Xero’s Inside-Out Approach to Customer Success
A conversation with Chief Customer Officer Rachael Powell
July 2, 2021
Xero is a cloud-based accounting software platform for small businesses with over 2.7 million subscribers around the world. Underlying its promise of ‘beautiful business’ is a commitment to customer success, overseen globally by Chief Customer Officer (CCO) Rachael Powell.
In her role, Rachael has full responsibility for global sales, marketing, communications, digital and direct, partner engagement, customer support, customer success and education. At a recent B2B Marketing Leaders Forum APAC, she spoke to Austin Slomowitz, Tech Industry Account Director for LinkedIn Australia, about Xero’s unique inside-out approach to customer success and where marketing comes into play.
LinkedIn: As CCO, you look after everything customer-related, including marketing. How does that work?
Rachael Powell: I actually joined Xero as its Chief People Officer back in 2016. Rod Drury, who was CEO at the time, had the vision to see that a fast-growing organisation like Xero could really use a marketer with talent experience and a Positive Psychology background in that role.
Spending time as Chief People Officer gave me real insights to the importance of winning the hearts and minds of our people, which of course, leads to winning the hearts and minds of our customers. Over time, Rod expanded my role to include Customer Experience, followed by Marketing and Communications.
You can think of it as an ‘inside-out’ approach. We focused on getting our People Experience right so that our people could amplify the magic of our culture at every customer touchpoint—marketing included.
LinkedIn: Marketing plays a huge role in the path to purchase and can influence a customer’s purchase decision. Interestingly, LinkedIn’s recent research into the B2B tech buying landscape found that customers are now prioritising post-sale support when choosing a vendor. What are your thoughts on that?
Rachael: Building awareness is critical, particularly for a company like Xero and our marketing team have a really strong focus on showcasing not just our brand, but our customers, telling real stories about how we can support the end users who are interacting with the platform everyday. This includes one of my favourites, our recent Business, but better campaign in Australia.
Now understanding the power of brand awareness and nurturing the customer through to purchase is vital, but the post-sale component is definitely just as important as the sale itself. If our customers are not using a product, they’re not going to buy it again.
When I first started looking after Customer Experience, I realised that we had hundreds of very talented people supporting customers when they had a problem. But we were missing the opportunity to think for customers before they were going to have a problem. So, I split that into Customer Support and Customer Success. We brought in technology so that transactional needs could be handled with AI/machine learning while our team focused on educating customers and driving success. The more we can help them help themselves, the stickier they become when working on our platform because they’re getting value from it.
Internally, we have a plethora of education initiatives including Xero Central, where our customers go for learning and support. We use machine learning to personalise content and speed up response time for a more seamless and personalised experience. But we also rely on our partners to help educate the small businesses they work with. And our partners want to do this too because when small businesses operate more effectively, accountants and bookkeepers can spend less time on compliance work and more time on value-added advisory services.
LinkedIn: How do you measure customer success across the many different customer segments that Xero serves?
Rachael: We initially measured revenue and subscriptions but that just captures a single point in time. It’s not comprehensive enough to establish clear linkage and action across the whole customer journey. So we developed a sophisticated data scorecard that we call JEDI. JEDI stands for Journey, Experience, Data and Insights.
We have scorecards for different customer segments — for our channel partners, accountants and bookkeepers, as well as direct users. Each scorecard tracks the five stages of the customer journey from awareness through to delight. We have a hero metric for each of those five stages but also many supporting metrics that we can drill down to.
LinkedIn: You’re a proponent of putting yourself in the customer’s shoes. How do you recommend marketers do that?
Rachael: It helps to have a Voice of Customer function or mandate within your remit. At Xero, we have a Voice of Customer team that is constantly making sure that we’re having two-way conversations with our customers. If customers ask for a certain product feature, for example, they’re able to tell them whether we’re developing it, not developing it, and why. The team is also a gatekeeper. When you have an organisation that’s growing as fast as we are, every department wants to do customer research. Our Voice of Customer team protects our customers from being over-researched by serving as the interface between our internal teams and our customers. We’re very open to connecting with our customers and engaging them — making sure that we’re not just throwing things over the fence and hoping they’ll catch it.
LinkedIn: How do you go about creating brand ambassadors for the business that is helping drive customer value and future talent?
Rachael: It really starts with bringing the right people in. We always test for alignment to purpose, first and foremost. We’d take somebody who has empathy for small businesses and a growth mindset over somebody who just wants a job. Our people are passionate. They’re buzzing about what we’re doing and how we’re really supporting the SMB economy and improving the lives of people in small businesses. It’s very easy to get up every day, even in the depths of winter, when you know that what you’re doing has real meaning.
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