Put customers at the heart of everything you do. This includes marketing, product development, service, market strategy, etc. Cliché and commonly said, I know, but if you are building something for your customers to love and they are not at the center of your strategy, then you’re not doing it right.
As part of my series about the five things a business should do to create a Wow! customer experience, I had the pleasure of interviewing Katrina Gosek.
Katrina Gosek is Vice President of Product Strategy for Oracle Advertising and Customer Experience. Katrina leads go-to-market strategy for Oracle CX Sales, Commerce, CPQ, Content and Subscription Management. She has nearly twenty-years of experience in technology product strategy. She has a BA from Vanderbilt in European Studies, a Masters from Harvard in Renaissance French Literature and an MBA from Babson College in Technology Intensive Enterprises.
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 came to the tech industry in a very circuitous way — from a PhD program at Harvard focused on 16th and 17th century French Literature, to ed tech and then finally to a start up in Boston that led me to Oracle today.
During my PhD studies, in my early 20s, my passion was studying the overlap of art, science, and literature. When I realized I didn’t think I could teach Madame Bovary for the rest of my life, I headed to the publishing world and landed in a department that was leveraging speech recognition technology to help kids learn to read. That’s when the IT bug bit. The common thread throughout my career since then — and what really makes for gorgeous product strategy, marketing and management — is the intersection of multiple humanist and scientific disciplines. It’s ultimately what makes me passionate about what I do around everything go-to-market: understanding the impact and influence of technology with the humans that use it.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
I know I’ve made many mistakes! Probably even made a few today. We all do.
I can’t think of a funny one right now, but I can share with you the best advice I got early on in my career, which is: You’ve been hired because you’re smart. Speak up. Use your words. I know this to be true — I love when multiple points of view are shared in discussions and people step up to help solve hard problems as a group. Not everything you say will be perfect, but teams are built around multiple smart — sometimes conflicting — opinions.
Jump in there! Don’t be afraid. They worst thing is someone will tell you ‘no’ — and so what. It’s not the end of the world. But you’ll never know unless you throw some ideas out there.
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?
Honestly, I’ve been so lucky in my career. My current employer, Oracle, has been so good to me. And while I’ve worked (and work currently) with so many great mentors (Des Cahill, Ken Volpe), John Andrews was the first person who made the biggest impact on my career and professional life.
John hired me at Endeca which really was the catalyst for getting me on a career path I really wanted to be on — and just really love — with great guidance all the way. The timing of when I was interviewing at Endeca couldn’t have been worse — right in the middle of the recession in late 2008/early 2009. I was still young, so I looked at jumping jobs during a financial crash probably a little differently than I do now! We had to conduct the interviews two times because the position was put on hold the first time around because of the financial climate. But I was persistent. I gave it a few months and started asking about the role again.
I really wanted to work for Endeca and I really liked John’s team. He must have seen something in that spirit because on paper I wasn’t necessarily the best candidate. Endeca had their pick in the Boston area too, to be honest. Ever since, I’ve taken that experience with me when I look at candidates. You can teach someone how to be a great product marketer and strategist, but you can’t infuse someone with spirit, curiosity, and creativity.
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?
Great experiences really are THE differentiator in today’s sea of sameness. It sounds cliché and a ton has been said about this, but you can’t get away from the core truth that any brand can build and sell a great, competitive product or service — or in our case, a widget.
So, what really makes the difference is the experience a brand offers its customers. And there are a few important elements to that but there is one that is key: a brand needs to be able to make their product communications customer-centric and personalized. For example, instead of listing all the great features of its widget, a brand needs to really understand its customers and their pain points and be able to communicate how its widget helps solve customer pains. Relevance is key.
Further to that, it’s really important that everyone in the organization is able to speak in that same magical way to the customer because nowadays, you never know who will get to the customer first. The customer really decides the channel in which it engages with a brand so it might be a customer service representative, a seller or a marketer and they all need to be prepared to connect with a customer and quickly solve any issues so that they keep coming back for more.
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?
Not everyone gets the customer experience right. It’s not easy. And that’s because ultimately a great experience connects a product to the thoughts and emotions of the customer.
How can you connect an experience — whether that be a digital, in-store, service, etc. to a specific customer? You have to empower anyone who is trying to connect with your customer whether that be a merchant, a service representative, or a sales associate with the same, real-time data. This includes data about any previous interactions the customer has had with the brand and the most up-to-date information on the product such as price, inventory, product details, etc. This sets your employee up for success and prepares them to connect the brand to the customer in a meaningful way and offer a stand-out customer experience.
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?
Absolutely. The bar is always being raised on the customer experience. There have been some amazing innovations in the last twelve months since we’ve been catapulted into the digital realm. I love that virtual reality and augmented reality in online shopping have become nearly ubiquitous. I love that we’ve come up with creative ways to connect professionally and personally over digital channels. And of course there are always new technologies being introduced that will enable brands to deliver a great experience.
But nothing supplants the need to actually know your customer and empower your employees with knowledge of your customer and what their needs are. That is the basic foundation that will help any company overcome external pressures and evolve their customer experience strategy in the right direction: centered around their customers.
Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided or your customers provided with your help?
I loved talking to Ricoh’s VP of Sales, Sam Mohr, recently about her customer experience with our product team. As a team, we are always trying to make sure we are solving real human problems with our technology. In this case, we are helping sales representatives sell better by providing them with the tools to help them satisfy their customers in meaningful ways.
Sam is a self-proclaimed skeptic, so it took a really authentic experience with our product team to win her over. And that is exactly what we did. As we try to make our customers like Ricoh fall in love with our Sales Automation technology, we are also working with them to rethink the way they leverage technology to do their jobs. This collaborative approach has led to new user interfaces (UIs) that are helping Sam’s sales team accomplish the same daily tasks in fewer clicks, as well as providing better information about their customers at every stage in the engagement to make them more successful with each customer interaction.
Did that Wow! experience have any long term ripple effects? Can you share the story?
Every customer we bring into the design process helps make our products better. We are building the products for our customers to use and love, not just to capture mindless data for the CRM. These interactions have a huge impact on our product development, strategy and ultimately help thousands of customers down the line with stronger, more relevant features.
Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience. Please share a story or an example for each.
I have three things that I always remember when we are in the trenches of developing a product or working with a customer:
- Put customers at the heart of everything you do. This includes marketing, product development, service, market strategy, etc. Cliché and commonly said, I know, but if you are building something for your customers to love and they are not at the center of your strategy, then you’re not doing it right.
- Empower your employees to best serve your customers. Whoever gets to the customer first whether that be a marketer, salesperson, customer service representative or digital strategist should have the best data at their fingertips to help the customer. And, they should know how to communicate how your product will positively impact them and solve their challenges.
- Monitor it, measure it, fix it. The zeitgeist of the markets and customers your brand serve change constantly. Don’t fall asleep at the wheel. Measure and religiously monitor what matters to your customers. If it’s not working, don’t sweep it under the rug. Figure out what’s wrong and work to fix it fast because your competition is doing the same at the same speed, if not faster.
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 that brand as well?
If you know your customer and you’re listening to them, you’ll know who the influencers are and be able to leverage them to speak your brand truth. There are a few ways to ask for their help. In my teams case, we use them as 1:1 references in big deals to give other customers an idea of how we go about partnership. We also ask customers to provide testimonials and be advocates of ours on digital channels.
For most industries, if you are really listening to your customers, this should be an easy thing to do.
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. 🙂
Considering what we’ve gone through in the last few months, I would say this: Don’t lose yourself (too much) in your work. Don’t forget to MOVE and sweat every day. Don’t forget to learn something new — no matter how small (e.g. watch one TED talk or read something you never knew on Wikipedia) — every day. The more we take care of ourselves and our minds, the healthier and smarter we can be when connecting with one another — and our customers.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I’d love for them to follow me on Twitter @katrina_gosek.