Customers, Etc

By Ben McCormack

Relationship & Product | Customers, Etc

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Relationship & Product | Customers, Etc
By Ben McCormack • Issue #36 • View online

It’s a new year! Which means it’s a perfect time to refocus on customers. Give them some extra love. Build the products they want. Pick your favorite framework for strategic alignment (I like Objectives & Key Results, OKRs) and get to work.
When we talk about strategic alignment (further reading: 1,2,3,4), specifically about the work to achieve strategic alignment, we’re talking about what we’re going to do differently. If you’re looking for a way to go about it, I’d suggest exploring looking at customer experience work through the lens of relationship and product. This ensures you’re meeting customer needs while also staying appropriately close in your relationship to them.
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash
Example: Refinancing a Home
Let’s look at the dichotomy between relationship and product through the lens of financing a home, from the consumer’s perspective. When you’re looking to purchase or refinance a home, the lender you choose is going to have certain product or relationship “features”:
Product features:
  • Low interest rate
  • Low closing costs
  • Full-featured online portal
Relationship features:
  • I can talk to a human when I need to
  • They’ve worked with my real estate agent before
  • The company servicing my mortgage actually seems to care about me
As I mentioned in my last newsletter, I’m currently refinancing my home (closing is today¹—I’m irrationally excited). Part of my motivation for refinancing was driven by relationship features (“actually seems to care about me”), but there are certain product features that are important as well. Sure, I really wanted to ditch my current lender (relationship), but only if it was going to save me money (product). So I needed a solution that provided value both in terms of product and relationship.
Okay, so how does this come back to refocusing on the customer?
Relationship focus
Perhaps when we think of the “relationship” side of customer experience, we think of the activities involved in high touch customer success, things like personalized trainings, quarterly business reviews, outreach emails and all that. If you work for a company with a sophisticated sales process, you may want to examine post-sale activities to see if the relationship after the sale is on par with what is offered before the deal closes.
Focusing on the relationship isn’t just for upmarket businesses with big sales team, though. Even for business that mainly serve customers at scale, there are tons of opportunities to invest in the customer relationship.
Improving a relationship can often mean taking the time to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. This could mean working through a simple journey mapping exercise (for both customers and users) and looking for where in the customer’s journey your relationship with them could be improved. For small startups, it could mean doing things that don’t scale, perhaps talking to customers more regularly, even though you know you won’t be able to do that when the business is larger. Get to know your customers so that the product and services you design validate the relationship you have with them.
Product focus
You can invest a ton of energy into the relationship side of the customer experience, but if the product isn’t delivering value and otherwise meeting expectations, customers are going to start looking elsewhere for solutions that meet their needs. The customer experience/success/support, responsible for corresponding directly with customers, have a wealth of insights about what customers find valuable.
Don’t overlook basic bug fixing. It’s easy for customer pain to get lost in support tickets and never make it to the product team in a way that translates to real change. Putting energy into the bug escalation process can be one straightforward way to focus on customers via the product.
Strategic initiatives to improve product focus on behalf of customers will usually involve creating or improving systems to deliver the voice of the customer to the people designing and building the product. “Systems to deliver the voice of the customer” sounds so simple, but often these systems require a great deal of care to be impactful and deliver meaningful change for the customer. This could be anything from improving ticket tagging to setting up a regular meeting and reporting system for customer feature requests. It could also involve setting up systems for product managers and engineers to regularly speak directly with customers so the voice of the customer is more regularly represented during product environment. These kinds of activities help to ensure the product remains focused on the customer.
Product + Relationship
If you’re screaming, “Yeah, Ben, but product and relationship aren’t necessarily different!”, you’re right. For the strongest brands, relationship and product are often indistinguishable. If you ever choose a business because of your relationship with them, that’s a good sign that the relationship has become deeply integrated with the product. This could be anything from “I’m choosing this business because their sales and support teams are the best I’ve ever worked with” to “I’m going to upgrade to the next iPhone because I trust Apple to deliver great products.”
If you have a goal of being the type of business where customers value you in this way, you’ll have to start treating customer experience like a product. This is the essence of customer experience management², where you make prioritization and tradeoff decisions about the customer experience itself, just like you do with the product. When this is tightly aligned with the value the product delivers, the product and relationship often come together to deliver a remarkable experience.
To get there, start looking at your strategic initiatives around customer experience through the lens of product and relationship. How can you can focus on these areas to bring greater focus to the customer in 2021?
  1. 22 days since from first contact to close. That’s insanely fast!
  2. Check out Chief Customer Officer 2.0 for both an introduction to and comprehensive guide for CX management.
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Ben McCormack

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