Thursday, December 27, 2018

Talent and a Team for Our Times

At this time of year, we all have a tendency to look back and assess the past 12 months. So, I’d like to take the opportunity to touch on something my thoughts have increasingly been returning to in the latter half of 2018.


I’m referring to talent that runs towards the cerebral, analytical, and smoothly efficient. You know, the kind of talent not usually profiled in glossy online business magazines or ever considered eligible for company awards. Yet this kind of talent often has an arguably larger, yet quieter, and more difficult to measure impact on our business world than most others. Unfortunately, the business world seems to have a sparse supply of the kind of patience it takes to consider, assess, and celebrate value generation at the level played by people in the roles I’m thinking of.

Let’s highlight one such area where roles like this live.

Customer Programs

Forward-thinking, customer-centric high-tech companies pay close attention to the customer and the digital signals they emit, and endeavor to anticipate and proactively execute programs that address their needs. Such companies all possess people whose job it is to own and govern customer engagement and customer service processes. These people operate under a charter that typically says that the work they do must result in a downstream service that:

  • Delivers faster and more consistently accurate results
  • Includes meaningful outcomes that positively impact the customer’s business.
Thou Shalt Heed thy Customers’ Feedback

For example, these people often face the challenge of coming up with ways for ensuring that processes:

  • Respectfully gauge customer feedback
  • Improve the experience that customers have while using the firm’s products and services,
  • Push content to customers is relevant and timely for where they are in their journey with the product.

The underlying philosophy revolves around this pertinent fact: If a customer has a more frictionless experience with the product or service, they will then be more inclined to make more use of it in an effort to derive more value from it for their business.

More value derived typically equates to a subscription renewal.

Charlie Brown Syndrome

People in customer programs are largely unsung heroes. While they are responsible for designing and building the process infrastructure that enables the organization to run at scale, they themselves are not directly attached to the firm’s products, its revenue, nor (interestingly enough) its customers. Their work, therefore, remains largely unseen. However, just as all great physical structures need the support of walls, pillars, beams, and other forces of strength that defy gravity, strong business processes also require support from the streamlined, efficient use of people, data, computing power, and other assets.

In other words, though the work of customer programs is hugely important, due to an almost intentional and necessary byproduct of design, it is vastly under-noticed. Still, do not feel guilty if you haven’t recognized the people designing these programs for their efforts. Ask yourself: When was the last time someone looked at a grandly-lit building and gave thought, let alone credit, to the electricians and the interior designers? If any role at all came to mind, it was likely that of the architect. The same holds true for those individuals who design, build, and administer processes utilized by customer-facing organizations like sales, marketing, and customer success.

Thou Shalt Traverse the Digital Frontier

Customer programs people tend to be passionately interested in the work they do, and too few of them realize they should proudly view it as being symbolic of what it means to work on the digital frontier. If you know how customer-centric companies operate, you also acknowledge that there is an elegant and delicate beauty associated with the consumption of customer information and its conversion into process behaviors that benefit those very same customers. The work these people do involves helping to demonstrate how to move digital transformation successfully from the conceptual realm of strategy to the very real realm of tactics. This capability to move from strategy to tactics will become even more important in the months and years ahead.

"By 2023, 95% of entities will have incorporated new digital KPI sets—focusing on product/service innovation rates data capitalization, and employee experience—to navigate the digital economy."

- IDC, from FutureScape: Worldwide Digital Transformation 2019 Predictions Nov, 2018

So, If You Think You’ve Had Your Fill of KPIs, Just Wait a Couple of Years

All measurements and metrics will eventually chiefly concern the impact upon customers and vendors. The more digitized our companies become, the more digitization opportunities will present themselves. Even this blog post stands as an example. Sure, for right now, we are concerning ourselves with opens and click throughs, but we can imagine a day when even more scrutiny and tracking becomes possible through linked digitized processes across organizations and into the customer realm. At that point, my boss might be able to ask the ultimate business question:

Is that thought leadership blog thing you are doing on the side a valuable use of your time and our money?  

And then we might see something resembling an accurate answer because of empirical evidence showing a relationship between collected metrics about the blog and its influence on a customer’s willingness to buy or their eventual decision to renew. You can almost compare digitization to when electric lighting was invented and rolled out to the masses. Its ability to illuminate darkness created entire new ways of living and that’s probably how you should think of digitization in business.

Applying Human Intelligence to Determine What to Do Next

To adapt and exploit digital at the level being discussed here requires a high degree of human intelligence and empathy, both in equal measure. It might seem ironic to outside observers, but we are witnessing that the more digitized a customer engagement model becomes, the more critical it is that the humans operating behind it do so from a solid base of empathy. And therein lies the trick. A particular talent that exists within every human on the planet will prove to be the most important for the people who work in these kinds of customer program roles. It’s also likely the most difficult talent to develop and make appropriate for those kinds of roles. It factors critically into the process of selecting a team, though.


How we come across to others is obviously important in business settings. The aim of business conversations should be to achieve outcomes that allow both individuals to walk away thinking that their time was usefully spent and that some aspect of their respective business responsibilities was positively impacted. If one person’s temperament is off-putting, dismissive, or cold, then the odds that both sides feel the time was usefully spent are probably pretty low. If both sides exhibit negative emotions, then the odds on the conversation lasting longer than two minutes are near zero. Ill- temperament does not accomplish much in the world of customer engagement process design. In fact, it is counter-productive and will more likely result in a fatally-flawed process design that reflects the ill-temperament of the person who created it. And customers would definitely feel this ill temperament coming through.

Remoteness Doesn’t Always Mean an Absence of Intimacy

All the time, you hear stories about how technology, or more specifically AI and machine learning, will kill scores and scores of jobs. While there will certainly be disruption, consider the activities of the people who work in customer program roles. Ask them what they think about when designing a process for customer engagement at scale. What do they think the customer needs at any particular point? How exactly do they know what the customer needs? And how did they find that out? How do they assess after the process has been in production whether how they went about understanding customer needs was helpful or not?

While there are mechanisms for soliciting customer feedback at scale, the people in customer program roles have to iteratively build a level of customer sensitivity into their processes at the outset that leverage:

  • Empathy
  • An intelligent, light-handed application of technology
  • An intense and authentic desire to make an impact

AI can’t do all that. Only people with the right temperament can articulate a human touch through technology—a touch that customers would appreciate and respond well to even if they never meet or even know the names of the people who designed the process in the first place.

Listening to your customers helps you improve their experience. Find out how by reading “Go Further with Customer Experience Optimization.”

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