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The VMware Culture Journey to Inspire Customer Centricity

VMware Inspires a Customer-Centric Culture

Customer centricity is a hot topic in business these days, as more and more companies challenge themselves to foster a “customer-centric culture.” But that’s a tall order – not to mention an ambiguous one – and it raises a number of questions, such as:

  • What is a customer-centric culture anyway?
  • Why is it important?
  • Who is responsible?
  • How do you inspire a customer-centric culture?

We are actively leading a customer centricity transformation at VMware, and while every organization is unique, our answers to these questions may prove useful as you embark on your own journey. And the word “journey,” when it comes to a customer-centric culture, is key.

For us, it all started with an unwavering passion to do the right thing for our customers, and over time it became clear that we needed to develop a deliberate strategy around it. We’ll talk more about our strategy later, but for now let’s break down the basics.

What is a Customer-Centric Culture, Anyway?

Customer centricity is more than a concept – it’s a mission. At VMware, we believe that customer centricity goes beyond creating great customer experiences – we put the customer at the center of everything we do. Customer centricity is a core company value, a way of thinking, and an approach to doing business.

To achieve that state of being, I can’t overstate the importance of humanizing the customer for your employees. Real culture shift happens when your employees walk in your customer’s shoes and genuinely understand how their individual roles impact the customer experience (even if they aren’t customer-facing!). With understanding comes empathy, and with empathy comes motivation to make a difference.

Why is it Important?

Ah, the million-dollar question. Starting at the top with our CEO Pat Gelsinger, we firmly believe it is our responsibility to provide the best possible experience for our customers. After all, VMware wouldn’t exist without them. In short, it’s the right thing to do.

We also know that consumers and businesses today have more options than ever before, and if we don’t deliver the kind of experience our customers expect, they won’t continue doing business with us. VMware thrives when our customers successfully harness our solutions to meet their business needs – so it makes sense business-wise for us to listen and act on our customers’ needs.

Who is Responsible?

Every employee plays a role in the customer experience. Whether front-of-house or back-office, we all contribute to our customers’ perception of our company.

At VMware, our Customer Advocacy team drives the customer centricity strategy which helps every team, from Leadership on down, understand their role in creating an exceptional customer experience.

In my view, an effective culture strategy has two main components:

  1. Active participation from the entire Leadership team. Employees will prioritize what their leaders are focused on. We work with all functional leaders to ensure their customer obsession talk tracks are woven into every major communication, from all-hands meetings to newsletters; and that they convey a sense of importance and urgency, focusing directly on the customer experience elements that are in the wheelhouse of their audience.
  2. Individual employee customer-centric decision making. We strive to empower every employee with the insights, resources, and independence necessary to operate in the best interests of both VMware and its customers. To facilitate customer-centric decision making, we also strive to ensure that customers are top of mind for all employees, day in and day out. This is where customer-centric culture comes in, and it is why we’ve fully dedicated a member of our team to lead culture programs that create customers for life.

How Do You Inspire a Customer-Centric Culture?

Inspiring a customer-centric culture doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a journey, and my team has learned plenty of lessons along the way. Some of our efforts have been more effective than others, but this is to be expected.

One of our notable successes to date has been VMware’s annual celebration of Customer Experience (CX) Day, an industry holiday. We think that CX Day is akin to a wedding anniversary! While you work hard at your customer relationships every day of the year, as you do your marriage, CX Day is a great opportunity to pause, celebrate, and show gratitude for the relationship you have with your customers.  Our worldwide celebrations have engaged employees via interactive journey mapping, tours of a customer story “museum,” and other activities to acquire feedback on how to improve the customer experience. See how we celebrated CX Day in 2018!

While CX Day is impactful, we obviously want our employees to think about customer experience more than once a year! To that end, we created a global ‘CX Leaders’ program to cultivate a network of customer enthusiasts across VMware. The inaugural set of leaders were prior recipients of an internal award recognizing individuals who went above and beyond to deliver a great customer experience. The Leaders conceptualized a program known as Customer Appreciation Week, which focused on the power of an unexpected thank you. Over the course of the week, our sales teams reached out to nearly 4,000 customers to thank them for their commitment to doing business with VMware – and that was it. That’s right – no sales pitch, no upsell, no renewal prompt. The customers were surprised and delighted by the display of appreciation with no strings attached – and for us it was a simple way to maintain relationships and reinforce our commitment to our customers.

Our Closed Loop program is another area where we invest to engage employees and strengthen customer relationships. The program connects dissatisfied customers with VMware employees to dive deeper into feedback provided through various listening posts. In these conversations, the VMware employee seeks to understand the root cause of dissatisfaction and build a relationship with the customer, then follows up with the appropriate internal business unit(s) to develop improvement plans. The program mutually benefits VMware’s customers and employees, and it’s one of the best opportunities for an employee to walk in our customer’s shoes.

Closing Thoughts

I’d like to leave you with a final thought, which is that customer centricity isn’t binary – it’s a journey that begins with customer focus and extends to customer obsession. For us at VMware, it represents a fundamental business transformation that will extend far into our future. The best is yet to come!