An effective Voice of Customer strategy can have many moving parts. As a result, organizations with industry-leading CX often have an executive sponsor to ensure that VoC initiatives result in impactful action and don't stop at listening.
We pulled together an expert panel of Customer Success leaders featuring Emilia D’Anzica, Customer Success Consultant and Founder at Growth Molecules, Lorna Henri, VP of Customer Success at Modern Health, and David Sakamoto, VP of Customer Success at GitLab to help us answer the following question: How can you be the best executive sponsor, or secure executive sponsorship for your organization's VoC strategy?
Here Are Three Top Takeaways From the Discussion:
1. Effective Sponsors Compel Cross-Functional Visibility and Accountability
We started by walking through how our panelists would avoid a few common scenarios where the customer voice tends to get lost.
Product pushes the integration your customers have been holding their breath for into the “maybe-next-year” pile.
David Sakamoto emphasized the importance of bringing meaningful data to these situations. One of the challenges of keeping Product’s ears attuned to the customer voice is that traditional VoC methods like surveys, interviews, and Win / Loss reports are event-based, lagging, and not scalable.
This is one reason why it’s important to look carefully at all of your customer interactions, so you can answer questions about how many times the integration in question has been raised by customers, for example. “What’s better, is an operationalized approach where data flows in consistently, in a format everyone can understand and align around. We look at customer opportunities and associated gaps, and weight them with important context like dollar amounts,” said David.
David explained that if you can convert customer interactions into real-time data that gives Product Managers visibility into what your customers are experiencing, it’s much easier to get them engaged in a data-driven business case. Then, together, you can efficiently make the right decision about whether the integration needs to be re-prioritized, or can wait.
The Success team leaves a QBR feeling blindsided by outstanding technical issues that the customer raised during the meeting.
This scenario most frequently happens when Success teams fail to consider Support tickets.
“A lot of times, even though CSMs have regular interactions with the day-to-day users, there might be a whole plethora of other individuals in the organization who are using your product and may be having issues. It’s important to make sure Support is part of Voice of Customer,” said Lorna Henri.
Lorna highlighted the importance of having a system to evaluate all relevant tickets for impact — especially before a QBR so that you’re prepared to address anything outstanding or especially problematic.
“The second pivot on the data is then, What are the top 10 ticket drivers? What are the things happening repeatedly across our customer base, and how do we prioritize solving them? Once they are solved, you move on to the next set of top 10 ticket drivers. If your top 10 ticket drivers are staying the same, you’ve got a problem, and it’s probably that Product and Support aren’t in sync and working as a team,” Lorna continued.
Despite plenty of customer marketing, the long-tail is dwindling.
Emilia noted that it’s important to consider both (1) whether the Support team has the right resources to give customers what they need, and (2) why customers are churning.
Support has the most direct interaction with long-tail customers. Emilia pointed out that too many companies throw bots at the long tail, instead of looking for patterns and trying to understand outliers across tickets.
“With tickets, I’m always floored when I see that there were 19 interactions with a customer before anyone picked up the phone to see what was wrong. At that point, that customer has already churned. It’s too late,” said Emilia. Investing in resources like how-to videos and knowledge base articles that enable customers with common questions to self-help is so important — this way, the Support team has more resources to tackle complexity, and you can avoid ending up with 19 frustrating back-and-forths.
Emilia emphasized the importance of taking a proactive look at the whole customer journey. “Where did they stop using your product? Where are they converting to using more of your product? Who in the organization is using your product? These are incredibly important considerations when looking to the customer voice as a leading indicator of churn,” Emilia explained.
2. Data Fuels Healthy Tension and Action, Opinions Fuel Unhealthy Tension and Stalemates
Lorna described healthy tension as “when everybody is doing their best for the business and the customer, as opposed to their function. In unhealthy scenarios, people are focused on trying to get their function to win, not the business or the customer.”
David noted that a hallmark of unhealthy tension is a lack of decision-making, often stemming from missing data, or data that is shallow and stale. Relying on surveys alone to understand your customer voice can result in warring opinions and no decision because it's difficult to attribute scores to discrete aspects of the customer experience. Is a customer unhappy with the sales engagement, with the product, or something else? David identified that the core problem is that qualified input is not normalized. “Sales, Product, Marketing, and Success are naturally each going to ask customers questions through their unique functional lens, and will also interpret responses through that lens — qualified input is valuable, but teams need to orient decision-making around normalized data,” said David.
Weighing the needs of prospects vs. current customers is a classic scenario that draws cross-functional tension. Lorna cited the ability to organize data so that you can easily compare issues affecting prospects vs. current customers, as a driver of compelling and productive internal discussion. This gives the executive team critical context to understand “what trade-offs we’re making, and what new trends we’re seeing.”
Emilia noted that ideally, there is a single, well-annotated source of record for the customer voice with full coverage across the relationship from the start. Sales, Success, and Support should all be responsible for an awareness of what the customer has experienced at other touchpoints in their journey. Clean data is also an essential asset for executive sponsors across your most important customer relationships — this allows them to come up to speed on developments very quickly in between live engagements and never lose sight of what matters most to those customers.
Similarly, David highlighted the importance of a single source of truth for the customer voice when sharing feedback internally, especially in a distributed context — “You need clean, standardized data, process, and operations. You need transparency. You need to democratize the data and ensure that everyone has access. This levels the playing field from a Voice of Customer perspective.”
3. ...But It Must Tell a Complete and Compelling Story to Command Resources
“Today’s Voice of Customer is real-time, whereas the old school is NPS, maybe once a quarter via email,” said Emilia. “There are so many better ways to harness the customer voice.” Using next-generation VoC approaches to your advantage, it’s important to align reports describing the impact of what you’re trying to achieve with your company’s mission. “If you can tell a data-driven story that aligns or contradicts with your company’s mission statement, you will get more executive support — it’s usually when things are heading in the wrong direction that they really start committing resources, but again — you need to show them the data,” explained Emilia.
A successful business case needs to show dollar amounts at stake across potential investment decisions. However, Lorna added, it is also crucial to consider how many customers the underlying issue affects. “If you rely entirely on revenue, you weight your product roadmap to very large strategic customers that are often providing edge-case input. It’s not necessarily input that truly applies across your base.” The ability to evaluate revenue impact and frequency, as well as understand which parts of the customer journey the issue affects, drives the highest degree of executive alignment and the best decisions.
Lorna clarified that while hard numbers are important, qualitative context is also crucial to paint the full picture for an executive sponsor. “What is the pain point? What exactly is happening with the customer when they’re working without this feature you’re trying to add in? What happens if the customer never gets the feature in question? Be able to tell the whole robust story about what you’re presenting. This helps both the Executive team understand the pain the customer is experiencing, but also helps the Product team design a better feature. ”
Taking small steps forward and showing the impact is a great way to attract resources. “At Gitlab, one of our core values is iteration. Be intentional about the outcome you want to achieve. Keep the scope small to start, iterate, have quick wins, prove value, and grow from there,” said David.
Emilia also emphasized that because executives are constantly under pressure to shuffle priorities, it’s critical to have clear alignment about the end goal. You should be able to answer, “If we act on this data, when will we take that action, and why?” Data is one of the best catalysts for alignment, but be sure that the data you’re relying on is rich and dynamic enough to keep stakeholders laser-focused on the goal.
Thank you so much to our panelists Emilia, Lorna, and David for the phenomenal insight. Check out the full video below, and get on the list to make sure you don't miss the next one!