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There Ain’t No Customers in Headquarters

By Patricia Hume, COO

Customers are our business

I spent the first 18 years of my career at IBM, where I learned from the masters, how to create a customer-first culture. At IBM, the customer was the focus of everything that we did. I learned that the “customer is the final arbiter,” and if a company is going to be great – it must lead with the customer in mind.

It was at IBM that I first heard the phrase, “There ain’t no customers in headquarters.” Serving customers requires getting in front of them, talking to them, and learning how to address their issues.

When we think about getting in front of customers, we assume that’s the role of sales. And after almost 35 years of experience in sales, I’ve learned that sales people are a critical component of building a customer-cultured company, but they aren’t the only one.  Certainly the sales team is responsible for driving revenue growth, but my belief is that everyone in the company has a responsibility to our customers. At iPass, we count on all of our teams to be focused on our customers. Here’s how we focus on customers across the organization.

Finance:  Our CFO is part of a new program we have launched called PEP – it is a Partner Executive Program where we ask our executives to take responsibility for a number of customers. Their role is to get to know the customer, understand their needs, ensure we are delivering on our promise, and resolve issues when they arise – in a nutshell, we want our customers to know we care and that there is at least one senior executive who will be there for them – no matter what. Through this program we all learn. We understand our market better, and we gain a greater appreciation for what it means to be a customer of iPass.

Engineering: With the new technology we have been developing and launching into the market, it is imperative that our customers and prospects truly understand how our service can make a difference in their business. Our head of engineering, head of product strategy and members of the team have been on the road meeting with customers and conducting our “Innovation Summit” series. Here we spend dedicated time listening and learning about our customers’ mobile strategies, their needs, and then we demonstrate how our technology can serve these needs. We do this in a way that makes sense to them – showing how they get tangible value in terms of productivity that then translates into ROI. Our team also gains great insight, which then fuels our follow-on product releases.

Our CEO: With IBM as his alma mater, he too understands the importance of putting the customer first. He lives it everyday. He is, of course, involved in our PEP initiative, but equally important he is always available to meet with our customers, partners and prospects. And he meets with everyone throughout the customer organizations. Building a culture that believes in the customer requires humility and integrity. “To thy own self be true.” Our CEO typifies the kind of executive a company needs when building a customer-first culture.

Product:  “If you build it, they will come” is a great idea, but only a reality in heartwarming movies like “Field of Dreams.”  Our product team spends their time learning from our customers, our partners, our prospects, our front line sales teams, and through the research they conduct. Being customer driven requires discipline. It is far too easy to get enamored with new things and ideas, but our team has learned to “stay the course” and build what our customers need. Fixing support issues is not sexy but prioritizing these above all else validates our love for our customers. Listen, prioritize, build it, and it will sell is more consistent with our approach.

Marketing: Of course our marketing team is focused on customers – every time our marketing team creates new collateral or a new digital initiative, they are doing so with our customers in mind. We created our brand attributes to be consistent with our culture –always caring for our customers. We strive to be smart, responsive, unexpected (fresh, no jargon), bold, global and above all HUMAN.    We care about every customer.  We recently kicked off a “long tail” initiative where our new business development rep is calling on customers who spend tiny amounts of money with us. One might argue that this is a waste of time/money, but not us. They are ours, and we need to keep them informed and show them we care – they deserve that respect.

Operations:  Our operational team knows the importance of delivering on what we promise. They focus on working closely with our customers after a deal is closed to make the move to iPass simple, seamless and fun. I am honored to say that the feedback I hear from our customers is really wonderful – they tell me – “we love your team.”

While I have not heard from all of our customers – my hope is that our customers tell us how they feel – reach out and let us know so we can constantly improve. We can’t fix things if we don’t know about them.

We have transformed iPass into a company that puts the customer ahead of all else. We wake up everyday with the goal of making iPass better.  We put our heart and soul into everything that we do. We know that delighted customers mean less churn, more sales and in turn company growth.  Thank you to all of our customers and partners for helping us become a better company.