Building a Customer-Centric Company: Lessons Learned

Advice to Customer Experience Executives from Aisling Hassell

January 21, 2010

Aisling Hassell served as the VP of Customer Experience for five years at Symantec, a multibillion software company. She offers advice and tips on how to be a successful customer experience executive. Key take-aways: Combine your customer experience duties with an important operational role, so that you’re walking the talk and delivering value. Instill a trusted set of customer experience metrics. Solve the customer data problem early!


Why Is a Customer-Centric Business Important to Customers?

Customers can tell the difference between a customer-centric business and one whose culture is aligned around products or sales.

A customer-centric organization is easy to do business with. Even when things don’t go well, your first point of contact is empowered to do what it takes to make things right. When you interact with a customer-centric organization, you quickly realize that everyone is aligned to help you meet your goals, and the organization’s business processes and systems don’t get in your way.

Why Is a Customer Experience Executive Important to Your Company?

In order to build and nurture a customer-centric culture, you need a Customer Experience executive—someone who can devote full time to understand customers’ real needs and align everyone in the company to excel in streamlining customers’ experiences. To be successful, your customer experience executive needs a high-level executive sponsor, a trusted source of customer experience metrics, and an important operational role in the company.

What Does It Take to Do This Job?

Successful customer experience executives are well-respected by top executives, by their peers, and admired by employees. They are both visionary and operationally excellent. They can rally the troops and deliver results quarter after quarter. They measure their success by their customers’ success and their customers’ loyalty.


I had the good fortune to work with Aisling Hassell for over two years on a project that turned out to be a pivotal one for her company, Symantec. In 2004, Aisling had recently been appointed to be Director of Online Strategy for Symantec, charged with revitalizing the company’s primary Web site and developing an e-business strategy for the firm. I resonated with the approach that Aisling had taken in structuring her initiative. In addition to her direct reports of e-business designers and product managers, she had recruited a core team of cross-functional stakeholders to help drive the evolution of the online strategy, as well as a high-level executive sponsor and executive team.

As we worked together to flesh out the online strategy and create a roadmap for implementation, we used Customer Scenario® Mapping to engage with customers and partners and to understand their context, their important activities, and their critical success metrics. This approach helped Symantec’s cross-functional stakeholder team build a shared mental model of what the ideal online experience would be. This approach also surfaced many customer-impacting issues that weren’t limited to improving the Web experience. That led Symantec to expand the scope of the project to address cross-channel and cross-lifecycle customer experience.

Throughout our work together, I admired Aisling’s vision, unrelenting passion for customers, as well as her attention to detail. She had an amazing ability to get quick cooperation and turn-around from people throughout the company and to sell the top executives on her programs and budgets. Aisling continued to lead Symantec’s online strategy but soon also took on the mantle of VP of Customer Experience. To succeed in that larger remit, she became an expert in the use of Customer Experience surveys and the use of the Net Promoter® score (NPS) to focus the entire organization on improving the customer experience in the areas that mattered most to customers.

During Aisling’s tenure, Symantec saw double-digit increases in its NPS across both consumers and partners. In addition, the Web site was relaunched in 47 countries on an entirely new platform and with the first common brand and user experience. In 2009, Symantec launched its new community, Symantec Connect, which is receiving wide acclaim.

Aisling left Symantec in late 2009, after a series of successful customer experience initiatives. I asked her to offer some of her “lessons learned” for others of you who are embarking on similar journeys.


Our Customer Experience Strategy Evolved from Our Online Strategy

My customer experience journey started out from a mission to reconcile our external Web presence. Back in early 2004, our customer-facing Web site was a better representation of our internal organizational structure than it was a meaningful and helpful destination for our customers and partners to accomplish key tasks.

Working with Patty Seybold and her team, we created an online strategy and a three-year implementation road map. We worked closely with both consumer and business customers and partners to co-design their ideal online experiences. We used Patricia Seybold Group’s Customer Scenario® Mapping to co-design customers’ most critical scenarios and to identify their moments of truth and metrics.

The insights gleaned from working with customers led us to expand our goal to encompass a broader customer experience mission to reconcile all touch points and really drive an outside-in philosophy across the company.

Learning the CX Job

When I became the VP of Customer Experience, I talked to many people across many industries in my quest for the right approach, and what I discovered is that there is no magic bullet or unique formula for this work. You have to roll with what you have in terms of alignment, organizational readiness, skills, maturity, and desire.

What you can do is try as best as possible to set yourself up for success by getting the right leadership support, hiring top talent, and driving customer experience relentlessly.

Go with the Flow. Even with good executive support and commitment, you will find you take some turns that lead to dead ends. That is okay. Admit defeat and move onto the next tactic that might yield results. We spent a lot of time, for example, on a very nice dashboard for monitoring key customer experience operational metrics during a very large acquisition. Everyone thought it was a fabulous idea, but when it came to filling in the numbers, nobody had the bandwidth or appetite to do the heavy lifting, so it quickly became shelfware. We could have tried to continue to push the rock up the hill, but I chose to cut bait and move on to more focused efforts that would drive change more quickly.

The Importance of Trustworthy Customer Experience Measurement

I believe that no program to change a company can be successful unless the entire senior management agrees on what is important to customers and aligns around one source of measurement of customer insights. Many companies have vast amounts of customer research, but that research is typically driven by small pockets of enthusiasts, or by marketing, and has little or no operational clout.

Before embarking on any customer experience improvement journey, you need to align all the sources of customer insight and make them highly visible and highly actionable. I was somewhat fortunate in that there was not a strong base of customer research, just isolated pockets of surveys across the company. That meant we could leverage the best of what was there and build on that across all the key areas of the business.

Having a metric like the Net Promoter® Score (NPS) can be a big help in this evangelization process. The executives don’t need to know the complexity behind the whole survey architecture, but they do need to know how you measure success. That is where the simple definition of Net Promoter helps…it is intuitive to think of a number that takes all the people that love you, subtracts all the people who hate you, and get a good picture of how well you are doing. It also helps that NPS is used across multiple industries and has some weighty analytical research behind it. If you can galvanize the company around improving customer loyalty and showing them a clear number that will show progress, you are well on your way. That said, this is not a trivial process. In the beginning, you can expect a lot of pushback; and it usually takes the form of challenges to the data…

Sign in to download the full article


Be the first one to comment.

You must be a member to comment. Sign in or create a free account.