Cisco – Reinventing the Customer Experience

Recently I was in Miami for the Cisco CX Analyst Summit. But the biggest shock wasn’t returning to 37 degrees Boston from 77 degrees Miami…..

First, let’s put Cisco into context. Cisco is a giant with over 60,000 partners generating 85% of its revenue. Technology firms that sell through partners historically had a hands-off approach to the customer experience (CX), as managing the customer is considered the partner’s job. Over the past few years, this analyst has seen first-hand the enormous disconnect that such an approach to CX can generate. In a nutshell, the tech firm thinks the customer loves them (after all they spend money on their licenses and products), but in reality, the customer loathes them, as nothing works as promised, and they are left to pick up the pieces and sort the mess out themselves. It’s not uncommon for the same channel partners that win partner of the year awards, due to their revenue-generating prowess, to be the same partners with the most dissatisfied customer base.

In the past, this wasn’t really a problem for Cisco as they were essentially box sellers (think switches and routers). Hardware that a partner would plugin and configure, then walk away. But over the past five years, Cisco has shifted its business focus to embrace software and cloud services alongside its hardware. Areas that require much more customer support, as revenue generation is dependent on renewals, not one and done deals as in the past. Hence Cisco has launched a major initiative they are calling CX that embraces the customer lifecycle. CX is in essence, a massive reboot of the entire customer support system at Cisco.

Cisco CX is in the early stages but the overall structure is, without doubt, the most wide-ranging and ambitious one we have seen. At its core, CX educates, provides a structured program and directly supports Cisco partners to rethink and rebuild their own customer support operations. As of today they have on-boarded just under 2000 partners to the program and claim that the partners now running the CX program are renewing customers at a 25% higher rate than those not yet on the program.

So how does Cisco CX actually work and how was it designed? The design element is for this analyst at least, the most interesting component. Almost every CX and Support program we have seen over the decades has been designed in isolation, without reference to the partners and customers. Cisco though spent over 1,000 hours talking with partners, ran 100 plus small group sessions and ran global co-design workshops. That’s how it should be, but rarely ever is. What came out of this research was a tiered and sustainable platform of services, that encompasses telemetry, software and hardware support through to the ongoing management of the customer lifecycle itself. Or to put it another way, a set of services that range from ‘leave me alone I can do it myself’, ‘we do it together’ to ‘Cisco can do it all for me’. It’s more sophisticated than that of course, but the range and tiering of support services are broad, providing partners with training and access to support consoles, automated telemetry insights for troubleshooting and certified support training.

The bottom line here is that when we hear the term CX (Customer Experience) from technology vendors, it usually refers to online customer experience. But CX should mean much more than that. CX should address a supplier’s relationship with a customer throughout the lifecycle, but it seldom does. Add to this the fact that technology hardware vendors have historically given little thought to CX at all, let alone the entire customer lifecycle. Hence it came as a genuine surprise to see Cisco of all firms, map out one of the most comprehensive approaches to CX we have seen to date.

Cisco has been transitioning from a pure hardware vendor to one that melds hardware and software together as services for a few years now. And it appears that they have invested as heavily in transforming their CX (aka support services) as in the technology itself. In Miami, Cisco mapped out its ambitious Customer Lifecycle Initiative to industry analysts. Dropping word bombs like “Cloud is more of a mindset than a destination” and “We are now in an API economy” into the mix. To be sure this is not the Cisco of old, there is clearly some radical change underway at this $50B silicon valley stalwart. But when you get to $50B in revenue any kind of change is a major undertaking as it involves so many moving parts, from the underlying technology itself through a global ecosystem of customers and partners. The reason we are so enthusiastic about this initiative is simply that we would like to see all technology vendors provide much better support of their channel partners and customers. As for too often, the customer experience is woeful.

The scale, ambition and early success of the CX program did come as quite a shock, though in reflection, not quite the shock of the 40-degree temperature drop I endured, when I returned to Boston from Miami.

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