It's the wild west out there: Interview with Eloqua's VP of Customer Experience

Ian Gotts


More and more companies are recognizing the value of creating a unique and exceptional customer experience. New roles like the "Chief Customer Officer" and "Chief Digital Officer," are emerging as companies invest in aligning processes, technology and communications to better serve the customer. But it is all the hoopla about customer experience just a fad? Columnist Ian Gottts interviews, Kia Puhm, VP of Customer Experience at marketing automation software provider Eloqua.

Ian Gotts: Why is Customer Experience (CX) becoming so important?

Kia Puhm: Customers now have access to more information to make buying decisions – online, through social networks and via referrals. This means that there is a more competitive landscape. Therefore new features and functions give only short term competitive advantage.


Kia Puhm is VP of Customer Experience at Eloqua

So creating more features in software or new bells and whistles in a product is no longer a source of sustainable competitive advantage. But an enviable customer experience (CX) is. Give a customer a great CX and they will stay loyal, tell you how and where you should improve to stay ahead, and be a great advocate.

Ultimately, I believe that CX will be the key defining factor between businesses.

Ian Gotts: What is your role and reporting structure?

Kia Puhm: CX is still a little bit like the Wild West. It is still evolving. I think that can be seen by the different reporting lines you see for Head of CX in various companies. It could be through to the COO, CMO, Strategic Consulting, Head of Sales or even CEO.

I report to the Customer Revenue Officer, so there is a sales influence, but I have three groups report to me:

  • Product Support; This is the traditional support desk, handling questions providing feedback, analysis and helping product upsell.
  • Customer Success; These are Subject Matter Experts and help customers with best practice and product adoption. This feels like a personalized service for customers.
  • Customer Enablement; If Customer Success is depth, Customer Enablement is scale. Making self service simple. Providing a knowledge exchange.

But wherever the Head of CX reports, what is fundamental is that CX is a strong culture throughout the entire business. Because it is reinforced with every interaction with the customer; PR & blog, sales, accounting, professional services and support. All need to be consistent and on-message. This needs to be led from the very top and supported every day by everyone’s actions. It cannot be a veneer slapped on top of the organization.

Ian Gotts: Isn't it just about getting customers to use your software better and therefore buy more?

Kia Puhm: That is a cynical way of looking at it, yes. But if customers are happy with our software, getting tangible benefits, and getting the support they need then the natural outcome is that they will want to use more of it and will recommend it to others.

With cloud software is it no longer "sell and move on". Customers only pay for what they use and in the early phases of implementation, when they have bought relatively little software, they need the most support and hand-holding. That is a huge commitment from us with the hope of seeing revenue longer term.

Ian Gotts: That sounds like what has been called Consumption Economics in a recent book by J.B. Wood, Todd Hewlin and Thomas Lah. What are the implications?

Editor’s note: To read more about "consumption economics" go here.

Kia Puhm: Firstly, if CX is the key sustainable competitive differentiator, then companies need to be far more agile. They need to be able to respond to changing trends and customer demands. And that means well defined, understood and executed processes. But also they need an approach to drive continuous improvement that feels natural and not onerous.

Next the company needs to be able to listen intently to customers. There are many more channels with social media so you can listen in on customer conversations. But companies need to spend time surveying customers. The difficulty is that very upset customers don’t respond to surveys and neither do happy customers. Frustrated customers score you 0/10 and delighted customers score you 10/10 which skews the survey statistics. So active listening is a critical skill for effective CX.

Ian Gotts: CX - fad or future?

Kia Puhm: I firmly believe that CX is the only future for companies. It is definitely not a fad. At Eloqua we are probably at the forefront of CX in terms of the way we have embedded it into our organization, the commitment across the board and the disciplines we have put in place. But we are always looking to improve. You can never stand still.

But delivering great CX is way easier than trying to create the next ground breaking piece of product functionality that no-one really wants.

So CX gives you long term competitive advantage – and right now with CX in its infancy here is a chance to get a major jump on your competitors.