I met with Jay Simons, president of Atlassian, to learn how the DNA of Customer Success runs through every single person in their organization.

Jay Simons: "We started out as a customer service and support company. Before we built JIRA, our two cofounders supported an open-source application, helping customers troubleshoot, fix and customize code. However, they discovered that the systems available to track user issues were primitive and crude. Out of necessity, they built JIRA."

JIRA went on to become the breakout star and Atlassian's first product was born.

Simons: "Customer Success is in our DNA. We take it very seriously and have a dedicated Customer For Life (C4L) team who spearhead our efforts to ensure the customer's voice is heard in every discussion. We imagine the empty chair to see the situation from the customer's perspective and understand how each of our decisions will impact them."

Atlassian uses a combination of quantitative and qualitative measures to capture user sentiment. They combine Net Promoter Score (NPS), monthly active users (MAU) and retention and go direct to end users within their product.

Simons: "We try not to be disruptive when we canvas the opinion of end users. We simply ask: 'Would you recommend this product to other people?' We ask what their role within the organization is, and store product analytics alongside their answers. There is an optional box for users to tell us why they decided to score us that way. Combining all these aspects of an opinion helps us improve the accuracy of our understanding. It could be the first time a person has used the product. They may be unhappy with it because they are just unfamiliar with it. As they gain familiarity, their opinion may change. Those are important things to calibrate around. We actively intervene to learn more about our customers drive improvements in all areas of our business. You have to close the loop, or else NPS is pointless."

Depending on who you ask, your Net Promoter Score score can vary wildly. In Closing the Delivery Gap, by Bain and Company, 80% of companies believed that they were delivering a superior experience, compared to 8% of their customers.

Simons: "When we first started, we would get about 2,000 pieces of feedback from the core advocates in our business on a monthly basis. Those people were the technical sponsors for Atlassian inside their company and for a long time we had a really deep relationship with them. They are the people who come to our user conferences and are an active part of our user community. They are our die-hard fans because they recommended us. They put their necks on the line inside of their company to bring us into their work processes.

Our evangelists are obviously important to us. However, they represent only a small portion of the people who come into contact with our products. We need the opinion of people who use our products on a daily basis, but don't have a relationship with us. They might not even know who Atlassian is. Someone else chose our products for them to use. It is part of the workplace technology; a bookmark that IT pre-installed on their laptop. We need to ask them: "Are you happy with the choice that was made for you?" That is the purest kind of feedback you can get because there's no pre-existing relationship. Our end users will tell us straight if we suck. In our Do-It-Yourself software model, the end users are in the driving seat and get to make changes from the bottom-up."

Each month, the Customer Insights team at Atlassian process 25,000+ unique pieces of feedback from users taken directly from within their products, an order of magnitude greater than when they just asked the technical sponsors. To make use of the thousands of pieces of anecdotal information, they categorize them into 3 engineering buckets:

  • Reliability - how is the performance, up-time, quality and security.
  • Usability - complexity, ease-of-use, discoverability of new features.
  • Functionality - missing features.

Simons: "This is a really simple way to channel all of that feedback on a monthly basis back in engineering. We can see how the undiluted customer's voice translates into a sentiment score, which will help us as we focus on improving our performance over time. It wasn't enough to only share this information with our product engineers. We wanted to turn our entire organization into listening to our end users and closing the feedback loop.

At the start of several monthly all-staff meetings, we handed out sheets of paper with 10 unique pieces of feedback printed on them. We said "Take a minute. Read every single piece of feedback from our end users and then pass your sheet on to the person on your left." The act of imagining an end user anywhere in the world, writing this feedback, left a visceral impact on our staff.

Each person at our company, regardless of their role, receives a monthly digest of customer feedback. They see the Net Promoter Score, whether it has gone up or down, and the breakdown of qualitative comments. Everyone can see what individual people are saying about us on a daily basis.

We also share our feedback with our technical sponsors, so they can see what people are saying about the products they chose for them. We tell them "You're using our technology to support 10,000 people in your business." We've asked all those 10,000 people, "Do you like what this product is doing for you and your job in product? This is what they said."

What do you think your customers are saying about you? Are you willing to listen?

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