According to Merriam-Webster, squishy refers to something that is “soft, yielding, and usually damp,” which perfectly describes my dog’s chew toys after a few minutes of play. Within the world of customer experience (CX) and customer success (CS), however, I use the term squishy to describe a team that operates on the basis of intuition or assumed best practices, not hard evidence.
Lacking a data-driven approach, many CX leaders are reactive rather than strategic, cannot identify high-value vs. low-value activities, do not know how specific activities correlate to leading indicators or lagging outcomes, and (therefore) cannot demonstrate the true value of CX to their own executives and boards.
In my experience as a CX leader, you must be able to show — confidently and with conviction — that your team is strategic and metrics-driven. You must demonstrate that you are not merely firefighters, but the chief navigators who steer customers on their value journey: leading them to renew, leading them to expand and turning them into advocates who help bring in those new logos. And you prove this by connecting the statistical dots from your team’s activities to leading indicators to lagging outcomes.
Wanted: A Data-Driven Mindset
Many of my views toward CX were shaped during my “previous life” in sales, which has long relied on a standardized set of metrics — bookings targets, conversion rates and other productivity numbers — by which reps earn the respect and trust of CFOs and CROs. Historically, CX and CS leaders have not used the kinds of metrics-based business tracks that other revenue leaders employ to justify their activities and construct narratives that assign them credit for their good work.
This needs to change.
We need to adopt a new mindset — one that puts more focus on value propositions, objection handling, managing difficult customer conversations, and multi-threading, as well as understanding and delivering on customers’ desired business outcomes.
This mindset is as relevant to CX and CS managers as it is to sales reps because CX is a major growth engine for your business. You may have more revenue in your install base than your bookings target for the year, and a big piece of that revenue consists of expansion dollars. Because it’s a part of your go-to-market organization, every CX employee will benefit from learning the fundamental skill sets and techniques in which your salespeople are trained.
That’s why I ensure that our sales and CX organizations go through most of the same training, including “Challenger Sales training,” value selling and delivery methodology and objection handling. It’s important that both teams are aligned in terms of the conversations and outcomes they are discussing with customers. It starts in pre-sales and carries all the way through the entire customer journey.
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Build Up Your Support Function
To ensure that CX functions as a growth engine, it’s important that you build up customer support. If not, CX could become bogged down in firefighting, devoting far too many resources to escalations and other issues it inherits from support.
Happily, I’m starting to see some progressive support organizations lead into CX by providing more documentation and building out self-service options. And these options don’t always involve ticket management. Often, they involve developing a knowledge base for customers, helping them to scale and ensuring that they really benefit from new and enhanced self-service offerings. For this reason, many organizations offer a paid support option, such as Premier Support, to provide a higher level of support — one that often includes shorter SLAs, a named support representative, and 24/5 or 24/7 support.
Your support organization needs its own set of customer experience metrics — CSAT, ticket volumes, response times, etc. — to gauge its efficiency and contribution to excellent customer experiences. If your support team isn’t operating effectively, or if it’s creating a poor customer experience because it doesn’t have defined SLAs, CX could be boxed into a largely reactive role until you fix the support side of the business.
In short, if you want your CS professionals to be more proactive and productive, you need to build a support organization that does what it was intended to do.
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D.E.A.R. in the Spotlight
If implementing a more data-driven approach to CX seems like a lot of work, that’s because it is. But the payoffs can be immense — not only in terms of improving retention and expansion but also in terms of linking these outcomes to the work you and your team are doing. To achieve these payoffs at Gainsight, I’ve crafted a customer health scoring framework called DEAR:
- Deployment — Is the customer activated?
- Engagement — Is the customer engaged and multi-threaded to the right stakeholders?
- Adoption — Is the customer using the product (breadth and depth)?
- ROI — Is the customer realizing value?
DEAR gives me a way to firmly connect workflows to outcomes. It allows me to measure every activity that my team is performing by associating a leading indicator with the activity. Once you tie every motion of your team to one (or more) leading indicators, you can now clearly articulate the impact it’s having on lagging outcomes such as GRR and NRR.
Supported by these metrics, you’ll now be able to say something like: “when we conduct EBRs with customers, we see adoption increase by x%, and customers with green/lime adoption have a 15% higher GRR than customers with red/yellow/orange.”
This is the altitude of the conversation you’ll be able to have with your board and executive team. It’s the altitude you need to have if you really want them to give you the time of day. No more guesses. No more assumptions. Hard data.
A metrics-driven approach to CX will help the executives and the board view your team through a strategic lens, win you more credit for your good work, and justify the resources that you need to continue doing that good work.