Alignment across teams — Wowing the customer is not just the job of Customer Success. It should be owned across all teams, making alignment on strategic direction and priorities imperative. For example, in order to make successful product strategy decisions, they need to be based on the needs and wants of current and prospective customers and alignment across departments can ensure that happens.
As part of our series about the five things a business should do to create a Wow! customer experience, I had the pleasure of interviewing Beth Shea.
Beth Shea is the Chief Customer Officer at Puppet, the industry standard for infrastructure automation, and works across the entire organization to embed customer-centric competencies to improve and innovate experiences. With over 20 years of experience working for large enterprises and startups alike, Beth has a deep understanding of how to solve the challenges of complex, interconnected, and continuously evolving businesses.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I’d say throughout my career there have always been two constants: I love solving really hard problems and building and leading amazing teams — this is what inspires me every day. When I first started my career, I was part of the Business Consulting practice at Arthur Andersen and worked on large software implementations at client sites. Being able to work directly with clients so early in my career taught me how to be more empathetic to their needs. It centered me around the customer journey and successes — their wins were my wins. I loved this feeling and it has driven a lot of decisions in the roles that I have taken since.
Early in my career, I was on a plane heading back from a consulting engagement when I started chatting with my seatmate who happened to be running sales at a small start-up that was in the emerging space of virtual meetings. This resonated with me as I was traveling back and forth from Boston to Chicago every week and loved the idea of remote working. They were so incredibly passionate about what they were doing and, although I liked my job at the time, I thought I could grow and learn a lot more quickly in a startup environment. I did and since then, I’ve never leaned away from a new and challenging opportunity.
Based on my own personal experiences I believe it’s essential when you start, or as you grow your career, to always be a little scared when you take on a new role or join a new company. If you push yourself out of your comfort zone I guarantee you will grow personally and professionally and hopefully have fun while doing so.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I wouldn’t necessarily say this was a funny mistake but as a young leader I thought I needed to figure everything out by myself. I felt like I couldn’t admit when I needed help because it meant that I wasn’t good enough or not up for the job. What I have come to realize is that being vulnerable and asking for help actually makes me a more approachable and effective leader.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I’d consider my former boss Peter McKay, who I worked with for many years, as one of the most important mentors in my career. He is a direct, transparent and trustworthy leader who makes tough decisions based on data and advice from his team. He understands that having certain skill sets, knowing what people are inherently good at and pushing people to try new and different things is more important than what’s written on a resume. Having these opportunities, and embracing this same philosophy, has made me the leader I am today and I am grateful to him for all his support and coaching over the many years.
Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. This might be intuitive, but I think it’s helpful to specifically articulate it. In your words, can you share a few reasons why great customer service and a great customer experience is essential for success in business?
At the end of the day, the products we build and the services we provide are centered around the customer. Truly understanding and relating to the customer’s journey and experience allows us to develop successful products. It’s about creating a positive experience that retains our existing customers but also gains the trust of new one. Customers have the power nowadays, so it’s become a necessity to create a great experience that is centered around helping them achieve their desired business outcomes.
We have all had times either in a store, or online, when we’ve had a very poor experience as a customer or user. If the importance of a good customer experience is so intuitive, and apparent, where is the disconnect? How is it that so many companies do not make this a priority?
Some businesses are too focused on releasing as many products as possible, thinking that customers care more about quantity over quality, and forget to put the customer at the center of everything they do. The company itself becomes the focal point and the customer becomes the second priority. Everything is also so fast-paced nowadays. Consumers are constantly being bombarded with information and products, which makes it easy to get sucked into that fast-paced mindset and forget what the customer actually wants and needs.
At Puppet, we work very hard to focus everything we do on how this impacts the customer experience with funded strategic initiatives that ensure prioritization of these customer-centric programs. This is not just the responsibility of the Customer Success organization but rather that of the whole company and continuing to improve the customer’s experience with Puppet has been and will continue to be the number one focus area for both myself as well as the whole leadership team.
Do you think that more competition helps force companies to improve the customer experience they offer? Are there other external pressures that can force a company to improve the customer experience?
Yes, there definitely is more competition across all industries. That said, at Puppet, we’re not going to put our primary focus on how we compare to our competitors but rather put that energy and prioritization on how we can help our customers be more successful. If you focus on the customer, instead of your competitors, this will naturally make you the vendor of choice. I also believe choice and more software being delivered as SaaS has increased the need for companies to focus on customer success and this was not always the case. Customers have flexibility and access to a lot of data to inform their options. They know what amazing customer experience feels like and frankly won’t settle for less than the best.
Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?
We recently had a customer escalation where apparently the customer had been dealing with a performance issue for months but tried to fix it on their own. By the time they logged a ticket, they were already very frustrated and time was of the essence to get this fixed. It was so cool to see how Puppet came together to troubleshoot and identify the root cause as quickly as possible. We put a Technical Account Manager on this issue temporarily to provide another level of service to ensure that we were working most effectively — both internally and with the customer. We turned a super stressed and frustrated customer into one that said he would be a reference for Puppet based on his experience working with our teams.
Did that Wow! experience have any long term ripple effects? Can you share the story?
Beyond the customer being happy and willing to be a reference, we shared this story across the company as a great example of being a customer-centric organization. Employees stay at companies for many different reasons (pay, product, the manager they report to, etc.) but I believe it is when they know they are making a difference and see the impact they have on customers. We celebrate these stories to give the teams and individuals that go above and beyond for our customers the proper recognition, while also driving home the importance of putting customers at the center of everything we do.
Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience. Please share a story or an example for each.
- Proactive vs. reactive — Leaders should put more of an emphasis on proactively reaching out to customers to identify the areas that need improvement and improve customer intimacy. Getting a baseline understanding of the current customer experience and value they are realizing now with your product or service will help your business better understand what needs to be done to ensure customer success. This can include providing professional services or creating additional products to solve new problems they are experiencing. The key is to not wait for the phone to ring but rather get in front of it, reach out and build these critical relationships.
- Be more opinionated — We as business leaders are experts about our company’s products and services and one theme I have heard a lot this year from our customers is their desire for us to be more prescriptive and opinionated. They don’t simply want us to come onsite, install the product and leave. They want and are asking us to leverage this experience to make them more successful beyond the product implementation.
- Adopt agile approaches — Spending a ton of time creating super complicated visio diagrams of every customer journey is too waterfall of an approach. Instead, pick one or two customer journeys, identify what’s working and where the gaps are in this experience, and improve it. From there, move on to the next customer journey and follow the same process over and over again. This approach ultimately leads to a faster, more improved experience for the customer.
- Alignment across teams — Wowing the customer is not just the job of Customer Success. It should be owned across all teams, making alignment on strategic direction and priorities imperative. For example, in order to make successful product strategy decisions, they need to be based on the needs and wants of current and prospective customers and alignment across departments can ensure that happens.
- Swarm the customer — We have examples at Puppet where when a customer escalation happens, it is truly incredible to see how the team jumps on the issue, grabs whomever they need to quickly address the problem, and ensures that we have effective and consistent communications internally and externally to drive to resolution. There is no finger pointing and the customer is always at the center of everything we need to do to help them be successful. Let’s face it, we will not be a successful company if our customers don’t feel that they can rely on us and trust that we have their backs.
Are there a few things that can be done so that when a customer or client has a Wow! experience, they inspire others to reach out to you as well?
We have a successful track record of connecting customers with one another to learn from their collective experiences and share how it has been working with Puppet. We’ve closed new deals based on reference calls or because they have heard from other companies in their industry what it is like to work with Puppet. We take this very seriously. Our reputation being a customer-centric organization is critical and one we continue to work to improve every day.
My particular expertise is in retail, so I’d like to ask a question about that. Amazon is going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise retail companies and eCommerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?
I would go back to what I said earlier about not focusing too much on competition but rather worrying about how you treat your customer and their experience working with your company. I understand that you need to know about the competition and this should always help to inform your company and product strategy. Balancing this against what you need to do to improve the customer experience will ultimately give you the competitive advantage.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
That is a very hard question. If I had to pick one, it would be to do more to help younger women that are trying to do it all — like trying to build their careers and also take care of their families. This was so hard for me when I was younger. Being in high-tech, I honestly did not have a lot of female mentors to help me along the way. I had to kind of struggle through it myself. There were times this was super hard and I wanted to give up. Either I was crushing it at work and felt like a failure as a mom and wife or I was putting all that time and energy into the family and feeling like I wasn’t being as successful at work. I would love to find a way to help more young women along this journey so they can in turn do the same and pay it forward.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!