CMO Insights: Michelle Huff, CMO, UserTesting

 Michelle Huff

April 30, 2019

This week’s guest on CMO Insights is Michelle Huff, CMO, UserTesting.

In this video, Michelle talks about:

  • Focusing on the empathy gap and the customer journey.
  • Brands building a connection with emotion.
  • Why most companies do not focus on their existing customers as much as they should.

Learn more about Michelle from her LinkedIn profile and follow UserTesting on Twitter. 

For more great CMO interviews like this one, please check out our other CMO Insights Videos or our YouTube channel.

Full Transcript

Jeff Pedowitz:

Hi, welcome to Revenue Marketing Television, the CMO Insights Series. I’m your host, Jeff Pedowitz, President and CEO of The Pedowitz Group. Today as our guest, we have Michelle Huff, who is Chief Marketing Officer of UserTesting. Michelle, welcome to the show.

Michelle Huff:

Thanks. Thanks for having me.

Jeff Pedowitz:

You bet. So today I want to talk to you about customer centricity, and I think your product and your platform is pretty much all about that, right?

Michelle Huff:

That’s what we’re all about.

Jeff Pedowitz:

Yeah. So tell us a little bit more first about user testing and then I also want to talk to you from an internal perspective as you’re building your marketing team, how you’re actually going about achieving that.

Michelle Huff:

Yeah, totally. So, you know, one of the things that user testing does, if people haven’t heard of us, it essentially really lets you walk a mile in your customer’s shoes because it gives you the possibility to really see here and talk to your, your customers as they experienced your product and your messaging and your brand and your services. And yeah. Hey, you know, at the end of the day so many companies he has, we talk about customer centricity, right? People are really focused on the customer experience. In fact, we often hear statistics say that 80% of customers are focused on competing purely on the basis of customer experience, which is fantastic. But then other studies show that when they’ve interviewed people, while the money Jordy of the companies say they’re focused on the customer only per se, 30% of their consumers believe that to be true, right? Which is, which is pretty miserable, right?

And so one of the things that we’re really focused on is that that gap, and we’re calling it that, but the gap, because at the end of the day, if many people are saying, you know, as a company, as a culture, as a marketing organization, you’re really wanting to focus on the customers. You really need to be able to empathize with the customer experience. And empathy really comes from seeing, hearing, talking to your customer. They’re so user testing, right? We provide that capability. It’s kind of amazing how quickly you can target and find, right? The people you need to actually see and, and then we allow you to really schedule and within two hours hop on a live conversation basically what we’re having right now, customer or really give them a set of tasks to do and, and how they react to things and they can literally record our panel or record that. And so you can really watch someone going through that whole experience. Then you can just cut their insights and share it with other people.

Jeff Pedowitz:

Really interesting. That’s fascinating. And you know, it’s such a good point. I think we all see Netflix and we see Amazon and like, well I want that kind of experience. But for many companies it’s, it’s actually, it’s easy to say it’s really hard to do because we build so many of our products and systems around our stuff and then we try and go deliver a good customer experience. But that’s not the same thing, right? It’s putting your customer in the middle and then building everything around them.

Michelle Huff:

Totally. Well and the funny thing is I think like we’ve, we’ve continued to build, right? Cause it’s, we’re building things specifically for customer experience, right? Where there’s all these mobile applications and people are in different websites and, and chatbots and all these different technologies to really improve the experience, right? So that you’re on the road and you can suddenly start, you know, depositing your check. And so all these things are great. But if you think about all the people who are building these solutions or even, you know, they’re making like micro decisions on the behalf of the customer and a lot of those people aren’t exposed. Oh, it was right. Like we’re almost becoming disconnected because of all the technology with our customers and then yet we’re wanting to actually start hard coding what these experiences should look like. So it’s an interesting kind of dilemma that we have.

Michelle Huff:

And it’s, it’s amazing the first time you watch people have, we call it the aha moment where you actually see and you’re listening, right? It’s so different when you see a survey of someone that they give you a score of two and you’re like, Oh, a thousand people, or I guess two out of five like that sucks. But it’s really difficult, right? When you actually watch someone go through and talk about their interactions with your brand and you watch them struggle and then you see and you’re like, Oh yeah, like I’d be really annoyed with my brand too. Right? And then you, you kind of take that as feedback and the next time you building the experience, right? You’re not just thinking of the thousand people that gave you two and you don’t know why. You’re kind of thinking of, you know, Jeff who just told me this horrible experience and you’re trying to like, Oh, okay, I see that problem and now I want to change that.

Jeff Pedowitz:

So I think there’s maybe a second E, right? So there’s empathy, but then isn’t there also empowerment, right? Empowerment of your employees at wherever they’re getting involved with being the customers. I often think you go to a restaurant and it’s a great meal and it’s awesome. And then you just ask for something from the way there and then they’re like, well, that’s not my station, you know? Okay. Sorry. I’m so sorry I sat in the wrong place. I, how dare I. But I mean, I think that’s little things like that, right? When or you go to a ballgame and your beer spills and that and that the vendor knows enough in that moment is empowered to give you a free beer without having to charge you or go ask for permission or something along those lines.

Michelle Huff:

Totally. And it’s funny because as consumers, sometimes we, it’s hard to articulate sometimes why it’s not the best experience and people aren’t always able to identify their problems, but it’s different when he watched, like when you watch the ballgame, you’re like, Oh, so a designer sees it, right? And they look at it like, Oh, that chair is not built to like, I can now see why, you know, all these people keep spilling their drinks. It’s kind of a horrible design, but, but maybe people are just used to it. Right. And as a consumer, you may never, you know,

Jeff Pedowitz:

To expect and so they wouldn’t know that there could be a better experience until they experience it. Right.

Michelle Huff:

Yeah. So it’s just, it’s interesting and we have a lot of people who we talk sometimes about building a shared under that understanding of the customers. Right. Cause sometimes it’s different, right? Like if you watch something or talk to someone or you and then I watch something and we come back to the conversation, you know, what learned the insights can be sometimes a little different. And so it’s interesting if we can actually collectively as a team sit down and watch it together and have that be a disc. Gosh. Cause I think people kind of look at it, you know, as a marketer I probably might be keying on problems and needs and word choices that they’re using and kind of, you know, messaging type things. Whereas other people might be looking at the actual design and maybe, you know, it’s not very intuitive. So I think that, right. That that shared understanding kind of gives you a common set of languages. Yeah. And words to describe and talk about the experience.

Jeff Pedowitz:

So I guess, so step one, that would be at least understanding what the experience is, right? Talking to your customers, modeling, seeing what they’re doing and then from there, so I’m a CMO and like, okay, I’ve talked to my customers and I understand I have these issues. I have issues on my website and my channels at my events with my product. Now what? Because, because you’ll probably feel a little overwhelming maybe to say, gosh, how do I operational this and get this to be more customer centric? So what would you say the steps are?

Michelle Huff:

Okay. Yeah, so I mean I think I mean I think that kind of dial it back to just marketing how I always kind of think of it first. It’s just organizational design. So how I think about marketing is word, team of scale. So how is like design my team is, is really have one group that’s really focused on aligning with the CEO and the head of people and kind of thinking about our brand and thought leadership. Then I have a team of people who wake up every day with the same number as they’re on their head as their head of sales, right? Where they’re kind of thinking about how we build demand specifically to build pipeline and feed kind of the our sales army. And then what I often like to do. And sometimes I feel like this function’s really buried in marketing. But I really like to have you know, at the equal level as everyone else.

I’m a head of customer marketing and customer marketing, you know, I believe really kind of wakes up every day thinking about, especially in software as a service. We care very much not just about the first sale but you know, the renewal. And so I had a customer marketing kind of wakes up everyday thinking about the same in numbers as our head of customer success and to how do we leverage marketing to support that team to encourage adoption to make sure customers realize the value of the investment they made and really helped that team kind of close and repeat renewals and, and, and create advocates. And so that’s kind of the three functions. And then I definitely have a function that’s around go to market. So how do I make sure that we’re focused on the right markets, right? How do we build product fit and how do we bring that to market?

And then a whole series of operations. So I can, when I first think about the organizational structure and as mentioned, I really like to have a really high level head of customer marketing that’s really focused on that and then have really ultimately a vision to make sure that customer success is inherently spread. You know, it’s used to be basically help build our brand and tell our story, have our customer success, really helped build demand and then really make sure when we’re building go to market that we actually have functions on the team that used our own products. So we always want to make sure that we’re testing messaging that we’re actually testing and continually watching users and learning so we can build the right designs and actually to build the right requirements for products and and test all of our campaigns. I’ve even recently just changed to be rolled out. Do it seems silly but like a tree hierarchy on our phone, right? So people call a single number, they can get routed differently, but sometimes that can be such a confusing experience. We decided to test it to make sure people kind of understood…

Jeff Pedowitz:

Press one. If you want to do this, press two. If you’d like to rehear the message, press three…

Michelle Huff:

Totally, right? And then sometimes how do you have a bed and you’re like on the message, you’re like, I don’t think I’m any of these people

Jeff Pedowitz:

And where am I now actually in the tree. Am I in the third level down? Like I just can I just, and then you’re like zero, zero representative, please say again. Representatives not say it again.

Michelle Huff:

I know, right? And yeah, it’s so, I mean it’s, it’s interesting. The applications, you know, cause I think so many people think of user testing cause our roots really came from here. User testing. They think of UX research and design, which is where we have a huge number of people use. And but over time it’s been interesting is where we’ve seen more and more product teams, right? Definitely product managers and even engineers really use the technology, but also marketers, right? There’s so much that people can do to test landing pages, test contents. I mean, just even myself, even before you see testing, we found interest, interesting ways to test messaging. If we were going to completely you know, think about how we’re going to actually design a new naming convention or scheme or know all those different things. It’s so great to actually get real feedback from customers and audiences, make sure that what you are intending to say is how people perceive it to be. And so we use that pretty often. And you know, a lot of things beyond just like our website.

Jeff Pedowitz:

It’s interesting that some of your recommendations come around just dedicated staffing functions. Because I, I’d say many of the companies that I speak with, they all care about the customer and the customer experience, but yet what they’re goaled on and mostly what they work on is acquisition, right? Of net new customer and, and, but, but for almost every company, there’s always some portion of your revenue that’s coming from existing customers. And for many of us it can be significant, you know, over 50%. So I, it’s, it’s fascinating and disappointing at the same time. Like why, why then if that, if so much of your business comes from existing customers, but then you’re putting all your focus on the next customer, why, why do you think that is? Why do you think more marketing executives don’t redistribute their focus?

Michelle Huff:

Yeah, I mean I think sometimes it’s like a symptom of where people came from. I mean, it’s just deepened for me being in tech. It took awhile I think for that, that whole paradigm to shift in my head. I mean, I, I worked extra Salesforce for a while and that kind of showed me a whole different business model around SAS and how, you know, a company, you know, what’s really critical to make sure you have a focus on the customer. And for me that’s, that’s really where that connection between, you know, if you, if you think it’s important you have to invest in it and you have to clear a path right for your team to be able to focus. And I’ve always felt, you know, what’s, what’s nice about having people who are dedicated to demand generation sales. It’s, it gives clear focus, it gives a clear partner for sales.

You know, cause my head of sales at our CRO and I joke all the time that like there’s never enough leads for sales. They will never be right. Like there should never be enough pipeline. So if you think of that as an inherent need, like there will that you know, and basically in SAS like you’re closing every month, right? It’s like that. Sure. It’s really hard for that team to just to just allocate half of their time to thinking about renewals or things that have this like one year out, longer term investment. It just, it makes a sales team feel like they’re partners is divided and then it, it really causes a lot of shame, I think. When’s that happening? Is, you know, the things that have more pressure, urgency end up taking preference and then over time, like they just, you never get it done. And so that’s, I, I think it’s just important  to really think about functions strategically and then how their incentive and then make sure that what you tell people to do, they’re actually incentivized.

Jeff Pedowitz:

It’s interesting. It’s almost always becomes as a reaction, right? Oh, we have a churn problem. Okay, now we all have to focus on churn, right? So almost reacting to her versus saying, well, what we really have is still back a customer centricity problem because we’re focused on, we’re focused on us, like it’s selling, selling management pipeline, but we’re not really looking at the customer’s experience all the way through. And if we did, then we wouldn’t need a separate turn function, right? Because we’d be focused on the customer all the way through.

Michelle Huff:

Totally. One, actually, what’s interesting is where we also have a team in product management, an engineer, a squad that we’re focused on customer engagement. And so some of the things that we’re, we’re kind of even building out right now is that team and its charter cause big part of it is, is really thinking through that whole journey and what should the presales right for our prospects, like what should that journey and how can we do things more that interact with the product and with trials and all these things. But then also what should that first time customer experience be like? You know, cause it can be overwhelming when people kind of just parachute into a product or something. And then you’re, you know, so often the people who might have purchased the product might not be the ultimate users. And so there’s kind of a little bit of a disconnect or you know, it’s been a while, a long time since they’ve been in there and you’re not quite sure how to best use it.

And so you have to like leave the product and, and go someplace else. And so one of the things that we want to do is start thinking through like what should be that, that first time user experience to just make that even easier and making sure that we actually dedicate a squad cause as well you also have these conflicts when people are constantly, we’ve got to hit certain new features because our roadmap, because the new customers need it and then you don’t, you don’t kind of focus on like the frustration fixers, we call them for customers because you know, it’s like…

Jeff Pedowitz:

A lot of features wo years ago and still aren’t using them. And so as much as I’d love to get to the new features, they still can’t use the old features. So, and then it becomes more frustrating I think regardless of you sell a product or service or an experience, there is this inherent brand promise, right? So the customer makes a commitment, they get over their emotional hurdle, risk, financial, and now comes this gap of expectations, right? So I thought the brand was going to do this and now I’m experiencing this. And so depending upon how big that gap is, it’s going to determine whether or not that customer sticks with you. And then also how well do you respond as a company to fix the gap. You know, because I think most people are reasonable, you know, but I feel you don’t care and they’re not going to really develop an affinity or loyalty to the brand, right?

Michelle Huff:

Totally. Right. And it actually, it’s interesting as a Forester, I think in their customer experience index last year they had some interesting quotes, I don’t remember word for word, but basically it’s about brands that actually build up better connection with emotion are the ones that were actually really distinguished their brand because most of the consumers are actually focused on, on that emotional connection and it wins out over ease of use and effectiveness. So that solution or products in every industry, which is interesting, right? I think part of it is, and you have a relationship with a brand often times and there is that connection.

And you know, from our perspective it’s, it’s, it’s like, you know, a lot of times when people are saying that they’re focused on the customer experience, you start buying all the the analytic tools and data to fools and BI tools cause you’re trying to like get surveys and feedbacks and kind of understand the experience. And I think that’s so important because it tells you, it gives you so much insight, but yet you’re still really missing, right? If you really think that brand’s going to make an emotional connection, you have to actually understand the emotions of your customers and there’s no better way to do it than actually watching or seeing or hearing and talking to someone.

Jeff Pedowitz:

Very well said. So, wow, this time flew by. Today we’re going to have to do a part two. But thank you Michelle. This is great. I love your viewpoints on, on customer centricity and continued success for you at user testing.

Michelle Huff:

Thank you. Thank you very much. Appreciate it. And loved having the conversation, so thank you.

Jeff Pedowitz:

You bet.

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