In this interview, David Ellin, Managing Director and Chief Customer Officer at Centric Leadership Strategies LLC, talks about how to create meaningful business strategies and effective execution of it (including customer engagement, revenue growth, advocacy, and retention).
Background and Career
I have been a customer-facing person throughout my career. I started in sales and became the Chief Operating Officer of a public company. In this role, I met customers, learned about their businesses, understood their challenges and obstacles.
I led several Customer Success teams in various organizations. Most recently, I was the Head of CS for a (large) B2B unit of eBay (now Radial).
What led me to CS was my passion for seeing customers succeed. You have to be a good listener, asking probing questions and be genuinely interested in their growth and success. Only then can you be successful in understanding the challenges, obstacles, and establishing healthy relationships.
As a customer before, I always wanted my vendor to make me feel that way. We can give back more to the business world by making our customers remarkably successful.
One of the biggest business challenges today is having a strategic relationship (or engagement) with its customers for the future success of their business. Customers want to talk about what is going on in their business right now, the challenges they face, but they rarely talk about the future.
CS organizations have to deal with this. Businesses need to create a bulletproof [success plan] for the success of their customers. Few of them include the following:
Understand the success customers want to achieve now and what they want to be in the future.
Create a road map for customers to get there. Define clear deadlines and milestones in your success plan. Map out the customer success journey and keep an eye on their experiences.
Improve and ensure that all CS activities are well-aligned with customer success from onboarding, implementation, adoption, segmentation, QBRs, EBRs
Drive immediate action and foresight on how relationships should develop over time. It means when to have a strategic conversation with customers.
Construct activities that support the organization's strategy. These include understanding which markets and segments will be critical in the future. How will they support the unmet or unserved customer needs, trends that will affect how they do business, and how these changes impact or apply to their business?
Without this engagement and future-focused activities, organizations cannot stay strategically focused on their customer success; instead, they will be sucked (or absorbed) tactically wondering if they are in the right place or time or the strategy executes well or not.
For CS organizations to be healthy, they need to be in a good position within the company to share customer insights: what customers are going through, their needs and challenges. What they like and dislike. They understand how they should use this feedback to align with their roles, impact, larger business goals, and how they can deliver better value to their customers.
If you look at it more deeply, there is a strong correlation between how customers view their relationship with us and what value (they expect) we can deliver effectively. Whatever success customers achieve by partnering with us will be the basis of their loyalty and business sustainability.
Consequently, if we do not deliver (or fail to deliver) that value and customers do not see their ROI, they will not buy it. Worst of all, customers will see this as a consequential warning: leading to the early cancellation of an account or bad review.
A healthy relationship allows customers to participate and effectively present, collaborate, and share their sides on how to improve the process, product, or service.
A healthy relationship is not just about being tactical but strategic. The latter means that we must consider how we can support not only the customer goals but also the overarching purpose of the organization.
It includes taking or owning some commercial responsibilities. There are three areas of revenue responsibilities. Those are renewal, upsell, and cross-sell.
(1) Renewals. CSMs should own it. They are in the best position to drive renewals. Why? Because they know their customers best, they have built or formed a trusted advisor relationship. The challenge here is that most organizations view renewals as an event.
They should consider this as an ongoing business process, not just a 60 or 90 days business cycle. They should view it as a daily sequence by ensuring that customers use the product successfully, are satisfied, and see tremendous value in the product or service.
Consider the field of sports. Most players perform best when their contract is about to expire (or up for renewal). It is for a simple reason: they are trying to do their best so that they can renew their contract and make more money. Companies do the same thing. They put their best effort forward when renewal is around the corner.
(2) Cross-sell. Sales should own it. For example, your business has three different modules or services offered. Let us call it platforms 1, 2, or 3. Currently, your customer is using platform 1, but not 2 and 3. CSMs have to identify opportunities for why customers are not using platforms 2 and 3. Once the reason is determined and learned, they should engage the salesperson and do it together.
(3) Upsell. CSMs should own it. Let us say customers use platform A with 20 features and platform B with the same features. CSMs should know why customers do not use (or not using) the full features and functionality of the product. By understanding customer usage cases - they can pitch unused features that they think customers could benefit from.
Focus on the relationship
For CS organizations to be truly impactful, they need to focus on the future and incorporate (or embody) a customer-centric mindset (beginning) from the C-suite. They also need to provide or share customer insights not only with C-suite but to the rest of the executive leaders in the company.
The success of the business depends not only on the ability of a few people but on everyone who works with customers. Therefore, everyone is responsible for securing and managing a successful customer relationship (or journey).
This pandemic (Covid 19) has given us (business) an excellent opportunity to become more empathetic and intimate with our customers. It allows us to get to know them on a different level. Before the pandemic, business is moving at the speed of light. Everything happens so quickly.
If something good happened in this pandemic, it brought a personal side of the business. It gets us to know our customers as people as opposed to being customers.
In the past, we always thought we knew what was best for our customers. What does customer satisfaction mean to them? What it takes to make them happy. What I have learned over time is that a customer has a different view of what makes them happy. We should ask those questions to customers and rethink our engagement strategy to adapt to new times.