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Customer Success Depends upon Transparency

Peter Armaly is a Senior Director and Advisor for Oracle SaaS Customer Success. He is responsible for program design and execution of skills enablement for the customer success organization and in that capacity he works closely with senior executives both internally and externally. Peter is a highly accomplished marketing and customer success practitioner/leader who leverages his background by speaking and blogging about the challenges and opportunities around developing sophisticated customer-centric approaches.

Jeff Kleven is a Principal Customer Success Manager for Oracle SaaS. He is responsible for Oracle clients’ adoption and success of their use of HCM Cloud.  Jeff has held various client facing roles over the past 17 years in HCM Cloud, including direct sales, partner management and enablement as well as customer success.   

Recently, Peter sat down with Jeff to discuss a topic that speaks to the core of the Customer Success mission, transparency with customers.

Peter: Jeff, I know you’re a fan of transparency. So, you might be interested in an article in a recent issue of the Harvard Business Review. I found it intriguing because it says that companies should make their processes visible to customers while at the same time making the customers visible to employees. Radical, right? Imagine revealing all the sausage making that goes on behind the scenes to your customers. You might be wondering why would anyone think that’s a good idea? Or maybe you’re not wondering that at all and think it’s a no brainer. In any event, the author of the piece argues “when consumers can’t see the work that’s being done to serve them, their perception is that less effort or value went into delivering the service, so they don’t appreciate or value it as much.” Fascinating. It’s true that the article mostly places this in the context of B2C but in this age of the cloud I’m not sure it matters much. So what I want to hear your thoughts on is this. How do you think it might be to your advantage as a Customer Success Manager to reveal what goes on at Oracle when the customer seeks help with adopting more of a solution?

Jeff: Great question, Peter, and a good read as well. Yes, I’m a huge fan of transparency and believe clients appreciate that approach.  In fact, one of the best examples of a request for transparency came to me from a CIO of a global consulting firm. He said, ‘Jeff, we use your cloud application across the globe; we need you to be prescriptive. Tell us how to be the best client your organization has.”  Wow.  He trusted that through me, our organization could recommend modules, best practices, professional services, partners etc. so they could in fact be the best client we had.  Isn’t that the dream of every Customer Success Manager?  When I think about how we can help clients with our solutions, opening the ‘curtain’ of our organization’s processes for our clients can only help.  My experience is this: Clients are disappointed or upset at issues we create. However, if we admit to those faults and have a plan that we share with the clients to prevent those issues from re-occurring, we earn their trust. That HBR article talks about customer perception when interacting with a supplier.  Back when retailers adopted point of sale (POS) terminals for debit and credit, studies showed that even though the payment transaction time took longer, customer satisfaction didn’t fall, as you might logically think it would. Instead, the opposite happened.  Customers’ satisfaction went up as they perceived the wait time was shorter (even when it wasn’t).  The moral of that story for me is this: Don’t be shy about making your clients aware about what’s happening during their product/service transactions.  Share what goes on behind the scenes as they’ll appreciate the transparency and who knows, maybe they’ll make suggestions that will improve your overall service/product.

Peter: Of course there are boundaries, right? McKinsey wrote this piece about the dark side of transparency that makes good points about exercising some discretion. But I like to think that most people we deal with in business are respectful and that we treat them with respect in return. So we’re not going to inundate them with too much information and especially information that’s superfluous. One thing Customer Success Managers must always keep in mind, if they’re going to authentically execute a true customer-centric mission, is to be mindful of the customer’s perception. Too much of anything is almost as bad as too little of anything. So, would you agree that transparency requires the same sort of balancing act?

Jeff: Absolutely. Transparency does require a balancing act as no one wants to hear about another company’s dirty laundry.  We have all had experiences hearing employees complain about their employer, whether is it a call center employee or perhaps a bank teller.  I propose that clients will appreciate transparency and when appropriate, access to those internal resources.  Transparency breeds trust and trust breeds opportunities for improvement.  Take, for example, Customer Advisory Boards.  If your company is truly interested in feedback from you clients, create these groups and truly listen to their feedback.  Take that feedback and act on it.  Demonstrate how the feedback has translated into improvements and voila, you have a closed-circuit feedback mechanism that all started with a transparent approach to working with clients.  We all experience B2C interactions and a common one is an oil change.  My local garage displays a small handwritten note on the dash afterward saying ‘John completed your oil change today’.  What a great approach to share the pride of work that is delivered in a personalized fashion.  Can we as Customer Success Managers provide similar B2B service?  I think we can.  Make it personal and make it transparent!

Peter: Bravo, Jeff. Be open and honest enough to authentically seek ways to improve the service from the people who are consuming it, but don’t go too far with your information sharing so as to make them question your company’s ability to get its act together and deliver high quality service in a consistent manner. This discussion makes me think of something. If you’ve read my blog posts over the last couple of years, you’ll know I’m a big proponent of scaling customer success through the collection of data and the automation of customer outreach. But this conversation grounds me a bit by reminding me that there is a lot of nuance in the vendor/customer dynamic that cannot easily be programmed or automated, no matter how much data you collect about the customer. It might come someday through very sophisticated artificial intelligence, but for now there’s no replacing the skills of an experienced and respectful customer success professional when it comes to developing deeper, trust-based relationships with customers. So, maybe a future conversation can be about how human customer success pros can elevate their value to customers by focusing more and more on what computing can’t do.

Thanks for this, Jeff. It’s been fun.


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