once there is an issue, there is an action phase where they allow the customer to follow the problem to resolution. For instance, if a particular property is doing poorly, they help them figure out why it’s doing poorly and how to fix it.

Finally, Medallia provides analytics that enables customers to see at a detailed level if they are successfully managing the customer experience across the organization.

Hald is careful to differentiate his company from social media monitoring solutions, which he says only let you know that there is a discussion about the company in social channels. His company monitors an operational site like a store or a hotel, and makes use of social signals, online reviews and data they collect onsite and directly from customers.

Hald says many companies recognize they need to do this, but they are stuck at how to get it done. “Individual companies trying to figure out what to do is not efficient. No one company has figured out internal business processes. It’s all being disrupted.”

It’s important to note that this kind of monitoring is just one way of managing the customer experience and other organizations are looking at different approaches, but the central tenet is the same. You need to figure out what your customers want and you need to deliver, smoothly and cleanly every time.

PHOTO CREDIT: (c) Can Stock Photo