Interviews /Keeping it SaaSy: Crafting strong value narratives to drive commercial impact

Keeping it SaaSy: Crafting strong value narratives to drive commercial impact

For our fifth instalment of Keeping it SaaSy, we chat with Harriet Wray, Global CX Strategy Director at Zendesk. Zendesk provides a complete customer service solution to help companies empower their customer service agents and sales teams with the tools they need to get the job done.

With extensive experience across customer experience and operations across the SaaS space, she is the perfect person to talk about value narratives for SaaS businesses and the importance of go-to market teams collaborating to ensure success.


Harry, tell us about your background

I’m originally from the UK and moved to Melbourne about 13 years ago. My background is more analytical – I originally studied economics at uni and my first graduate job was in offshore banking at one of the big four banks in the UK. However, it wasn’t something I was passionate about, it was more something that was the natural first step for my career.

Since then, I’ve sought out more operational roles and my analytical background has been really helpful as I work through data and numbers. Currently, I lead the global CX team at Zendesk, which is a team of 14 across the US, Mexico City, Manila and me here in Australia. I look after our post-sale engagement methodology, which includes our value methodology, as well as our customer facing engagement touchpoint plans and frameworks.


Let’s talk about crafting strong value narratives to drive commercial impact. Is this something you’ve been thinking about recently?

Absolutely. Every SaaS company needs to be talking about value as it’s key to customer acquisition and retention, and therefore a big focus for any engagement methodology. You want to ensure that customers are maximising the value they get from your service or product, as well as having a positive experience, which is derived from whether the customer perceives they’re getting value or not.

Broadly speaking, the objectives of customer success are to improve customer retention, by reducing churn and contraction and improving expansion opportunities. So all of those are attributed to commercial outcomes, but in order to drive them, the customer needs to perceive the value of the product and services that they’re paying for. And the theory goes that if they perceive that, they’ll renew or buy more of it. It’s a no brainer, if a customer continues to see value, they’re going to continue to contract with you. If they don’t see value, you’re at risk of losing them.


Who do you think is responsible for creating narratives within a business?

There’s no one answer to this, but generally at different stages of the journey, you’ll have different roles that are responsible for the narrative.

Pre and post sales need to be aligned in how they’re talking about any kind of value narratives. Pre sales are obviously going to get the deal, and a value-led approach is going to be more compelling. By focusing on value up front, rather than focusing on the product itself, the narrative is more resonant and aligned to the customer’s needs. By demonstrating how the product meets the customer’s objectives, this helps to prove the value and helps to drive more successful commercial outcomes.

Once you have the customer, you need to then fulfil that value you’ve promised. You need to have a strong dialogue between teams to transfer knowledge internally from sales to success and communicate what the customer’s original objectives were. That way, you can prove to the customer that your product or service is delivering the value you promised it would. This needs to be a collaborative conversation and flow through the customer journey.


Where does it drop off in the process?

Customer success are often brought in late in the engagement and there might be gaps in the information transfer, which is why communication and collaboration between departments is important.

A big part of knowledge transfer is ensuring the information that the customer has given to you upfront is captured and passed on to the right post-sales teams. These teams need to know things like who are the key customer stakeholders, what are their objectives, their motivations, who are the champions and advocates, what are they trying to achieve with your product and importantly, what constitutes value? If you’ve got a clear perspective about what the customer’s goals are and how they align back to the business’ goals and objectives, then you’ve got a strategic foundation to build those narratives.


If you were giving advice to a small, growing CX team, what should they be doing to reaffirm value?

From a success perspective, it’s about having a continuous value demonstration dialogue. Value should be tracked on aligned metrics through the customer engagement, and then shared with stakeholders for validation and alignment through, for example, business reviews. You’re tracking and measuring value, and maximising and optimising it, whether it be through adoption or cross-selling throughout the course of the customer lifecycle.

It’s important to be checking in with your customers regularly to review KPIs and their objectives and validate the data, so when you get to the quarterly business review, it’s more of a stakeholder showcase where you’re telling a story and ensuring continued alignment.

Develop customer stories. Talk about the customers that have derived value from your product, the experience they’ve had and the impact your product or service has had on them.


How does your employee experience connect to your customer experience?

The theory is happy people do better work, so they’ll provide a really great customer experience. I believe it goes a bit deeper than that though, and a lot of things are wrapped up in culture and operations.

When I think about culture, I believe it’s everybody’s responsibility, rather than looking to a people and culture team to lead it. Everything from leading by example to creating a culture of high performing individuals and a great team dynamic.

It’s important to look at the operations that drive how customer experience is delivered. If you can remove friction between the teams collaborating and the systems and tools they use to communicate internally, they’ll be more efficient and there will be less friction.. Ultimately, that’ll result in a much stronger customer experience, as you build that internal culture and remove those internal barriers.


How crucial is the first six months for a new customer?

That timeline depends on the type of business you’re operating, on the customer lifecycle and their time to value. For some businesses it might be shorter or longer, but what is important is to define the success criteria – for instance, when you would expect a customer to be onboarded and when you would expect a customer to be adopted. That timeline needs to align with the customer lifecycle.

Businesses need to drive the onboarding of new customers and their adoption of the product or service, which is absolutely fundamental. Most companies are on a journey towards maturity where you have cross-functional alignment between product, customer support, services and customer success on what good onboarding looks like and what stages of onboarding you’re driving a customer towards. If you can get the foundations set early on, then you’re going to be set up for success to be able to build and maximise value and product utilisation.


What metrics should companies measure to untapped value?

It’s different for every business, but the important thing is that it needs to be aligned to their goals.

In general, you should be validating whether the goals that you’re tracking against line up to your customer’s overall business goals and objectives. That’s vital to validate, as not all stakeholders are going to give you the same answers when you ask what their goals are.

Once you’ve validated what those goals are, you need to work backwards and think about what KPIs should be tracked to measure against those goals. These KPIs are going to be a strategic measure of what you’re achieving.

Regardless of KPIs, it’s important to track trends over time and think about how you’re comparing time periods whether it’s year on year or quarter on quarter trends to fit with your customer’s specific commercial cadence

Most KPIs can be put into one of three buckets – firstly a cost or operational efficiency bucket. Are you doing what you need to do more cost effectively? Secondly, a customer experience bucket – metrics like CSAT, NPS or customer effort score. Thirdly, revenue impact bucket. Are you having a positive impact on the business’ revenue?


Partnerships and integrations are now very common in the SaaS world, what are your thoughts on them from a customer experience perspective?

Integrations and partnerships are absolutely critical and a necessary part of any SaaS product suite. Businesses need their platforms and systems to talk to each other. Embedding your product into other products or vice versa is always going to provide additional utility. It’s a win-win from both the customer’s perspective because they’re getting a better experience with integrations and the SaaS company’s perspective as it makes for a stickier product, which makes for a stickier customer.

An obvious example is the Zoom integration in Slack. I can just write a forward slash Zoom command in Slack and a Zoom will pop up. It’s a real time saver and for the customer, a valuable utility.


Sales/BD/Content/Customer Success is a hot topic in the tech world at the moment. How do you see this ecosystem evolving in the next 5-10 years?

I truly believe that each function is critical to making the other functions successful. Collaboration with sales and success or success and support is so important, these functions need to be operating in lock step.

A big part of this is driven by culture and operations. You need operations to support really strong internal collaboration and cross-functional alignment and remove friction to make for a better customer experience. Where businesses struggle is communication and using the platforms and systems they have to collaborate effectively. Essentially, it’ll be the operational maturity which will evolve and define the efficacy of how these teams work together.


Keen to chat with Harry about CX and value narratives? Connect with her on LinkedIn today.