If, like me, you’re in the business of working with complex technology solutions, you’ll agree that it’s sometimes all too easy to forget about the people who will actually be using your product or services.

Selling the latest and greatest tool should never be the ultimate goal. True value comes from delighting customers, by providing them with exactly what they need, and by offering the right service on top of that.

Your clients must be certain that they can rely on you to get the job done, to make it work. The more you delight them, the easier it becomes to sign new deals. It is a rolling wheel.

The long-term relationship between customer and supplier

Total Customer Experience (TCE) is about how your target audience perceives you. Your product, your service, your marketing, everything about your company has an impact. Customer experience doesn’t start when your sales rep has her first conversation with a prospect, and it doesn’t end when the dotted line is signed. The way clients feel about a brand is what defines the long-term relationship between buyer and seller.

While it would be hard to find a company that doesn’t consider customer experience important, it is not that easy to incorporate TCE in every aspect of running a business. All too often, people are tied up with internal processes or entirely focused on what they are making or selling. In some cases, the crippling effect of office politics or poor internal communication can interfere with putting the customer first.

TCE is not a department of a company. It’s not a program you run among many others. It’s not even a mission. No, it’s an attitude! I am very glad that TCE is embedded in the DNA or our organization, and we even hire people on that basis.

The dangers of leaving the customer out of the picture

Leaving the target audience out of the picture can have a devastating effect on your whole company in the long run. If you don’t relentlessly stay focused, the danger of operating in a bubble is lurking behind every corner. Working in a bubble, where you and your colleagues  across all departments imagine what life is like for your purchasers, and build and sell products accordingly, is deceptively comfortable. It’s only when up-sell or cross-sell opportunities are below expectations that you might wonder whether your solution actually relates to a real world problem. Or that perhaps your “sell it and forget it” approach is not as profitable in the long run. Or that pushing a solution without having fully engaged with the client to understand their underlying need doesn’t pay off. That’s when the bubble bursts. That’s when it’s too late.

As a vice-president I mainly deal with sales, presales, services and support departments, but even in those customer-facing parts of an organization, it’s quite challenging to achieve TCE. The best professionals can occasionally get caught up in internal day-to-day activities and issues, and risk losing sight of the target audience. My job then is to make them re-focus on who they are doing all the work for and who, ultimately, is also bringing in their paycheck.  TCE is a work in progress and a team effort. It’s a pet peeve of mine, and I consider advocating customer centricity as one of my main goals as a business leader.

Putting the customer first is not always easy

Throughout my career I have seen at first-hand how hard it can be to achieve truly outstanding TCE. Not only because it takes a lot of time and effort, but also because it sometimes means going against the grain. Back in 2009, when I was still running our Swiss organization, I experienced a significant outage with one of our largest clients. I personally spent several days on site in their command center. My technical added value was obviously close to zero. But just being there, energizing the numerous EMC specialists involved, and keeping an open communication channel with the impacted executives turned out to be critical in how the customer perceived the issue. It was a complex case, involving multiple vendors, but we demonstrated by far the strongest engagement and in-situ presence. The client still reminds me positively about what we collectively achieved. This anecdote is a showcase for our culture of ‘guilty until proven innocent’ and ‘whatever it takes for the TCE’!

TCE brings you more than loyalty

When a whole team is completely focused on doing their best for the end-user, you’ll find that clients are not the only ones who benefit. If it’s all about TCE there is a common goal and aspiration within the team. What you also need to remember is: happy employees create happy customers, but happy customers in turn create happy employees. For people working in an organization it’s more rewarding to work with clients they can help to be successful, than to work with those that are always complaining. TCE is a two-way street: if you work for a company where everyone is depressed, where everyone is becoming a bureaucrat and is only trying to keep his own job, you cannot focus on the customer as you should.

TCE is a value chain, and every department needs to engage in it. There are always different departments working with the customer: Sales and Presales, Service Delivery and Customer Service. The junctions between these teams need to be well-oiled, and every department needs to be ready to pick up a ball that another department may have dropped. If something goes wrong, don’t blame the other department for messing up, but fix the issue. That’s the only way TCE can work throughout an organization.

After all everyone is a Chief TCE Officer!