The Power of Customer Voices

Where customer care and customer feedback intersect with company strategy

November 2008
Profit spoke to Jeb Dasteel, Oracle senior vice president and chief customer officer, about the transformation Oracle has undertaken to create a company culture, processes, and behaviors that aim for customer success and customer loyalty rather than a single-minded concentration on sales volume.

About four and a half years ago, Oracle executives made a demand: create a coordinated set of customer-centric programs throughout the company, around the world. Then build on them and support them so that the entire company culture becomes invested in nurturing customer success and long-term relationships.

What Oracle has learned in the course of this transformation is perhaps no great surprise: the more carefully and proactively it responds to customer feedback, the greater the increase in customer loyalty. But what might be surprising about this transformation is just how much influence customers have actually had over Oracle’s recent strategy and direction.

All Voices Are Welcome

Oracle’s customer programs look, in effect, like a pyramid. At the top are the programs that involve participants from Oracle’s largest enterprise customers—programs like executive sponsorships; key accounts; a CIO advisory board; and industry, product, and services strategy councils. At midtier are programs addressing a broader audience, such as focus groups and customer advisory boards (CABs). Finally, at the base and with the widest customer participation are users groups, special interest groups, and customer surveys. According to Dasteel, “Oracle has the largest independent user groups community in the world.” There are more than 400 officially organized groups with more than 200,000 members participating worldwide. Although not organized or directed by Oracle, these groups are given a great deal of attention and support by the company. No matter the size, industry, product interests, or geography of a customer’s company, there is a way for the customer to have a voice in what Oracle does next and a way for them to learn from other customers with like challenges and opportunities.

Today, Dasteel and his team are responsible for four key aspects of creating and maintaining Oracle customer relationships: collecting customer feedback, analyzing and responding to customer feedback, creating consistent business best practices for interacting and building relationships with customers, and nurturing customer references.

Oracle is one of the most proactive and committed seekers of customer feedback in its industry. Annually it collects more than 150,000 survey responses on a continuous basis from customer executives, end users, and partners. In addition to Web-based customer surveys, Oracle collects information from executive advisory boards, customer councils, focus groups, CABs, user groups, online communities, and third-party analyses.

Dasteel points out that all of this customer input is very much of mutual benefit. “The more involved customers become in providing feedback, the more product strategy information they are exposed to. Customers have tremendous influence with Oracle, stronger relationships, and specific information that can be invaluable to their own planning processes.”

Now You Know: Responding to Feedback

One of the most important tasks undertaken in Oracle Global Customer Programs is to help the company determine how to best respond to the voices of its customers. Dasteel’s team works with Oracle’s customer care and service teams across all lines of business, helping articulate customer desires and getting to the root causes of customer issues so that programs can be designed to address customer responses. Frequently this analysis leads to changes in process, behavior, services, or product strategy.

For example, Oracle’s renewed focus on gathering and acting on customer feedback has led to a push to ensure greater consistency in the way the company interacts with customers. Out of this effort have come programs such as the Oracle key accounts program, the client advisor program, and various customer outreach programs. Although the programs differ somewhat in execution, the goal is the same: create a unified Oracle approach to the relationship with a particular customer, no matter how many points of contact that customer has into the company, and bring the right expert resources to bear for customers at the right time, whether those customers are buying software, implementing it, maintaining it, or planning their technology road map. The programs are also designed to make sure that the company offers a consistent set of behaviors and responses across all customer accounts, all designed to make every customer successful—based on how the customer measures success. It’s an approach that has little to do with product push and everything to do with creating and sustaining a strategic, mutually beneficial relationship.

Oracle has been pushing customer feedback mechanisms and behaviors into all of its day-to-day activities over the past four years. The company is focused on giving its customers what they’re asking for—and on winning their loyalty in return. Oracle Applications Unlimited, Oracle Lifetime Support, Oracle Application Integration Architecture—all of these key Oracle strategies have their roots in the feedback collected and analyzed under the umbrella of customer programs. Given the positive reaction to these programs, customers can expect Oracle to continue seeking closer, more-strategic relationships with customers of all sizes, across industries and geographies.

 
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