The role of chief customer officer is becoming increasingly important as organizations seek to unify goals, deliver valued customer experiences and accelerate change. But putting customers at the forefront of strategic decision-making isn’t always easy. Balancing budget constraints, departmental priorities and revenue growth against customer success can be a challenge, even for the most seasoned of executives.
As the newly appointed chief customer officer at Vision Critical, Kelly Hall is well aware of these challenges. She joins Vision Critical with more than 14 years’ experience in driving customer experience programs, delivering successful initiatives and aligning departmental silos around the voice of customers.
In our Q&A below, Kelly discusses how companies can build common goals to achieve customer centricity, when she realized that passion and empathy were equally important for leadership and how business leader Jack Welch inspires her.
You have a strong background in driving customer experience programs from leadership positions at software companies. Why is it important to have customers at the heart of decision-making at a strategic level?
It’s simple; we are nothing without our customers. Vision Critical’s mission is to enable our customers to become more customer centric by building stronger relationships. We must do the same with our customers. We must listen to them and innovate to meet their needs. We must invest in our customers by taking the time to understand their goals and jointly align on a plan to achieve those goals. We are truly nothing without our customers.
Beyond professional services and customer success, you also have experience in product management, education, support and consulting. How did you come to focus on customer-centric roles?
I was (and always will be) customer first. Early in my career, I worked for a financial services organization in their IT procurement department. Day in and day out, I managed the relationship with our IT vendors. I didn’t have the best experience with many of the vendors I worked with; I didn’t have a relationship with most of them.
Then one day a consultant from our ERP vendor came onsite to hold a workshop. She was amazing; she listened, was empathic, really wanted to help and was invested . I realized a healthy, ethical, productive relationship could flourish between a vendor and customer. I was determined to change the vendor-customer relationship one company at a time—although it was quite the lofty goal. My 20-something self thought I would change the software industry!
I’m incredibly grateful for the relationships I’ve built during my career with my customers based on the same ideals I witnessed in that workshop almost 20 years ago.
How can departments in large organizations ideally collaborate to achieve a balance between achieving optimal customer experience, meeting budget constraints and growing revenue?
It’s a balancing act but it’s completely achievable. Again, without customers, our businesses don’t mean much; therefore, the customer experience needs to be front and center. It’s imperative to have a clearly articulated goal across the organization. There has to be total alignment across the executive level around what success means. Having a clear goal and defining success metrics allows each department to identify how they can contribute.
In your experience, does customer feedback inform initiatives to improve the customer experience?
Absolutely. Think about it: if we’re delivering a product that doesn’t meet the needs of the customers, who is going to use it? If a restaurant is serving food that doesn’t taste good, who is going to eat it?
Customer success and delivering an amazing customer experience is at the heart of every single business; really, every single relationship, if you think about it. Enjoying how you engage with a person or company is what drives you to maintain that relationship. You wouldn’t continue to socialize with a friend that you didn’t enjoy spending time with or if you didn’t derive value from the relationship. Why would it be any different in a business setting?
What’s on your road map for customer initiatives at Vision Critical?
Vision Critical already had a keen focus on customer success long before I joined. My hope is to improve on the strong foundation that has already been laid by sewing together the customer touchpoints and transitions to ensure a seamless customer experience. Making sure we have programs in place to enable our customers to build stronger relationships with their customers is a priority. That includes the development of even more best practices content, thought leadership and education. We need to arm our customers with all the knowledge we can. Most importantly, I need to ensure every interaction with Vision Critical brings value to our customers. All while being passionate and empathic.
What advice do you have for young professionals who want to enter the tech industry or are specifically interested in improving customer experience?
Lead with passion. Passion for people, passion for learning and passion for making a difference. Follow with empathy; put yourselves in your employees’ and customers’ shoes to understand what the goals and/or issues mean to them. Set expectations and meet them. Every. Single. Time. This is applicable for the tech industry or any other industry. The key to success is being passionate about what you’re doing, having a situational understanding of the people around you and meeting the expectations you set.
Which books or other resources (podcasts, conferences etc.) have had the most impact on your career?
There are many but the most influential book I’ve ever read is Leadership and Self Deception by the Arbinger Institute. I first read it about 10 years ago and I reread it at least once a year. It’s about how we get “in the box” and by doing so close ourselves off to people and opportunities around us. We all get in the box at times and it’s important to recognize when it happens and how to get out. It’s been as beneficial in my personal life as it’s been in my professional life. I even made my husband read it!
I’ve also read Crucial Conversation, Emotional Intelligence and The Power of a Positive No multiple times. All have shaped who I am as a woman, an employee and a leader. Finally, I’ve read all of Jack Welch’s books. I’m fascinated by him and his approach to people. I’m a bit of a Jack Welch fangirl!
Thanks to Kelly for sharing her time and answering our questions. Kelly will host the first webinar in our upcoming four-part webinar series, The big payoff: Realizing the ROI of customer relationships. Register to learn how customer-centric brands are achieving return on investment for customer relationships.