What Happens When “Love Your Customers” Becomes More Than Lip Service

August 17, 2021

“Love” isn’t often the first thing that comes to mind when we think about our professional lives, but maybe it should be. After all, it’s the things we really love that make our days, our careers, and our lives fulfilling. 

And Krista Anderson-Copperman has had a very fulfilling career. As Chief Customer Officer at Okta, Krista transformed the company’s customer success culture into a competitive differentiator, helping to scale the business from $20M to $586M and through a successful IPO in 2017. Key accomplishments include growing Okta’s customer success team from 20 people to an organization of 400, delivering 120% net retention, building a wildly successful, first-of-its-kind success product portfolio, and establishing the company’s “Love our Customers” culture. Today, Krista is an advisor at Gainsight and Direct as well as a Board member at Drift, Benchling, and The Advocates for Survivors of Domestic Violence. 

Before joining Okta, Krista spent 14 years at Salesforce writing the SaaS industry playbook for customer success, renewals, and growth. She helped the business scale from $5M to $4.7B in revenue, from 200 to 13,000 employees, and through its 2004 IPO. As Senior Vice President of Customers for Life and Senior Vice President Customer Success and Support, Krista launched and sold Salesforce’s first dedicated success products and built the first technical support and CSM operating models for SaaS across support, success, education, and professional services. She began her career at the company in 2000 as a Customer Support Representative.

We spoke with Krista for our BUILDing To Boss podcast series. Over the course of the conversation, Krista kept returning to themes of “love,” transparency, and authenticity and how paying attention to these often intangible elements of career and experience can make a huge difference.

Listen below, or read on for our highlights.

What “Love Your Customers” Culture Looks Like in Real Life

Both Salesforce and Okta are known for setting the bar when it comes to creating and sustaining a culture built around truly loving the customer. They have proven that, done right, a truly customer-centric culture is a powerful competitor differentiator.  

A stellar company culture is actually one of the reasons Krista joined Okta. And on her third day on the job, she experienced first hand what the “love your customers” culture means in real life. 

“The Heartbleed virus was circulating the internet, and I found myself sitting with the executive team as they navigated what was a very real crisis for the company,” Krista recalls. “It gave me a really great sense of how everyone on the team—executives, product folks, engineers, and marketers—embodied the ‘love your customers’ mindset.”

One of the most foundational and critical pieces in the “love your customers” strategy is embracing transparency in all your interactions, especially when things go wrong. That’s how you establish and maintain trust. In the case of a crisis like a virus outbreak, this means communicating quickly and consistently.  “You tell them exactly what’s happening, what you know, what you’re doing, and when you’re going to update them next,” explains Krista. “And then—after the crisis is behind you—you commit to publishing a root-cause analysis within a specified time frame (usually 24 to 48 hours).”

In a similar vein, Salesforce sets a great example by demonstrating consistent and comprehensive transparency about performance, trust, and reliability. And, if their fanatical customers are any indication, their audience really appreciates the brand being so forthcoming. 

In any situation—but especially crisis situations—you do need to strike a balance between providing 1000% transparency (which is what customers usually want) and managing information in a way that protects against security and other risks. 

Krista made a point to highlight that “love your customers” culture is not just for moments of crisis. There are lots of ways to bring this culture to life on a day-to-day basis as well. For instance, being really up front in the sales cycle about what it actually takes to get a product up and running successfully is a great way to provide transparency and build trust. 

In addition to radical transparency, demonstrating love for your customers can be as simple as making sure you’re always able to treat them with respect and empathy. This applies to every part of the customer experience. Take the finance department, for example. “If a customer is behind on their bill, we don’t send threatening emails or cut off their service,” Krista says. “That’s not who we are.”

The key is always looking for ways to establish and strengthen trust. And, on the flip side, you need to make sure you don’t do anything to damage that trust, because once damaged, it’s really hard to rebuild.

The Importance of Loving (and Protecting) Culture through Hypergrowth

Having gone through two IPOs, Krista can attest to the fact that the cultural aspect of that transition is huge. One major challenge for any company going through this milestone is blending the different groups of employees.

“The makeup of a company going public includes a variety of employees,” Krista says. “You have the early employees who got you from zero to $50 million, then you have recent hires who have maybe been with you for about eighteen months, and then you have future employees. The process of bringing the old guard and new guard together is a really important piece of going public.”

Companies often experience similar challenges with customer sentiment because it can be difficult to keep the customer experience consistent when your organization is undergoing substantial growth and change. 

To help keep everyone and everything on track during transformative times, Krista recommends making strategic use of surveys. “On the employee side, surveys help you recognize significant cultural shifts much earlier than you would via any other channel,” Krista says. “And customer sentiment surveys are the flip side of the same coin because customer sentiment is a reflection of your employees. So, customer sentiment will show you your employee culture and values reflected back to you based on what customers are saying and how they’re scoring you.”

For either of these surveys, Krista recommends running them more frequently than annually. To help you head off any cultural crises, employee surveys should be done either monthly or quarterly. And to help ensure wide and consistent participation, it’s best to keep the surveys short and sweet. Customer sentiment surveys, on the other hand, are best done in cohorts. For example, you may survey customers who joined this month or over the last quarter, whichever duration makes sense with your business cycle. Customer sentiment surveys should also be kept short, and should focus on key questions like what the sales process was like, whether expectations were properly set, and whether they were able to get up and running.  

How to Give Your Career Some Love: Best Career Advice

While a lot of people talk about loving your customers and loving your company culture, it’s less often said that you should love your career. Sometimes, this is as simple as taking a moment to step back and really think about what you’re doing and why it matters.

Krista shared a few pieces of good advice that have helped her along the way:

  1. Speak your mind: “Don’t be afraid to speak up, because nine times out of ten somebody else is thinking the same thing you are. There are very few unique ideas. You don’t need to be scared of sharing yours.”
  2. Know what motivates you: “Really understand what motivated you, and don’t be shy about it. For some people, it’s relevance, for others it’s power or money. Whatever your motivation is, understanding it is the most critical thing in your career. Because if you’re chasing the wrong thing, you’re never going to get to where you want to be.”
  3. Focus on what (really) matters:  “I’m a pretty significant introvert, so very social cultures are hard for me. I feel like I need to participate, and there’s the likability factor. It’s a struggle. The best piece of advice I got was when someone pointed out that nobody was ever promoted for being the last person standing at the bar. Hearing that was like freedom for me. It was very empowering, especially as a woman, to realize I could just go have a drink, and then leave.”

It’s a cliché to say that love makes the world go ‘round, but there’s a reason a cliché is a cliché—usually there’s a kernel of truth there. It shouldn’t surprise us that love has a role to play even when we’re talking about customers, company culture, and careers. It’s something to think about. 

To hear more from Krista on these topics and others, tune in to the full episode

Senior Manager of Creative Strategy<br>OpenView

As OpenView's Senior Manager of Creative Strategy Meg leads brand development for the firm. Obsessed with software, user experience and design thinking, she works to understand and scale OpenView's brand awareness through thought leadership content programs including: OpenView's podcast 'BUILD with Blake Bartlett' along with the video series 'PLG123' and 'Weekly Walks with Casey Renner'.