Delivering an exceptional and unified customer experience requires that customer success organizations look through the eyes of the customer, and start with a customer experience intent statement. This aspirational statement of what the customer is feeling and declaring when their interaction is successful, helps guide decisions and actions. According to McKinsey & Company, “The highly diverse, frontline nature of superior customer-experience programs requires a shared aspiration, which can serve as a guiding light for strategic decisions and execution. Otherwise, a corporate strategy to improve the customer experience will go only so far.” (Brooke Boyarsky, 2016).
Knowing what the customer expects, aligned to an aspirational vision, is a good start. Ultimately however, a company is measured by the collective actions of its employees, not on its vision. Delivering a high value experience requires all members of the customer success team as well as the company to act consistently, in all interactions with its clients.
I recommend customer success professionals utilize the SPARCCS framework that supports the intent statement, drives alignment, mutual commitment, and execution with a defined outcome as seen below. SPARCCS is a simple acronym to remember:
(S)ituation, (P)roblem, (A)sk, (R)equirement, (C)ommitment, (C)losure, (S)olicit.
1. Understand the (S)ituation
An exceptional customer experience, in which the customer trusts its vendors and recognizes they care for them, requires proactive situational awareness. This demands preparation, a centralized customer intelligence platform, and the discipline to ask targeted questions to truly understand the customer’s desired operational and/or business outcomes.
In addition, cross-functional teams should all have access to the information and act in a coordinated manner. This may require new tools or updating existing tools like Salesforce, Gainsight, Synap or many of the other emerging customer success platforms.
2. Align on the (P)roblem or opportunity and the impact of it
To understand and deliver rapid value to the customer requires that each problem or opportunity is clearly understood by both parties. This can be done simply by repeating back to the customer the perceived problem or opportunity and listening intently until both parties are using the same language to describe it. There is nothing worse than creating solutions for problems that don’t exist while the real challenges remain unaddressed.
It’s also important to align on the impact. Not all urgent things are important, nor are all important things urgent. Aligning on the importance and urgency is critical to executing the right activities and delivering an exceptional customer experience.
3. Listen carefully for the specific (A)sk or demand
The specific ask or demand can sometimes be different than the problem or opportunity; understanding this is critical to prioritizing the customer’s needs and taking ownership. For example, a customer may be requesting a new product feature that is critical to achieving a stated business outcome, but the specific ask may only be that a plan for the new feature and a timeline be communicated for an important upcoming management meeting.
4. Qualify the associated (R)equirements or need
Qualifying the associated need is critical to be able to respond in the most appropriate way, whether content, timeline or means. Understanding and fulfilling the needs, complementary yet different from the ‘ask’ is usually what most clients will think about when evaluating their experience with a vendor. Needs are for both the client and the vendor. It is worth spelling the requirements out clearly to establish the best mutual understanding of the overall situation and define the right delivery expectation.
5. Agree on mutual (C)ommittment
They are aligned and engaged on resolution of the problem or the pursuit of the opportunity, understand the specific ask, have clearly identified the associated needs and are working together towards an agreed upon and rapid outcome.
It is important to be explicit on what the vendor (or the vendor representative) commits to the client (or its representative), and what the client commits to the vendor. At this point, it often helps to follow-up with a short email capturing the essence of steps 1 to 5 with an offer to the client to adjust if necessary. This can then serve as an informal contract for this particular customer-vendor interaction.
6. Deliver and (C)lose the loop
Delivering the agreed upon services and communicating completion effectively closes the loop. The form of this closure may be as simple as an email or as complex as a full technical review. In either case it is key to document completion of the previously defined mutual commitment.
7. (S)olicit feedback
All vendors look for metrics to assess and improve client satisfaction, loyalty and referenceability. Soliciting feedback upon closure helps the client think about that particular interaction. This provides an opportunity to openly discuss both positive and negative issues and address them in real-time, further reinforcing and cultivating the relationship. If performed successfully, this process will build and nurture long lasting advocates within the client’s organization whom will be pleased to share their positive experience with others in their company and with the vendor’s prospects.
Bonus: Measuring success
Measuring the customer experience is the only true way to understand success. Renewal rates are a de facto measurement but are lagging indicators. PTC subscribes to the idea that Net Promoter Scores (or NPS) are a leading indicator that help indicate the likelihood of renewal and customer loyalty. This clear measure of success uses a simple question to identify customers as “Promoters,” “Passives,” or “Detractors.” According to Bain, “Analysis shows that sustained value creators – companies that achieve long-term profitable growth – have Net Promoter Scores two times higher than the average company. And Net Promoter System leaders on average grow at more than twice the rate of competitors.” (Bain & Company, n.d.).
The NPS survey results focus on a single question, “How likely is it that you would recommend [your company] to a friend or colleague?”
In addition, several open ended questions are asked to help probe issues that can be used to gather critical feedback that can fuel improvement and foster better communication.
More about the NPS and how it is calculated can be found on Bain’s NPS website, or solution providers like Qualtrics that help to aggregate and decipher the data. There are other measures of success, but the key is that a metric is used to measure the execution of any customer success and customer experience program.
About the author
Gregory Schern is the Director of Customer Success at PTC, a global provider of technology platforms and solutions that transform how companies create, operate, and service the "things" in the Internet of Things (IoT).