Tuesday Mar 10, 2015

Avoiding the Customer Advocacy Trap

We’ve heard “The customer is always right” a million times over. In the complexity of today’s business environment, it’s just not always true − especially in the B2B world.

Make no mistake: we have to listen carefully and continually to what our customers are saying. The danger arises when, in the name of customer advocacy, we act on customer requests and address only symptoms − instead of digging deeper to understand underlying challenges and how the requests fit with the fundamentals of our own business. Doing whatever the customer asks of us is not a business model; bounds us to reactive, tactical responses;

limits innovative ideas; and doesn’t truly serve the customer well.

In short, declaring yourself to be a customer advocate suggests that you will basically do whatever your customers ask. This approach ultimately results in tactics that probably don’t mesh with strategy.

Instead of customer advocacy, we propose that customer success should be the new mantra. To us, customer success means implementing a closed-loop process where corporate strategy drives customer engagement that thoughtfully supports the customer’s desired business outcomes, which in turn drives customer feedback, which then allows us to adjust our strategy.

At Oracle, we have spent the last 10 years on transforming our business into a customer success-focused enterprise with an emphasis on:

  • Expanding customer feedback and engagement
  • Developing a deep understanding of our customers’ business
  • Making it easier to do business with us
  • Executing an R&D strategy rooted in customer needs
  • Enhancing employee engagement with our customers
  • Building on customer successes with loyalty

Listening to our customers is fundamental to our focus on customer success at Oracle. We leverage myriad ways to gain a holistic view of the customer’s experience and perspective. This includes relationship surveys tied to three-year account strategies; continuous and ad hoc customer advisory panels; transactional surveys for point-in-time feedback across lines of business; executive advisory boards and focus groups; input from account teams and executive sponsors; social media harnessing unstructured and topical input; as well as user experience labs where customers help to define next-generation solutions.

By analyzing this input with a particular eye toward what we need to do to assure customer success, we can identify root causes and trends that enable us to make changes and drive innovation to have the greatest possible impact on our customer base. Our Top Ten Program is designed to address company-wide and cross-line-of-business initiatives that have the largest impact to our customers as well as our business. We derive the programs’ list from feedback collected across multiple sources, as well as emerging trends highlighted by our most strategic customers. Key steps include identifying customer priorities, conducting business impact analysis, implementing corrective action, monitoring feedback channels, and communicating results and actions back to the company and customers.

By limiting their focus to customer advocacy, enterprises curtail their potential for innovation. I’m reminded of the development of the Wii gaming system. Genyo Takeda spearheaded the team at Nintendo. Instead of simply looking to improve incrementally on gaming consoles by addressing specific customer demands for faster systems with more sophisticated graphics, Takeda and his team re-imagined the concept of a gaming system from the ground up, including how users interact with it. The team looked beyond what gamers said they wanted, digging deeper into how users interacted with games and what was holding back adoption in some segments. This way of looking at the problem put the customer’s experience at the center and examined what the customer really needed rather than what they simply said they wanted.

An organization driven by a deeper understanding of the customer and long-term customer success, rather than more superficial customer advocacy, demands that enterprises stay (at least) one step ahead of their customers − applying market expertise and insight, analyzing customer input to identify issues and root causes, and thinking creatively to proactively identify needs, in some instances, even before the customer recognizes them.

This is very much the approach that we take at Oracle. Incorporating customer feedback within the framework of our business strategy is critical in helping us to define new product direction and understand emerging needs – with a goal of getting ahead of the curve. Our Engineered Systems are a case in point. These innovative solutions – which include our Oracle Exadata, Oracle Exalogic and Oracle Exalytics solutions − combine hardware and software that are engineered and optimized to work together out of the box. They deliver extreme performance and install rapidly to accelerate return on investment, reduce IT complexity and cut total cost of ownership. This concept was entirely new and many customers looked askance until we convincingly demonstrated the benefits. Today, demand for these systems is strong, and we have developed a large, committed, engaged and enthusiastic user community.

A strategy that puts a focus on customer success, allows this type of innovation. A customer success view, with customer feedback placed in the proper context and a deep understanding of what customers really need enables nuanced strategy, which has collaboration and innovation at its core.

We are successful if and only if our customers are successful.

Tuesday Feb 10, 2015

Our Customers’ Success Is Our Success

As Oracle’s Chief Customer Officer, I am constantly looking for new and innovative ways to reach out to our customer community. To that end, I am collaborating with my friend and colleague, Amir Hartman of Mainstay Partners, this time on a series of six blogs focused on Customer Success for the OracleVoice channel on Forbes.com. Through this series we’re touching upon various topics from sales to marketing, and everything in between.
Companies today need to understand that alignment of their own goals to their customers’ goals is key to building loyalty and mutually beneficial partnerships. If the quest for helping your customers achieve their goals and success is built into your company’s DNA, your sales teams will be far more likely to meet their objectives. Ensuring that your sales teams have the right tools and skills to engage with customers in this way is critical.

The first three blogs of our series have been published on Forbes. I have included links to each below. Take a moment to visit the site and take a quick read. Never have we felt a stronger need to put the customer’s success at the center of everything. Their success is our success.

Check out the posts:

Also, we are running a short survey on customer success. If you have a quick moment, please click here. We would be honored to have your input.

Keep an eye on the OracleVoice channel on Forbes.com for my upcoming blogs and check back here for a recap once they have been posted.  I look forward to your feedback and thoughts on these and all my other blogs.

Thanks,
Jeb

Tuesday May 27, 2014

Customer Loyalty vs. Customer Engagement: Who Cares?

Have you read the recent Forbes OracleVoice blog titled Customer Loyalty is Dead. Long Live Engagement!? If you haven’t, take a look. This article prompted lots of conversation in the social realm. Many who read the article voiced their reactions to the headline and now I’m jumping in to add my view.

Customer loyalty is still key. It’s the effect and engagement is the cause. We at least know that to be true for our customers. We are in an age where customers are demanding to be heard. We need them to be actively involved – or engaged – as well. Greater levels of customer engagement, properly targeted, positively correlate with satisfaction. Our data has shown us this over and over. Satisfied customers are more loyal and more willing to vocalize their satisfaction through referencing, and are more likely to purchase again, all of which in turn drives incremental revenue – from the customer doing the referencing AND the customer on the receiving end of that reference.


Turning this around completely, if we begin to see the level of a customer’s engagement start to wane, this is an indicator that their satisfaction, loyalty, and future revenue are likely at risk. At Oracle, we’ve put in place many programs to target, encourage, and then track engagement, allowing us to measure engagement as a determinant of loyalty. Some of these programs include our Key Accounts, solution design and architectural, Executive Sponsorship, as well as executive advisory boards.

Specific programs allow us to engage specific contacts within specific customer organizations (based on role) and then systematically track their engagement activities over time, along side of tracking customer satisfaction, loyalty, referenceability, and incremental revenue contribution. Continuous measurement of engagement allows us to better understand customer views of what it means to partner with a provider and adjust program participation to better meet the needs of the partnership. We can also track across customer segments, and design new programs that are even more effective than the ones we have in place today.

In case you missed any of my previous Forbes articles, I’ve included links below for easy access.

Tuesday May 20, 2014

The Customer Connection – Building Lasting Relationships in an Instant Access World


 Today’s customers literally have a world of information at their fingertips. Gone are the days when the vendor – via sales reps, advertising, and marketing – was the primary source for information on a product or service.

Customers increasingly search online for information, join social networks, and leverage other social media channels for trusted third-party information and perspectives. A 2013 study, "B2B Technology Decision Journey," found that 80% of IT decision makers deem word-of-mouth input as the most important influence when making buying decisions; and 58% said they use social media to learn from trusted peers.

To build strong relationships in this rapidly changing, instant access environment, the ability to connect and, more importantly, collaborate with customers in new ways is imperative.

There is no question that the balance of power has shifted decisively in favor of the customer, who expects easy access to a full set of technology and business research and resources. Vendors can still play a vital role in this information exchange by integrating the offline and online worlds to manage the path of the customer’s journey.

For example, online communities can help customers take advantage of solutions and proactively resolve support issues. Our research shows that for every 300 online interactions via these communities, 100 support calls are avoided.

As important, when sales teams begin to pay greater attention to customers’ online and social media interactions, they gain insight that can fortify trust and enable greater collaboration for solving a customer’s business challenges – before an inquiry is even made.

Organizations should be focused on systematically managing interactions across social and online channels – using search results, white paper downloads, and social media postings to foster stronger customer understanding and relationships. Cloud-based tools can help track the customer’s actual usage of products and capture insight into their everyday experience, with an eye toward adding value and extending collaboration. By better understanding technology adoption issues and patterns, we can help customers to build a roadmap that enables them to get the greatest value possible out of their investments.

As part of an integrated strategy to expand customer collaboration, creating specific programs that focus on better understanding, documenting, and augmenting the customer’s journey acts as a source for professional development and knowledge expansion. Here at Oracle we’ve launched a Customer Experience (CX) Journey Mapping program that helps businesses to overcome organizational barriers to achieving true customer centricity. Serving as a trusted advisor, we share journey-mapping tools and techniques with customers to help them jump-start their CX transformation process. These half-day workshops give customers the fundamentals for customer centricity and the means to apply them within their organizations. They also serve to further strengthen our customer relationships.

Customer centricity can no longer be about one-off initiatives. It must be a part of a company’s corporate DNA.

As the profile of a customer changes, with a heavier reliance on online channels to make decisions, find information, and communicate, all of us need to evolve at the same pace.  By establishing ways to facilitate proactive collaboration and enable instant access to information, we can enrich our customers' experiences and promote customer-centricity within our own organizations.

Tuesday May 13, 2014

Reengineering Customer Service – Building Strong Relationships Through Listening and Collaboration

Oracle’s business has changed dramatically in the last decade as we moved beyond the database sector and pursued a larger vision of becoming the world’s number-one provider of enterprise software. That same journey also drove us to rethink and, ultimately transform, how we relate to our customers.

While we continue to evolve, I wanted to share this journey with you and set the stage for our conversations that will follow.

When Oracle acquired PeopleSoft in 2004, we ran into an unfamiliar challenge. How would we convince a skeptical customer base arriving via acquisition that we were serious about defending their interests? Specifically, how would Oracle’s style, which was built on industry leadership in the database sector, mesh with customers accustomed to dealing with a more collaborative and people-centric company?

Realizing that we had to forge new types of connections with customers and demonstrate a more collaborative approach to working with them, we took action ‒ making a significant investment in creating a single unified company strategy around customer programs. This approach would integrate all aspects of the customer experience, including service and support, contract negotiations, account management, and more.

Oracle, known for our engineering expertise, went to work on building a new way to relate to customers. Our mission was clear. To sustain growth and boost loyalty, we needed to:

  • Set up listening posts. We began to scour our customer base worldwide for opinions, implementing regular Web surveys, focus groups, and executive advisory boards to find out what we need to do better. Additionally, we conducted marketplace studies and solicited observations from individual employees interacting with our customers. Next, we looked to better engage CIOs, a key constituency ‒ creating a CIO Advisory Board has become an indispensable source of guidance and a sounding board for new ideas, ranging from recommendations on potential acquisitions to improving account management.

  • Learn to collaborate. It was increasingly clear that our legacy culture of dictating the terms of customer relationships was simply not conducive to long-term growth. Today, Oracle’s focus on collaboration fuels sales by encouraging and creating a sounding board for customers’ ideas that drive change.

For example, one of the concerns that we have heard most often over the years was that it is very difficult to do business with Oracle. Specifically, contract negotiations can be too complex and prolonged. We’ve listened and responded with a new master agreement that standardized and simplified contract processes, allowing for better collaboration and streamlined negotiations. Quotes and deals are approved faster under the new system, which uses tools that simplify workflows and deliver full transparency and greater efficiency.

  • Refocus sales team. One of the first things that we heard from customers, specifically CIOs, was that Oracle needed a fresh approach to account management, one that provided more consistent and transparent coverage. Listening to these concerns, we created a more customer-focused account management model and strengthened our account teams with new advisors, support resources, and executive sponsors to provide relevant industry, business process, and technical expertise as well as greater continuity.

  • Move beyond transactions. Oracle, like many other enterprises, built its business in many ways on an approach to customer relationships that can feel very transactional. Customers demand more, however, and rightfully so. As consumers in an increasingly digital and connected world, we have come to expect anytime, anywhere service and intelligent business relationships – fueled by the power of sophisticated analytics. This consumer trend extends to the business-to-business sector in which we operate.

Today, while still dedicated to growing our business, we are focused on working in tandem with our customers to help them solve increasingly complex challenges and move their businesses forward. Restructuring our sales team also enabled us to launch a more effective strategic planning process – a multi-year framework designed to improve alignment between Oracle and its customers, and sharpen our focus on our customers’ business and technology objectives.

  • Transform support. Fast, efficient product support always ranks at the top of customers’ list of requirements. Knowing that customer support can make or break a relationship in our business, we rolled out new practices and tools that have significantly improved customer support services and are enabling us to move from a reactive, break/fix mindset to proactive support engagements that anticipate and address issues before they become critical. For example, we instituted a new service request process that establishes an early warning system that quickly identifies and resolves issues affecting numerous products at the same time. In addition, our recommended software updates are easier to review and directly deploy thanks to integration of My Oracle Support and Oracle Enterprise Manager Ops Center 12c.

  • Measure progress. Today, Oracle increasingly uses big-data analytics to discern and gather critical insight from customer feedback and link customer success and satisfaction measures with revenue growth. We regularly track how improvements in satisfaction and customer referencing drive further engagement and sales. We also systematically analyze all types of customer feedback, from Web surveys and executive council meeting content to discussions on social media.

Higher levels of listening and collaboration are helping Oracle replace arms-length transactions with more intimate partnerships that are the foundation for strong and long-lasting relationships.  Our efforts are bearing fruit by helping customers to innovate, become more efficient and agile, and get greater return from their IT investment.

Catch you next time,

Jeb Dasteel
Senior Vice President and Chief Customer Officer

Tuesday May 06, 2014

Welcome to the Customers in the Know blog!

My name is Jeb Dasteel, I'm Oracle's Chief Customer Officer.  My team and I work with customers on a daily basis to help them get the most out of their Oracle investment.  We are able to accomplish this by:
  • Listening and responding to customer feedback
  • Promoting and facilitating collaboration between Oracle and its customers
  • Celebrating business success through references and other forums for sharing best practices

It’s critical to Oracle’s success to ensure we have an open dialogue with our customers. I look forward to engaging with you on this blog periodically to share with you the key areas of interest to me, provide you first hand experiences from customers we are working with, and also what we’ve been doing here at Oracle.

We’ve titled this blog, ‘Customers In the Know,” because we think that you, our customers, not only want information on how to get the most out of your Oracle investments and find easier ways to work with us, but that you, OUR CUSTOMERS are “in the know” about your own experiences, as a customer of Oracle’s and as technology consumers and users and decision makers. We need to hear from you.

Our job is really all about you, our customer, and how we can better meet your needs. I hope you find that we have something valuable to share and take the time to engage us in conversation around the web. Please be sure to check back here frequently and make comments on my blog entries, we want to hear your thoughts and get your feedback, to make Oracle better for you.

Catch you next time,

Jeb Dasteel
Senior Vice President and Chief Customer Officer


About

Welcome to the Customers in the Know Blog. My name is Jeb Dasteel, I am Senior Vice President and Chief Customer Officer at Oracle. I am responsible for driving customer-focus into all aspects of the Oracle business. I advocate and work within Oracle to develop and deliver customer programs that increase customer retention, value delivered, satisfaction, and loyalty. This blog was designed to enhance our engagement and interaction with our customers, by providing them exclusive Oracle executive insights, ensuring they have the most up-to-date trends and news directly from Oracle, as well as guest blog submissions by some of our customers.

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