How To Leverage Customer Intimacy For Success

Mary Poppen
Chief Customer Officer

Interview Highlights:

  • Customer intimacy is the pinnacle of a customer relationship. It’s knowing them so well you can anticipate their needs and promotes a good long-term partnership.
  • Empathy and compassion must come from the top of the organization in order to create genuine enthusiasm among the rest of the workforce. 
  • Customers can tell whether employees are excited about their job or not. They can sense authenticity.

Can you please introduce yourself and what you do?

My name is Mary Poppen and I’m the Chief Customer Officer at Glint. Glint is a People Success Platform that helps businesses increase employee engagement and improve business results. We’ve been part of the LinkedIn family for the last couple of years. 

My role as CCO encompasses all post-sale operations such as implementations, customer success, support, training, community, renewal, and expansion. 

Can you tell me about the concept of “customer intimacy”?

There are two things that make up the “secret sauce” of a good customer relationship. 

First is customer intimacy

You know your customer better than anyone else; you know what they need and when they need it. You can deliver something exactly the way they want it--and before they even know they need it. Because of this intimacy, they get the optimal value from you and your company. It’s an evolving, long-term relationship. 

Second ingredient is contagious enthusiasm

That’s the intersection of your employees being super excited and happy about what they do, and your customers being super excited and happy about partnering with your organization and the results that they get. And when you have both of these--high employee engagement and high customer satisfaction--you have a spiral of positivity, referenceability and growth. 

You can feel it in a company. You just know when employees are excited about what they do. 

How do you apply this at the C-level, where the perspectives and priorities are different from regular employees?

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “Sales is everyone’s responsibility.” 

Well, customer success is everyone’s responsibility, and it starts with the cross-functional leadership being held accountable for the customer’s experience being a positive one. 

There has to be visibility into customer health, and the customer voice has to be relayed to all the functions in the organization. 

You also have to have accountability, which involves taking action based on that feedback. It should be part of everyone’s OKRs and priorities. 

It’s difficult to get individual customer intimacy at the C-suite, but you can have a collective understanding and react to the customers’ voice in a more personalized, and aligned, way.

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What place do empathy and compassion have in a business environment?

When a company says that it’s people-first (meaning both employees and customers), that means compassion and empathy must come from the top of the organization. Employees need to feel valued and heard. This is critical in order to achieve contagious enthusiasm and to ensure a culture where everybody is rowing in the same direction.

Can you give an example of when empathy was a key factor in a business decision?

This last year has been a great example. Organizations have been able to respond to COVID-driven challenges with empathy and compassion, both towards their employees and towards their customers. I’m talking about unanticipated employee resource and support needs as well as customer asks like changing contract or payment terms, or shifting your solution. 

At Glint, for example, we were able to offer employees a more flexible work schedule to address varying family support needs, and offer our customers new solutions  focused on employee wellness. 

Do you have any advice for anyone in management that wants to make the company more empathetic?

A customer listening program is really critical. If you don’t already have one, I highly recommend that you get it. Incorporate feedback along the customer journey at various milestones, starting from implementation through to renewal. 

In fact, even just coming up with metrics that will give you an indication of the overall customer health, and then holding people accountable for improving those metrics will go a long way towards increasing empathy to customers at scale. 

I learned that you sometimes mentor other CS professionals. What is your opinion on mentoring?

Earlier in my career, I thought that a mentorship was a formal relationship with someone in a leadership role. But the reality is that a mentor can be someone you would never expect. They could be people you see on the bus or your next-door neighbor.

It doesn’t have to be a long-term mentorship, either. It can just be a couple of interactions where the person changes your mindset or outlook. They can give you a new perspective that you can use in your career progression or life development. 

Consider surrounding yourself with a whole bunch of complementary mentors. Some can be formal, some can be informal. Focus on finding people that are good at the work you want to be doing, and people that inspire you to be better. 

What’s the best way of approaching someone and asking them to mentor you?

Most people hesitate to approach mentors because they feel uncomfortable or feel they don’t know the mentor well enough. They’re not sure what kind of impression they’ll leave. The reality is that you have a lot to offer them, too. 

You can try saying something like, “You do X really, really well, and I would like the opportunity to learn that from you.” You can also suggest sharing your own experiences working in a related industry or working with a certain product. Something tailored to the interest of the individual you’re approaching.

One final thought: You can’t get a mentor if you don’t ask! Worst case scenario is they say “no.” Then so what? You haven’t lost anything from trying, but you have much to gain!


Glint is the People Success Platform that leverages real-time people data to help global organizations increase employee engagement, develop their people, and improve business results.

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