Recently I had the pleasure of leading a panel discussion in San Francisco at Pulse, the major user conference for the fast-growing “customer success” industry. Customer success–an emerging company function focused on helping companies retain, drive increased value for, and grow customer relationships–is rapidly transforming companies of all shapes and sizes. And the Pulse conference brought that to life. In just two years since the inaugural Pulse event, it’s grown from 200 attendees to a large and lively gathering of over 2,000 attendees ranging from CEOs and VPs of sales to chief customer officers (CCOs) and customer success managers. The energy in the room this year was electric.
My panel was called “The Ever-Expanding and Growing Role of the Chief Customer Officer.” I was joined onstage by Mary Poppen, the chief customer officer at SAP Cloud; Eric Kelleher, head of global customer success at LinkedIn; Diane Magers, office of the customer at AT&T; and Jon Herstein, senior vice president of customer success at Box.
Broadly, we discussed how each of the panelist’s roles has evolved over the past few years as the chief customer officer has emerged as one of the key leaders inside companies, with stepped-up responsibilities and influence. They all agreed that the role–which didn’t even exist in many organizations a few years ago–has become a mainstream profession, driven by the fact that “in subscription-based economy, what a company sells initially is almost irrelevant. It is what the customer renews the next year and the year following, and ten years after that, that [will drive 90% of value and revenue for a company],” Kelleher pointed out.
At Box, an early adopter of customer success, the CCO role has moved from more of a defensive position to an offensive one, Herstein said. Instead of focusing solely on preventing customer churn, Box’s customer-success organization is now viewed as the champion of the customer, tasked with mobilizing the entire company to ensure a customer’s success at every touch point. This requires working across many different functions, from product and marketing to support and finance, according to Herstein.
Magers of AT&T agreed. She pointed out that good customer-success groups get “everyone to play in each other’s sandboxes” to rally around the common cause of the customer. At SAP, said Poppen, this means bringing together all key stakeholders for a regularly-scheduled, ongoing meeting “to make decisions and remove roadblocks.” From my perspective, this is exactly the type of cross-functional collaboration and consensus-building skill set (as well as intense focus on the customer) that will help cultivate the next generation of CEOs.
Watch the full discussion here: