Customer (and Partner) Segment Advocates

Patty's Dream Team: Roles and Responsibilities You'll Need for Your Customer-Centric Organization

September 13, 2011

Whose job is it to understand and to lobby for the needs and requirements of the customers in your most strategic customer segments? One key to success in becoming a customer-centric organization is to have strong customer and partner advocates with clout. Here are some role models and suggested responsibilities that may help you build or refine these roles within your company. We recommend that you combine customer segment advocates and partner segment advocates in a single organization. These advocates should drive and monitor your firm’s customer experience priorities. They should be measured on the Quality of the Customer Experience delivered and on the profitability and growth of the segment(s) they represent.


Who represents your customers within your organization? Your VP of Customer Advocacy? Your Global VP of Sales? Your SVP of Customer Experience? Your Chief Marketing Officer? Implicitly or explicitly, there’s someone who is the “buck stops here” person for ensuring that your firm and its ecosystem deliver a great customer experience.

But best practice goes further: many B2C and B2B firms have one or more people whose full-time responsibilities are to deeply understand, and to cater to, customers in a particular market segment: teens, single moms, high net worth customers, frequent travelers, school teachers, purchasing agents in a particular industry, and so on. We refer to this role as “customer (and partner) segment advocates.”

Your segment advocates should be responsible for the following:

  • Being the “buck stops here” representative for their constituency. Advocates resolve complaints that aren’t handled well by other mechanisms. They organize and run customer and partner councils. They gather requirements and advocate them to the rest of the organization.
  • Understanding customers’ contexts, needs and issues. Advocates identify the key scenarios for their constituents and map out (preferably with the customers’ and partners’ help) how customers would ideally like to accomplish those scenarios.
  • Determining the requirements needed to support those scenarios, and prioritizing those requirements based on their relative importance to the customers, how easy/costly they are to implement, and their impact on your firm’s bottom line.
  • Monitoring the results of these customer experience improvement efforts and correlating those results with increased sales, increased loyalty, and lower costs-to-serve for their segment.

We recommend that you combine customer and partner advocates into a single organization. You’ll benefit by having your customers’ and partners’ requirements aligned. By comparing notes, your customer and partner segment advocates will spot scenarios and moments of truth that recur across segments. So you’ll gain efficiencies by reusing the information, tools, and services you deliver to one segment across all your other segments.


Someone Needs to Understand Each Customer Segment’s Critical Scenarios

The best way to deliver good end-to-end customer experiences is to have people in your organization whose job it is to understand, to champion, and to continuously improve the experience for the particular customer segments that are vital to the success and profitability of your business.

Individual customers in the same role and context often have similar requirements. By grouping these people together, you arrive at customer segments. Each customer segment has a different set of needs and requirements, or at least a different set of priorities. When you’re designing and refining end-to-end customer experiences and/or new products and services, someone in your organization needs to understand what it is that each group of customers is trying to accomplish, how they ideally want to get it done, and how you can make it as easy as possible for them to accomplish their goals. In short, you need to understand your customers’ ideal processes for achieving their goals. We call these Customer Scenarios.1

Customers in different segments and contexts have very different needs. For example, the procurement officer for a multinational corporation who is negotiating to lease a fleet of cars for the company’s service technicians has a very different set of needs from the mom who is shopping for her son’s first car as he goes away to college. The person who procures services for a small business probably has different requirements from the person who handles services procurement for a large multinational firm. Also, notice that the same person may fall into two different segments based on the scenario at hand. A frequent traveler who is booking travel for a vacation may have very different booking requirements when he is making travel arrangements for a business trip.

If your company has a set of customer segments that it wants to target, grow, protect and/or acquire, these are the segments for which you’ll want to have advocates. Start with your most strategic customer segments and their most critical scenarios. These are the segment/scenario combinations that will give your company the biggest payoff in terms of lowering your costs-to-serve and increasing customer loyalty.

How Should You Define a Customer Segment?

A GROUP OF PEOPLE WHO WANT TO DO THE SAME SCENARIOS THE SAME WAY. There’s a recursive relationship between customer segments and Customer Scenarios®. We define a customer segment as a group of people who often find themselves in a similar situation and context, and who are likely to behave the same way in that situation and context. People in a given customer segment share the same Customer Scenarios. For example, frequent business travelers, purchasing agents in multinational companies, young couples who are setting up their first household together, and first-line help desk personnel are good examples of customer segments. You can quickly imagine the kinds of outcomes and conditions of satisfaction that each segment might care about the most, including:

  • Frequent business travelers want hassle-free travel.
  • Purchasing agents want easy-to-negotiate discounts and easy-to-manage contracts that conform to their companies’ terms and conditions.
  • Young couples setting up house want great, affordable places to live with a set of prioritized amenities (roomy and light, parking, washer/dryer, pet-friendly, storage space, backyard, etc.).
  • First-line help desk personnel want great remote diagnostics and troubleshooting tools, easy-to-navigate knowledgebases with solutions that work every time, and quick access to knowledgeable subject matter experts who know their clients’ particular situations.

As You Learn More about Customers, You’ll Discover New Segmentation

It’s important to interview a group of people in each segment in order to discover their desired outcomes, their issues, and their hot buttons. Once you know what their common issues are, you can work with them to capture and streamline their ideal scenarios around those issues.

As you interview your target customers, you may discover that they fall into different segments—people with different contexts or scenarios. For example, you may discover that there are some frequent business travelers who habitually plan way ahead and others who habitually book at the last minute. Or that there are technology architects in highly centralized or highly decentralized corporate cultures; those who favor open source solutions and those who favor off the shelf, proprietary solutions. You’ll want to tailor your offerings and the experiences you offer for each of these types of target customers.


Many Customers Experience Your Brand through Your Partners

Many companies sell and service some or all of their products through distribution channels—retail stores, agents, brokers, value-added resellers, or manufacturers’ representatives. These distribution partners, in turn, usually rely on distributors or wholesalers to supply products, to extend credit, and/or to manage inventory.

Usually, managing these channel partners is a sales role, falling under the purview of a VP of channel sales, with account managers who are responsible for one or more partners within the distribution channel (depending on the volume of revenues that flows through each partner account). A printer manufacturer, for example, may have one account manager for the Best Buy retail account, another account manager for the Dell OEM account, and yet another account manager who manages the manufacturer’s relationship with all of the value-added resellers (VARs) in a geographic region.

It definitely makes sense to manage the business relationships with these partners through a dedicated channel sales organization that develops channel programs, manages contractual relationships, and drives revenues and profits.

However, when it comes to designing and streamlining customer and partner worfkflows (Customer Scenarios), we’ve learned that it’s more efficient and effective to design and evolve the customer experience for each different set of channel partners in concert with your customer segment advocates.

For example...


1) We offer and teach a methodology for identifying, capturing, and designing customers’ ideal processes and for specifying and prioritizing the requirements to support those processes. We call this approach Customer Scenario® Mapping.

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