Feeling punchy? Try this. Next time you’re in a common area at your office – break room, cafeteria, line for the copier - turn to the person closest to you and ask, “Who at our company do you think owns the customer?” And make sure at least one other person in the vicinity is paying attention to the response. Best case: vigorous debate. Worst case: flying staplers.
Fact is, nearly every function in most companies touches the customer at one point or another. Sales, Marketing, Finance, R&D, Product Management, Customer Service… They all cross paths with Joe Customer. And several of these functions have either concluded on their own or have been told that they “own” the customer.
Nobody single-handedly owns the customer. Everybody collectively owns the customer. The critical question therefore becomes, how can your company orchestrate the actions of all these functions so they add up to happy customers that keep buying from you? The first place to start is one of the four fundamental building blocks of any operation: organizational design. And yes, the CMO needs to be right in the thick of it.
As the top-line goes, so goes the fate of the CMO at many companies. And in the B2B world, if you’re not consistently selling to your existing customers, chances are your top-line is trending unfavorably or will be soon. Therefore, to fairly hold CMOs in some proportion responsible for installed-base demand and revenue creation, CEOs must also grant CMOs the means to influence customer experience in the same proportion. As the CMO, if this means of influence doesn’t exist, you must create it.
Voice of Customer
As with all efforts to increase his/her operational relevance, the CMO must come to the customer management operational war room armed with good data - customer satisfaction data, to be precise. Most companies have measured customer satisfaction at some point in their histories, although many don’t do it consistently and many more don’t have a standardized approach to responding to the findings.
There are countless tools and techniques to measure customer satisfaction and loyalty. Research and articles abound on the pros and cons of old-school and new-school methods. I would suggest that you find and study any customer satisfaction data that already exists in your company. If nothing current exists, start with a simple survey of no more than a dozen or so questions that cover every functional area in your company with which your typical customer interacts.
Whether you’re studying existing data or collecting new, it’s critical that you look for correlations between functional and overall satisfaction levels. In other words, try to draw conclusions regarding which functional areas have the most direct impact on overall satisfaction. If you have enough data, you might also be able to correlate favorable customer satisfaction ratings with higher revenue contribution. On a macro-level, these revenue correlations already exist for widely used methods like Net Promoter Score (Figure 1).
One Team. One Purpose.
If you can, use your customer satisfaction data analysis to demonstrate to fellow executives that installed-base revenues are directly proportional to customer satisfaction levels, and that the degrees to which your company’s customer-facing functions impact customer satisfaction levels are measurable and actionable.
While it is indeed true that many functions interact with the customer, many of these interactions constitute means to an end. That end is increasing the revenue coming from each customer. It’s the job of Finance to bill customers accurately and efficiently so they are satisfied enough to maintain or increase their investment in your company’s offerings. It’s the job of Customer Service to respond accurately and efficiently to inquiry calls so customers are satisfied enough to maintain or increase their investment in your company’s offerings. It’s the job of R&D… well, you get the picture.
And the only way to ensure that the net effect of all these efforts is to push customer satisfaction levels ever skyward, thereby paving the way for additional sales is to put the staplers down and establish a cross-functional team that “owns” responsibility for customer retention and growth.
There’s no formula for getting this done, but shoot for these milestones:
- Use credible customer satisfaction data to establish consensus at the executive level that multiple company functions impact customer satisfaction and customer revenue performance.
- Expose instances of when the experiences of high-value customers have suffered due to overlapping or conflicting activities undertaken by multiple functional groups in your company.
- Gain executive backing for the theoretical merit of a cross-functional “customer management team” as a means to align all client-facing activities according to customer satisfaction and revenue targets.
- Propose such a cross-functional team, chaired by the CMO due to direct revenue implications.
- Pick a delegate or two from every function that touches the customer to join a 6- to 12-month pilot of the customer management team.
- Track the team’s impact on a select few leading indicators of customer satisfaction and installed-base revenue improvements (more on customer KPI management in upcoming posts).
- Report pilot results to executive team and gain backing for a permanent customer management team.