Customer Experience with Carlos Hidalgo – Episode 001

Customer Experience as a Competitive Advantage with Carlos Hidalgo

It is crucial for growth firms to deliver on their brand promise at every single touch-point for the entire customer lifecycle. If they make sure that every stage delivers, they can turn customers into advocates and enable fast, sustainable growth and a gain tremendous competitive advantage. If they don’t, then they should be prepared for high customer turnover.

Recently, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing my mentor, Carlos Hidalgo. Carlos is an award-winning industry thought leader on driving growth via demand generation and building a customer-centric mindset in organizations. He’s the author of the book “Driving Demand“. He’s also been recognized for several years running as one of the 50 most influential people in sales lead management and B2B marketing.

Until very recently, he was the CEO and cofounder of ANNUITAS where he worked with enterprise clients, helping to transform their demand generation processes. Before that, he was responsible for global SMB marketing at BMC Software and McAfee.

He recently launched a new consulting practice called VisumCX, where he helps mid-tier technology companies transform in order to realize their growth potential and maximize sales and margins.

In this podcast, we dive into the full lifecycle of customer experience.

Transcript for the Customer Experience Episode

Candyce Edelen: Carlos, you explained to me what the meaning is, so let’s talk about the name of your company, VisumCX, and why you chose that name.

Carlos Hidalgo: Yeah, first of all, thanks for having me. I always love these discussions, so really appreciate it, Candyce. Visum is Latin for the word vision, and when we are talking about delivering on a customer experience for our customers, we have to have vision into the entire customer journey, starting with how they interact with our brand, both the corporate brand and then even perhaps even a product brand level, all the way through how they buy at the demand generation phase through customer support, service and delivery, and ultimately with the goal of turning them into customer advocates or brand advocates. If we don’t have that vision on that entire journey or that life cycle, we really are going to be hard pressed to deliver on customer experience, so that’s the meaning behind the name.

Candyce: You’ve been seeing a lot of trends around this and how companies need to make a commitment through the entire company on these customer-centric strategies. Can you talk about what you’re seeing in the industry and what’s allowing companies to grow fast and what’s causing them to falter?

Carlos: Sure. I think what’s causing them to grow fast is when there is a hard, fast commitment from leadership to customer experience. 72% of CEOs have said that customer experience is their top priority, and 86% of customers who have been surveyed have said they will spend more for a good customer experience. So, if we can get that right as an organization, we are going to win more deals. We’re going to make more money. We’re going to retain more of our customers. And that is a true competitive advantage.

Where I’m seeing the disconnect in organizations and where mid-market growth organizations struggle is on having their internal folks first understand the brand value and brand promise they should be delivering to the customers. I talked to a prospect about this the other day. She kind of chuckled and said, “You could put our executives in a room and I don’t think they would all agree on what our brand promise is or what we should be delivering to the customer.”

First and foremost, you have to make that brand value and that brand promise part of the DNA of your employees so they can deliver that at the marketing level, at the sales level, service and support. Secondly, you have to make sure that it aligns with your current customers. Is that really what your customers are expecting? You and I spoke about customer expectations last week. Firms really understanding expectations and how the brand promise aligns then have to break down the organizational silos to really empower people to deliver on that brand promise.

That is a massive change. A big transformation that has to occur in organizations, and it’s hard work. It’s more than just a digital experience, a content experience, good salespeople. It’s really that continuity from brand through customer advocacy that has to be delivered in the trenches.

Candyce: You and I talked about an example of a company that was really struggling with that, even at the technology level, because their customer support people and their implementation people weren’t even able to see the same support tickets, so it’s not just about making sure that people understand the brand. I think it’s also about enabling them, right?

Carlos: It absolutely is, and that’s what I meant from an empowerment perspective. It’s about enabling them to have the information. I see a lot of articles being written about the new wave of customer experience technology or customer support technology. You brought out a really good point. Technology is only going to enable, so if I have all of your information in front of me as a customer support agent, the key question is, am I empowered to deliver the experience to you?

I think about a company like Zappos. Zappos has countless stories of their agents being on the phones, talking to people, engaging with people at a level that is far beyond just selling shoes. That is empowerment. That is a customer experience, and quite frankly, it’s one of the reasons that I’m a loyal shopper there, because of the experience I get when I interact with either an agent over chat online or when I pick up the phone and engage with them. Everything they do empowers their people to deliver on that brand value and that brand promise.

Candyce: You know, we’re partners with SharpSpring, which is a newer marketing automation provider, and I’m seeing them be able to deliver on that. They really try to treat agencies as partners, and that’s their primary model for going to market, as opposed to going direct to customers. I’m noticing with them that when a request gets put through, if there’s enough agencies that are interested in it, you’ll see it go all the way through from customer support to development, but even at the CEO level, they’re talking to each other. They’re communicating about what the customers are needing and they’re really trying to deliver on that brand promise.

Carlos: Yeah, and I think that’s the new frontier of competitive advantage. If my brand promise aligns with my target customer segment, and I’m meeting and exceeding my customer expectations, again, at every level, at the brand level, at the content for demand generation level, making it easy to buy, making your buying decisions informative. If I’m delivering at the sales level, at the professional service level, at the customer support level; then customers do not only become brand advocates. They become a brand defender and will absolutely pay more money for that experience. This is where companies have to go. I hear them say, “Well, delivering a customer experience is Marketing’s job.” Yes, it’s partly Marketing’s job, but it’s also so much more than that.

It literally has to be driven from the top down, from the CEO level, to say we are going to break down these silos, we’re going to empower our people. We’re going to make sure our people have our brand promise as part of that DNA. Tim Cook at Apple talks about DNA a lot from his cultural standpoint, so it’s much more than just telling your customers a brand story. You’ve got to make this part of who you are as a culture or else you’re really going to have a struggle delivering this to your customers.

Candyce: We did a round table last May with a group of marketers from the asset management space, both from very large companies like tier one global banks, and some from mid-tier banks. I was not really surprised to learn that the silos are much more entrenched at the larger companies, to the point where Marketing and Sales don’t even have the same views of customers. If Marketing passes a customer over to Sales, they can’t see the activity that the customer did after the deal was closed. So they can’t go back and look at what marketing activities worked and what didn’t work.

I see that in smaller companies, too, where that silo is so tight that even at the Marketing and Sales level, they can’t communicate and figure out what’s working and what’s not working. Then once a sale is closed, the salespeople never get any input or insight into what’s going on with implementation and customer service. They never know if the company living up to the customer experience promises that the salesperson made. Are you seeing ways that companies can address that? What are the first steps that a CEO needs to look at and say, “We’ve got to fix this?”

Carlos: I think we have to undo some of the cultural norms that companies are stuck in, and what I mean by that is, I still talk to marketers where I hear the mantra, Sales is my customer. That might have been true 20 years ago when I started my career. It’s not true anymore. Sales is not the customer of Marketing. The customer is the customer of Marketing and Sales. It is much more than just having a process whereby I passed you a qualified opportunity and wonder what happened to it?

It starts with really understanding the customer journey, again, back to that vision. What is going to bring a customer to start to engage with your brand? Not necessarily start a purchase journey, but just start to engage with your brand? There are a lot of brands out there that provide a lot of information, provide a lot of apps that we use on our phone, and we may never buy their product, or at least not initially. But can I convey that brand value and understand my target and what are they looking for? As they move into a buying process, what are those trigger events that get them to buy? What are they looking to solve for?

What are they, buyers aren’t going in and saying, “I need this product from this company.” They’re typing in their problems into Google. Are we, as brands, helping educate them to their problems and how to fix their problems? Then once they buy, once they say, “I do,” are we actually making it easy for them to use our services, to use our product? Are we continuing to educate them and engage with them?

I once worked with a guy who, dead serious, told me that his father was known for telling his mother, “I told you I love you on the day we got married. If that ever changes, I’ll let you know.” We treat our customers the same way. You bought our service, you bought our product. The next time you hear from us is going to be 45 days before renewal. That’s not a good customer experience.

So it’s more than just having visibility from a data perspective. It’s truly aligning Marketing and Sales around the customer and understanding their drive for brand engagement. It’s understanding how they buy, who’s involved in that buying committee, who’s going to use the product longer term, who’s going to be the decision maker to renew, who will buy additional product, and who do we really have to make happy in that account to exceed their expectations?

Marketing and Sales have to work together to do that, and we also have to enable people on the front lines, from professional services and customer support, to keep those expectations met all the way down the line. That’s when we will start to get brand advocates who start to voice the value of our brand to their peers, and there is the competitive advantage.

Candyce: I think, also, that the stories that are happening at the front lines need to filter back up to Marketing, Sales and Product Development and into the business strategy. Because those discussions down there in the weeds can really influence your business strategy.

Carlos: They absolutely should, and this is part of the organizational makeup of companies. I hear this all the time, “Marketing is responsible for top of the funnel. Sales is responsible for the lower end of the funnel.” Okay, well, what happens once they become a customer? Who’s responsible for that? If you don’t have an organization that is empowered and taking a look at the entire customer journey and how customers interact, then you will not get those stories, unless you get them anecdotally in the lunchroom where you overhear a conversation when you’re having a meal with a colleague.

We have to get down to that level of granularity so we can feed it back to the product people to make product enhancements; feed it back to our service and delivery people to make our service better; feed it back to our customer support people. This is really a challenge. This is something new that organizations aren’t used to. It is really taking a holistic look at the customer, and it’s not easy. It is, again, culturally challenging, and many companies have to change that culture, but when they start seeing the revenue come in from it, it will pay off in spades. Again, I believe it is a huge competitive advantage.

Candyce: It can also be a big game changer if you have products where you can do cross-selling and any kind of account expansion.

Carlos: Oh, absolutely. I don’t know many companies that only sell one product, but that’s really where it’s at. That’s what’s going to lead to the growth of your organization, is if you are able to meet that customer experience or exceed that experience. You know, you think about retention rates with subscription-based companies, you think about cross-sell, upsell.

I met with a prospect, not long ago. We were talking about company growth, and one of the guys in the room, who was in Ops, said, “Did you know, if we could just, at the time of renewal, if we could uplift 10% of additional product to that renewal across our customer base, we would drive $40 million in incremental revenue to the business?” $40 million in a year! So I said, “Well, there we go. That’s where we’re going focus.”

Their response killed me.

They kind of all looked around the table and they said, “Well, if we actually had visibility into our customers and our database, we could do that. But nobody’s willing to make the investment to get there.” I was shell shocked. If I’m the CEO, I’m saying, “Okay, let’s put $10 million into this if we have to. We’ll get $40 million back.” But their response was, “Eh, we know this would be possible, but we’re not ready to do it.” This just highlights that it is difficult to change and there is a lot of work to do, both on the operational side and then in the empowerment side and the cultural side, from a change management perspective.

Candyce: Where does a company start?

Carlos: You start with your customer. If somebody said to me, “If I have a customer experience group that we just started, what should be the first step?” I would send that group out and do 50 customer interviews. Not 50 of my top customers, 50 randomly selected customers.

I would ask them, “How did you first start to engage with our brand? How did you hear about our brand? What is your expectation of our brand? Here’s our brand promise. Does that align with what you believe our brand promises? How have our products and solutions and services enabled you to do your job? Are we meeting your expectations? If we’re not, where are we failing, and what needs to be done to change that? The interaction you’ve had with our people, has that met your expectations? The interaction you’ve had with our content, has that met your expectations?” From that, we can start to take stock.

Here’s the thing – we’re probably going to hear some pretty brutal answers and it’s going to be hard, because it’s hard to hear that our baby is ugly. But this is where it needs to start. Once we have that customer experience information and then we start to say, “Okay, they started here. Okay, then what did you do after? What made you purchase? How did you purchase? Who was involved with the purchase? Post-purchase, did those buying committee members go away? Did new users come in?”

Once we can chart the journey, we’ll understand the expectations, understand what they’re looking for, and understand the problems we’re solving for them. Now we have a gold mine of data that we can use to develop content. We can use it to re-engineer our organization if we need to. We can change how Sales sells and how Support delivers support. Unless we have that vision into the customer, we’re not going anywhere.

Candyce: But do you find that that really needs to be somebody who is not part of the Sales organization, is not the CEO, and is not somebody involved in delivery, because they will feel defensive? Also, I find that you won’t get as much candor from the client if they’re concerned about hurting the feelings of the person they’re talking to.

Carlos: Yeah, I think the CEO needs to mandate that this happen, but I think there either needs to be a CMO that has a lot of power in the organization to cross organizational silos and organizational boundaries. I don’t think it needs to be a Head of Sales because, inevitably, they’re going to be doing what they are paid to do, is trying to look for an opening to sell more product or service.

Ideally, I think it needs to be a Chief Customer Officer. This person is responsible for nothing but delivery of customer experience. They work with and collaborate with and sometimes, if necessary, dictate to CMOs, CSOs, Heads of Professional Services, and Heads of Customer Support to say, “This is how we’re going to do this.” They need full authority granted to them by the CEO.

Candyce: Are you seeing companies do that?

Carlos: I’m seeing more of it come into play, but I’m not seeing enough of it. Research I just read found that 62% of CMOs are now being tasked with customer experience. Well, that’s great. At least they’re putting somebody in charge of it. Think about everything else that has fallen at the doorstep of the CMO in the last five years. We’re buying technology. We’re supposed to do demand generation while keeping up the brand. Content marketing is now there.

According to Forrester, 96% of CMOs have been saying, “We’re being tasked with things we’ve never had to do before, and we don’t have the proper skillset.” Now we throw customer experience on top of that? I’m working with a CMO right now who says, “Yeah, this is a mandate from our CEO, but we have so many other things to do just to enable the skillset of our people, I won’t get to customer experience until Q4 of this year.”

Candyce: Yeah, and then I’m also seeing that the silos that are built up sometimes can be difficult to penetrate. We try to do buyer research, and the salespeople won’t even allow Marketing to contact customers or companies in the pipeline. So that collaboration has to be driven by that CEO because not always does the CMO have the political juice to make it happen. I realize that they have to be empowered, but I don’t always see it happening, even when there’s lip service to that power.

Carlos: Yeah, I mean, and when I hear a Sales VP or a Head of Sales won’t allow Marketing to engage their customers, it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission. Again, Sales doesn’t own the customer relationship. That is a myth, and it need to be done away with. It is something that is a legacy that has come from the early ’90s when marketers were concerned with Pantone color schemes and creating brochures.

The buyer is sophisticated. There are multiple buyers (up to seven according to CEB) in a buying decision. Because we have so many different roles engaged, if a company says that Sales owns the customer, that is a company that is on their way to a slow death. Sales doesn’t own the customer anymore. The customer will drive their own journey and engage Sales when they are ready.

Candyce: That’s an excellent point, and if CEOs don’t see this, it’s going to limit their ability to grow the company.

Carlos: Absolutely. It absolutely will, and it’s going to really discourage their Marketing team. Buyers have more options than ever before, and the idea of loyalty is changing. Just before this podcast, I was chatting back and forth with my mobile phone company, who I’ve had for quite a long time. My wife and I were talking this week about our television provider, who, we have been customers with for almost 20 years. We’re dropping them both because there are so many different options out there. Plus, quite honestly, the last two times I’ve engaged with their customer support, it’s been a horrific experience.

There’s no idea of loyalty anymore. I will pay more for better experience, better support, and just feeling like I’m important to the person that I’m paying a monthly check to. If I’m going to spend my money with you, I want to feel important. That’s not a Sales role. It’s part of Sales role, but it’s not Sales owning that. That’s an organizational ownership.

Candyce: You know, one of the trends that you’re making me think of in this is that we’ve moved away from one-off, one-and-done, sell you a big license and then move on to the next customer. Now companies focus on building a sustainable revenue stream through SaaS, through product leasing, through service-based businesses, or managed services. Most companies have gone that way because it creates a more sustainable revenue model.

Carlos: Oh, absolutely.

Candyce: You absolutely have to change your way of dealing with customers if you want that sustainable revenue model to work.

Carlos: Yeah, again, I mean, I don’t have to necessarily renew every year. If I have a bad experience with you, I can move on.

Candyce: Right.

Carlos: Again, I think this is one of the new frontiers that organizations have to address. It is really making sure that they have a holistic view to the customer at every touch point. If they don’t, they’re going to have a hard time servicing that customer to the point where that customer’s will become an advocate for them. That is every level of the organization.

I mean, you think about even cultural change and making sure this is part of the DNA, well, then you say, “Okay, well that involves HR, too,” and it probably is going to impact how Finance is going to measure customer advocacy and customer spend and all those things. It is truly an organizational shift, and it’s something that CEOs have to mandate and insure that they are allowing their people to do it the right way.

Candyce: That’s a great way to close. I think we’re about out of time, but thank you very much for taking the time to talk about this. The customer experience is so, so important. Thank you.

Carlos: Well, thank you for having me. I really appreciated it, and always enjoy these discussions. Thanks, Candyce.

Candyce: All right, have a great day, everybody.

For more information about Carlos and his company, visit VisumCX, or check out his LinkedIn profile.