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.

The Gist

  • 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.


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