The following article is based on an episode of Outside In, the customer centricity podcast.
Business leaders and analysts love to pontificate about how and why business, along with customer expectations, is changing so quickly. Look back just a few years, they point out, and you’ll be amazed at how forces like technology, socioeconomics, disintermediation, and globalization have coalesced to alter our world with such stunning speed and intensity.
When we look towards the future, things really start to get interesting. A 2016 study by KPMG found that 72 percent of global CEOs believe that the next three years will usher in greater change across industries than that experienced over the last 50 years. No one can predict with certainty exactly what the future holds; however, there are signs, and business leaders are keen to spot them and plan for inevitable change.
Leaders like Jeb Dasteel, chief customer officer at Oracle. Last year, in a piece outlining the path to customer success, he wrote that Oracle is “taking stock of where we started, where we are now, and the road ahead.”
As other companies find themselves on a similar path, it’s worth remembering that success depends on developing a deep understanding of customers, and evolving with – not for – their needs. “In general, buyers in both the consumer realm and the business-to-business realm have very different and greater expectations than they did just a few years ago,” Jeb said during a recent conversation for the Outside In podcast. “The power has shifted dramatically, and that causes all of us to change the way that we operate.”
Listen. Engage. Ensure.
Meaningful change only happens when a company is well-attuned to its customers, when it is committed to helping them succeed. Jeb believes a company should invest strategically on this front – in programs and tools to better listen to customers, to engage with them, and to ensure they see a company’s value. “It’s really all about helping your customer to realize the business value they were looking for when they first bought your product or your services,” he says.
Becoming a trusted advisor to customers, rather than simply just a provider, is what a successful customer relationship and experience is all about. “Start with listening and use that as a foundation,” advises Jeb.
For example, Oracle listens to customers by using a mix of quantitative, data-driven methods and qualitative techniques like targeted surveys, real-time verbal feedback, and in-person interviews. There’s also a recurring program where the company invites many of its customers to physically assemble in a room and talk to Oracle about the company’s strategy and execution. According to Jeb, the insights that emerge from these candid, honest conversations are priceless.
Target. Track. Measure.
Jeb also believes it’s critical to target, track, and measure customer outcomes across the customer partnership. For instance, at the exploratory phase, Oracle helps potential customers create a business case and target the benefits of the product or service they’re seeking. As part of this approach, his team engages in “collaborative account planning,” working hand-in-glove with customers to set intentions, create buy-in, and develop a plan that works for the customer and Oracle.
Once the customer implements or adopts a service or product, Oracle works with customers to track incremental progress over time, using the customer’s own KPIs to closely monitor performance. Finally, after the customer has fully employed Oracle’s technology, “you help them go throughout the process of measuring the actual business benefits realized, and then turn that into a way to celebrate and build momentum within the customer organization.”
“Their success is our success,” Jeb says of customers, and they are “dying to have that level of commitment.” Trust is paramount; it naturally creates brand advocacy. “The more you can demonstrate that you can measure how successful [customers] have been, the more credible you are and the more likely your customer is to bring you into their most strategic discussions and business planning”
Like most large organizations, Oracle looks at traditional measures, like the Customer Loyalty Index (CLI) and Net Promoter Score (NPS), to gauge customer loyalty and satisfaction. However, Jeb admits that “you can measure yourself crazy.” What’s more important is understanding what’s behind those measures and knowing when it’s necessary to take action.
When it comes to forcing a customer-centric change of the corporate culture, Jeb has a decidedly contrarian perspective. “To me, it’s not about changing the culture. It’s really about how do I look at the culture we have and leverage aspects of that culture to enhance the objectives that we’re pursuing.”
In his multi-dimensional role of Chief Customer Officer, Jeb is a change agent, a facilitator, and a keeper of ongoing relationships with a lot of different customers. It’s not about “building an empire” or claiming dominion over any group. It’s about developing and implementing an entire framework for focusing on customer success.
With that, no matter how fast the future changes, success is always possible.