We in the vendor world like to talk about ourselves. A lot. We like to talk about how our products are so smart, so user-friendly, so useful, so valuable, and so mission-critical. So many pats on our own backs. I find it educational and humbling to sit back once in a while and observe the vendor activity on my Twitter and LinkedIn feeds.
To be fair, my company is as guilty as any other company in the way product information and its importance to business is trumpeted across networks. Also, and again to be fair, this is not a bad thing on its own. After all, it’s just advertising. It’s bad though if your customers grow weary of the onslaught.
Do you know if they are?
The onslaught of anything causes deflection or shutdown. I know I switch the channel on the treadmill when commercials come on, just as I do when I click on a link and it opens a website that includes autoplay of a video. Close it down, shut it off, make it stop. Those kinds of consumer reactions are not what marketers envision from their campaigns. The same principle — and same set of reactions — holds for existing customers on the receiving end of your messaging.
So What Do Customers Want?
Good question. They want lots of things. They want products that are easy to use and do what the vendor says they will. They want accurate and fast basic service when they need it, and they want real expertise available when they are in a situation that warrants it. They’re willing to pay for that last piece, by the way. Are any of those things unreasonable? No.
Customers want more because we vendors have elevated their expectations. We’re delivering more features, functionality, and business value through our products and solutions all the time. While their lives can be more complicated as a result, the net effect is that technological solutions are having a positive effect on their businesses.
That’s one form of onslaught, but it’s a form that customers are attracted to. An onslaught of value is a good thing.
The scene turns sour, though, when our vendor voice drowns out their customer one. When customers feel they have to struggle to get those (in their minds) minimum service expectations I listed above met, that’s when they feel vendors are only interested in themselves. There are Voice of the Customer programs, which, of course, have the potential for offering tremendous listening value, but how else can vendors show they care?
Climb The Mountain of Data
How about using the vast amount of data collected each day from your customers’ use of your product? How about leveraging the data that you already know about the kind of business they’re in and how successful they’ve been, the products they subscribe to (yours and your competitors’), the trajectory of their spend with you, about the roles of the individuals employed and who serve as your contacts in all those accounts, about the business goals they aspire to and that they’ve already detailed for you?
All of that should be stored in your CRM.
How about reconciling all that data with what you should know about what’s happening in the national and international economies where your customers conduct their business? How about taking all that data and, without even a hint of alchemy, turn it into insights that you can action with customers? In addition to great solutions, this is what customers really want.
Getting From Here to There
If heightened expectations mean customers want more insights, what does that mean for vendors? Vendors need to accelerate the data literacy of their workforces, particularly those in their customer-facing organizations. They need to evolve their teams to a point where customers and opportunities are represented by data that can be distilled into meaningful action.
Data literacy is the ability to read, understand, create and communicate data as information. It’s the ability of a person to be comfortable operating in an environment where automated work processes are fueled by data, mountains of it. Digitally transformed businesses can only be so when they can say that their processes are operating from a foundation of data, which, of course, dictates that people responsible for operating the processes need to be as data fluent as possible to participate fully in an environment of iterative improvement.
Sadly though, Capgemini reports that only a minority (39 percent) of businesses feel they are digitally capable. And, although this next piece focuses on this issue specifically as it pertains to the US federal government, according to this Nextgov article, organizations aren’t doing enough to advance the data literacy skills of their workforces.
Broadly speaking, data illiteracy hurts a company’s ability to meet business targets, and, in the future, it will more severely compromise their ability to compete. As stated in the article, organizations should make driving up data literacy rates across their workforces a high priority “instead of depending on a few experts who hold the keys to the data kingdom … .”
Does Customer Success Play a Role?
Carrying over from a recent post I wrote called, Customer Success: An Instrument for Change, there is no more logical organization to lead the effort toward digitally transforming a company so that it revolves around the needs and experiences of customers. Why? Because no other organization has as close proximity to the customer’s business as customer success. No other organization is as weighted with responsibility for ensuring customers stay customers over the long haul. And no other organization is as increasingly looked upon as integral to a customer’s ability to achieve their business goals.
But in most cases, customer success is not quite ready for such a key role in a digitally transformed landscape. More change needs to occur and the most fundamental one of all is elevating its members’ level of data literacy so that the following example can be digitally and procedurally handled instead of the way it typically is today in almost all companies, by executive escalation and disruptive panic.
Example: Customer A bought Product B from your company. Customer A is a financial services firm whose flamboyant CEO loves speaking to the media about the future of fintech. She’s recently announced a new initiative that will see her firm invest millions into a new lab to exploit that technology because, as she says, her customers are becoming increasingly data literate. But that will only happen once they complete an internal review of the performance and relevance of their existing technology investments and associated vendors. Do you think that might produce some important action for the customer success team? Do you think it might trigger them to redouble their efforts at ensuring Customer A is successful in achieving their business goals through Product B so that your company lands on the right side of that assessment process?
A vendor with a data literate workforce would have an edge. A data literate workforce would already know whether the customer is achieving success or not and would already have been executing a plan to keep things moving in the right direction.
You get my point.
Data literacy drives more intelligent decisions. And while they might not be saying it or even thinking it, data literacy is what your customers need you to have.