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Accolade, Concur, and the ROI of Customer Love

Ashley Sefferman  //  September 6, 2018  //  10 min read

Customer love might sound fluffy, but it doesn’t have to be.

We were thrilled to host Mike Hilton, Chief Product Officer at Accolade and Co-founder of Concur, at this year’s Customer Love Summit. In his talk, Mike shares how customer-first strategies contribute to success, and how to put ROI against customer love. He also shares actionable advice on how to create a culture of customer obsession to create products customer love.

Specifically, Mike’s talk covers:

  • How to drive real business results from delighting customers
  • Five strategies for customer love
  • Tips for measuring success

If you prefer to read rather than watch, we’ve included the transcription below the video.


Alright, good morning everyone. They asked me what song I wanted to come in on and I thought that was a really appropriate one. Given that, it’s a real pleasure to be with you all. Good morning. Red, I’m sorry, I forgot the memo about the wings and the halo. Next year I’ll bring those. I just wore a jacket so not nearly as cool. But I’ve got about 25 minutes or so to talk to you about customer experience, really, customer love and focusing on the customer and really how that translates to ROI.

That’s a really hard problem. I know a lot of you in this audience focus on customers, customer experiences, customer feedback, and a lot of times it can be really hard to tie that back to really driving…how does focusing on that drive concrete value. And I’m just going to relate some of my experiences over my career and some of the things that I think matter the most that really drive being customer-centric and customer-focused and how those things have translated to value in the experiences I’ve been a part of.

You know, at Accolade, where I am now, we have a great tradition of starting with a customer story or a customer quote in a lot of our company meetings and just meetings in general. And it just seemed really appropriate, given this audience and the theme of this whole conference and my talk, to kind of do the same. I think it’s one of those small things that can have a big impact over time. It reminds everybody why you do what you do every day. And this is a quote from one of our Accolade users. We happen to be a tech-enabled service.

And so we have a human component and a digital engagement component to what we do. I’ll talk a little more about Accolade in a second, but this is a quote from one of our users. And I love those feedback loops and always starting anything that I’m doing in the business with, “Let’s remember why we’re all here, who we’re serving and why that’s important.” And this is an example of one of our customers who really felt some empathy from someone they were talking to at Accolade. And it’s a reminder for our engineers, for our UX people, for our salespeople, everyone in our company, these are always great reminders of why we do what we do and the ultimate measure of success of what we do.

I want to just talk a little bit about who I am and my background just to give you some context. I’ve been in software my whole life. I started my early career at Apple. A million years ago I was a software engineer. I worked on a product called MacWrite. Some of you in this audience may even know what that is. You’re dating yourself like I’m dating myself right now if you do. It was the first word processor for the Mackintosh. I worked at Apple for a few years on that. I learned a lot about customer-centric software design and focus and feedback loops early on in my career and early on in the industry. I went on to co-found a company called Concur. Some of you may be users, some of you may love or hate me for knowing that.

No one loves expense reports. Hopefully, we made it a little bit easier over time. But I was part of Concur from its founding in the apartment all the way through to our sale to SAP about three years ago. And getting to about 30 million users and about 15 million mobile users at the end, over a million active users a day, I learned a lot about customer focus, customer feedback, customer love, and tying that back to business results. I’ll talk a little bit about that.

For the last two and a half years, I’ve been in a company called Accolade as the chief product officer, really trying to bring some customer love to the healthcare experience for the U.S. consumer. I think you can all agree that that’s a place in our lives that needs some customer love. The customer love bar is pretty low in healthcare. And doing it through a tech-enabled service that we sell to corporations, but we serve consumers.

So, it’s sort of a B to B to C type of business. And I’ll talk about…we serve about a million and a half people today. We’re a few hundred thousand mobile users. Mobile’s a new consumer experience that we introduced relatively recently. And I’ll talk a little bit about that. That’s kind of my background and gives you some context for what we’ll talk about going forward. I always like to get to the punchline and then kind of work my way back in presentations like this.

I’m a huge believer that when you focus on the customer, you focus on delighting that customer and you focus on having a really high-bandwidth, high-functioning feedback loop with that customer, you drive real business results. And the company I’m at today is really interesting in that consumer delight and consumer engagement is actually one of the core selling value propositions we have to corporations that we sell to.

So, for us, really being customer-focused not only drives ROI internally for us, making our software development more efficient, we’re having a much more efficient iterative cycle with our software development, it’s also something that sits on our prospect sales decks and presentations. We’re selling customer delight. We’re selling employee MPS and employee engagement as one of the core value props to corporations. And so it is really embedded in what we do in my current job, both internally and also externally. And these are some of the core sort of value pillars that I live with every day. We save money for our customers. We, you know…building trust… Healthcare is one of those things where there’s not a lot of trust, right?

As consumers, we struggle to trust the insurance company. We sometimes struggle to trust our employer, do they really have my best interests at heart? And if you’re going to try to deliver a consumer experience on top of all that, you need to have trust as one of your brands. And so it’s a huge part of what we sell. We have extraordinarily high MPS with consumers. And so, it’s really at the center of what I do every single day. And as I talk about…I’m going to talk about five things that I think I’ve learned over my career that really sort of tie being customer-centric to value and some of the things that work. And you know, at Accolade we’re really lucky today. We have a mobile app that’s got a five-star rating.

I will say it’s been, you know…and Robi talked about this. I first discovered Apptentive at Concur. We were one of the first users. It was a core part of what made our mobile product successful there. When we built our mobile product at Accolade, Apptentive was at the core of it from the very beginning. I think the delight that we have with our mobile solution… Some of you maybe have used mobile apps in the healthcare world. They don’t have a great reputation as being easy to use and delightful.

Having a five-star mobile app with, you know, hundreds of thousands of users is something I’m extraordinarily proud of. And I think a lot of that comes back to, “Do you really know who’s delighted and who’s not, and do you have feedback loops that make that happen?” It’s something that we’ve accomplished at Accolade that I’m really delighted with.

But I want to just quickly go through five strategies that over my career have really worked well around being customer-centric. And I want to start with one that I think a lot of people miss. And in my experience, these are directly correlated to success. And the basic idea is that I think if you don’t have employees that love working at your company, it’s really hard to have customers that love your product. Those two things are highly correlated. I think that customer love does start at home. And when I say at home, I really mean…there’s very few companies I would submit that have extraordinarily delighted consumers or customers and have really unhappy employees. Those things end up correlating extremely highly.

And I think there’s multiple things about that that are really important. One is, do you really care about how happy your employees are every day as much as you care about how much you love your customers? And also, is your customer love really embedded in how you think about your employees as well? Do your employees really value customer love as deeply as you do as a leader? I think those are extraordinarily important points. A lot of people skip over that step.

And I think they’re extremely highly correlated, and all the way to… You know, and I think it’s a loop. I think when you really focus on customer delight, and you start delighting customers, it has a funny way of making your employees happier as well. Employees want to be successful and a lot of being successful is serving your customers well and delighting them. And that feedback loop to me is extraordinarily important. And in my career, I have found that if one of those starts going south, the other one’s going to go south and they really play off of each other very closely.

And so, I think there’s a lot of specific things that you can do to really make sure that that loop is really tight and that you’re focused on both. One of the most important ones to me is, have you really embedded customer love in the culture of your company or of your team? I think that matters a lot. You know, at Accolade we have cultural cornerstones that include really customer love and, are we taking care of customers. Robi told a story about sort of how we measure success as a company, the metrics that drive things like how we’re bonused and how we grade ourselves as a whole company.

Customer NPS is one of the core tennets of how we do that. Revenue, profitability, employee satisfaction, and customer satisfaction, those four pillars define success. The health dashboard of Accolade is based on those four pillars. And customer love is one of those four pillars for us. If our customers are not delighted with the service we’re delivering, we’re not succeeding as a business.

I would just submit, like ask yourself and your company, is customer sat embedded that deeply in success? All the way to how people are bonused, how you think about, is the company even succeeding or not? We put all four of those pillars on sort of an equal weighting. And I think it bleeds into everything. You know, are you hiring the right people? I think that customer focus is one of the most important dimensions when I’m interviewing people, especially at the leadership level. I think those things really matter. I think when you want to really walk the walk of being a customer-centric organization, you’ve got to really look at those things and think about those things.

So I think that thinking about employee delight and customer delight hand in hand and embedding that into how you operate is really important. Second, thing I really wanted to speak about this morning is this idea of trust. I think trust and love are two words that are not very far apart from each other. And, you know, it’s an interesting thing in the modern world. I think in a world of digital engagement, which a lot of you are really centered around, and I’ve been centered around in my career, digital engagement makes it really hard to build trust, right?

There’s not a human relationship there. There’s a digital relationship, and trust can be hard to build. And I think trust is everything in the digital world and it’s really hard to earn. It’s extraordinarily hard to earn and it can be destroyed in an instant. And I think the biggest problem with trust in the digital engagement world is that it often gets destroyed without you even knowing that it’s being destroyed.

It’s the worst thing that happens, right? You find out through the lagging indicator. You’re losing users. You’re finding out on social media. You’re finding out in all these places that are too late. And I think it’s an extraordinarily hard problem. I think it’s one of the most important cornerstones. If you’re going to delight consumers, they have to trust you at some level. And I think there’s some key cornerstones around how you do that. And I think one of the most important is, do you have the listening mechanisms in place that are leading indicators, not lagging indicators?

It’s the most important thing is that do your customers have a pathway to tell you that something’s wrong before they go out to Twitter or before they start talking to all their friends, or before you start creating a snowball? It’s extraordinarily important because, you know what? Even the greatest companies that are great at delighting customers screw up sometimes and make mistakes. And I think feedback mechanisms that are in place that give you that feedback loop, you have to shorten that loop to the shortest degree possible.

And I think solutions like Apptentive are a big part of how that happens. And I’ll talk more about that in some of the other places where I think it matters, like meeting the customer where they are. Embedding that in the middle of the consumer experience that they’re in, in the moment that they’re having challenges, is extraordinarily important. The other thing is I think being transparent is extraordinarily important in the digital world, perhaps even more so than in human relationships. If you screw up, you have to be honest about screwing up, telling the truth and being honest.

I think we live in an interesting world, in the digital space, where I think trust is becoming a bigger and bigger issue. You know, privacy is one that gets a lot of attention today in the consumer space. But it’s an issue no matter what your consumer experiences is. I think trust is extraordinarily important. And transparency, holding yourselves accountable, being honest, but more than anything, having that feedback loop, in my experience, matters the most. I can think of many, many times when our software development teams found out something was wrong, that if we had not caught it then and course corrected right away, we would have had a 10x or 100x worse problem a month or two months or three months later. I can’t say enough about how important I think that is.

Which kind of leads to my third point, which is you really have to meet the consumer where they are. And a lot of you in this room really understand this extremely well. A lot of you focus on the consumer experience and making it delightful. Again, I think that this is one where, you know, technology and innovation just in the digital world in general keep changing the goalposts, right? I can remember very much at Concur, you know, we had a solution that was run through a browser and that’s how everyone used our product. And, you know, the iPhone got launched, you know, 10 years ago, 12 years ago, and we knew right away like, this is something new and if we can embrace it in the right way, we can transform our business.

And we ran to it. We ran to it right away and we’re one of the first people to really adopt it in our industry and do something interesting with it. And it changed our entire business in terms of engagement, and customer sat and a whole bunch of dimensions really exploded by embracing it. And, you know, you look in the modern world and, you know, the number of things that are out there that can change your consumer experience just keep multiplying.

And, I think you always have to be on top of that. But to me, more than anything else, you know, when you look at the traditional ways you listen to your consumers and customers, they’re pretty terrible. And I’ve been victim in the past of, you know, you try email surveys or phone calls and things that the feedback loops that are just really ineffective.

About Ashley Sefferman

Ashley Sefferman is Director of Marketing at Apptentive. A digital communication and content strategy enthusiast, she writes about multichannel engagement strategies, customer communication, and making the digital world a better place for people. Follow Ashley on Twitter at @ashseff.
View all posts by Ashley Sefferman >

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