THE CX FILES PODCAST

Driving Customer Success with Open Dialogues and Relationship Building Techniques

In this podcast, we discuss having an open communication with the customer on a regular basis and understand how renewals work. The concept of Balance Score Card is about building continual relationships
with the customer and talking about renewals and expansions.

Stuart Mills shares insights on how customer renewals work. He shares the concept of Balance Score Card and building customer relationships.

THE CX FILES PODCAST

Driving Customer Success with Open Dialogues and Relationship Building Techniques

In this podcast, we discuss having an open communication with the customer on a regular basis and understand how renewals work. The concept of Balance Score Card is about building continual relationships with the customer and talking about renewals and expansions.

Stuart Mills shares insights on how customer renewals work. He shares the concept of Balance Score Card and building customer relationships.

Transcript

Driving Customer Success with Open Dialogues and Relationship Building Techniques

Sumit Saxena
So, welcome to the CX Files. My name is Sumit Saxena and today we have with us Stuart Mills who is going to talk to us about measurable values for customer success. Customer success is a very important topic for all of us, no matter if we are a B2B company or a B2C company. And Stuart is just the right person to talk about it. He’s had like a long and illustrious career in the domain of customer experience. And most recently he was the chief customer officer at Keyloop. And before that he was chief operating officer at Crowdvision for four years. So that’s a lot of C-level experience. Stuart has scaled multiple organizations from their early startup days and grew them into like fairly large size corporation, fairly large size customer centric companies, I would say, that were eventually acquired by even larger size customer centric companies. So, welcome Stuart, I feel like I’m not doing justice to your bio, so please feel free to add some more to it and then we’ll take it from there.

Stuart Mills
Yeah, no, thank you for inviting me to join you today. I think you did a great job. Actually, I suppose the one thing I would add is even prior to crowd vision, the focus on the customer, the customer being successful with the software and the solutions you’re providing, but also understanding that this is a balanced relationship between the solutions provider and the customer and it has to work for both. And I think having a transparent and open dialogue and not being afraid to give feedback to the customer and almost encouraging feedback from the customer has to be a key part of this relationship. And I think some of the points you’ll cover during this will kind of pull some of those topics out.

Sumit Saxena
Fantastic, so let’s start measurable value, right? So let’s let’s zone in on that. What do you mean by measurable values when it comes to customer experience, customer success? What are we talking about?

Stuart Mills
Yeah, and again I I think this is balancing those two sides. So from a customer standpoint, it’s whether they’re getting the value from the solution that they’ve invested in, and whether they’re getting the value from the company. Because the company brings with it so much expertise and experience that it can share with any new customer that it’s sort of incumbent on the customer to work with the supplier to make sure that they’re getting all of that value. And that’s not just during the implementation. From my perspective, this is a relationship that you build from the very start and continue to evolve and grow over your entire journey with the customer. And what I don’t like to see is when organizations dip into a customer on a very random or infrequent basis and don’t really understand their customer and what their customer is trying to get from the solution. So from my standpoint, there’s that balance. Is the customer getting the value from the organization, from the solution that they’ve acquired? Is it sitting in with the rest of their IT landscape? Are they driving the benefits from it? And of course from the solution provider standpoint, there’s, is this customer working in our portfolio? Are we generating revenue from them? Are we actually leveraging the fact that they’re using and getting value from our solution to help us acquire additional clients? So you’re sort of running that balance throughout, and that way the relationship is valuable for both parties.

Sumit Saxena
Correct. So it’s success for the customer and success from the customer.

Stuart Mills
Right. Absolutely.

Sumit Saxena
Fantastic. So, Stuart, we love war stories, and I know you have a lot of them. So can you give us an example, for example, when you were at Keyloop or at CrowdVision, when you were able to deliver measurable value for customer success?

Stuart Mills
Yeah, absolutely. And as you say, I think there’s a number of those things. And I think it’s also a good point to highlight the fact that your relationship with the customer will go through this journey. And at some points, the supplier may really frustrate the customer and you know there’s an opportunity there to actually partner and take them through an experience and certainly a crowd vision when we were working with a combination of software solution and hardware and we’re working in environments where it was very dynamic, very busy, airports across the world regardless of whether they’re small or large, have a set of daily challenges to make sure that the airlines and the passengers and the security people and immigration are all working and performing well to give the person traveling that great experience. And I think from my standpoint, as you’re working together, one of the critical things as the solutions provider is to really take the time to understand the customer’s business. Because if you understand the challenges that they’re facing every day, then you can actually start to move your relationship with them so it becomes more advisory and you you kind of head to that that goal of being their trusted advisor. 

Sumit Saxena
Right and I completely buy it the fact that it has to be advisory because it’s just not like a piece of software that you can go and deploy at customer end and hope that the entire culture of the organization would change, right? We’ve been to airports where customer experience is clearly not their priority. So how do you go about, I mean, beyond just software deployment, setting up a culture of customer experience with organizations? Who do you involve? How does this process run?

Stuart Mills
Yeah, so in terms of who we involve, it can vary from customer to customer. Very often, the IT team have a strong stakeholder in this, but equally, the customer service people, the operational people. And so you really have to look at each customer and understand the key stakeholders involved in the deployment of your solution and then in the running and operation of your solution. So actually getting that that understanding of your customer again. This will probably be a common theme, but I think is absolutely critical and I think through that relationship with the customer you have a combination of as you said, measures or metrics. And probably five years ago, things like NPS or Net Promoter Score was one of the metrics that we looked at. And I think that’s starting to morph now. So people are, rather than getting a sort of trailing measure, they’re getting a more current measure of how the customer is feeling, how the value is being generated for both the customer and the organization. And so from my standpoint, things like customer effort values are quite a key factor now. How much effort is the customer having to put in to work with you, to work with your solution versus the benefits they’re getting from that? So I think there are some very key measures, and you can track those quite effectively, but you can’t discount the soft measures, the relationship building and the kind of factors of how they’re feeling about you on a day-to-day basis. And there will be, you know, highs and lows. They’re likely to have a support incident that takes a little while to sort out. And after that, there’s going to be some frustration. But I think they’ll also see some real successes from the solution and after that that’s kind of engendering a different feeling in them. And so for me not only is it the kind of core metrics and the soft metrics but it’s also over periods of time, over a month or three months or six months actually actually understanding how that relationship is working for both parties.

Sumit Saxena
Right. You touched upon the stakeholders, right? So, when normally I talk to large organizations, I find two very different sets of stakeholders, people who are measuring versus people who are being measured, right? So, customers, customer facing roles typically tend to be measured. I find it excruciatingly hard to somehow like get them to understand why it’s so important for people who measuring it’s absolutely 100% clear that this is an important thing to do. Where people normally struggle is for somebody whose day job is to interact with customers day in and day out. Why do you need to measure that experience? How do you convince them that measurement is indeed good for them?

Stuart Mills
Right, and I think there are two aspects there for me. Firstly, as part of any larger scale IT or software solution deployment, you need to run a change management program. You need to make sure that the people that are going to be using the solution and those that are impacted by it, understand what it’s doing, how it’s having that effect. That almost ties in for me to the ongoing communication. So sharing data with your customer community to understand that by doing these things and following these steps, they’re having this positive impact on your customer. You can’t leave them in isolation and just give them a step of activities to follow. You have to say this is why we’re doing it and this is the impact they’re having on the business as a whole. And I think from a customer success standpoint, an organization can really help with that. Working with your customers, engaging the right people at the right levels, because it will be across the organization. And if you do that well and you take a little bit of time to do that, then we get onto the hot topic of adoption and making sure the solution is adopted well and used well within the environment. And that adoption is absolutely key and ties back to the measures that we were talking about previously.

Sumit Saxena
Fantastic. So Matrix, right? So we touched upon this. Sorry, one second. You touched upon a couple of metrics earlier, right? And PS and CES. And I was absolutely fascinated by the concept of a lagging indicator versus perhaps a leading or transactional or current metric. So can you just take us through the thought process? How do you go about identifying the right metric for a particular touch point or a particular use case? And how do you go about actually setting it up for the customer?

Stuart Mills
Yeah, so obviously we need to start off by looking at the customers goal for this solution. Right, and that will almost certainly sit alongside the organizations goal with this customer, which probably at a simple level revolves around renewal, and at a more involved level, revolves around expansion. I think as the solutions provider, we’re always hoping that renewals are a foregone conclusion. Our solution’s working great and the customer’s getting value, I sometimes wonder if we ask those questions. To me, there shouldn’t be a surprise at the renewal point that a customer is going to renew or decides to go elsewhere. For me, by effective management of the customer, working with the customer, and you know whether they’re meeting their goals and whether we’re doing what we are are supposed to be doing, then you should know well in advance that this renewal is going to happen. I think secondly, from a customer success standpoint, for a long time it has been sort of a cost center within a business. And I think the shift is happening now where there’s a stronger revenue focus. So it’s both protecting the revenue around renewals, but also being sort of tuned into the customer so you can identify new opportunities, a way to sort of expand your footprint and make you a very obvious choice for the customer. They already have the technology, they already know you, all the legal stuff has been done. So coming to you to add on future departments or whether they’re making acquisitions of other businesses and they’re standardizing technology. Again, you want to get to that point as their trusted advisor where they come to you, discuss this with you, and you have the ability to bid on that expansion opportunity. I think the other thing back into the organization as the software provider is keeping a focus on the customer. And it’s very easy to say a customer’s happy, we’ll reach out to them again when a renewal’s due. And I think that’s a dangerous trap to fall into. And so if you look at some of the work I did previously around scalable customer success plans, it’s very much a standardized plan for every customer in your business. Now what you do is change some of the ratios in terms of contact or impact, etc. But what you’re doing is having a program that all your customers are participating in and just as importantly all of your staff know. So that when they’re with customers and they’re talking to customers, this is kind of just part of what we do. And I think that can be quite hard as well because you’ve got to have that impact in your own organization so that the customer success messages are getting out more broadly. You can’t just leave it to the customer success team. Correct. That’s a good, very good point. I think

Sumit Saxena
Customer success ultimately is a culture, right? It cannot be just the customer success team. I think if you are a salesperson whose portfolio you are, the company is, you can’t get away by making a sale and never visiting the customer again. But let’s pick up the twin objectives that you mentioned earlier. So you said there’s a need for renewal and then there is a need for expansion, expanding the account. The renewal happens once in a year, for example, if it’s a 12 month long contract. Whereas expansion opportunities might happen across that period. How do you distinguish, how do you capture both of these together? Because, and you mentioned that, right? It’s not like with renewal also, you go in month 11 and go check whether this guy is going to renew or not right and which happens more often than we would like it to happen. How do you balance out these twin objectives where one objective which is renewal is once in an agreement lifetime event versus expansion opportunities which might come in at any point.

Stuart Mills
Well, for me, one of the great tools that you can use is a balanced scorecard. And I say this because it’s encouraging you to interact with your customer community on a very regular basis. Whether it’s monthly, quarterly, six-monthly, I mean, it will vary based on the business. But I think the balance scorecard also gives you a platform when you’re reviewing this with the customer to talk about renewals, to talk about expansion. And again, these things shouldn’t just come out of the blue. Hopefully you’ve built the relationship with the customer, you are trusted by the customer, they are sharing information with you, and that forms part of your relationship assessment in the balance scorecard. Now again, going back to your first question, there are some measurable elements in there. Are we meeting our contractual standards that we committed to? Are we measuring how long calls are taking to resolve if there is a support incident? Are we measuring our professional services engagement to make sure that we’re kind of hitting all of the milestones? And a whole variety of those, really. But I think the balance scorecard is broader and it also gives you an opportunity to hold the customer accountable. And I think in some cases, people are somewhat shy of doing that. And the customer has a lot of skill in the game with anything they’re doing with you. Aside from any cost impacts, there’s the staffing impacts, there’s the people they’re training, there’s the engagement with other parts of the organization. So they have a real interest in this as well. And so sometimes, although it can be a little uncomfortable for people starting out, actually using a balanced scorecard so we can actually assess how we’ve been performing and how the customer has been performing, and having a net result on that balanced scorecard and having actions to improve that result in the next engagement. So I think those things have to balance in to your first point around your relationship with the customer. It shouldn’t be a one-off thing that happens once a year. It should be, are we building this relationship with the customer and are we comfortable about talking about renewals, about what we would probably refer to as cross-sell upsell within the customer account in such a way that it doesn’t become uncomfortable. It’s a very logical question and you have that relationship with the customer where they’re quite happy to talk to you about those things.

Sumit Saxena
And how transparent should one be about this scorecard with the customer? Is it something that…

Stuart Mills
Very.

Sumit Saxena
Very.

Stuart Mills
Okay. Very. I mean, I would say, sorry, Sumit, to interrupt, but I would say going to a customer, I’m an active proponent of putting it up on a screen and actually saying, here is how you are assessing us, and here’s how we’re assessing you, and here’s the net result of how the relationship is. And put it up on the screen, share it with the customer. If they think we’ve been doing badly in one aspect, we know that’s a focus. If their staffing, their structure have prevented them from actually delivering on their parts, let’s be honest, because very often in these, particularly in a deployment phase, you’re probably seeing senior IT and projects people, but you may not be seeing a broader set of executives. And so at these review meetings we’d invite a broader set of executives and give them the understanding of the quality of the relationship. 

Sumit Saxena
Fantastic and in this balanced scorecard I’m assuming there’s a mix of like qualitative and quantitative metrics right? Yeah. How do you balance, I know and I was actually talking to somebody about customer service and the recent example that I saw was that there was a 10 and a half hour long customer service call that somebody at Zappos made, customer service guy made. And I was wondering if your metric was purely quantitative, right? Turnaround time, time to first response, this would be punished and here was rapport celebrating it.

Sumit Saxena
Therefore, there has to be some amount of qualitative metric that went into how this person handled that call for it to be celebrated. So, how do you balance the quantitative and qualitative metrics given that a lot of quantitative metrics are based on throughputs and has like cost implications.

Stuart Mills
How do you balance these things? Well, I think your question leads very well to the difference between customer service and customer success. These are two very different things within the organization, but obviously they have to play well together. So you will have those sorts of metrics and you’re probably contractually bound to do a number of things within certain time periods or you get penalized. That is just a fact of the way the software world works and so for me the view in your example here is not only taking those but also taking a set of measures that say how did we handle the customer during this experience? Were we actually a partner, which I think is what you’re describing here, because we stuck with this customer for 10 hours, we were a single point of contact into our organization and busily in the background, we were coordinating everyone. Was it some kind of war room set up where we then pulled lots of our own organization onto this conference bridge and the conference bridge stayed open for 10 hours and people could dip in and dip out as they had updates? I mean, there’s a number of different ways to do this, but again, it’s almost like we said with the balance scorecard. If you’re just going to view this on how did we perform this service against the contract and we probably had a resolution time of one hour or four hours for a P1 incident, and now we’ve taken 10, well, we failed, right? We can’t ignore that. Now, would we have liked to have sold that quicker? Absolutely. Would we have liked for the customer to be back in service much more quickly? Absolutely. But that’s not the question in my view. The question is, did we respect our customer? Were we open and transparent with our customer? Did we get to the desired result in the end? And how we learn from what took us the extended period to resolve the problem? Because I think you’ll find a lot of surveys out there, Sumit, that tell you that actually a customer that’s never had an issue with you is less bound to you than a customer that’s had an issue or two and you’ve taken them through that and handled it really professionally and then their loyalty rating to you increases because they believe if there is a problem you can help them through it. And so I think those are key things for me. In my view, it can’t just be a set of contract terms that say you’ll resolve in an hour, you’ll send out an incident report two hours after that, etc. It’s how you manage your customer through this difficult experience and get them to the other side so that they were back on track and they could be successful with the solution.

Sumit Saxena
Right. Fantastic. So you’ve gone into an organization, you have deployed a customer experience program, you have a balanced scorecard. Is that something which is going to remain static forever or are there times when you feel that it needs to change and the metrics that you are measuring for success needs to be updated? And how do you identify this?

Stuart Mills
Yeah, that’s a great question and a question I get quite a lot actually, because generally at the start of an engagement you have a set of objectives that you’re looking to meet and this needs to be assessed as part of your customer review process on a regular basis. And that’s because sometimes these metrics are spot on and you’ve got certain goals to hit. But once you’ve reached that goal, where next? So that has to be reviewed and the tracking towards achieving that goal has to be reviewed. But also based on probably a million other things going on in your customers organization, one of these metrics may no longer be valid. So you can’t be afraid to say, actually, we’re closing this one down because it doesn’t meet the needs of the business, and instead, we’re opening this one up. And so I do think there’s that sort of evolution and change process through the goals and metrics, and you shouldn’t be afraid to change them. What I’d normally advise against is changing them every month. Then I’d question whether they were right to begin with. But have a set of objectives with measures, understand the frequency that you’ll report on those, and you’ll share the results with the customer, or they’ll share them with you, and actually sit down with them on a regular basis and review whether they’re still accurate, impactful, meet the needs of their business. And if they don’t, change them and make sure you understand how you’re going to measure each element.

Sumit Saxena
Fantastic. That’s a great response. Million dollar question. Sorry, billion dollar question. Where do you foresee the future of measuring customer success? Where should companies be building? Where should startups be looking at? Where is this whole thing going?

Stuart Mills
Yeah, I mean, I think, as I said earlier on in the call, the sort of view of customer success initially was that it was a cost layer for the business. I think that’s shifting, and that’s got to shift. Now that doesn’t mean that the customer success people become the sales people, they don’t. But they become commercially aware. They are potentially offering a set of services around customer success that has value to the customer and therefore can become a chargeable activity. And by hitting the items that we spoke about earlier in terms of renewals and working closely with the sales team on expansions and cross-sales and up-sales, then you can actually start to look at customer success, if not necessarily making money, being at least sort of revenue neutral because they offer so much other value to the business. and being able to take a set of customers, make sure they’re achieving their goals. There’s great success stories from that, and actually then working with the marketing team to surface those success stories and being able to point at customers and say, they’ve had success with our solution and with the services we’ve provided around it, and that customer is then willing to put their name to it, and whether it’s videos, whether it’s formalized case studies, something that again is giving the business real value back from the customer engagement. So for me, I think you’ll see this shift where they’ll become more revenue aware, but I think you’ll also see this shift from a customer success standpoint where people take the time to better understand the customer’s business. And I think this is so crucial because if you don’t take that time upfront to understand what’s important to the customer, then you’re not ever quite sure whether you’re delivering something of true value for them. And I think, again, that’s a maturity curve for me. It was initially customer success was, can we get the renewals and is the customer happy?

Sumit Saxena
Check, check.

Stuart Mills
Now I think it’s going to be, do we understand the customer’s business? Is there value we can bring? Can we get, as I mentioned earlier on, to this position of trusted advisor? Have them talk to us about other initiatives which may not even impact our immediate world, but then you know you’ve got to a point where they trust you and you’re really understanding their business and being a part of it. And if you don’t understand your customers’ business in the beginning, and that’s normally the time a new customer comes in is the most exciting time in the relationship for you as a seller, right? And if you’re not excited enough at that point to understand this person’s business, you never will be right. So might as well use that excitement, enthusiasm to understand what they are looking for in success. Thanks to what that yeah, sorry, just to add to that point and that is another challenge for the customer success team that you’re right around the point the deal is made. Everyone’s very excited, et cetera, that enthusiasm and excitement shouldn’t go away, right?

Sumit Saxena
Yeah.

Stuart Mills
And the customer success team can be absolutely crucial in making sure that energy around the customer, the executive insight from both organizations is there. And that excitement should continue. That level of engagement should continue beyond the point where the deal’s made and you’re quite right, everyone’s very happy. So sorry, I just wanted to add that.

Sumit Saxena
Absolutely. I mean, there’s a reason why it’s said success breeds success. If your customer is successful, you will be successful. There’ll be renewals, there’ll be an expansion in account, and it’s all around happiness for everybody involved. Stuart, we’ll go into the fun part of this conversation. We’ll put you in a little bit of a hotspot and ask you some rapid fire questions. So let me know if you’re ready.

Stuart Mills
Absolutely.

Sumit Saxena
All right. So one word to describe perfect customer experience.

Stuart Mills
empathy. 

Sumit Saxena
Nice, okay.

Stuart Mills
What’s the most important CX metric? 

Stuart Mills
Customer effort. 

Sumit Saxena
Interesting, a brand that you admire for its customer experience. 

Stuart Mills
Apple

Sumit Saxena
Nice. The biggest myth about customer experience?

Stuart Mills
I said it earlier in the call. It’s not the same as customer service. The customer service teams are fantastic. They deliver, you know, huge value, but customer success and customer service are not the same thing.

Sumit Saxena
Got it. Good one. The future of customer experience in one word.

Stuart Mills
Value.

Sumit Saxena
One tool or technology that’s a game changer for CX.

Stuart Mills
Oh, that’s a hard question. And I say that’s a hard question because it really depends on your organization. And I know these are meant to be rapid, rapid answers and I’m not doing well with this one, but there are so many technologies out there depending on how you wish to deliver service to your customer, how you wish to measure success, even which vertical you’re sat in, there are different tools. And I was thinking about this earlier on, whether you’re looking at someone like Game or HubSpot or Zendesk or ResponseTech. Now, they offer some overlapping things but some different things. So, actually, just kind of turning that backwards, to any customer, I’d want to understand what are the important things on their list, and I’d want to share with them what our other customers have said, because there may be factors that haven’t been considered. So once you’ve got that final list of this is important, then go out and find the right solution.

Sumit Saxena
That wasn’t exactly rapid fire, but thank you for not saying artificial intelligence, by the way. Generative AI is such an easy answer for this one these days. Yeah, exactly. Generative AI. The most challenging aspect of delivering great CX. I was probably… my theme for this call is probably understanding the customer what they do, how they do it, why they do it. One book or a resource that you would recommend to anybody in the domain. 

Stuart Mills
Uh, probably an obvious choice is the Seven Pillars of  Customer Success by Wayne McCulloch. I thought that was a great book. There’s actually some really interesting ones at the moment, and some of these topics that we’ve covered today are debated in some of these books. Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh, again, very interesting. I know it was one, but I’m going to go for a third. Talking to Humans, Giff Constable. I think that is again something that we should embrace, right? Every time you’re engaging with a customer, remember they’re a customer, right? Remember there’s a good way to talk to them and there’s a good way to manage them. Right. You’re completely killing the rapid fire, aren’t you? Just destroying it with these answers sorry sorry the best piece of CX advice that you ever received I’m going to give credit to Dr. Michelle McGraw for this she always said to use your ears and mouth in the appropriate ratio you’ve got two ears of one mouth so spend at least you know twice as much time listening as you do talking.

Sumit Saxena
Right. As a podcaster host, I can tell you it’s so hard to do sometimes, especially when you have a conversation as engaging as that we’re having right now. I had to literally stop myself from stopping you at every turn and asking you a follow-up question. Thank you so much more to tell us and contribute and give us more of your war stories. And at some point, I think we should get you back just to hear about your scaling up organizations and how you managed to do that over and over again with multiple companies. So thank you. It was a pleasure talking to you today.

Stuart Mills
Yeah, great to talk to you, Sumit. Thank you very much.

Sumit Saxena
Thank you very much.

Transcript

Driving Customer Success with Open Dialogues and Relationship Building Techniques

Sumit Saxena
So, welcome to the CX Files. My name is Sumit Saxena and today we have with us Stuart Mills who is going to talk to us about measurable values for customer success. Customer success is a very important topic for all of us, no matter if we are a B2B company or a B2C company. And Stuart is just the right person to talk about it. He’s had like a long and illustrious career in the domain of customer experience. And most recently he was the chief customer officer at Keyloop. And before that he was chief operating officer at Crowdvision for four years. So that’s a lot of C-level experience. Stuart has scaled multiple organizations from their early startup days and grew them into like fairly large size corporation, fairly large size customer centric companies, I would say, that were eventually acquired by even larger size customer centric companies. So, welcome Stuart, I feel like I’m not doing justice to your bio, so please feel free to add some more to it and then we’ll take it from there.

Stuart Mills
Yeah, no, thank you for inviting me to join you today. I think you did a great job. Actually, I suppose the one thing I would add is even prior to crowd vision, the focus on the customer, the customer being successful with the software and the solutions you’re providing, but also understanding that this is a balanced relationship between the solutions provider and the customer and it has to work for both. And I think having a transparent and open dialogue and not being afraid to give feedback to the customer and almost encouraging feedback from the customer has to be a key part of this relationship. And I think some of the points you’ll cover during this will kind of pull some of those topics out.

Sumit Saxena
Fantastic, so let’s start measurable value, right? So let’s let’s zone in on that. What do you mean by measurable values when it comes to customer experience, customer success? What are we talking about?

Stuart Mills
Yeah, and again I I think this is balancing those two sides. So from a customer standpoint, it’s whether they’re getting the value from the solution that they’ve invested in, and whether they’re getting the value from the company. Because the company brings with it so much expertise and experience that it can share with any new customer that it’s sort of incumbent on the customer to work with the supplier to make sure that they’re getting all of that value. And that’s not just during the implementation. From my perspective, this is a relationship that you build from the very start and continue to evolve and grow over your entire journey with the customer. And what I don’t like to see is when organizations dip into a customer on a very random or infrequent basis and don’t really understand their customer and what their customer is trying to get from the solution. So from my standpoint, there’s that balance. Is the customer getting the value from the organization, from the solution that they’ve acquired? Is it sitting in with the rest of their IT landscape? Are they driving the benefits from it? And of course from the solution provider standpoint, there’s, is this customer working in our portfolio? Are we generating revenue from them? Are we actually leveraging the fact that they’re using and getting value from our solution to help us acquire additional clients? So you’re sort of running that balance throughout, and that way the relationship is valuable for both parties.

Sumit Saxena
Correct. So it’s success for the customer and success from the customer.

Stuart Mills
Right. Absolutely.

Sumit Saxena
Fantastic. So, Stuart, we love war stories, and I know you have a lot of them. So can you give us an example, for example, when you were at Keyloop or at CrowdVision, when you were able to deliver measurable value for customer success?

Stuart Mills
Yeah, absolutely. And as you say, I think there’s a number of those things. And I think it’s also a good point to highlight the fact that your relationship with the customer will go through this journey. And at some points, the supplier may really frustrate the customer and you know there’s an opportunity there to actually partner and take them through an experience and certainly a crowd vision when we were working with a combination of software solution and hardware and we’re working in environments where it was very dynamic, very busy, airports across the world regardless of whether they’re small or large, have a set of daily challenges to make sure that the airlines and the passengers and the security people and immigration are all working and performing well to give the person traveling that great experience. And I think from my standpoint, as you’re working together, one of the critical things as the solutions provider is to really take the time to understand the customer’s business. Because if you understand the challenges that they’re facing every day, then you can actually start to move your relationship with them so it becomes more advisory and you you kind of head to that that goal of being their trusted advisor. 

Sumit Saxena
Right and I completely buy it the fact that it has to be advisory because it’s just not like a piece of software that you can go and deploy at customer end and hope that the entire culture of the organization would change, right? We’ve been to airports where customer experience is clearly not their priority. So how do you go about, I mean, beyond just software deployment, setting up a culture of customer experience with organizations? Who do you involve? How does this process run?

Stuart Mills
Yeah, so in terms of who we involve, it can vary from customer to customer. Very often, the IT team have a strong stakeholder in this, but equally, the customer service people, the operational people. And so you really have to look at each customer and understand the key stakeholders involved in the deployment of your solution and then in the running and operation of your solution. So actually getting that that understanding of your customer again. This will probably be a common theme, but I think is absolutely critical and I think through that relationship with the customer you have a combination of as you said, measures or metrics. And probably five years ago, things like NPS for Net Promoter Score was one of the metrics that we looked at. And I think that’s starting to morph now. So people are, rather than getting a sort of trailing measure, they’re getting a more current measure of how the customer is feeling, how the value is being generated for both the customer and the organization. And so from my standpoint, things like customer effort values are quite a key factor now. How much effort is the customer having to put in to work with you, to work with your solution versus the benefits they’re getting from that? So I think there are some very key measures, and you can track those quite effectively, but you can’t discount the soft measures, the relationship building and the kind of factors of how they’re feeling about you on a day-to-day basis. And there will be, you know, highs and lows. They’re likely to have a support incident that takes a little while to sort out. And after that, there’s going to be some frustration. But I think they’ll also see some real successes from the solution and after that that’s kind of engendering a different feeling in them. And so for me not only is it the kind of core metrics and the soft metrics but it’s also over periods of time, over a month or three months or six months actually actually understanding how that relationship is working for both parties.

Sumit Saxena
Right. You touched upon the stakeholders, right? So, when normally I talk to large organizations, I find two very different sets of stakeholders, people who are measuring versus people who are being measured, right? So, customers, customer facing roles typically tend to be measured. I find it excruciatingly hard to somehow like get them to understand why it’s so important for people who measuring it’s absolutely 100% clear that this is an important thing to do. Where people normally struggle is for somebody whose day job is to interact with customers day in and day out. Why do you need to measure that experience? How do you convince them that measurement is indeed good for them?

Stuart Mills
Right, and I think there are two aspects there for me. Firstly, as part of any larger scale IT or software solution deployment, you need to run a change management program. You need to make sure that the people that are going to be using the solution and those that are impacted by it, understand what it’s doing, how it’s having that effect. That almost ties in for me to the ongoing communication. So sharing data with your customer community to understand that by doing these things and following these steps, they’re having this positive impact on your customer. You can’t leave them in isolation and just give them a step of activities to follow. You have to say this is why we’re doing it and this is the impact they’re having on the business as a whole. And I think from a customer success standpoint, an organization can really help with that. Working with your customers, engaging the right people at the right levels, because it will be across the organization. And if you do that well and you take a little bit of time to do that, then we get onto the hot topic of adoption and making sure the solution is adopted well and used well within the environment. And that adoption is absolutely key and ties back to the measures that we were talking about previously.

Sumit Saxena
Fantastic. So Matrix, right? So we touched upon this. Sorry, one second. You touched upon a couple of metrics earlier, right? And PS and CES. And I was absolutely fascinated by the concept of a lagging indicator versus perhaps a leading or transactional or current metric. So can you just take us through the thought process? How do you go about identifying the right metric for a particular touch point or a particular use case? And how do you go about actually setting it up for the customer?

Stuart Mills
Yeah, so obviously we need to start off by looking at the customers goal for this solution. Right, and that will almost certainly sit alongside the organizations goal with this customer, which probably at a simple level revolves around renewal, and at a more involved level, revolves around expansion. I think as the solutions provider, we’re always hoping that renewals are a foregone conclusion. Our solution’s working great and the customer’s getting value, I sometimes wonder if we ask those questions. To me, there shouldn’t be a surprise at the renewal point that a customer is going to renew or decides to go elsewhere. For me, by effective management of the customer, working with the customer, and you know whether they’re meeting their goals and whether we’re doing what we are are supposed to be doing, then you should know well in advance that this renewal is going to happen. I think secondly, from a customer success standpoint, for a long time it has been sort of a cost center within a business. And I think the shift is happening now where there’s a stronger revenue focus. So it’s both protecting the revenue around renewals, but also being sort of tuned into the customer so you can identify new opportunities, a way to sort of expand your footprint and make you a very obvious choice for the customer. They already have the technology, they already know you, all the legal stuff has been done. So coming to you to add on future departments or whether they’re making acquisitions of other businesses and they’re standardizing technology. Again, you want to get to that point as their trusted advisor where they come to you, discuss this with you, and you have the ability to bid on that expansion opportunity. I think the other thing back into the organization as the software provider is keeping a focus on the customer. And it’s very easy to say a customer’s happy, we’ll reach out to them again when a renewal’s due. And I think that’s a dangerous trap to fall into. And so if you look at some of the work I did previously around scalable customer success plans, it’s very much a standardized plan for every customer in your business. Now what you do is change some of the ratios in terms of contact or impact, etc. But what you’re doing is having a program that all your customers are participating in and just as importantly all of your staff know. So that when they’re with customers and they’re talking to customers, this is kind of just part of what we do. And I think that can be quite hard as well because you’ve got to have that impact in your own organization so that the customer success messages are getting out more broadly. You can’t just leave it to the customer success team. Correct. That’s a good, very good point. I think

Sumit Saxena
Customer success ultimately is a culture, right? It cannot be just the customer success team. I think if you are a salesperson whose portfolio you are, the company is, you can’t get away by making a sale and never visiting the customer again. But let’s pick up the twin objectives that you mentioned earlier. So you said there’s a need for renewal and then there is a need for expansion, expanding the account. The renewal happens once in a year, for example, if it’s a 12 month long contract. Whereas expansion opportunities might happen across that period. How do you distinguish, how do you capture both of these together? Because, and you mentioned that, right? It’s not like with renewal also, you go in month 11 and go check whether this guy is going to renew or not right and which happens more often than we would like it to happen. How do you balance out these twin objectives where one objective which is renewal is once in an agreement lifetime event versus expansion opportunities which might come in at any point.

Stuart Mills
Well, for me, one of the great tools that you can use is a balanced scorecard. And I say this because it’s encouraging you to interact with your customer community on a very regular basis. Whether it’s monthly, quarterly, six-monthly, I mean, it will vary based on the business. But I think the balance scorecard also gives you a platform when you’re reviewing this with the customer to talk about renewals, to talk about expansion. And again, these things shouldn’t just come out of the blue. Hopefully you’ve built the relationship with the customer, you are trusted by the customer, they are sharing information with you, and that forms part of your relationship assessment in the balance scorecard. Now again, going back to your first question, there are some measurable elements in there. Are we meeting our contractual standards that we committed to? Are we measuring how long calls are taking to resolve if there is a support incident? Are we measuring our professional services engagement to make sure that we’re kind of hitting all of the milestones? And a whole variety of those, really. But I think the balance scorecard is broader and it also gives you an opportunity to hold the customer accountable. And I think in some cases, people are somewhat shy of doing that. And the customer has a lot of skill in the game with anything they’re doing with you. Aside from any cost impacts, there’s the staffing impacts, there’s the people they’re training, there’s the engagement with other parts of the organization. So they have a real interest in this as well. And so sometimes, although it can be a little uncomfortable for people starting out, actually using a balanced scorecard so we can actually assess how we’ve been performing and how the customer has been performing, and having a net result on that balanced scorecard and having actions to improve that result in the next engagement. So I think those things have to balance in to your first point around your relationship with the customer. It shouldn’t be a one-off thing that happens once a year. It should be, are we building this relationship with the customer and are we comfortable about talking about renewals, about what we would probably refer to as cross-sell upsell within the customer account in such a way that it doesn’t become uncomfortable. It’s a very logical question and you have that relationship with the customer where they’re quite happy to talk to you about those things.

Sumit Saxena
And how transparent should one be about this scorecard with the customer? Is it something that…

Stuart Mills
Very.

Sumit Saxena
Very.

Stuart Mills
Okay. Very. I mean, I would say, sorry, Sumit, to interrupt, but I would say going to a customer, I’m an active proponent of putting it up on a screen and actually saying, here is how you are assessing us, and here’s how we’re assessing you, and here’s the net result of how the relationship is. And put it up on the screen, share it with the customer. If they think we’ve been doing badly in one aspect, we know that’s a focus. If their staffing, their structure have prevented them from actually delivering on their parts, let’s be honest, because very often in these, particularly in a deployment phase, you’re probably seeing senior IT and projects people, but you may not be seeing a broader set of executives. And so at these review meetings we’d invite a broader set of executives and give them the understanding of the quality of the relationship. 

Sumit Saxena
Fantastic and in this balanced scorecard I’m assuming there’s a mix of like qualitative and quantitative metrics right? Yeah. How do you balance, I know and I was actually talking to somebody about customer service and the recent example that I saw was that there was a 10 and a half hour long customer service call that somebody at Zappos made, customer service guy made. And I was wondering if your metric was purely quantitative, right? Turnaround time, time to first response, this would be punished and here was rapport celebrating it.

Sumit Saxena
Therefore, there has to be some amount of qualitative metric that went into how this person handled that call for it to be celebrated. So, how do you balance the quantitative and qualitative metrics given that a lot of quantitative metrics are based on throughputs and has like cost implications.

Stuart Mills
How do you balance these things? Well, I think your question leads very well to the difference between customer service and customer success. These are two very different things within the organization, but obviously they have to play well together. So you will have those sorts of metrics and you’re probably contractually bound to do a number of things within certain time periods or you get penalized. That is just a fact of the way the software world works and so for me the view in your example here is not only taking those but also taking a set of measures that say how did we handle the customer during this experience? Were we actually a partner, which I think is what you’re describing here, because we stuck with this customer for 10 hours, we were a single point of contact into our organization and busily in the background, we were coordinating everyone. Was it some kind of war room set up where we then pulled lots of our own organization onto this conference bridge and the conference bridge stayed open for 10 hours and people could dip in and dip out as they had updates? I mean, there’s a number of different ways to do this, but again, it’s almost like we said with the balance scorecard. If you’re just going to view this on how did we perform this service against the contract and we probably had a resolution time of one hour or four hours for a P1 incident, and now we’ve taken 10, well, we failed, right? We can’t ignore that. Now, would we have liked to have sold that quicker? Absolutely. Would we have liked for the customer to be back in service much more quickly? Absolutely. But that’s not the question in my view. The question is, did we respect our customer? Were we open and transparent with our customer? Did we get to the desired result in the end? And how we learn from what took us the extended period to resolve the problem? Because I think you’ll find a lot of surveys out there, Sumit, that tell you that actually a customer that’s never had an issue with you is less bound to you than a customer that’s had an issue or two and you’ve taken them through that and handled it really professionally and then their loyalty rating to you increases because they believe if there is a problem you can help them through it. And so I think those are key things for me. In my view, it can’t just be a set of contract terms that say you’ll resolve in an hour, you’ll send out an incident report two hours after that, etc. It’s how you manage your customer through this difficult experience and get them to the other side so that they were back on track and they could be successful with the solution.

Sumit Saxena
Right. Fantastic. So you’ve gone into an organization, you have deployed a customer experience program, you have a balanced scorecard. Is that something which is going to remain static forever or are there times when you feel that it needs to change and the metrics that you are measuring for success needs to be updated? And how do you identify this?

Stuart Mills
Yeah, that’s a great question and a question I get quite a lot actually, because generally at the start of an engagement you have a set of objectives that you’re looking to meet and this needs to be assessed as part of your customer review process on a regular basis. And that’s because sometimes these metrics are spot on and you’ve got certain goals to hit. But once you’ve reached that goal, where next? So that has to be reviewed and the tracking towards achieving that goal has to be reviewed. But also based on probably a million other things going on in your customers organization, one of these metrics may no longer be valid. So you can’t be afraid to say, actually, we’re closing this one down because it doesn’t meet the needs of the business, and instead, we’re opening this one up. And so I do think there’s that sort of evolution and change process through the goals and metrics, and you shouldn’t be afraid to change them. What I’d normally advise against is changing them every month. Then I’d question whether they were right to begin with. But have a set of objectives with measures, understand the frequency that you’ll report on those, and you’ll share the results with the customer, or they’ll share them with you, and actually sit down with them on a regular basis and review whether they’re still accurate, impactful, meet the needs of their business. And if they don’t, change them and make sure you understand how you’re going to measure each element.

Sumit Saxena
Fantastic. That’s a great response. Million dollar question. Sorry, billion dollar question. Where do you foresee the future of measuring customer success? Where should companies be building? Where should startups be looking at? Where is this whole thing going?

Stuart Mills
Yeah, I mean, I think, as I said earlier on in the call, the sort of view of customer success initially was that it was a cost layer for the business. I think that’s shifting, and that’s got to shift. Now that doesn’t mean that the customer success people become the sales people, they don’t. But they become commercially aware. They are potentially offering a set of services around customer success that has value to the customer and therefore can become a chargeable activity. And by hitting the items that we spoke about earlier in terms of renewals and working closely with the sales team on expansions and cross-sales and up-sales, then you can actually start to look at customer success, if not necessarily making money, being at least sort of revenue neutral because they offer so much other value to the business. and being able to take a set of customers, make sure they’re achieving their goals. There’s great success stories from that, and actually then working with the marketing team to surface those success stories and being able to point at customers and say, they’ve had success with our solution and with the services we’ve provided around it, and that customer is then willing to put their name to it, and whether it’s videos, whether it’s formalized case studies, something that again is giving the business real value back from the customer engagement. So for me, I think you’ll see this shift where they’ll become more revenue aware, but I think you’ll also see this shift from a customer success standpoint where people take the time to better understand the customer’s business. And I think this is so crucial because if you don’t take that time upfront to understand what’s important to the customer, then you’re not ever quite sure whether you’re delivering something of true value for them. And I think, again, that’s a maturity curve for me. It was initially customer success was, can we get the renewals and is the customer happy?

Sumit Saxena
Check, check.

Stuart Mills
Now I think it’s going to be, do we understand the customer’s business? Is there value we can bring? Can we get, as I mentioned earlier on, to this position of trusted advisor? Have them talk to us about other initiatives which may not even impact our immediate world, but then you know you’ve got to a point where they trust you and you’re really understanding their business and being a part of it. And if you don’t understand your customers’ business in the beginning, and that’s normally the time a new customer comes in is the most exciting time in the relationship for you as a seller, right? And if you’re not excited enough at that point to understand this person’s business, you never will be right. So might as well use that excitement, enthusiasm to understand what they are looking for in success. Thanks to what that yeah, sorry, just to add to that point and that is another challenge for the customer success team that you’re right around the point the deal is made. Everyone’s very excited, et cetera, that enthusiasm and excitement shouldn’t go away, right?

Sumit Saxena
Yeah.

Stuart Mills
And the customer success team can be absolutely crucial in making sure that energy around the customer, the executive insight from both organizations is there. And that excitement should continue. That level of engagement should continue beyond the point where the deal’s made and you’re quite right, everyone’s very happy. So sorry, I just wanted to add that.

Sumit Saxena
Absolutely. I mean, there’s a reason why it’s said success breeds success. If your customer is successful, you will be successful. There’ll be renewals, there’ll be an expansion in account, and it’s all around happiness for everybody involved. Stuart, we’ll go into the fun part of this conversation. We’ll put you in a little bit of a hotspot and ask you some rapid fire questions. So let me know if you’re ready.

Stuart Mills
Absolutely.

Sumit Saxena
All right. So one word to describe perfect customer experience.

Stuart Mills
empathy. 

Sumit Saxena
Nice, okay.

Stuart Mills
What’s the most important CX metric? 

Stuart Mills
Customer effort. 

Sumit Saxena
Interesting, a brand that you admire for its customer experience. 

Stuart Mills
Apple

Sumit Saxena
Nice. The biggest myth about customer experience?

Stuart Mills
I said it earlier in the call. It’s not the same as customer service. The customer service teams are fantastic. They deliver, you know, huge value, but customer success and customer service are not the same thing.

Sumit Saxena
Got it. Good one. The future of customer experience in one word.

Stuart Mills
Value.

Sumit Saxena
One tool or technology that’s a game changer for CX.

Stuart Mills
Oh, that’s a hard question. And I say that’s a hard question because it really depends on your organization. And I know these are meant to be rapid, rapid answers and I’m not doing well with this one, but there are so many technologies out there depending on how you wish to deliver service to your customer, how you wish to measure success, even which vertical you’re sat in, there are different tools. And I was thinking about this earlier on, whether you’re looking at someone like Game or HubSpot or Zendesk or ResponseTech. Now, they offer some overlapping things but some different things. So, actually, just kind of turning that backwards, to any customer, I’d want to understand what are the important things on their list, and I’d want to share with them what our other customers have said, because there may be factors that haven’t been considered. So once you’ve got that final list of this is important, then go out and find the right solution.

Sumit Saxena
That wasn’t exactly rapid fire, but thank you for not saying artificial intelligence, by the way. Generative AI is such an easy answer for this one these days. Yeah, exactly. Generative AI. The most challenging aspect of delivering great CX. I was probably… my theme for this call is probably understanding the customer what they do, how they do it, why they do it. One book or a resource that you would recommend to anybody in the domain. 

Stuart Mills
Uh, probably an obvious choice is the seven pillars of  customer success by Wayne McCulloch. I thought that was a great book. There’s actually some really interesting ones at the moment, and some of these topics that we’ve covered today are debated in some of these books. Delivering Happiness by Tony Heche, again, very interesting. I know it was one, but I’m going to go for a third. Talking to Humans, Giff Constable. I think that is again something that we should embrace, right? Every time you’re engaging with a customer, remember they’re a customer, right? Remember there’s a good way to talk to them and there’s a good way to manage them. Right. You’re completely killing the rapid fire, aren’t you? Just destroying it with these answers sorry sorry the best piece of CX advice that you ever received I’m going to give credit to Dr. Michelle McGraw for this she always said to use your ears and mouth in the appropriate ratio you’ve got two ears of one mouth so spend at least you know twice as much time listening as you do talking.

Sumit Saxena
Right. As a podcaster host, I can tell you it’s so hard to do sometimes, especially when you have a conversation as engaging as that we’re having right now. I had to literally stop myself from stopping you at every turn and asking you a follow-up question. Thank you so much more to tell us and contribute and give us more of your war stories. And at some point, I think we should get you back just to hear about your scaling up organizations and how you managed to do that over and over again with multiple companies. So thank you. It was a pleasure talking to you today.

Stuart Mills
Yeah, great to talk to you, Sumit. Thank you very much.

Sumit Saxena
Thank you very much.

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