Top CMSWire Contributors 2023: Spotlight on Melissa Henley
This is part of our end-of-year series celebrating our top CMSWire Contributors of the Year for 2023. These are regular CMSWire Contributors whose articles this year greatly resonated with our community of professionals. These Contributors simply serve as great ambassadors of our brand in the world of marketing and customer experience.
- Customer insights emphasized. Melissa Henley advocates integrating customer feedback into product development for better alignment with customer needs.
- Empathy in business crucial. Henley highlights the importance of empathy in bridging the customer-business gap, advocating for customer-centric decision-making.
- Innovation shapes CX. Trends like AI, omnichannel strategies, and digital twins are poised to revolutionize customer experience, per Henley’s insights.
Are you ready to dive into the world of customer-centric innovation? Meet Melissa Henley, a luminary in the field of customer experience, who brings her expertise to the forefront in her latest CMSWire article, “Product-Led Growth Strategies: Are Customers Your Forgotten Product Manager?” Melissa’s piece is a deep dive into how businesses can leverage product-led growth strategies to prioritize end-user satisfaction and enhanced customer journeys.
With over two decades of experience spanning customer experience, customer success, and branding and communication, Melissa currently serves as the vice president of customer experience at KeyShot. Her approach to customer experience is holistic, focusing on building customer communities, driving change management, and fostering leadership and culture for digital transformation.
In her article, Melissa presents a compelling argument for viewing customers as integral components of the product management team. She explores how customer feedback can shape product development, emphasizing the importance of aligning customer needs with business objectives. Her insights draw upon her extensive experience and her role in shaping customer-centric strategies at KeyShot.
Whether it’s through her insightful articles, her leadership at KeyShot, or her engagement with the customer community, Melissa Henley is a beacon of innovation in the realm of customer experience. Her expertise not only illuminates the path to successful product-led growth strategies but also inspires a deeper, more empathetic understanding of customer needs and expectations.
Q&A With Melissa Henley
Customers as Product Managers: KeyShot’s Strategy
In your article about product-led growth strategies, you suggest viewing customers as product managers. How can companies effectively integrate customer feedback into their product development process?
I’ve talked quite a bit about how I’m a fan of customer advocacy — and full transparency. At KeyShot, we’ve had fantastic success with our Influitive community. We use our community to engage customers, to challenge them, to help them adopt new features, and most importantly, to source feedback for our development team. We do this in a few ways — running beta tests through our community; offering the ability to get a sneak peek of features before we even build them, to make sure we’re hitting the mark on the problems we’re trying to solve; and asking for feedback on what customers love and what we could do better. Next year, we’re going to add the ability to submit and upvote feature requests — and tie those features when they’re released back to requests from the community. (This is something we’re really looking forward to.)
In terms of integrating customer feedback into our product development process, all our product managers and owners are incentivized to stay active in the community. We also have biweekly meetings with our customer success, customer support, and product management teams to review what we’re hearing from customers. What features are they discussing in the community? What are we hearing about in support tickets? Where are customers getting stuck in onboarding? Product management then adds these requests to the backlog, where they are reviewed and prioritized. And finally, we take feature requests from NPS surveys and add them to the backlog the same way.
The most important thing is that we try to close the loop. We let customers know we’ve added their requests to the backlog. We set up calls with our product managers so they can do demos of their workflows or give feedback one-on-one. And we check back in to make sure customers know we haven’t forgotten about them. In my opinion, this is what makes customers keep sharing their opinions, and helps make them feel that they are loved and valued.
Decoding Customer Needs: Beyond Assumptions
Drawing from your insights about “Michael Connelly and the Mystery of Customer Needs,” what are some effective ways companies can better understand and meet the evolving needs of their customers?
People often think the government is stodgy and slow to change — and in many ways it is. But the government does have some pretty interesting pockets of innovation. (I promise I have a point.) I am a huge fan of visiting national parks and collecting stamps for my National Park Passport. Unsurprisingly, it’s a very paper-based experience. But, the NPS also has an amazing app where you can keep track of all the parks you’ve visited, collect virtual stamps, and create lists of parks you want to visit. You can even see what parks are near you, if you’re stuck for something to do on a weekend. The NPS app is a great case of understanding the evolving needs of customers. The NPS is likely never going to get rid of unigrid brochures, but they have brought the traditional paper brochure into the 21st century — while taking advantage of some unique mobile-only features.
So how do companies better understand the needs of their customers? Step one is simply to ask. Like most dads, mine is famous for saying “When you assume you make an ass out of you and me,” but assuming what customers want can get us in a world of hurt.
The second thing I’d say — and this is really tied to the first point — is to look behind the ask. All of us are probably familiar with using poorly designed enterprise software that has six different ways to search, because at some point five years ago one customer said, “Hey, I want to search this way,” and instead of asking why, a developer tried to be helpful and dropped in another box to search.
Finally, understand that your customer isn’t static. People can be slow to change, but eventually they do, whether they’re jolted forward because of an external force like the COVID-19 pandemic or they’re just slowly brought along. I’m sure Harry Bosch thought he’d be returning calls from a pay phone forever, but eventually even he ditched the pager.
Bridging the Empathy Gap in Customer Focus
How can businesses effectively bridge the empathy gap with their customers, and what are some common mistakes to avoid in this process?
No company sets out to say “We don’t want to focus on the customer,” but the reality is that a lot of companies end up there through no fault of their own. That’s because it’s easy to lose focus on the customer. Sales targets, quarterly earnings goals, meetings, KPIs, OKRs, must-win battles … every box you check can pull you away from worrying about your customer and their needs.
The founder of my last company used to say, “Make decisions with the customer in mind and the money will follow,” and I’ve always thought that was a succinct way of keeping focus on the customer. A lot of us will make decisions to hit a quarterly KPI or make a sales target, but it’s not the right decision for the customer in the long term. Eventually those small cuts will turn into a torrent and you’ll get divorced because you left dishes by the sink. Instead, treat others like you’d like to be treated – with respect, with care and with compassion. Set your ego aside and listen. Pay attention to the unintended consequences of policies and procedures. But most of all, think about your customer — not a mythic persona, but a real customer you know. Would you feel comfortable with them dealing with whatever you’re thinking about? If the answer is no, go back to the drawing board and try it again.
And, if you want to read more of my thoughts on empathy, you can check them out here.
Mastering Customer Journey Mapping Essentials
From your experience, what are the critical components of successful customer journey mapping, and how can businesses use this tool to improve their customer experience?
I’m a big fan of customer journey mapping. As I discussed in my column a few months ago, I really think journey mapping helps solve the problem of the blind man eating the elephant. So many of our customer-facing processes involve multiple teams, and it’s rare for those teams to step back and walk through the process from the customer’s viewpoint. They’re all eating their own piece of the elephant, and they don’t even realize it.
Picture signing up for an account on your website. Maybe it takes five steps across your web browser, your phone and your email. This likely works fine for you — especially if you have several back-end systems that don’t talk to each other — but what about your customer? We need to simplify processes and improve communication, so customer-facing processes feel personal and intuitive, even when they are delivered at scale.
The reality is no one sits down and says, “I want to design a process that our customers will hate.” Processes evolve over time. People leave, systems are sunsetted, new systems are added, and you end up with a mishmash of back-end and front-end systems that create a terrible customer experience. You also end up with the other problem with evolution — change happens so slowly that no one realizes there is another way to live!
To me, the critical components of successful journey mapping are having the right people in the room, being biased toward change, and starting small. Don’t think you have to rearchitect your entire company in one fell swoop. Starting with a simple yet painful process, using some post-its on a wall, and identifying quick wins are probably the most important parts of the process. Otherwise, you’ll be sitting in the same spot in three years, still wondering why your account registration process is so painful.
AI and Digital Twins: Future of CX
As a recognized voice in customer experience, what innovations or trends do you see shaping the future of customer experience in the next few years?
It seems trite to say AI at this point, but AI is continuing to change the way we work in ways we can’t even anticipate yet. I think AI will continue to take on many of the smaller time-consuming tasks that make customers feel unheard and unappreciated. From answering quick emails and handling minor support issues to providing relevant information, AI will continue to help provide personalization at scale. However, I’m sticking to my opinion that people will always have one advantage over AI, and that’s empathy. No matter how well you train AI, it can’t understand what someone is feeling and why they are frustrated, so there will always be a need for people to manage complex issues and escalations. Plus, while AI is becoming more conversational and natural, it still can’t surprise and delight a customer the way a person can. But the good news is that by offloading time-consuming tasks on to AI assistants, employees will have more time to recognize the moments that matter.
On the same note, omnichannel is going to continue to grow in importance. Customers won’t have the patience to tell their story to a bot, repeat it to a call center agent, and then again to technical support. Sharing information across systems and pulling some tricks out of the growth marketing playbook will help tie together data and provide a more cohesive experience to the customer.
Finally, I work in 3D visualization, and we talk a lot about the digital twin — an exact digital copy of a physical product that can be used for manufacturing, marketing and design purposes. All the data we are gathering from AI and omnichannel are going to feed into the creation of digital twins of our customers, where we build digital copies of customers in target segments to predict pain points and model ideal customer journeys. You can look at the digital twin as the 21st century version of the customer persona, except instead of pulling photos off Google Images to build our ideal customer, we’re going to be using real-time transaction and sentiment data. Imagine the possibilities!
Aligning Employee and Customer Experiences
How can organizations align their internal employee experience strategies with the external needs and expectations of their customers?
Employee engagement is one of my favorite topics to write about because it has one of the biggest impacts on your customer experience. Employees want to feel like they have a path for growth, that their manager cares about them, and that their work has a purpose. Which is great for customers, because that purpose should be oriented around helping customers achieve more! But a lot of the time, employees don’t feel that their work has value, and that’s when employees become disengaged.
I like to say that the Venn diagram between CX and EX is really a circle, because, despite their differences, they both come down to the same thing: putting the customer first. You can’t look at CX and EX as silos, but more as interlocking halves. One can’t exist without the other, and while employees have a deeper, more complex relationship with your company than your customers, both groups have a stake in your mission, vision and values. When it comes down to it, employees generally want to do the right thing for the customer, whether they know what “customer experience” is or not. The question is if your processes, policies, and procedures support them in that goal. Empowering employees to make the right decisions, supporting them in their learning and development, and encouraging them to bring their authentic selves to work are all ways to align your employee experience with your customer experience goals.
In the end, your employees have the same expectations as your customers: they want their experience with your organization to be intuitive and user-friendly, and they want to feel like they matter. If you want to learn more about my thoughts on employee experience, you can check out my opinions on employee engagement surveys here, the relationship between EX and CX here, and the relationship between culture and customer experience here.
Tell us something about Melissa Henley outside of your professional world.
I have been knitting for almost 35 years. It’s my favorite way to relax — and to stay focused on endless video calls! I’m also a voracious reader and am currently alternating between “The Whisper Soul” (a mystery featuring a wildlife ranger, set in Oregon in the early 1970s) and “The Unexpected President: The Life and Times of Chester A. Arthur.” (Did you know Chester Arthur owned over 80 pairs of pants and changed clothes for each occasion throughout the day? Truly a man before his time. Imagine his TikTok feed!)
My husband and I are working on visiting all 428 national park units, so that’s probably the most exciting thing I do outside of work. We just wrapped up a 10-day road trip through the southwest, where we visited six national parks and 10 national monuments. We had a great time exploring, camping and hiking. I always like to tell people that if they want to restore their faith in the US government, visit a national park unit. To me, it’s the best expression of what makes the US great — celebrating our natural resources, highlighting our diversity, and providing experiences for everyone of all abilities to enjoy. Plus, I’ve never met a park ranger who is in a bad mood — it just proves to me the truth of the saying “if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.”
Melissa Henley’s 2023 Articles
Product-Led Growth Strategies: Are Customers Your Forgotten Product Manager?
Michael Connelly and the Mystery of Customer Needs
Enhancing Customer Experience: What Role Do Events Play?
Bridging the Empathy Gap With Customers
Surviving the Journey of Customer Journey Mapping
What’s Love Got to Do With Customer and Employee Experience?
Is Your Culture Creating a Great Customer Experience?