The enterprise software industry is in the midst of a transformation that is redefining licensing models, time to value expectations, and the delivery of services. The shift to subscription based licensing and SaaS has transferred the risk of adoption, optimization, renewal and expansion to the vendor. This change has led to an entirely new discipline, Customer Success and forced companies to focus continuously on delivering exceptional customer experiences.
To address these changes, many companies are taking steps to consolidate post-sales activities aligning delivery, services and support groups into a singular customer success organization, effectively knocking down the silos and focusing on the customer’s perspective. Bain & Company emphasizes, “Companies that aim to create an excellent experience will have to break this paradigm of functional silos and their associated metrics. They need to analyze the experience through the customer’s eyes...” (Gerard du Toit, 2017).
Seemingly overnight, large legacy enterprise software companies have been forced to think differently, emphasizing the customer’s point of view, a consistent experience framework and a clear measurement of success. This serves to not only assure effective adoption and optimization leading to expansion and renewal, but ultimately elevates the company’s reputation and earns customer loyalty.
Customer Experience Vision
Delivering an exceptional and unified customer experience requires that customer success organizations look through the eyes of the customer, and start with a customer experience intent statement. This aspirational statement of what the customer is feeling and declaring when their interaction is successful, helps guide decisions and actions. According to McKinsey & Company, “The highly diverse, frontline nature of superior customer-experience programs requires a shared aspiration, which can serve as a guiding light for strategic decisions and execution. Otherwise, a corporate strategy to improve the customer experience will go only so far.” (Brooke Boyarsky, 2016).
At PTC Customer Success, we have developed our own customer experience intent statement to guide our vision, written from the viewpoint of our clients to help drive our strategy, organization, decisions and measure our execution.
I trust and recommend PTC.
With every in-person or online interaction, I know PTC cares about me, prioritizes my needs, and takes ownership for understanding and delivering value to my business.
Every person in PTC Customer Success treats my time and effort as valuable, rallies around me in time of need, and is genuinely concerned that I achieve rapid and successful outcomes with PTC products and services.
I consider PTC to be an extension of my team.
7 Steps to Delivering a Consistent Experience
Knowing what the customer expects, aligned to an aspirational vision, is a good start. Ultimately however, a company is measured by the collective actions of its employees, not on its vision. Delivering a high value experience requires all members of the customer success team as well as the company to act consistently, in all interactions with its clients.
We recommend customer success professionals utilize the SPARCCS framework that supports the intent statement, drives alignment, mutual commitment, and execution with a defined outcome as seen below. SPARCCS is a simple acronym to remember:
(S)ituation, (P)roblem, (A)sk, (R)equirement, (C)ommitment, (C)losure, (S)olicit.
Understand the (S)ituation.
An exceptional customer experience, in which the customer trusts its vendors and recognizes they care for them, requires proactive situational awareness. This demands preparation, a centralized customer intelligence platform, and the discipline to ask targeted questions to truly understand the customer’s desired operational and/or business outcomes.
In addition, cross-functional teams should all have access to the information and act in a coordinated manner. This may require new tools or updating existing tools like Salesforce, Gainsight, Synap or many of the other emerging customer success platforms.
Align on the (P)roblem or opportunity and the impact of it.
To understand and deliver rapid value to the customer requires that each problem or opportunity is clearly understood by both parties. This can be done simply by repeating back to the customer the perceived problem or opportunity and listening intently until both parties are using the same language to describe it. There is nothing worse than creating solutions for problems that don’t exist while the real challenges remain unaddressed.
It’s also important to align on the impact. Not all urgent things are important, nor are all important things urgent. Aligning on the importance and urgency is critical to executing the right activities and delivering an exceptional customer experience.
Listen carefully for the specific (A)sk or demand.
The specific ask or demand can sometimes be different than the problem or opportunity; understanding this is critical to prioritizing the customer’s needs and taking ownership. For example, a customer may be requesting a new product feature that is critical to achieving a stated business outcome, but the specific ask may only be that a plan for the new feature and a timeline be communicated for an important upcoming management meeting.
Qualify the associated (R)equirements or need.
Qualifying the associated need is critical to be able to respond in the most appropriate way, whether content, timeline or means. Understanding and fulfilling the needs, complementary yet different from the ‘ask’ is usually what most clients will think about when evaluating their experience with a vendor. Needs are for both the client and the vendor. It is worth spelling the requirements out clearly to establish the best mutual understanding of the overall situation and define the right delivery expectation.
Agree on a mutual (C)ommitment.
Mutual commitment is the key to making sure both parties feel like they are on the same team. They are aligned and engaged on resolution of the problem or the pursuit of the opportunity, understand the specific ask, have clearly identified the associated needs and are working together towards an agreed upon and rapid outcome.
It is important to be explicit on what the vendor (or the vendor representative) commits to the client (or its representative), and what the client commits to the vendor. At this point, it often helps to follow-up with a short email capturing the essence of steps 1 to 5 with an offer to the client to adjust if necessary. This can then serve as an informal contract for this particular customer-vendor interaction.
Deliver and (C)lose the loop.
Delivering the agreed upon services and communicating completion effectively closes the loop. The form of this closure may be as simple as an email or as complex as a full technical review. In either case it is key to document completion of the previously defined mutual commitment.
All vendors look for metrics to assess and improve client satisfaction, loyalty and referenceability. Soliciting feedback upon closure helps the client think about that particular interaction. This provides an opportunity to openly discuss both positive and negative issues and address them in real-time, further reinforcing and cultivating the relationship. If performed successfully, this process will build and nurture long lasting advocates within the client’s organization whom will be pleased to share their positive experience with others in their company and with the vendor’s prospects.
Measuring the customer experience is the only true way to understand success. Renewal rates are a de facto measurement but are lagging indicators. PTC subscribes to the idea that Net Promoter Scores (or NPS) are a leading indicator that help indicate the likelihood of renewal and customer loyalty. This clear measure of success uses a simple question to identify customers as “Promoters,” “Passives,” or “Detractors.” According to Bain, “Analysis shows that sustained value creators – companies that achieve long-term profitable growth – have Net Promoter Scores two times higher than the average company. And Net Promoter System leaders on average grow at more than twice the rate of competitors.” (Bain & Company, n.d.).
The NPS survey results focus on a single question,
“How likely is it that you would recommend [your company] to a friend or colleague?”
In addition, several open ended questions are asked to help probe issues that can be used to gather critical feedback that can fuel improvement and foster better communication.
More about the NPS and how it is calculated can be found on Bain’s NPS website, or solution providers like Qualtrics that help to aggregate and decipher the data. There are other measures of success, but the key is that a metric is used to measure the execution of any customer success and customer experience program.
PTC has started its own customer success journey. The customer experience is a critical component that demands looking through a customer lens, thinking and acting differently. We at PTC are committed to delivering upon the aspiration set out in our customer experience intent statement and recognize that improvement takes time, discipline, and commitment to elevate the company, the brand, its reputation and earn our customers’ loyalty.