How Customer Centricity Aligns Our Efforts at Vena Solutions

Debbie Lillitos
Chief Customer Officer

Interview Highlights:

  • Customer Centricity is maintaining a customer focus across your business
  • “The Customer is Always Right” is wrong
  • Understanding your customer is the quickest and best way to establish trust

Can you please introduce yourself and what you do?

My name is Debbie Lillitos and I’m actually from the UK. My husband’s Canadian and he’s from Ottawa. We have three rambunctious little girls and also a slightly senile and deaf old rescue dog. 

I have the honor of leading a customer experience team with Vena Solutions, which is a FinTech company founded in 2011. I’ve been there since 2017. Prior to that, I was at Achievers, which is also Canadian-founded. I was there for five years leading the professional services team. 

Most of the other half of my career has been in management consultancy, which prepared me pretty well for the change management and transformations that we’ve executed in these companies. 

You spoke about “Customer Centricity Culture” in your blog. Can you please explain the concept?

For me, the concept of customer centricity is where you maintain a focus on the customer across your business. That sounds very simple in concept, but it’s quite difficult to do in practice. 

It’s doing what’s in the best interest of the customer every time you make a business decision, whether it’s in product or marketing or sales. Wherever you’re making decisions, you keep that at the center of the decision-making process. Is this the right thing for the customer? 

If you’re in product, the question might be, “does this meet the needs of our customers? Is this something that they’re going to get value out of?

If you’re thinking about it as sales, the question is, “are we selling to the right group of people? Are we going to provide the right kind of value? Is this the right target person in the organization?”

You want to do the right thing for the customer. Depending on what part of the business you’re in, customer centricity translates differently into the questions that you’re asking. But ultimately, the question you’re answering is, “what are we doing in the service of the customer?”

And it doesn’t mean “the customer is always right.” That’s not customer centricity. That’s the opposite, because what often happens is that you don’t do what’s in the customer’s best interest. You do what’s expedient. That’s a short-term fix. That’s unsustainable, and it’s not the same thing.

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How do you use Customer Centricity within Vena Solutions?

At Vena, our top value is customer trust. We take that very seriously. We acknowledge individuals who embody that value through our own recognition program. 

It wasn’t always that way. We didn’t have very good feedback mechanisms when I first arrived. You’re blind without those mechanisms. You can speak to customers individually, of course, but that doesn’t work on a massive scale. And so I needed to change that. 

I believe in a multi-channel approach. Doing surveys that cover multiple parts of the journey is important. That’s asking the right questions during meetings, getting feedback at the end of an implementation and at the end of training. We try not to exhaust them with surveys. 

In addition, we also invite customers to the executive table every month to share their experiences. It’s basically an open forum, and we invite everyone from customer executives to power users. That at least gives us anecdotal evidence of how people are interacting with the product. 

We also use a combination of metrics. Each metric will tell you something different, and you can adjust your systems to make sure you’re doing the right things. You might see in a survey that there’s an expectation about a piece of product we thought did something else. All right, is this something we can reasonably put on the roadmap without derailing things in the future? 

I believe there’s a lot of things you can do to operationalize the concept of customer centricity. But you also have to embed it in the values of the business. You have to live these values through your processes, and you have to monitor them; because if it’s not measured, then people aren’t accountable. 

What are some tactical tips for building customer trust?

I know this might sound like a cop out, but the best way to build trust is: understanding. 

Humans need to feel understood. Doesn’t matter if you’re a customer or a partner or an employee. It’s a primal need. Once you feel understood, you’re much more likely to open up and trust. You’re more likely to go into the dark with this person and be like, “all right, we’ll do that.” 

Get to know your customer and understand them. That sounds really difficult to scale, right? People might say, “well, I’ve got a thousand customers.” So you’ve got to figure out how you’re going to get to know them, right?

You’re going to need good systems in place to know your customers. You’re going to need the right data. Doing your homework on someone will instantly build trust with that customer. Now if you’re an enterprise CSM, you’ve probably got more time and fewer customers. You can do some pretty holistic research. You haven’t met them, but you can still know them. 

Know what’s recent in their business. Know what’s happening and draw them out in conversation. “Here’s a thing that’s happening in the industry, is this happening to you? Are you finding this a challenge?” Make it a consultation between two people, but ground it in understanding the people that you’re working with. 

I’m a massive believer in preparation. Whenever I get a new customer, I would spend a few hours researching the company, company values, and understanding who they are. I research them on LinkedIn and see if anybody else knows them. I’m trying to get a sense of these people, and that makes a big difference. You build that customer intimacy, and then you can build customer trust. 

How do you promote customer centricity internally?

First thing to do is orientate the team in the right direction. When I first joined Vena, we were focused on utilization. A lot of organizations focus their professional services teams on how many hours they bill. That’s not a customer success-centric model. It’s not value-based. 

You have to figure out what goals are the most important that sit under customer success. In my mind, it’s how happy your customers are, and how happy your own people are. If your people are unhappy, your customers are going to be unhappy. 

So orientate the team the right way, then translate that down to actual goals. Operationalize and reward the right things. Don’t say one thing and then reward them for something else. 

Second thing to do is assess the KPI metrics to see if they’re aligned to your goals and properly managing performance. You’d be surprised at how many companies have half-baked metrics that don’t actually measure something valuable or even have adverse consequences to the rest of the process. For example, if you compensate people on signups to training, but don’t assess completion and satisfaction rates as well, all you will get are a bunch of aborted training sessions. 

That’s not sustainable. You should set up a system where everyone is accountable and that all the metrics, systems, and processes are pointed in the same direction. 

Vena Solutions

Vena connects people, existing systems and data to power finance-led business planning and real time reporting using the world’s leading spreadsheet platform.

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