Customer-first. It’s a term we’ve heard a lot over the last few years, with many companies touting their customer-first approach to business.
But the truth is: Most companies—especially smaller companies with no dedicated customer experience (CX) team—struggle to truly put customers at the center of everything they do.
The good news is, whether you’re an individual contributor, the CEO, or somewhere in between, you can make yourself a leader in customer-centric thinking.
There are three simple steps to get started:
By the end of this article, you’ll be able to assess your customers’ experience today. With insights in hand, you can offer up creative solutions to bridge gaps in the customer experience that lead to churn.
In this section, you’ll see questions to consider that will help you get a lay of the land when it comes to your current customer experience.
How would you, personally, describe the perfect customer experience?
It’s important to start with a definition of what a great customer experience looks like. Without that clearly defined, it’ll be difficult to align teams to that goal or track your progress in that direction. Once you’ve described what you consider to be the ideal customer experience, connect with others internally to see if they share your vision.
Here are some ideas of how you might define the ideal customer experience:
Is it purposeful or random when a customer engages with you or your work?
Having a clearly defined customer journey allows you to proactively support customers in reaching their goals. For example, if you know the first activity a customer will do in your product is X, you can share educational materials related to X. If the second step tends to be Y, you can share materials on how to achieve Y.
Without that journey in mind, your recommendations might fall short of helping the customer achieve their goal.
After a customer has engaged with you or your work, what’s the next experience they have?
The place where two processes connect tends to be the weakest point. Consider the handoff from your team to the next. For example, if your team creates a video to kick off a crucial onboarding step, does the onboarding team know that video exists and share it?
The customer lifecycle might be a good resource to reference when considering what’s happening before and after a customer interacts with you.
What metrics does your work affect, and who else contributes to those same metrics?
Moving toward the same goal is not the same as moving towards that goal together. For example, often Education and Customer Success teams are tasked with improving customers’ time to value. If each team is implementing solutions without consulting or collaborating with the other team, redundant work and inefficiencies reign supreme.
If you were the customer, how would you feel about your experience?
Consider this: You may have resolved an issue a hundred times, but for each customer it’s their first time asking the question. For example, a customer needs clarification on completing part of a data import spreadsheet. It takes you five seconds to help them. However, they spent 30 minutes reviewing technical documentation before asking you. Your service was perfect, but their overall company experience was poor.
If they love 90% of their experience—yet pull their hair out 10% of the time—that can cause a dip in customer confidence and even churn.
While there are questions you can ask customers and internal team members to understand the customer experience, there are ways you can self-serve information as well. (I would recommend doing this before you connect with others, actually.) The following are some places you might find insights about the customer experience.
Internal process documents
Assuming internal process docs are up to date and in use, they’ll contain many of the answers you need. Then again, you can infer a lot by what isn’t maintained… or documented at all. Depending on your organization, you might find these internal process docs on Google Drive, OneDrive, Dropbox, Confluence, or Google Sites.
Project management tool
Why: Insight into what steps are seen as important, how completion is measured, and whether the experience differs customer to customer.
Example: When onboarding a customer your company has a template containing a checklist of tasks to complete and which team is responsible for them. However, you notice many customers graduate from onboarding without the checklist being completed.
Company and team OKRs
People will do what they’re incentivized to do. When you understand company and team goals, you get a better idea of why parts of the customer experience might be suffering. Is the focus on new logo acquisition—with no initiatives geared toward supporting current customers? That might be why kickoff and onboarding don’t get a lot of attention.
Internal customer survey data
Most companies are collecting a variety of customer data through surveys, such as a Voice of Customer (VOC) survey, Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) survey, Net Promoter Score (NPS) survey, and more. Beyond the quantitative data illustrated in these survey results, reading open text responses can give you insight into what delights customers—and what’s causing them to have a poor experience.
External customer review sites & social media
Think about how often you’re disappointed in a product or company compared to how often you leave a review or share feedback. If one customer expresses frustration, there are almost certainly more who are frustrated but stay silent. Look at what your customers are sharing on review sites like G2 or Capterra, as well as comments they’re leaving on social media. These often highlight opportunities for improvement.
Meeting and webinar recordings
If your company uses a tool like Gong to record meetings, you can watch meeting, webinar, and training recordings to hear directly from the customer. What are their questions? What are they confused about? What do they love? What are they frustrated with? Schedule some time throughout the week to listen to calls—you can often listen at 1.5-2x speed and get the gist of the conversation.
Churn is notoriously hard to predict solely with activity measurements and survey scores, so getting candid intel from a customer can often be what makes the difference in saving or losing the account.
More tenured members of a company can offer valuable insights and perspectives on what’s happened historically and even where they see areas of opportunity. Here are some best practices and questions for digging deeper via knowledge keepers.
Get to know the historical context
It’s very easy to come into a company, see problems, and start offering solutions. But to be effective, we need to understand our company’s history. What’s been done before? Why didn’t it work or why did the company stop doing it? Why are things done the way they currently are?
For example, if your webinars have low engagement, you might ask, “Do you know if we’ve ever tried sending out reading materials before the webinar? I wonder if that might help the attendees get more engaged?” These questions allow you to seek perspective and context, rather than asserting a solution.
Determine how widespread the situation is
There’s a fine line between digging into an undiscovered problem and spending too much time on isolated incidents. To understand how widespread a situation is—or how many customers are impacted by it—ask a clarifying question. “I saw this customer was frustrated with finding the resources they needed. Do you know if that's a criticism we hear a lot?” If it’s not something that impacts a lot of customers, it might be a lower priority to address.
Understand what action customers take after each engagement
At each step of the customer journey, what’s the desired next step? For example, after a deal closes with Sales, you might want a customer to schedule a kick-off call. You can tell if that’s happening by looking at closed-won deals compared to kick-off calls scheduled.
While it may not be possible to measure every customer action, we should be thinking about what we want the customer to do after each interaction. Do we want them to use a certain part of the product? How might we measure that?
Remove some of your bias by encouraging others to share what they think is relevant. This is great when you simply want to learn something, or when you want to gauge shared understanding by asking multiple teammates the same question. That might look like, “Sorry, this is probably a dumb question, but do you know why customers have to submit separate support tickets to provision each user instead of doing it all at once?”
This can make your question seem more innocuous and open the door to further conversation.
None of these question lists are exhaustive, but they give you a starting point. Rarely will you find a final or complete answer or solution; instead, aim for constant incremental improvement. All improvement begins with someone asking the right question.
The conversations you start now aren’t just for your learning benefit. Over time, they’ll encourage your peers to question the status quo for themselves and identify needed change.
Of course, when you’re taking a customer-centric approach, connecting with customers is a great idea. However, you’ll first want to take action on the steps above. Why? Because your customers are already giving you feedback! Taking the time to understand the current customer journey and analyze survey data, review site comments, and other sources of customer data before talking to the customer shows you’re listening—not expecting them to tell you again what could be improved about their experience. This research will also help guide your conversation to get more meaningful insights out of your one-to-one conversations with customers.
Identifying gaps in the customer experience, as you learned in this article, is the first step. From there, you can consider what solution(s) might solve for churn.
At Intellum, we are firm believers that customer education can help prevent churn. Customer education is the process of developing a formalized education initiative to help customers realize the true value of a product or service. When customers don’t recognize or realize the value of your product or service, they’ll leave. By taking a proactive approach to educating customers on your product, you can lessen the risk of churn.
For even more insights, watch the webinar replay of "The Value of a Customer-Centric Approach"