Best Practices

Building a Culture of Customer Obsession, One Hugger at a Time

Picture this: you’re in the final meeting before greenlighting a feature to be released to your customers. As the engineering team takes everyone in the room through the user’s workflow someone raises a red flag.

“I think this new workflow will be too confusing for a segment of our customers,” they say. “250 people use the original workflow and without a smoother transition to this new state, a lot of people will be frustrated. At the very least we need in-app helper text to point them in the right direction and some lead-up communication to give them a heads up.”

The product team pushes back, “We can’t make those changes in time to hit the scheduled release date.”

The marketing team pushes back: “Our marketing plans are ready to go and we’ve bought ads set to run on our scheduled release date.”

The flag-raiser considers the objections. They review the new workflow once more. “No,” they say. “We have to hold the release until this is fixed.”

Everyone nods in agreement and the release is pushed back.

What is this role that carries such authority and respect across the company? Who are these people who can stop a release in its tracks if they sense the customer’s experience will be less than amazing on release day? At FullStory, we call them Huggers.

What Are Huggers?

We created the role of Hugging to fill a void in the marketplace.

Every blog post out there was saying that customer experience was the future, or that customer obsession was the way to win, but somehow it didn’t seem like companies were setting themselves up to win at “CX.” Departments and specialties weren’t evolving to ensure that the customer and their experience was truly at the heart of the organization. Instead, we often noticed that customer-facing roles and departments were on the outskirts of a company’s organization. We decided to go back to the drawing board.

What need should a customer-facing role satisfy when your goal is to build a culture of customer obsession?

It’s Not Quite Customer Success

For every customer you are able to talk to, how many do you miss? For those you don’t talk to, what are they saying to their friends and coworkers? How do they remember you? If you had been able to chat with them on the phone for 20 minutes, would the perception of your product have changed? Should it?

We were confident that the number one driver of success for the business is your product since the vast majority of customer experience is direct interaction with it. We didn’t want a “customer success department” to become a crutch or a buffer between the product team and the customer.

Creating a team to be the keepers of the customer feedback keys felt like the wrong move.

It’s Not Quite Customer Support

We knew that most customers would experience the product for what it was — a usually delightful but sometimes buggy (or other times, downright frustrating!) tool. For those exasperated few who had the courage to raise their hands and tell us they had an issue, we certainly wanted customer support to be a happy and seamless experience. But what about the silent majority who never reached out? We wanted to serve them better, too.

There was concern that a siloed support department might begin to optimize for how fast they closed a ticket or how satisfied a customer was with their support experience. Yet what we really wanted was to be actively trying to prevent support tickets from ever arriving in the inbox. Shifting priorities here required agents who felt empowered to provide direct feedback and suggestions to the product and engineering team. After all, it is only if the product is less buggy, more intuitive, and always delightful that the goal of receiving fewer tickets can be achieved.

It’s Not Quite Product Management

We wanted a great product. You could say we’re a product-driven company. Weren’t we just looking for a Product Manager? Someone who could talk to customers, get feedback, and work that feedback into the product roadmap?

PM was close, but this role had a similar fatal flaw — what if the PM optimized for metrics and throughput of product features? If you chose the wrong person, they might have the wrong motivations and lose sight of the customer’s interests. Too often the product objective becomes efficiency and strategy rather than delight.

And there was still that buffer problem. At the end of the day, would our designers know how much Suzy Customer disliked the search UX? Would our engineers truly understand the disruptive nature of a slow-to-load graph for Allison McUser after reading her persona document? Alas, a shared persona document does not equate to shared understanding.

We still weren’t quite there.

From Buffer to Bullhorn

When you have a startup, one of the perks is not having to pick up the standard business playbook. You get to do things your own way and then figure out how that scales. We knew no matter how big we got, we needed people whose main focus was to work with customers. But we also wanted those people to be directly involved in the product development cycle.

Not a buffer between customers and the product team, but a bullhorn.

A “hugger” was not a cute replacement title for a role that already exists. It was the manifestation of our quest to fill the gap that process-oriented systems had left in their wake.

The word itself conjured all the right feels: an empathetic, warm, and friendly human who helped to make the customer experience the lifeblood of the company by being in close contact with customers and constantly representing their needs as a part of every company process.

How You Too Can Build A Hugging Organization

As FullStory has scaled and our company has grown, we’ve found that there are some tactical ingredients that enable the success of the Hugging job family, and I would be remiss not to mention those here.

Pit Crew

Pit crews are cross-family meetings that have a single charter. For example, our Smugging Pit Crew (Smugging being, of course, a combination of sales, marketing, and hugging) carries the charter of ensuring we’re living up to our Smugging Mantras (the way we wish for customers to experience our company and the people they interact with across organizations). At each pit crew, the cross-family representatives review key metrics that reflect performance toward the charter, bring topics/issues up for discussion, and review progress on key initiatives.

The goal of Pit Crew members is not necessarily to solve every problem that is surfaced or even to take on the work of each initiative. It is to ensure visibility across these interconnected job families and to raise customer-experience-related issues that might otherwise fall through the cracks. Some topics that are discussed become longer-term initiatives with an owner whose job is to ensure progress but not necessarily to be the person taking action. Some topics are quickly solved or triaged, and often the process of reviewing key metrics will surface additional topics of discussion as well.

Delivery “Prove Its”

You can read much more about “prove its” on our blog, but the “delivery prove it” specifically happens just before a planned release where a set of ‘approvers’ must greenlight major customer-facing changes in the app before they can ‘go live.’ Huggers are central to these “prove its” and they serve as the voice of the customer. These are the meetings where feature releases can be delayed by a single thumbs down from a hugger (or any of the other set approvers).

Session Replay

As I mentioned earlier in this post, when we crafted the idea of Huggers, we realized that the role is complementary to the mission we have for our product – to ensure that every company can prioritize the customer experience and to make it easy to build a culture of customer obsession. With FullStory as our own session replay tool, everyone in the company can know, at any time, exactly how a customer’s experience looked. And any customer advocate can ensure that other stakeholders in their organization can viscerally feel the customer’s struggles and frustrations simply by sharing a replay link. (Check out Chapter 6 of The Product Cloud ebook for more on that).

Hug It Out

Huggers give you the ability to infuse empathy and feedback into every process in the company. By creating Hugging as a stand-alone department, accountable only to the customer, but deeply embedded in our decision-making processes, we’ve been able to elevate our product and our customer experience. Whether you’re a big enterprise or a small startup trying to optimize for the customer experience, I suggest looking at where your gaps and buffers are, and finding ways to bring the customer closer.

About the Author

Jaclyn is the Head of Hugging at FullStory, where she has worked to build a cross-functional team committed to enhancing customer experience. With a history in both Customer Success and Product Management, her passion is building systems that blend these customer-facing disciplines so that the resulting product has no choice but to be excellent and delightful. A nomad from early days, she now happily calls Atlanta home and enjoys exploring the many delicious brews and eats the city has to offer.