Introducing the voice of the customer into every facet of VMware’s business is one of the most profound and exciting opportunities of my career. My team’s mission is to ignite systemic business improvements across VMware to maximize the customer (and partner, and employee) experience. In Customer Advocacy, we live by a “listen + act” philosophy: we deeply value customer input, we are always listening, and we drive real change based on what our customers tell us. Over time, this philosophy has enabled us to achieve great things on behalf of our customers, but our work championing their voice is never done. We have big plans for the future – and in the context of where we’re headed, it’s been valuable to reflect on where we started…
I joined VMware 7 years ago to build our customer experience (CX) function from the ground up. There were just two of us in the beginning (today the team is pushing 25!). VMware’s then-CEO recognized the need to focus on CX in response to early headwinds caused by market saturation, growing competition, and increasing customer expectations. We were starting from zero and needed to establish a baseline, so we got right to work developing VMware’s first-ever customer relationship survey.
While our focus during this time was to lay the foundation, even then we had a bias toward action. We combed through our early survey data to identify tangible CX improvement opportunities and discovered a strong negative reaction to a recent pricing policy change. Just six weeks later, VMware leadership reversed the policy change and announced it at VMworld 2012, our annual customer conference. It was Pat Gelsinger’s first public engagement as CEO of VMware and he received a standing ovation from over 22,000 customers when he reversed the vRAM pricing policy. In that moment, I realized the magnitude of my opportunity to have an impact in this new role!
Winning stakeholder hearts & minds
Since we started as a green field operation, it took us a good two years to firmly establish credibility with our internal stakeholders so they would take our insights and recommendations seriously. (Note: this relationship-building process never ends, as new stakeholders regularly enter the picture and as my team expands to new areas). Earning credibility is not easy; I attribute our success to unwavering Executive sponsorship, a bulletproof survey methodology, consistent communication, and time – it simply takes time to acquire enough data to derive accurate and meaningful trends. It also takes time to cultivate trust.
During this time, Customer Advocacy was focused on capturing insights and turning those insights into a compelling set of recommendations. Since then, a lot has changed! We’ve evolved from being data-focused to being outcome-oriented. We’ve expanded our scope to include partner and employee experience. We’ve embraced the concept of reciprocity and we constantly seek out innovative ways to give back to our customers who share their valuable perspectives with us. And at the end of the day, we are laser focused on driving action across the business. My team measures our success on the decisions VMware makes to improve the customer experience and ultimately, on whether our customers see and feel the difference.
Customer Advocacy today
Today, my organization is aligned to our three pillars of execution: capturing insights, crafting compelling stories, and driving stakeholder action. Here’s a glimpse into our current operating model:
Our Insights Programs team generates customer, partner, and employee insights using best practice methodologies. This team is the conduit of millions of data points (representing hundreds of thousands of views and opinions) flowing into VMware and is the cornerstone of everything we do in Customer Advocacy! They’ve expanded our listening vehicles beyond surveys to include individual customer interviews and focus groups, as well as next generation capabilities such as in-product feedback. This integrated approach augments the survey data we capture, enabling us to create more complete, nuanced, and actionable stories.
Crafting compelling stories
Once we have insights, we use them to prioritize improvements and inform compelling prescriptions for those improvements. Our Research & Analysis team are the storytellers; they use advanced statistical analysis techniques and AI based learning to convert millions of behavioral and attitudinal data points into a set of prescriptions that are relevant to each stakeholder. They also quantify the business impact and potential ROI of each prescription to support our objective of compelling stakeholder action. But this team doesn’t rely solely on quantitative data – they also utilize output from conversations with individual customers to bring their stories to life.
Driving stakeholder action
And we do not stop at stories and recommendations – Customer Advocacy has an entire arm dedicated to helping stakeholders follow through on their commitments to improve the customer experience. The Influence team are strategic business partners aligned to our Product, Sales, Services, and Partner stakeholder groups. The individuals in these roles have deep expertise in their respective areas of focus and are viewed as trusted advisors to the business. They’re multi-sport athletes who help leaders interpret insights, define action plans, measure progress, and most importantly, ensure accountability for the necessary actions. The Influence team is where the rubber meets the road!
What the future holds
It’s a journey, and even with 7 years under my belt at VMware, I feel like we’re only getting started! While our core values and customer-first mindset will remain the same, Customer Advocacy’s future will look different than our past. For example, we’ll do more to meet our customers where they are, listening to them when and how they want to be heard, and harness the power of consent-based feedback to drive reciprocal relationships. We’ll increasingly leverage operational data to more intimately understand our customers and enable predictive analyses. And we’ll drive the evolution of VMware’s culture from customer-centric to customer-obsessed – all with the voice of our customers leading the way.