CTO organizations and heads of customer experience (CX) share the same overarching goals: Gaining new customers and expanding the business with current ones.
So why are there often points of friction? It's because of the nuances within those goals. The office of the CTO is primarily focused on innovation. Our job is to stay ahead of the competition and build the future by exploring new technology, products and features. The head of CX, on the other hand, is charged with responding to customer needs and ensuring retention.
Those two points of view don't always meet. What if the CTO's goal is to build a scalable, cross-industry products, but one insurance customer asks for a specific feature that won't see the light of day beyond those industry walls? Therein lies the rub.
But we can ease friction; I'd even go so far as to say we can avoid it. These four guidelines can help CTOs and heads of CX stay aligned and moving together to keep current — and future — customers happy.
Find a Balance Between Customer Needs and Innovation
First, find the right balance between customer needs and innovation. Our head of CX keeps a request tracker. Every time we get an ask, we add it to the tracker and tag all the customers who have requested the same or similar updates. The CTO and the head of CX use this data to inform the product roadmap.
When the head of CX tells the product or IT teams they want a new feature with no data to support the ask, there's no ammunition. But when we have a critical mass requesting the same update, everyone can agree it's probably something we should dedicate resources to. If 20 customers ask for it, 20 more will probably do the same soon. This request can enter the development queue quickly because the entire organization clearly benefits from its inclusion.
But a CTO must also build innovation into the development roadmap. In our case, we created pods inside the organization: one is an innovation hub focused on building new features and exploring technologies; the other is a core delivery pod focused on customer issues. This ensures that the product and IT groups aren't dedicated to firefighting, and the CX group still has plenty of resources available for their requirements.
As a CTO, I love to innovate. But you can innovate yourself to becoming obsolete. We can make the coolest thing ever that never gets used. What good does that do? Find that delicate balance between innovation and customer needs and the organization can flourish.
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Share the Sprints
Here's another way to find balance — share the engineering sprints. Sprints are two-or-four-week chunks of development work. Each sprint consists of a set of projects that we prioritize from across the business.
Our rule of thumb? We allocate 20% of an engineering sprint to customer success fixes and feature requests; the other 80% goes to innovation projects. This means customer needs are built into the development process and not considered an afterthought.
It also means urgent or important projects don't have to go into a long queue. No customer wants to wait a year or more to solve a product issue. With shared sprints, we already have time set aside; it's just a matter of figuring out which projects are worthy of that time.
Don't Lose Sight of the Customer
Customer Advisory Boards, or CABs, are invaluable tools for gathering information about what they like about your product and what they want to see added. We bring together customers across industries and Contentstack representatives about four times each year for a moderated discussion.
Use the time to uncover shared challenges and opportunities. And what, if anything, is holding them back. Pick the customers who are fans and those who have expressed misgivings. Getting a wide range of opinions is vital.
So is showing up. If it's not the CTO, assign one or two people to attend in their place. The reason CTO organizations need CABs is simple: when we're heads-down building, you can lose sight of the here and now. That's a dangerous place to be.
Another way we stay close to the customer is by assigning a product or IT executive sponsor to the top three-to-five customer accounts. Create a one-to-one relationship between the CTO and an equivalent representative at the customer. It keeps the account sticky, helps it grow and contributes to cross-pollination of ideas.
The multiple layers between the engineering team and the end customer are extremely thin. Customers touch our work daily; their feedback is the ultimate feedback.
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Embrace Radical Candor
Keep the lines of communication wide open in your CTO/CX relationship. I have a biweekly meeting with our head of CX.
We commit to radical candor in these moments. This type of communication — often seen as blunt and combative — is necessary for both parties to understand each other and arrive at the truth faster. Resources on both sides of the fence are finite. You won't always agree on how you will allocate them, but you should have a good enough relationship to have difficult discussions without holding back.
Conclusion: Best CTO-CX Playbook Is Collaborative
These four guidelines — sometimes easier described than implemented — can turn your CTO and CX departments into connected entities that work together to achieve shared goals.
By building a process in which we respect and respond to each other's concerns freely, we create a flywheel of success for the organization. That flywheel only starts with the right balance between customer needs and innovation.