Those who work with customers understand (hopefully) that a core part of their job is helping customers achieve their desired goals and derive business value from your products/services. But doing that is easier said than done. Sometimes driving these outcomes requires influencing change in areas that are not directly within your control.

Customer Experience Management is an industry in itself that involves unique competencies in technologies, research & design methodologies, customer engagement paradigms, and much more. Companies are increasingly making significant investments to establish their own internal customer experience transformation ecosystems using all of these elements, and Customer Success professionals are at the heart of this movement as customer advocates and change agents. A CS professional's effectiveness is partly based on his/her ability to drive internal process changes or decisions to improve the way products and services are delivered.

As I reflect on my journey to becoming a dedicated Customer Experience practitioner, I find that oftentimes companies focus on the the “hard” skills involved in doing this work (e.g., NPS methodology, knowledge of CEM platforms, customer journey mapping, research techniques, AI and data science, etc.). But losing sight of some of the necessary “softer” skills can be catastrophic and counter productive.

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Reflecting on the various roles throughout my career, there was one common theme in all them: I was a bit of a “fixer” in how I approached all of them, and this involved a balance of hard and soft skills. Soft skills aren't always taught or cultivated in organizations, but I have come to realize that these skills have had a significant impact on my ability to be a change agent. When I joined Salesforce as a Customer Success Manager in 2004 we were actively defining what Customer Success meant for the company and the industry at that time. We were "building the house while we lived in it." This work involved a tremendous amount of cross-functional collaboration across every aspect of the company: Sales, Marketing, Product, Legal, Finance, and everything in between. I quickly discovered a deep interest and ability to help the company grow by taking on roles that created structured solutions in the midst of unstructured chaos. I often found myself smack in the middle of a web of connective tissue of disparate functions, but with a clear directive to fix one or more broken processes/programs. This became my personal brand, and it greatly shaped my passion and commitment to Customer Experience as a profession today.     

At Gainsight's Pulse 2017 conference, I spoke about The Hard Art of Driving Customer Experience Transformation, and I shared a few skills I believe are crucial to being an exceptional Customer Success (or Experience) professional, in essence being a change agent, regardless of title. These skills will help you build your ability to influence, provide fuel to a needed cause, and rally individuals to drive change.

  1. Be Curious. Answers don't change the world, questions do. Embrace continuous learning.
  2. Listen with Intent. Shift your focus from the narrative running in your head, to the one being presented to you.
  3. Tell a Story. Build customer empathy and pair it with data or evidence to invite discussion and move people to action.
  4. Disagree and Commit. Admittedly, I've borrowed this one from Jeff Bezos, one of my customer experience heroes. Once a decision is determined, leaders commit wholly to making it a success, even in the midst of disagreement.

These skills must be paired with industry and domain expertise to be maximally impactful. And there are certainly a number of other skills that are impactful to becoming a true change agent and customer experience advocate. I've chosen to highlight these because they’re not typically skills that you find in job descriptions. And they're sometimes not even emphasized in performance management conversations. Please let me know your thoughts about other skills you think are relevant and necessary!

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