For many sectors and enterprises, the notion of a customer journey, has been virtually non-existent until fairly recently. The digital landscape turned all of that on its head however, and now the delivery of a seamless and painless customer journey can be make-or-break for every business right now, regardless of sector. No more so, than in the sales of the very hardware, software and services that facilitate the digital realm.
Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) is in the midst of a multi-year transformation to offering their entire portfolio as a service by 2022. This is no small feat, as HPE is a large company offering servers, storage, networking, consulting and support as well as financial services. To successfully navigate this pivot, HPE has embraced the importance of a customer’s journey through its many offerings and services.
And HPE is focused on delivering a better customer experience by gaining insights from both direct sellers and partners. The customer experience needs to extend to anyone who interacts with the customer, regardless of the logo on their badge. “We spent time with our key partners like CBTS that really informed us about the experience they need to be successful. We learned a lot from these discussions, and the experience we are creating for our partners aligns to their expectations,” explains Erik Vogel, Global Vice President, Customer Experience at HPE.
Vogel leads the Customer Experience Area at HPE with regards to its GreenLake solutions. “About a year-and-a-half ago, I became part of the HPE GreenLake team,” he tells us. “We’re really focused on customer experience and I think of myself as something of a customer experience zealot. I’m customer obsessed, which I have to be, in the markets we’re in.”
HPE has been offering a GreenLake-type model for the past ten years and it was last summer during HPE’s Discover event that Antonio Neri, the HPE CEO, made the announcement that the company was pivoting to an everything-as-a-service company. HPE GreenLake brings the cloud experience to apps and data everywhere, enabling speedy adoption of transformative technology to simplify operations. GreenLake delivers public cloud services and infrastructure-as-a-service on premise, fully managed in a pay-per-use model at the edge, in colocations, and in the client’s data center. “We’re offering everything we have as a service underneath the HPE GreenLake brand,” Vogel explains. “We are moving beyond just selling hardware in a consumption model, to providing it as a true end-to-end service.”
“As part of the end-to-end service, we can extend the service to include software from leading providers. For example, we can add leading back-up and recovery software from Commvault or Veeam, on top of our GreenLake infrastructure to provide a SaaS like experience for our customers. In this model, we can give them a true as-a-service experience, for backup and recovery, without the customer every having to worry about deploying any of the hardware or software required for the service.”
According to Vogel, when we think about as-a-service and how customers want to consume and use as-a-service solutions, it’s no longer about speeds and feeds; a faster processor or a faster server. “Now it’s all about the experience and the outcome,” he claims. “So, we’ve recognized we need to think differently about how we talk and interact with customers, to really get that customer obsessed view, to provide that service with an experience that our customers are demanding. My role is to really focus on the experience. Are we providing the right experience? Are we delivering the outcome that our customers are looking for?”
One of the first things HPE tried to understand in terms of the customer journey was how a customer navigates through “the awareness phase”; how they learn about the HPE GreenLake service, whether that’s through marketing or social media channels or communities or forums. Once through the awareness phase, customer move into a conversion phase, where “Now they’ve heard about it and they’re going through, ‘Is it going to work for me, and do I want to buy it?’ And ultimately making a buying decision and thinking differently about what types of content, collateral and information clients need in the as-a-service world. In our traditional transaction world, we’d send a seller out with a PowerPoint deck or we’d drop some hardware in and let them try it. But in the services world, it becomes a do-it-themselves model. They want to kick the tires; they want to try and test things. They want to talk to other developers, or they want to talk to other data scientists about what they’re doing in a community forum. They want to pose questions.”
The next stage of HPE’s investigations into its customer journey centred around the purchase process. How do they want to buy? “You think about services, now you buy with a credit card swipe or an app on your phone. Even though maybe it’s not a direct competitor of ours, one of the things we’ve learned about experience is we’re now being judged across the broad set of experiences our customers interact with. It’s no longer just competing against Dell and Lenovo and saying we have a better experience than Dell. We have to have an experience that’s on a par with Uber, Apple and Disney, and some of the big banks. Our customers are saying, ‘Hey, if I can see my delivery status real time on Domino’s when I order a pizza, why can’t I see my order status real time when I’ve ordered a HPE GreenLake solution?’”
As HPE reconsidered both the conversion and the purchase processes, it organically led to the building of an experience that its customers were expecting once they’d bought it. How could they stand that up and think differently about getting the infrastructure right? “Customers want things fast,” says Vogel. “One of the key pillars of our experience is speed, and we don’t have time to take 90, 120 days to go build hardware and put it through our supply chain and get it to a customer. Because they want this as-a-service, the expectation is ‘we want it right away’. So, we had to start rethinking that operating process; that end-service that’s delivering an outcome.”
The final phase of research and development involved a focus on ‘renewal and a growth’. HPE is determined that the customer should be “so happy and so delighted that they continue to buy it over and over and add to it because it’s been such a good experience. “My job has been to understand that end-to-end process and start to rethink how we approach these six different journey stages our customers are going through, relative to what the industry’s doing? What are our customers expecting? And bringing in that voice of the customer to start rethinking what this experience needs to look like. We started with understanding the journey map, and really defining the journey a customer is on with these six stages we’re using: awareness, conversion, purchase, initiate, operate, grow/renew. And that was the first step in really understanding that this is different to the journeys our customers typically go on if they’re buying a transactional product. So, the first step was to lay that out.
“The second step was to get the data and the analytics behind it. It’s very difficult to lay out a CX transformation or a CX journey without understanding where you are today? What does it look like today? Where do you want to get to? What are the customers saying? What are they looking for from you? What do they need from you? So, we started with some customer studies commissioned by analysts. We did some of our own customer feedback where we went out and talked to customers and started to bring that together to get a good handle on what customers are looking for from an experience. What would be a great experience in our customers’ minds?” Customer experience is perceived, and only the customer can decide if it was a good experience or not.”
As a product company, one of the fundamental shifts or insights HPE gleaned was to look beyond speed-to-market by flipping the telescope to focus on the customer’s end view. “When we move to this as-a-service or the CX model, it’s really about starting with the customer in view,” Vogel explains. “What’s the value we can add to the customer? Where do they want to get value, because it’s not about that faster server, it’s about value to the customer.”
A result of commissioning these customer viewpoint studies, Vogel and his team established what they refer to as their three North Star principles; the first one being speed. “So, customers want things fast, and whether this is from what they’re used to in cloud or SaaS providers that they’ve gotten accustomed to where they can go and sign up and, in a day, or two, it’s up and running. They don’t have to buy hardware and deploy things; they get it right away. Or cloud, where they really could swipe a credit card if they wanted to and have an environment in 10 minutes. But speed was paramount because their businesses are accelerating and getting more competitive. The business cycles are shortening. What used to be a slow cycle business is now standard cycle, and what’s standard cycle is now fast cycle, and what is fast cycle is hyper fast cycle. Or business cycles are compressing from 18 months to 12 months to six months, so they have to work much faster. So, as a result, speed was critical. We recognize that a key component of the experience we had to provide was speed and thinking about not just whether the processors and equipment is fast, but the end-to-end journey from ‘OK, I’ve heard about it. Now I want to test it, I want to demo it, I want to try it. I want to make sure it’s going to meet my needs. I want to buy it, I want it deployed, I want to be operating it and generating value.’ Because every day we delay in getting them that solution, we are delaying the value they’re going to create from that solution. So, speed is critical.”
The second principle is what Vogel calls ‘low effort’. “So, in the CX world, we talk about effort or ease. We have to make things simpler and easier, and when we talk to customers about, ‘Hey, what do you love about your cloud experience, for example?’ What kept coming up was, ‘It’s easy. It’s simple. It’s standardized. It’s intuitive.’ Whether it’s learning about the service, getting a price for the service, operating the service, provisioning something from an operations perspective, we had to think about each stage of that journey and say, ‘How do we make that easier and lower effort for our customer?’ And understanding that the task of our customer is not just operating the environment, but a customer may come in and say, ‘Hey, will this interact with my other environments? And I want to learn about that.’ Or ‘I want to get a price for this solution. I don’t want to take a month waiting for quotations. I want to be able to do that quickly because I have to move fast.” So, we had to think about low-effort, and that was another key component in how we make things easy across every stage of the journey and reduce the amount of effort in the task that our customers are working on. Every interaction has a goal associated with it. They’re doing it for some reason, and how do we make it easier to reach that goal?”
The third ambition represented the provision of differentiated value. HPE did not want to go out and declare themselves another Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure or Google Cloud. “We have to really focus on what we do well. What is our business, and how can we differentiate and provide value in ways that those other cloud providers cannot do or SaaS providers cannot do; including our traditional competitors, the Dells or Lenovos of the world. How do we continuously provide that differentiated value? Those quickly became our North Star principles. So, we have this journey we built. We talked to customers, we established those North Star principles that it has to be fast, it has to be easy, and has to provide differentiated value, and those were absolutely critical.”
“When we think about awareness and conversion and purchase, traditionally we’ve done that in an analogue motion. By that I mean we send a seller out with a PowerPoint deck or we do a traditional sales call. In the as-a-service world, customers want to do a lot of it themselves. So, we had to create a whole digital front door where customers can come in and learn about HPE GreenLake. They could read testimonials, join communities and get a price for the purchase process. They can estimate their own price by filling in a few details about the size of their environment and what they’re looking for. We started to simplify and digitize that awareness conversation and purchase process.”
HPE then started to harness the customer feedback to understand what, and why, things were happening within the GreenLake experience. Vogel and his team deployed Qualtrics as a CX platform and data aggregation platform. “We were already good at what I would call the operational data. So, we would see how many people would click and how much time they would spend on the site. We had good visibility into what was happening. What we didn’t have visibility into was why it was happening. So, we started to deploy Qualtrics, and we’re in the process now of deploying that site-wide across the entire HPE GreenLake platform. And that will be a key component as we’re continuing to grab and gather that customer data.”
Integral to the development of any successful customer journey is feedback. What do the customers think? What do the customers want? HPE is continuing its interaction with clients to finesse its offerings. “Being customer-centric, means we’ve got to be listening, watching and understanding what our customers are doing.” Vogel and his team then provide this knowledge to their frontline employees; the sales teams and account teams. “Because we recognize that when we think about product decisions and where we want to go with a portfolio, we expect to get a lot of detail and data from our customers telling us what they want. But we also expect to get good information internally. We’re now allowing our sellers to provide that type of feedback at scale where we can now do analytics on it. We can triangulate, ‘Hey, we heard this account team say this and we had these three customers say that. Hey look, there might be something here.’ It gives us a much better view of what’s happening in the world of the customer, and again, being customer obsessed means we have to be constantly listening to the customer. We have to think about our sellers, our account teams and even our partners as well as our customers.”
Digital is key for HPE with everything available on demand, whether thar’s information, quotes or confirmation. HPE is also focusing intently on personalizing the experience with the data its collecting regarding its customers. The final piece of the jigsaw is the move to making everything omnichannel. “What I call seamlessly omnichannel,” Vogel explains. “Again, it used to be they would come to our website to look at speeds and feeds. We’d send out our seller with a PowerPoint deck, very single channel, very easy. But now these services are being bought by different personas, the channels where they consume and receive the information is different. I think my favorite quote on this whole CX thing is what Walt Disney said. He said, “Do what you do so well that your customers will come back and they’ll bring a friend.’ So, we’re doing what we do well with the on-prem in the data center and we’re doing it so well by doing it fast, doing it easy and offering this differentiated value so that our customers are coming back. In fact, we have a 90+% renewal rate, and a very high NPS (net promoter score), so, they’re maybe not bringing a friend, but they’re telling a friend. They’re promoting our service to their friend. And that’s a great feeling.”