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A culture of customer empathy

Reflecting on my first 100 days at RingCentral


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As I reflect on my first 100 days and look forward to 2023, I can’t ignore the macroeconomic challenges, the new normal impacting our return to offices, and how the customer success organization must create unforgettable experiences as customer needs evolve.

Customers have choices and can pivot when a provider disappoints them, often never knowing why things went wrong. Companies may seem too big to care, and disconnects happen sometimes. Having worked on customer success teams, I have a strong sense of keeping relationships on track in challenging times without losing an empathy mindset and maintaining customers for life focus.

Every provider is motivated to please, no surprise there, but great companies typically hire experienced, customer-centric-minded employees. Often, significant behind-the-scenes issues, goals alignment, and systemic problems, such as a lack of empathy, impede companies from creating a customer-first mindset. Fixing that kind of issue is often an organizational and cultural challenge.

Typically, in a high-tech company, customer success is one of the most “matrix” functions — meaning that even when one group “owns” the post-sales customer relationship, many different groups, including product, sales, support, and marketing, have a hand in its success. At times complicated, the entire company must take ownership of the customer experience, not simply relegate it to a post-sales team.

4 key components of a customer empathy culture

In my new role at RingCentral (I started in September), I strive to enable every team member to deepen our collective customer mindset by spending more time listening, understanding customer needs, collaborating with cross-functional teams, and driving to improve customer business outcomes. As I reflect on what it takes to drive a customer empathy culture, here are four key areas that will create a customer-for-life mindset:

  1. Hire for mindset, not skillset. How do you hire people who share the mindset of listening to customers and collaborating with others? Those attributes don’t always jump out of a resume or LinkedIn profile. But finding and nurturing these traits begins with honing our interview process and creating a hiring framework around the culture, leadership, and problem-solving skills needed for the job. Interview questions such as dealing with conflict or understanding technology still matter, but culture and leadership should be given ample interview time and importance. We hire for a mindset because employees must listen to customers’ needs and act accordingly.
  2. Prioritize customer success. When customers consider which products or services to buy, they prioritize price, quality, and brand reputation. Often, service teams pass the buck from one employee to another without taking accountability for a customer’s concern. In a matrix organization, improving the customer experience is a team sport. A customer success scorecard must become much more than a quarterly exercise or a single organization’s way of defining success, but an entire company focused on advancing the customer’s business objectives. When customer business outcomes inform scorecards, it guides engineers to build better products and sales/marketing teams to offer customers compelling products and services, ultimately converting our prospects to customers for life.
  3. Align objectives. Many companies are transactionally focused, creating metrics, scorecards, and financial statements for internal purposes rather than what matters to our customers. I am not naive to think that driving the financial metrics that improve shareholder value is not needed or unimportant. Companies focusing on customer success metrics determined by customer business outcomes will create the output our shareholders want. It would also realign its priorities to match its customers’ evolving needs and values. Aligning leadership with customer empathy is an under-the-radar way to advance and sustain customer relationships and meet financial obligations.
  4. Deliver on your promises. An empathetic culture understands the importance of not letting your customers down. Most companies are well-intended but sometimes overcommit and underdeliver without just being honest from the beginning. Customers appreciate honesty and transparency. Even if you don’t have an answer or bad news to deliver, transparency is vital to delivering on a promise. Leaders must model that behavior with employees to embed this mindset into the company culture.

My first 100 days

There were a lot of reasons why I wanted to work at RingCentral and advance my ideas on building customer success. Long known as one of the best places to work in Silicon Valley, RingCentral took a giant step forward during the pandemic as more customers realized the value of our cloud-based, collaborative communications platform. We have always enabled hybrid work, and our outstanding culture (and technology) has helped us to instantly adapt to rapidly evolving customer, partner, and employee needs.

In 2022, we gained recognition as one of the best places to work nationally and locally (in San Francisco and Colorado) and for improving LGBTQ Equality. In November, Frost & Sullivan Institute recognized our commitment to addressing Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG) issues. RingCentral drives diversity and inclusion — and believes in it and supports it.

Meeting with and learning the concerns of our wide range of global customers, I’m also fine-tuning my thinking about customer success and understanding what, if anything, customers want us to do better than ever before. In turn, I foster ways to enhance cross-functional collaboration, respect, and trust. Collaboration starts with listening and can evolve into working together on product or service strategy and building customer success scorecards that lead to better business outcomes.

When you deepen your understanding of the customer’s journey, you show appreciation for what they’re trying to accomplish and how you can help. Trust is axiomatic, you earn a customer’s trust by delivering on your promises, both large and small. Customers trust providers who promptly return calls or make unprompted disclosures when big problems occur —the more proactive the communication, the deeper the trust.

Let us know: How are we progressing on our journey to create an even more empathetic customer culture and in our quests to deliver innovative solutions and exceptional customer experience? The more you participate and provide feedback, the greater our success and the faster we’ll reach our goal of delivering on every promise. I am sharing my journey over the last 100 days and my passion for customer success in hopes of finding other like-minded individuals who want to join the RingCentral team on our journey to creating the most empathetic and successful customer success team. Reach out to me or connect via Twitter @grandacarlos or connect via LinkedIn.

Originally published Jan 23, 2023

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