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Even as companies built a digital foundation, they still depended on the relationships with customers and internal connections across the enterprise.

The pandemic re-emphasized the value of those relationships. Separated from their work environment, people were forced to rely on virtual interactions, gaining a glimpse of the personal lives of peers and customers. Everyone, including customers and leaders, experienced executives and new employees, had to communicate differently to maintain old relationships and build new ones.

The first inaugural Alexander Group Women Revenue Leaders Forum’s distinguished speakers reflected on how organizations have changed (or should change) to accommodate this new communication cadence to ensure both an exceptional customer experience AND an employee experience.

Delivering an exceptional customer experience depends on great products and a culture that values listening

Customers are savvier, have higher expectations and expect their vendors to deliver excellence. They have access to more information than ever before, about your products and your competitor’s. According to Tracy Robertson, Global VP of Customer Experience at Kimberly-Clark and Forum Keynote Speaker, 80% say the buying experience is now as important as the products or services they buy from you. Further, their expectations for experience are higher than ever before and rising. What are revenue leaders doing to meet these expectations?

  • Listening to customers. To learn what they need and tune products, services and value propositions that reflect their needs.
  • Listening to sellers. To learn what they need to serve customers better.

According to Tifani Bova, Global Growth & Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce, this last point is critical; you cannot deliver the best customer experience unless you deliver an excellent employee experience. Only a culture that values listening and acting can deliver this.

Valuable engagement comes when customers tell you something new, ask your advice, and depend on your organization to offer more than what they already know.

Really connecting with customers is a cultural imperative

Genuinely connecting with customers is paramount. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff challenged his company to have one million conversations with one million customers during the pandemic. Result: over six million conversations. Those conversations lead to insights that produced a new product launch roadmap and new company vision, values, and operating procedures.

Angela Cooper, GM of West Enterprise Sales for Microsoft and Forum Panelist, shared that they implemented a new sales compensation plan based on when customers use their cloud platform, Azure, not when the contract is signed. Following the new vision of top leadership, Microsoft implemented a Customer Success organization as a critical part of the new sales approach to ensure customers were engaged beyond the sale.

“I had conversations about if I think technology will eliminate the seller. I didn’t think that was true then and don’t now. There are opportunities to do a low touch online or higher touch with a combination of human and technology or even higher touch where a human enters information into the CRM system. Whatever is right for your business, the new power couple is human and technology, not one or the other.” Tiffani Bova, Global Growth and Innovation Evangelist, SalesForce

The empathetic leader

Via Zoom, we got to see our leaders in their kitchen, with their kids and dogs, and their human side. We discovered that they could be inspirational even when they didn’t have all the answers, made mistakes, and needed to schedule a time to get out of the house and go for a run. Inspirational leadership is listening and caring.

According to Didi Dayton, partner of Wing Venture Capital and Forum Panelist, the role of the leader is to establish trust. “It’s like parenting. Do what you say and say what you do. Establish trust and be relentlessly fair.”

Forum Panelist Sarah Personette, VP of Global Client Solutions at Twitter, shared that her company used the VUCA approach to leadership. “VUCA stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. Talking through these skills and trying to prime our teams to move fast in a VUCA world, we lead with empathy and insights. We had more conversations about the personal lives of our clients.” Embracing a VUCA approach helped her team balance the challenges, business needs and personal impacts of the pandemic.

Women Revenue Leaders Forum participants repeatedly spoke of needing to create personal boundaries so they could recharge. But they also spoke of taking these lessons forward. Their new voice includes a new empathy for customers and employees, demonstrated in new values and policies. This includes more carefully scheduled meeting times, allowing staff to get projects done on their schedule, and creating flexibility for their workforce to deliver value from both home and office.

Resilience matters

During the last year of remote work, personal hardship and professional challenges resulted in a single theme: When we communicate with others, we must be authentic.
Leaders shared that customers, employees and business partners have less time and little patience for empty promises. Authentic conversations open doors to innovations and solutions, enhancing trust top-down and across the organization. Forum participants noted that many conversations started with, “How are you doing?” and led to more significant connections.

Authenticity and an element of vulnerability can actually help people to be more resilient. Keynote speaker Taryn Marie Stejskal, Ph.D., chief resilience officer (CRO) and founder of Resilience Leadership, shared her model for how resilience, coming back from and learning from challenges, makes leaders stronger.

Stejskal identified several practices that can build resilience. These include:

Vulnerability. When people and teams show vulnerability, admit failure, they gain credibility. Everyone fails at something; admit it and better yet show that you have learned from it.

Productive perseverance. Productive perseverance is knowing when to stay the course or pivot in a new direction based on the latest information and understanding. Full steam ahead is not always the right answer. We need to pivot in a new direction and realign a little bit or a lot for the strategies we are pursuing.

“Gratiosity.” A combination of Gratitude + Generosity that enables an executive to a) be grateful for the accumulated wisdom that trying and occasional failure allows and b) be generous with this wisdom in helping others, especially in your organization, to leverage it.

Possibility. An attitude that there are no problems, only possibilities.

Inclusion

A remote workplace has enabled a deeper sense of inclusion, where everyone has a seat at the Zoom table. Leaders must recognize that such flexible work arrangements support women, parents and other groups who can contribute to their organization with a flexible work arrangement. This has implications regarding work/office protocols post-pandemic. Establishing the balance between pure virtual and traditional office matters deeply to many, particularly to Gen Z employees.

Gen Z, the second largest segment of the workforce, embraces inclusion as a personal value. Organizations that demonstrate inclusive practices will have an advantage in attracting this talented segment of the workforce, the first to be raised in a digital era.

“The difference with this generation is that they are more vocal about workplace thoughts. They expect inclusion” – Stacy Tiger, EVP & Chief HR/Experience Officer, Allegiance Bank

Nearly three million women left the U.S. workforce during the pandemic due to childcare and family issues. The U.S. now has the lowest percentage of women in the workforce since 1988, making it more difficult for women to advance their careers.

Women faced difficult choices during the pandemic. The decision was made for many women when childcare became unavailable, and schools delayed reopening.

As businesses reopen, leaders should consider how to do so in a way that engages more women.

Wendy Bahr, chief commercial officer at Rubrik and Keynote Panelist, shared, “As employers, we have to be willing to adjust schedules. Until the schools reopen, that is a challenging situation for the parents. You can’t be the full-time teacher at home and do a full-time job. We must encourage women to come back with the willingness to understand that things have to change to bring them back.”

Conclusion

Advancing the customer experience starts from within the organization. That means creating the right value propositions and supporting programs AND attracting the right people needed to manage the customer experience from awareness, through assessment and into adoption. That means creating an inclusive, sustainable culture. The inaugural Women Revenue Leaders Forum shared valuable insights from female revenue leaders on how this can be accomplished; we look forward to the sequel in 2022.

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Operations Forum: June 8-9

Performance Management Symposium: August 10

Executive Forum: November 17-18

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