When I took over as CEO of MATRIXX Software three years ago, we were at an inflection point. The team had built a solution that was well respected in the industry and had proven successful for some of the biggest telecom operators around the world. However, it was time to scale in a meaningful way.
Having worked in sales for a large part of my career, I know that a critical element to building strong and enduring customer relationships often comes as a byproduct of our own company culture. I saw an opportunity to improve and leverage my company’s existing culture to enhance our customer relationships.
When I first came on board, we did not have a formal customer success program. This is often the case with smaller companies because the CEO or senior leadership has built those relationships directly. That kind of one-on-one engagement can’t always be replicated, however, as the company scales.
Our company’s customer success efforts were ad hoc at best, lacking a process that ensured a consistent customer experience each and every time. I knew this was one of the first things that needed to change if we were going to build a swell of raving fans from our customers.
When you create a cohesive team environment, that cohesion can translate across customer interactions. If we were going to increase customer relationships, we had to make sure our internal culture could support our customers’ success, and that we were in a position to empower employees to take ownership of the customer journey.
When you are a technology company providing a solution to your customer, it can be easy to fall into the vendor-customer trap. This relationship is transactional at best. The customer tells you what they need, and you supply it. It can be effective in certain situations, especially when a long-term relationship is not really needed.
However, there is much greater, lasting value in emphasizing partnership over perfection. This takes a level of humility. To be a true partner, be open to hearing what has not worked well in the past, or even if a customer is not happy with you or your product. Be willing to listen and then show up, roll up your sleeves and do the hard work.
One of the questions I have my team keep at the front of their minds is, “How can we better support our customers so they are achieving their goals?” By emphasizing the partnership instead of just focusing on the end result (sale), you can create trust and demonstrate that you are willing to change and improve to meet your customers’ needs.
The buck may stop with leadership, but the true work is done by the team. The best leaders I have found in any situation are those who recognize the intrinsic value of every position. After decades of leadership at some of the world’s biggest software companies, I’ve seen time and time again that one person cannot solve the problem. Each member of the team is vital to success.
One of the things I worked to implement right from my start at MATRIXX was to make every division responsible for the health of the customer relationship. Beyond simply a services and delivery responsibility, everyone from operations to engineering to sales to marketing is accountable for the customer relationship. This helped to both alleviate pressure and empower individuals to know that what they do has an impact on our bottom line.
This also helped to serve as a reminder that in every engagement we have with our customers, we are representing our company and our fellow teammates. It may be a subtle shift, but it’s a powerful one. By spreading ownership of a customer’s success to every member of the team, we’ve strengthened our awareness of our own North Star goals and have helped to solidify our purpose and our competitive strengths.
The notion that we can always improve takes the most humility of all. It is easy to get complacent when customer relationships have grown comfortable. Rather than make assumptions that things are going well, I like to challenge myself and my team to ask, “How can we do better?”
Sometimes this means offering more training to our customers so that challenges associated with new technology are mitigated. Sometimes it means reconsidering our processes. Often it means being willing to ask hard questions and listen to the answers without becoming defensive or shifting blame. No matter the process, there is always room for improvement and, inevitably, valuable lessons are learned along the way.
We’ve seen great success so far by focusing on these tactics, including projects that are progressing more smoothly, improvements in our Net Promotor Score, and a boost in closing renewals.
This is just the beginning, however. With an eye toward relentless improvement, I’m confident we’ll see greater customer satisfaction and even more referrals for our team.
That’s the power of creating raving fans — by focusing on your team and ensuring you have a strong company culture, those efforts expand outward and customers can see how effective your team is at supporting one another, getting the job done, and ensuring the customer succeeds. In the end, that means a win for all of us.
NOTE: This post was adapted from an article that appeared in Fast Company, February 22, 2023.