FEATURING RACHAEL POWELL, CHIEF CUSTOMER OFFICER AT XERO
This article is part of our 2.0 Leadership Series, where we provide practical insight into what strategic Chief Customer Officers are doing so the rest of us can level up more quickly.
Throughout her career, Rachael Powell has tackled roles in everything from Marketing to Sales to HR. But for the last two years, she’s carved out a single focus: lead the entire customer experience at Xero as their Chief Customer Officer.
Rachael’s remit includes the entire customer experience—Customer Success, Support, Education, Digital Transformation, Marketing, Communications, and Sales. It’s an expansive role within a company of nearly 4,000 employees. Rachael leads a global customer team that brings together all the functions that support the customer, including Xero’s regional go-to-market teams that partner closely with accountants and bookkeepers to support the needs of small businesses.
Leading at that altitude has led to a strategy Rachael is passionate about: the “inside-out” approach to a better customer experience. She explains that “It’s all about getting things right on the inside first so a company can then quickly extrapolate that out through the customer base.” And it’s especially important in companies who rely heavily on channel partners because those partners are in theory an extension of the organization.
In this exclusive article, Rachael shares the four principles of an inside-out approach:
- Recruit the people who will help your company grow
- Plan ahead so you can provide a great customer experience while you scale and grow
- Streamline the end-to-end customer journey with shared metrics
- Serve your customers and see success
…Over to you, Rachael!
#1 Recruit people who will help your company deliver on your purpose
I originally joined Xero as Chief People Officer. Early on in that HR role, or People Experience as we call it at Xero, we understood that the only way our company would succeed was if everyone at Xero shared a passion for serving the small business community. We realized the importance of winning the hearts and minds of our people first, and how that would lead to winning the hearts and minds of our customers.
Fundamental to the success of Xero is our people’s belief in our purpose which is to make life better for people in small businesses, their advisors, and communities all over the world. The power of this purpose cannot be overstated. It provides a unifying energy that brings our people together to do their best work and collectively we achieve great things.
In addition, many Xeros (our employees) have owned small businesses themselves or grew up in a family that ran a small business. Because of their background, they believe in what we're doing for the small business economy. That’s powerful—they understand the importance of small business to the success of global economies.
This is critical across the board but especially so in customer-facing roles—it can really improve a customer’s experience with us when the Xeros they’re working with (CSMs, Support reps, Sales) “get” them. We look for a small business background, but that concept could apply to any industry. If you’re selling sales software, consider finding someone with a background in Sales (or recruit them from a Sales role). The same goes for companies selling to restaurants or Marketers or Data Scientists.
“If you can’t win the hearts and minds of your own people, you’ll never be able to do it with your customers.”
When I started as Chief People Officer, we put in the work to make sure we were:
- job crafting to put the right people in the right roles,
- setting a really clear vision,
- making sure people had the support to excel in their roles,
- aligning all of those people across a global organization, and
- scaling that at speed.
Getting the right people in place first makes it easier to build a better customer experience. The focus then is about fostering that culture and bringing out that passion with both our internal team and our channel partners.
Taking the time to get it right on the inside has been a driving force behind our growth. It creates a contagious culture that our partner community wants to be a part of and our small business customers benefit from too.
#2 Plan ahead so you can provide a great customer experience as you scale and grow
Right from the start, we have been planning and building a future for one million, two million, five million, and even 10 million subscribers.
A future built on creating an engaging customer experience that put technology at the foundation and allowed Xero to scale and grow at a very fast pace while maintaining a truly unique experience for our customers.
We believe Customer Success is about delivering a consistent, frictionless end-to-end experience across all our channels and product platforms. It’s about providing our customers with solutions to their problems at the right time and in the right place. That means anticipating their questions long before they need to ask.
We developed a platform called Xero Central, a single place where our customers, both small businesses and accountants and bookkeepers, can go to learn and get support. It’s set up so customers can find tailored content or find answers to their questions at a time that suits them. It’s also smart: Xero Central uses machine learning to anticipate what a customer will need to know next based on what they searched for first. Customers can still raise cases with our CX advisors if they are stuck and they need help from a human being.
Xero Central is sophisticated but the concept is simple: empower customers with the resources and information they need to effectively use products.
96% of our customers effectively serve themselves because of the Xero Central platform and the quality of educational materials available to them, freeing up our CX specialists to spend more time on trickier and often more urgent customer questions.
#3 Streamline the end-to-end customer journey with shared metrics
Appointing a Chief Customer Officer in your organization is an effective way to create a very cohesive and holistic approach to Customer Success.
As CCO, and with the responsibility of revenue, digital and direct sales, partner engagement, Marketing, Support, and Customer Success, I can understand the full picture of what we are trying to achieve and how we will go about achieving it.
Having this structure in place means I can enact change and move quickly to improve the customer experience, whilst reducing inefficiencies.
“The CCO is hired for their ability to ensure that the customer experience is seamless across touchpoints. Customers need to know that they are cared about during every stage of the customer journey.”
When I took on the role, we initially measured just revenue and subscriptions which are merely ‘points in time’ which I felt was not comprehensive enough to establish clear linkage and action across the whole customer journey.
So I worked with the team to create strong sets of data that informed our decisions and helped us make decisions across every part of the customer journey.
What we have today is a sophisticated data scorecard that we call JEDI. JEDI stands for Journey, Experience, and Data Insights.
It allows us to have a hero metric for each of the 5 stages of the customer journey:
1) Awareness (brand)
2) Consideration (trial)
3) Buy (sales)
4) Deepen relationship (retain & grow)
5) Delight (advocacy)
Along with hero metrics for each customer stage, we also have RAG (Red, Amber, or Green) status and can filter by region or sub-metrics.
With the JEDI scorecard, we’re able to easily detect which stage needs attention. If Awareness is underperforming, then we know we invest in short or long-term marketing initiatives. If Delight isn’t doing well, we know we need to lean in and support our customers with proactive Customer Success campaigns that help customers get more value out of our products.
The JEDI scorecard is the tool I look at every morning. I wake up, check on our hero metrics, and can quickly understand where I need to focus my attention.
#4 Keep pushing the envelope on how you deliver a remarkable customer experience
We're living in a world with constant disruption, a once-in-a-century pandemic, and higher-than-ever customer expectations. We don't have the luxury of setting a five-year strategy, executing on it, and then coming back to it at the four-year mark to try and plan out the strategy for the next five years. Just like customer expectations, strategy should be ever-evolving. We have to constantly check-in and ensure we're staying ahead of our customers' needs and delivering on what they value most.
“We're seeing many more organizations, even big enterprises like financial institutions set up this way, where you have Marketing, Sales, and CX all under the one executive so that you can stitch together the most powerful and most impactful pieces in a fast and agile way to best serve your customer needs.”
I think that the braver, bolder organizations, the ones that constantly challenge how they can best serve their customers, will see success in the coming years.
I also expect we will see more Chief Customer Officer roles with a broad mandate emerging as organizations realize that establishing a brand promise and then delivering it are sides of the same coin that must be fully connected if they are to shift and change in line with customer demands.
A final word on expanding your remit as CCO
CCOs who read this will most likely oversee CS, Support, Professional Services, and Operations, but may not have responsibility for Sales, Communications, or Marketing. For CS executives who are looking to expand their remit, here are some things to consider:
1) Work on your mindset, your ability to evolve, and build ambidextrous skills. I worked in Marketing, Accounting, Recruiting, and more—all of which made me highly curious about people. I went back and did a Masters in Positive Psychology to give me further insight into how to help people flourish and to gain purpose in their lives.
Coming into Xero I picked up the reins as Chief People Officer, which was a new mandate for me, but it only added to my skill set. When the opportunity of leading our CX team opened up, I knew I could use my people experience skills and apply them to the customer experience.
Being curious and having a growth mindset put me in good stead to be an executive that could own a multitude of functions.
2) Make sure you hire awesome people who are also disciplined experts. I certainly don't do this job alone. I am surrounded by a world-class team—people who are not just experts in their field—but people who are empowered to work together, with a deep commitment to creating a holistic approach to the way we connect with our customers at every point of the journey.
We’re in an ever-evolving environment and have a unique opportunity to act as change agents dedicated to bringing greater focus to Customer Success and realigning our organization to deliver on our purpose.
Executives should be thinking beyond their specific discipline, putting in place a clear strategy that is centered around the customer and aligning teams to execute on it.