Top 10 Customer Engagement Strategies From Ceridian SVP Howard Tarnoff

Howard_TarnoffIn the competitive world of B2B marketing, it’s not enough to love your customers. They have to love you back.

With 882 advocates increasing market mindshare, 502 peer-to-peer engagements, and millions of dollars generated in sales effectiveness, Ceridian’s XOXO Customer Success Program is feeling a lot of love.

“We are only as successful as we make our customers,” said Howard Tarnoff, Senior Vice President for Ceridian HCM, a cloud-based Human Capital Management (HCM) solution with more than 100,000 clients in 50 countries.

Howard shared some key insights about the program with a room full of HR technology executives during InfluenceHR, a one day event where professionals comes together to share actionable insight into how to target the HR buyer.

Here are his top 10 recommendations for running a customer engagement program that gets results.

1. Rethink your reference program

Howard was quick to point out that XOXO is not a reference program in which customers say nice things about their products, but a program that celebrates customer achievements.

Top 10 Customer Engagement Strategies From Ceridian SVP Howard Tarnoff“We are removing the word ‘reference’ from our vocabulary,” he said. “It’s one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in 27 years.”

The reasons why XOXO isn’t a reference program is because it impacts the entire customer lifecycle, rather than just delivering a single reference at the end. Our customer success program also reaches a higher percentage of customers with a greater variety of advocate activities, instead of just a 30-minute conversation as a reference.

Prior to implementing the XOXO program, Ceridian used a rigid, complicated process to gather customer references, which was inefficient and didn’t generate much value.

“It had nothing to do with our customers, nothing to do with their success. It wasn’t good for Ceridian or our customers.”

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2. Clearly define your team’s roles

The members of Ceridian’s customer success team are not sellers, said Howard. They act as talent agents, matchmakers, advocates and lobbyists.

Talent Agents: “We provide customers with a podium and a mic to tell our story,” he said. “Our customers do a much better job telling our story, and with far better credibility than anyone in our marketing organization can.”

Matchmakers: Ceridian has one staff member dedicated to connecting customers for peer-to-peer exchanges. As part of the process, the Matchmaker enters notes about the connection into, which is integrated with AdvocateHub, helping Ceridian to build intelligence for future peer exchanges.

Advocates and Lobbyists: XOXO Customer Success Directors do not sell, implement or support Ceridian solutions. They focus on building relationships and trust.

3. Find the right candidates

Ceridian uses four criteria to ensure that they choose the best candidates for their XOXO program:

  1. Use subject matter experts (SME’s) who know what differentiates your company from the competition, and are well respected within their industries
  2. Find customers who have already given great feedback or acted as referrals
  3. Choose advocates who are socially active so they can better promote your story through social media
  4. Include NPS (Net Promoter Score) promoters, even if they score you less than 10 – Howard notes that they have several customers who serve as advocates, even though they may have scored Ceridian lower on the NPS scale.

“Our customers are the best ones to teach us about our own business because they’re the experts,” Howard said.

4. Love your customers (and they’ll love you back)

“XOXO is about loving our customers, and we really do,” said Howard. “And they love us back.”

Ceridian shares the love by focusing on ways to make their customers successful through recognition, professional development and networking opportunities, including:

  • The chance to be recognized as an industry thought leader
  • Access to exclusive educational events and training sessions
  • Invitations to speak at industry gatherings
  • Exposure and publicity through media interviews
  • Rewards and events in exchange for XOXO points
  • Recognition in the XOXO Awards program for valuable contribution to their organization

“The XOXO program is an extension of our value proposition and what it means to customers,” he explained. “It engages emotionally, and builds customer professional capital.”

5. Give advocates choice

The XOXO program provides a mix of activities or challenges to fit the diverse interests of their advocates and keep them coming back for more. Examples of this include:

  • Making professional introductions
  • Tweeting about a topic or event
  • Posting to a forum
  • Writing a product review
  • Creating an infographic
  • Subscribing to Ceridian’s YouTube channel
  • Referencing a webinar featured guest

“There has to be a reason for people to come back. Make it fun. If nothing else, our advocates have a great time with our XOXO program.”

6. Appeal to your customers’ sense of competition

Using AdvocateHub, XOXO members can find out how many XOXO points they’ve earned, as well as view them ranked in a leaderboard, which encourages friendly competition.

Howard admits that, initially, he was against game mechanics and any kind of points system. However, when members began calling and asking which additional activities they could do to move back up the leaderboard, he realized that competition was motivating Ceridian’s advocates to do more.

7. Get involved in the conversation

By using familiar platforms such as LinkedIn to encourage peer-to-peer exchanges, as well as assigning staff to continuously monitor other social outlets, Ceridian is able to keep a pulse on what people are saying about the company.

Top 10 Customer Engagement Strategies From Ceridian SVP Howard Tarnoff

“We would rather give them the platform than have them talking about us behind our back,” Howard said.

With the XOXO LinkedIn forum, group members can discuss issues that are important to them, as well as share best practices. “We knew that our customers were talking about us,” he added. “You should also know that your customers are talking about you.”

But what if someone is posting negative comments? Send in your advocates, not your product team, to defuse the situation, Howard suggested. “If we see something that is negative, we have an advocate go in, and then three, and then five,” he explained. “The customer is far more believable than you are.”

8. Keep customers in your program, and references off the black market

One of the pitfalls of running a customer advocacy program is watching out for covert trading of references by sales people outside of your program. This may sound familiar:

Salesperson A: “I need a customer reference for [enter topic here].”

Salesperson B: “Sure, I’ll give you a reference if you give me two references for [enter alternative topic here].”

Black market transactions such as these hurt your program because they leave advocates outside, and most times don’t deliver the best match for a mutually beneficial peer-to-peer exchange. Customers don’t want to just do reference favors, said Howard. “The XOXO program adds quality control and helps deliver additional advocates to the benefit of everyone.”

9. Dedicate the right mix of financial and human resources

In order to have a successful advocacy program, you need to have a strong team to drive and manage it, Howard emphasized. “Spend 20 to 25% more and staff your customer success team,” he recommended.

Having the full support of the CEO also ensures that your program gets the attention it deserves, especially if problems arise or you need additional resources. “When I have an issue, I don’t call our director of customer support,” said Howard. “I call the CEO of our company. That’s the kind of support you need to make the program work.”

10. Let the numbers speak for themselves

Since implementing the XOXO program in January 2013, the program has yielded impressive results:

  • 882 advocates that have increased market mindshare by completing challenges or activities
  • 502 peer-to-peer engagements (formerly called references)
  • Identification of SME’s (subject matter experts)
  • Improved customer satisfaction for XOXO advocates, with an NPS score of 30 – a number that is dramatically higher than average, according to Howard
  • 35 customer videos
  • Extensive marketing content (e.g., white papers, analysts, speakers, etc.)
  • Millions of dollars in sales effectiveness (hours of selling time saved)

“How many hours would it take for sellers to source and coordinate 882 references on their own?” asked Howard.

With these numbers firmly behind them, Ceridian is confident that they can deliver even greater results with their XOXO program in the near future, including:

  • Reducing the number of days in the sales cycle by 20%
  • Increasing HCV by 20%, without increasing headcount (HCV is the financial value associated with an organization’s human capital resources.)

“At the end of the day it’s really about this: We’re only as successful as our customers are,” he stated. “They’re telling their peers what we’re doing, and then it all works.”

Ceridian’s XOXO Customer Success Program

Ceridian’s Customer Success Program helps customers gain recognition and develop themselves professionally while growing market mindshare for the company. The program was driven by several factors:

  • A need to engage B2B prospects early in the buying cycle
  • An outdated, inefficient reference program
  • The marketing department’s demand for new content
  • A need to discover, develop and celebrate customer advocates

XOXO advocates take on challenges presented by a dedicated XOXO team, such as posting to the LinkedIn XOXO forum, providing a quote for a blog or article, or speaking at a Peer Engagement Webinar.

With each activity completed, advocates earn points that can be redeemed for education events and seminars, attendance at Ceridian’s annual conference, or opportunities to provide input to the company’s product team.

“We live and die by the Hub,” said Howard. “We don’t spam; we don’t email.”

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