The Path to Excellence: Improving Customer Interactions and Business Relationships


8 min read
26 May


In this interview, Chris Watkins, VP of Client Success and Experience at OpenEdge, talks in building out a client experience based on a simple and guided perspective. He believes ‘customer experience is the heart of the business, and should guide all business decisions.’


The concept of Client Success should not be dramatic or more difficult than it needs to be. From a contextual or guiding perspective, when you talk to your clients, think of all the outcomes you’re trying (or going) to deliver. Ask yourself - does it literally make the client successful? If the answer to that question is “no”, then you need to rethink what’s missing in your strategy - Chris Watkins, VP Client Success and Experience at OpenEdge



Background and career


Watkins started his career in market research at a few smaller companies, eventually working for the largest customer satisfaction firm, where he has implemented and developed an engagement model for some of the largest enterprise businesses in the country.
 

“Back in the day, they called it “customer satisfaction, ” Watkins recalled. “When it became part of the technological nomenclature, they changed the term to “client experience”.
 

“What I like about this role,” Watkins says, “it allows you to take one step further than just creating happy clients, it creates successful clients.” This happens in part because this role requires a high level of participation amongst other teams, and you can see how each of these teams work at a broader level to deliver a differentiated experience for all clients.”
 

Think of it, CS sits in the middle of these interconnected functions. So - you’re in the right position to participate, advocate, or take part in the design process and correlate the entire business strategy across these teams within the organization.

As Matt Myszkowski, VP of CS at SAP says, the best way to illustrate that is similar to a bicycle wheel with many spokes. If you look at the middle section (the axis, which is the CS), you’ll see those spokes deeply rooted on the axis yet each of these spokes is independently hinged and closely structured from one another. You can read my interview with Matt here.


Client experience is the heart of the business


The question is – where is this value interlocked? Watkins pointed out, “this value is embedded in the service rendered and maintained across the customer’s entire journey”. “In my perspective,” Watkins added, “if you don’t have the value component worked out or established first, it becomes very hard to make the customer experience come to life.
 

“The client experience needs to be more than just a good product or service. If I don’t see (as a client or customer) what that value can be in working with a company or brand, then it will be challenging for me to engage with the brand in a meaningful way – beyond normal transactional experiences.”
 

Why? When the value isn’t clear and doesn’t continue to grow as a customer expected and believed it would, then the types of client experiences that tend to occur are nothing more than typical ‘service experiences’. And when that defines your brand’s relationship with clients – you create greater focus on price alone, and become very replaceable very quickly.

Meaningful brand experience is not just a handoff (or extension) of a good customer service process, but rather an overall approach with business outcomes that are focused on items of critical importance to clients – things that literally make their business more successful.
 

That’s why a strong market research function becomes an impetus for organizational change, because the organization or teams can’t breathe or live without visibility on what is exactly taking place or shaping within their domain and industry. The same principle applies to Client Experience.


How do we use the client experience to win the day?


Client experience drives true client success when these concepts are foundational to your business model:

  1. Establish the value points and understand expectations within any customer’s journey.
  2. The value must be of importance to your clients and connected to the long-term plan (or goal) and success of the organization.
  3. Use tools like journey maps to truly understand expectations as well as see the needs, opportunities, successes and current failure points of each interaction with your brand.
  4. Build processes and approaches seamless for your client as they move from step to step in their journey.  Enable the measurement of success.
  5. Create a client-focused culture where employees have the right mindset to deliver differentiated experiences and receive the training to deliver those experiences every day.
  6. When organizations can combine these business concepts effectively, almost every organization can begin to deliver an amazing experience and business outcomes that truly benefit their customers. Then keep the cycle going over and over again.  See the image above.


As businesses have evolved, many have come to embrace the increasing popularity of Customer Success. But as Watkins points out, there are two approaches that emerged as a result.

  1. The “Wanna-be” Concept – We have seen a wide expansion [of organizations] saying that they use (or have implemented) this Customer Success approach or discipline, but when you peel the onion, it will reveal that their approach is just the same old set of processes or functions with some new polish.  While they may call this new department Client Success or Customer Success, they are often client management teams that aren’t necessarily focused on delivering real client success.
     
  2. The “Real Deal” Concept - For companies who truly figure out and understand this discipline, they drive a cultural and business shift that focuses on finding ways and means to deliver value-driven, differentiated experiences that drive success.   And they work really hard to uphold this client focus in the most meaningful ways. It becomes how you do business – not something you do at your business.

This role (or function) isn’t just about retention – but about success that drives renewal. It is an emerging discipline that changes the culture of the organization to be more deliberate in decision-making and customer-centricity. You can easily discern if the organization got it right when:
 

(1) What they’re doing is not just lip service, but rather is a core of their culture (2) When success metrics are based on trust and shared value (3) Genuine interest is exhibited into creating cohesion and delivering excellence across the customer’s journey (4) It becomes contagious within the organization (5) When the feedback of clients and front-line teammates is taken and acknowledged (6) When there’s a change of delivery model from service to client experience (7) When there’s true alignment and buy-in, from the CEO through every employee in the organization.

Watkins cautioned you can’t ‘put lipstick on a pig’ to make it look real if it wasn’t in the first place – your clients and employees will quickly see through that disguise. At the end of the day, an organization that commits to this approach will almost certainly stand stronger, experience improvement across all areas of the company, and will see their client’s success drive real business success because they have mastered this concept. It’s not always easy, but when done well the benefits are well worth the effort.


Valuing and improving customer/client experience


Client success becomes amazing when you have the ability, skills, and opportunities to drive value into the client relationship proactively. Therefore, it takes an analytical approach towards retaining existing customers and a strong commitment to forging long-lasting relationships with new customers entering the company.

Watkins discusses that within his organization, there are two primary ways OpenEdge measures the quality of the customer experience being delivered. Metrics are based on these two broad areas of engagement, measured through separate surveys.

  1. General and overall engagement. This pertains to a random sampling of customers who may or may not have interacted with the company recently.  This random approach ensures we talk with many clients – those we interact with regularly and those who we may not have heard from directly in the past few years.

There are three key topics measured with these clients:

  • The overall level of client satisfaction
  • NPS
  • An open-ended opportunity on how the company can help make the client more successful

This tool – while simple in nature – has helped OpenEdge to measure the impact of a wide variety of business and product changes, and they are happy to report a significant increase in how clients view the client experience being delivered. The open-ended feedback also gives the company the opportunity to respond within 24-48 hours to 250+ clients each month who provide information that indicates an issue can be proactively identified and resolved BEFORE it becomes a major issue.

This approach also provides the company with the ability to better understand their entire client base (not just a subset), and see how scores/sentiment change over time – a critical component for client success professionals.
 

  2. The second measurement tool focuses on Clients who have interacted in real-time with their Installation, Tech Support or Client Care team in the current week. Although many of the same metrics are used to measure this kind of engagement, the company captures the sentiments and CSATs of very specific and critical interactions in almost real-time (assessing the face value of these sentiments!). This also gives the organization a mechanism to respond to poor experiences quickly.
 

Using this approach, Watkins notes that “as expected, we have seen post-interaction results with higher scores since customers' disposition and the immediate impact of their interaction have a huge influence on their rating.” The company is looking for stability in scores at the onset to ensure a consistent experience is being delivered, and then has been able to focus on score growth over time as their approaches and experiences have become better and better.

Watkins says, “We’re not too hung up on the big survey metrics right now.” He continues, “Our goal is to drive successful relationships based on value, trust and success. If we do that consistently well – we’ll have ever-improving survey scores. But we need the business successes to drive scores. Great scores alone are meaningless, especially if they don’t connect to long-term client relationships. For example, the problem with NPS is it doesn’t give you more precise details on why clients are pleased or not. Yes, you can see the number down, but you don’t know the reason.
 

“We use NPS (for a driving understanding of our client engagement delivery), however, as a precaution, we also complement it with other survey programs and especially the open-ended questions. Through this, we’re able to get customer feedback in the way we can use it to drive improvement.
 

“Additionally, we have a team that is built around following-up on these data points with the clients providing them. When the survey comes in and the feedback is not good, we contact them directly and inquire about how we can help them.”
 

“We take the feedback seriously. This follow-up and direct interaction makes more sense to us than having the info on a spreadsheet waiting for someone to click or read verbatim from customers. These clients have invested time in sharing feedback that will help them be more successful. We owe it to them to use that information to help.”
 

Always aim for a home run


“When we talk about client success [in our company], we take it very literally. Meaning, we want them to be very successful in the most meaningful ways possible.

“For us to do that, we have to make sure that we have a stable payments platform [that allows them to run their business effectively and get paid] while at the same time, building their trust and providing them the confidence that we are always there for them. When a client can see we have helped drive the success of their business – through using our platform or our consultation - that’s a homerun for me.”

Watkins makes a point that the ‘homerun’ refers to having your hallmark be the delivery of consistent differentiated experiences that enable your client's success. He continues, “If you do that every day by doing what you do best, even in the simple situations, it sends a strong message to customers.

“There are times, you’re going to miss the home run. But if you show up to each interaction with customers with the same mindset that you will deliver excellence, that becomes a big pathway to developing good partnerships.” Hence, “Client success is a mindset before it’s a department.”


Driving real and profitable relationships


Companies must learn to survive and adapt in a competitive world. In other words, ‘you need to understand the challenges limiting your customers, and what motivates and demotivates them’.

Watkins says that, for each client, there’s a ‘financial’ element that can’t be ignored as well. There is a risk and reward for both the organization and the client when finding ways to encourage customers to continue working with your company. Certainly, there are lots of things an organization can do that clients would love – but they don’t make any fiscal sense (like cutting everyone’s cost in half). Similarly – a client has to decide if the money they pay to you is worth the outcome.

Therefore, “client success happens if and when the customers find more value than expected in the partnership, and they achieve personal success while using your platform (or product or service) – over and over again.”

Here are a few cues to check if the relationships you have with your customers are strong enough and could pass the acid test. Aside from the time and effort, healthy relationships look like these:

  1. Customers are adjusting their business processes and practices to better utilize your offering.  When they willingly change their approach, it signals buy-in and adoption.
     
  2. Customers are having an on-going dialogue with your company. When the customers become engaged and start making time to reply to your emails, agreeing to assist with marketing requests, and being willing to share feedback (good and bad) – you have developed an entirely different kind of positive relationship.
     
  3. When you hear the conversation shift from ‘THEY do this for us’, to ‘WE are doing this together’ and ‘how should we plan to move TOGETHER?’ Your client has connected your company to their growth potential and success.

Also, if you’re creating the right culture, everyone in your company is contributing to the success of clients. Watkins states that when things are really moving positively, “All the concepts we use in the literal client success team, we are able to push to the entire company or organization so that every team is connected to our clients’ success.”

The real or true value of business relationships happens when you see improvements in the customer's operating environment and the realization of positive business results, and they make the clear connection that your team (or organization) is an important reason for those positive outcomes.

“I take pride in that”, Watkins says, as “I have seen that our team becomes the spear that helps drive that value into our organization and into our clients’ world.”

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