In this CMSWire Contributor Q&A, Kellie Capote, chief customer officer at Gainsight, discusses her debut article, “How to Make CX Less ‘Squishy’ and More Data-Driven," the role of a chief customer officer (CCO) and the common path of someone becoming a CCO.

According to Capote, many CCOs come from a sales background and see customer experience as a growth engine for a business. Capote also discussed the importance of having a data-driven approach in measuring customer success and highlights a "DEAR approach" as a framework for exceptional customer experience and outcomes. The DEAR (Deployment, Engagement, Adoption, ROI) approach seeks to answer four fundamental questions in evaluating customer experience: activation, engagement, product usage and value-recognition. She emphasizes that customer experience is not just about measuring satisfaction, but also driving business outcomes and growth. 

Here are five takeaways from Capote's interview:

  • Customer success and customer experience need to be driven by value and have a data-driven approach.
  • The trend is moving toward the CCO role, who needs to draw attribution and have a standardized set of metrics.
  • The focus should be on the outcome (e.g. gross retention, net retention) and aligning high-value activities to leading indicators.
  • Customer experience is not just about retention, but can also drive expansion, advocacy and valuations.
  • The DEAR approach (Deployment, Engagement, Adoption, ROI) is a framework to understand customer outcomes, activation, engagement, product adoption and the realization of business outcomes.

Video Transcript: All Things CX, Data and CX Leadership

Editor's note: This transcript was edited for clarity.

Dom Nicastro: Dom Nicastro here, managing editor of CMSWire with new CMSWire contributor Kellie Capote, chief customer officer, Gainsight. What's going on? Kellie?

Kellie Capote: Having a good day, happy to be here.

Nicastro: Now, is that just a beautiful home you have? Or is that like a fake Zoom background? Come on, be honest.

Capote: Come on, you had to call me out like that. This is absolutely a virtual background. We're in the middle of moving to a new home — like we're in a temporary rental home. So this is not nearly as pretty as the virutal background looks.

Nicastro: Yeah, see, I'm getting real. I got I got the exercise bike thing I never use. And then just the closet, like that's my background. 

Capote: Well, if I turned mine off, I would literally have the exact same background as you. And a Peloton that never gets used.

The Path to Becoming CCO

Nicastro: We’re parents. We go to where the quiet room is, like, that's, that's the game here. All right. But it's so good to have you as a new contributor. And we talked about, you know, what are we going to write about, what we're going to do, and it's like, you know, you’re a customer experience leader, you know, and we want those folks on CMSWire telling their stories, personal stories, really about CX leadership. 

So we're looking forward to your columns down the road on all things CX in leadership. It's such a crucial role right now. And you know, your article is talking about how CX needs to step up, you know, just needs to step up and go to the next level. But before we get into that, let's tell our listeners a little bit more about you and how you arrived in that current role.

Capote: Yeah, good question. So I’ve been at Gainsight for about five and a half years, been in the CCO role, specifically, my goodness, I'm losing count, I think like a year and a half plus now. But I spent the entirety of my career at Gainsight and customer success. I built out our enterprise team, and then led all customer success and I had the immense pleasure when our old CCO left, our CEO offered me the opportunity to spread my wings and lead the post sales organization. So it was a natural extension of what I was already doing. But it's been a ton of fun, just to really be able to oversee all the core functions of services and support and CSM. 

And then we have a, what we call a centralized ops and scale organization as well and really get everyone marching, you know, to the same beat in terms of customer-centricity. So prior to that, I've been in customer facing roles for 17-to-18 years, started more of a traditional sales background. And then that quickly morphed into more account management, partner management before we all started coining it customer success. But I've always had this just innate love for working with customers — driving them to value, sharing feedback, cross functionally to can you continue to make that experience better and drive them towards their desired business outcomes?

Related Article: My Top 3 Lessons Learned as a CX Leader

Exploring Ways of Becoming a Customer Experience Leader

Nicastro: Yeah, I'm always wondering where these customer experience leaders come from, you know, because you can envision a CEO path, you can envision sometimes a CFO path, even a CMO, but like your acronym would be what CCO? Right. So the CCO path? What is the common path of a CCO? You know, because I put out a tweet that had a poll, was it as I said, Is it marketing? Is it sales? Is it customer support? Or other? You know, what won? Other, other won? So I don't know where you guys are coming from? I mean, you seem to be customer facing your whole career?

Capote: Yeah, I mean, I think it depends, I will tell you that a lot of — it's interesting in the past like 12- to-18 months — a lot of the CCOs I've been engaging with, there's a good, there's a critical mass, at least that have had some type of sales background. It seems to be a common thread there, whether it was account management, or, you know, traditional sales VP, and then they're realizing that customer success or customer experience is a growth engine for your business. And so much of the skill sets that you rely on for sales are transferable. 

And since the appreciation is growing around customer experience, more folks are, you know, kind of converting their energy into that and driving towards longer term relationships if that's what kind of gets them excited. So I also see coming from one of the three pillars like either support or services, or you know, CS leader, a lot of times those folks just kind of add on functions, and then they're a natural, you know, stepping point into the CCO role.

The Depths of CX: Moving Beyond NPS and CSAT Scores

Nicastro: Yeah, it's every organization is different and you know, from our own little team, at CMSWire, which is owned by simpler Media Group, marketing and sales is definitely frontlines, you know, of customer experience, you know, for sure. And then in editorial we don't have that direct path to a customer. That customer, the one that pays the bills, we feel like we have a direct path to have a super important customer, the reader, the consumer, you know, those are my stakeholders. I'm like beholden to them to create good content and just inspire them to do their work better. So it's somehow some way I think every single role is customer facing.

Capote: Totally. Whether direct, indirect, yeah, absolutely.

Nicastro: Yeah. So Kellie, and article number one, you put the call out to CX team, CX leaders to get things done. And the first one is kind of like just creating more of a value proposition.

Capote: Yeah, absolutely. So the way I like to call it is like, let's all make customer success less “squishy,” I've been in customer experience for so long. And it's still hinges on the philosophy, like, granted, we always want to have great relationships and foster those things. But it takes more than that, especially if you look at market conditions and the economic landscape, right now. It has to be hinged on value, and we have to have a data driven approach to doing this. 

So going back to your question of like, Who do we see moving into the CCO role? What I'm seeing is a trend that as customer success and customer experience has gained appreciation, we have to be able to draw the attribution, right, and have that standardized set of metrics to prove out the good work we're doing. And how is that translating to top and bottom growth from a from a business perspective. 

So very synonymous to how sales is looking at pipeline generations and bookings and targets, conversion rates and success. We need to have like strong clarity in terms of what are the outcomes, we're trying to move the needle on usually gross retention, net retention, etc. What are the leading indicators that we're going to measure? Like, how do we have a pulse in terms of which way we're moving? Are we gonna move in the right direction, or work moving in the wrong direction, and then being able to align the right high value activities to those leading indicators. 

So it's really that connective tissue of high value activities, to leading indicators of lagging outcomes, making sure you have a way to socialize that, you know, to your internal teams, to your executive team to your board, so that they understand the true impact, you know, that customer experience is having. And by the way, it's not just for retention, right. It's not just we're plugging the leaky bucket. But if we do this, right, customer experience really is a growth engine for your business. And we're going to drive expansion, advocacy and all these different financial vectors that have real business impact and drive valuations and everything that that we're seeing in the market today.

Nicastro: Sounds super easy. I mean, you know.

Capote: So easy. My job’s so easy.

Nicastro: I know, I know, just go and show a slide about your you know, CSAT score, and you're done. The board is happy, right? They all thank you. We improved our CSAT. We're done. I mean, there's so many layers that we're learning about. And, you know, I just laugh sometimes you get answers like, you know, what's your customer experience program? And there's someone shows me the NPS? Yeah, you know, what I'm, I guess, so much, many, many more layers to it than that, you know.

Capote: Indeed, it’s multidimensional.

Learning Opportunities

Related Article: What It Takes to Build the Best Customer Experience Team

DEAR Approach: A Data-Driven Framework for Exceptional Customer Experience and Outcomes

Nicastro: Yeah. And not to throw out more acronyms. But in your column, you talk about the DEAR approach D-E-A-R, so I'd love to hear more about that.

Capote: Yeah, we love acronyms. So DEAR, like if we zoom out when we think about customer experience, or customer success, what we say it's the combination of two things. And DEAR is specifically pointed at the outcomes piece. So yes, you we need to deliver an exceptional experience. That's the CX component. But then we also need to do to basically drive towards, you know, desired business outcomes. So for our health score methodology, what we like to say is you need to have like a customer outcomes bucket that's very objective that goes back to the data driven approach. 

So DEAR, is really answering the core four fundamental questions that you want to understand like is your customer activated. “D” is for deployment. “E” is are we engaged, like are we multithreaded in that account and talking to the right personas and seeing the right level of activity, that's indicative of like future success and renewals and expansion? “A” is adoption, like at the end of the day, we're not getting outcomes if we're not at least adopting or using the product. So looking at, in terms of breadth and depth. And then “R” is ROI, like, do we understand what business outcomes they're trying to achieve is step one, and then what are we working on? Or what is the technology helping in terms of moving the needle and then coming back full circle and validating that we did in fact realize it.

So that's our framework. It can become extremely predictive. So going back to how do you make customer success less squishy? If you can really hone in and get that dialed in, right? That's actually how you can run your business and build you know, retention forecasts for the next year. That's how we build our GRR model. Here at Gainsight it’s using the health score. And using that predictability to kind of back into the business and then showing, you know, your executive teams in your board, like, hey, we know that when customers have green ROI in our system, that there's a 15% more likelihood to renew. So if I go run this program that's going to impact X amount of dollars, which is going to yield this to the business, and then you're speaking in this strategic position that everybody can get behind. 

Nicastro: Yeah. 

Capote: And it helps open that up to like the whole organization, understanding the importance of this and getting the cross functional buy-in to really, I think drive, you know, customer experience forward in an integrated, cohesive approach.

Nicastro: Yeah, at the core of it, it seems to be, here's what happens. This is the action that happens when the numbers are like this. When these people have this experience, they generally do this next, right. That's why the whole one-to-one personalization thing, I think, is more of a dream. You know, I think you've got to think in what you're talking about. And yeah, in terms of the big pools of customers that do things, they react, and then they have, you know, experiences based on what happens to them.

Capote: Yeah. When you have a framework and a way to look at it, and that data driven way, it's going to allow you to scale your customer experience efforts. So it doesn't have to be all heroics, right. Super high touch, you can understand like you, you know, what the customer is trying to achieve, you have indicators, if it's working, you can drive personalized experiences, there's so much you can do. If you just get that kind of backbone in place to drive the organization strategy.

Nicastro: You know, I'm brainstorming here, I'm thinking of your next articles, like I'm already looking ahead. 

Capote: I love it.

Related Article: Is Your Culture Creating a Great Customer Experience?

Board Ready: Making CX a Priority in Business Strategy

Nicastro: Forget this debut that's in this article here we're talking about, but I'm thinking something like, you know, I have a board meeting, and they want to hear about CX, here's what I say, you know, something like that. To do that, you know, CX leaders would love that like talking to a board like, yeah, what's the language that a board can really get behind in CX terms? Do they care? If you say things like, well, we're doing journey mapping? You know, like, they probably don't.

Capote: They need this. So what, like, what is this driving? Like what is it doing for the business, and that might be a great future session, I actually created like a board deck, a CX board deck slide template, is it for people to use for that exact reason around trying to get the movement going of like elevating all of everyone in CX to be super strategic and have the same kind of playing field, so to speak as the CROs and our sales leaders out there because it really is a group effort. And so much of the revenue is being, you know, managed on the CS side after the new after the initial sale.

Nicastro: Yeah. So you mean in the board meeting, Kellie, you shouldn't start explaining how CCPA works.

Capote: No, no. You're getting in the weeds. You have lost them at that.

Nicastro: They'll move to the next slide. Next slide. Yeah. All right. So we're looking forward to more copy down the road. Hopefully, people are enjoying this one and the video and I really appreciate your time, Kellie Capote. 

Capote: Yeah, I'm looking forward to it. Alright, have a good one. You too. Take care.

Nicastro: Bye now.