“How did they do that? How did they get there?” Companies succeed because of the people who build them - operating leaders who grow businesses to new heights and make decisions every day that can impact entire industries. Each month, our Operator Spotlight gives you the inside track from one of our incredible Operator LPs (Limited Partners) who are changing the game – building and scaling some of the world’s most successful companies. Read on for lessons learned and mistakes made, perspectives from the top, practical advice, and ideas on what’s next.
This month, we spoke with Lara Caimi, Chief Customer and Partner Officer at ServiceNow. Lara leads an organization that includes customer success, professional services, customer experience, alliances and channel ecosystem, and their training & certification organization. These five organizations span over 2000+ employees, three independent P&L's including a dedicated salesforce, and over $500M + in top line. Before being promoted to Chief Customer & Partner Officer, Lara served as the Chief Strategy Officer where she oversaw corporate strategy, corporate development, customer experience, operational excellence, and strategic alliances. Prior to ServiceNow, Lara was a partner at Bain & Company where she served clients in strategic engagements from M&A, integrations, strategy, operational efficiency, go to market strategy and more in the technology space.
The Chief Customer Officer is a title that has significantly evolved over the last decade. How do you define the role and what’s your perspective on its evolution?
The biggest difference is that there has been a major shift from reactive to proactive. In the past, the Chief Customer Officer was more of a post-sales function, and operated on the level of the customer.
Today the role is much more strategic. Now there is an emphasis on incorporating customer experience principles much further upstream, and it encompasses the entire customer journey, end-to-end. It’s more about leading a customer-centric culture in order to innovate on behalf of the customer, and less about putting out customer fires.
Your role covers several disciplines and thousands of employees - it’s a lot! How do you think about prioritizing?
I think about two things when setting priorities.
The first is getting customers to value. I know that customer success and company success are one and the same. If we are driving value and creating differentiated experiences for our customers, business success follows naturally. So the litmus test for me is, what’s the highest lever I can pull to ensure that our customers reach the outcomes that matter to them?
The second is developing our people. When our team is growing personally and professionally, it shows up for our customers. That’s why we’re committed to making sure team members are set up to live their best lives, do their best work, and find meaning and purpose in their careers.
What are some things that people often get wrong about customer success and customer experience?
That customer experience is a function, when it’s actually a culture.
To win on customer experience, you can't be average. You have to be exceptional. And delivering exceptional experiences is a company-wide effort. It’s not one team’s job, it’s everyone’s responsibility. That’s why we think about actively driving a "wow the customer” culture, rather than managing a CX function.
One of my most important jobs is bringing this POV to the entire organization – but in a way that’s grassroots and bottom-up, not dictated from the top. The way to do that is to get everyone galvanized around a common purpose, and excited about the impact we can drive for our customers.
Tell us more about aligning customer experience and employee experience, and why it’s a key priority for you?
Employee experience drives customer experience, and vice versa. There’s a growing body of research that shows that companies that align the employee and customer experiences into one total experience can increase revenue, improve the quality of their products, and advance their strategic goals.
There’s a virtuous cycle that develops, and it starts with purpose. Connecting your team’s work with a greater purpose helps them drive better customer experiences and outcomes. Customer success boosts employee morale, retention, and performance, which leads to even better customer experiences.
Total experience doesn’t happen by accident. It’s a matter of connecting customer and employee feedback loops, looking for major points of intersection, and optimizing on both sides.
How did you approach redefining customer success at ServiceNow last year, and what were some of your biggest learnings?
We took an outside-in approach. Our goal was to be industry-defining, so we studied consumer brands for inspiration. The best experience brands in the world are consumer brands, so they set the bar. When we combined our outside-in research with our customer listening, we discovered that an industry-defining customer experience had to be three things – frictionless, delightful, and valuable. That became our north star.
You are passionate about building a diverse and inclusive workplace that is fueled by purpose. What’s one thing you’ve done successfully to empower the next generation of underrepresented leaders? What’s something you want to take on next?
I’m a big believer in the power of Employee Belonging Groups. At ServiceNow, our belonging groups have the full support of executive leadership, but are completely employee-led, which I think is key. I have had the privilege to co-sponsor a couple of these groups, and I’ve learned so much from the employees who share their experiences. The insights from Employee Belonging Groups influence the decisions we make at a leadership level.
On a macro-level, I’m super proud of RiseUp with ServiceNow, our global commitment to close the opportunity gap in tech by skilling 1 million on our platform by the end of 2024. RiseUp with ServiceNow is focused on lowering barriers to learning and expanding opportunities for non-traditional talent. I’m so excited for the changes this will bring to our space, and I can’t wait to meet the next generation of leaders that emerge from this effort.
What's a takeaway from an experience you’ve had on the Confluent board that's made you a better executive at ServiceNow?
I joined Confluent’s board pre-IPO, which was a completely new experience for me. I learned so much watching Confluent go through that process, and then become a newly public company before the macro shift and now after the macro shift. While ServiceNow and Confluent are in different phases of their lifecycles, I have a lot of experience scaling ServiceNow from approximately $1B- nearly $7B in revenue that I can share with Confluent. Likewise, Confluent is able to be nimble and adjust to market trends in ways that continue to help me learn and grow and I’m able to take those learnings back to ServiceNow and challenge us to think differently. My vantage point as a board member has certainly enriched me as a leader and an operating executive.
What’s your secret super power?
Listening, which I believe is among the most underappreciated leadership skills. Too often leaders rush into action without taking the time to listen, learn, and fully understand the problem they’re solving and what’s at stake for the everyone involved.
Listening is a critical first step in Customer Experience too. Before you can innovate on behalf of your customers, you have to understand who they are, what matters to them, and where you can make a difference. That all comes from listening.