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Cisco customer experience manager: What makes good tech CX

Cisco users buy its hardware and apps through partners, mostly. Cisco's customer experience architect discusses how the company forges customer relationships.

Cisco derives 90% of its revenues through partner resellers, yet it must build a connection with its customers. To accomplish that, Cisco redesigned its customer experience with an emphasis on customer success, partner success and customer self-service. Part of the redesigned customer experience includes a series of dashboards that Cisco users and partners can use to measure network security settings and risks, adoption, licensing, IT service management, inventory and performance.

While the dashboards are simple to read, it took a lot of back-end data wrangling from many different platforms to make it happen, said Thimaya Subaiya, Cisco senior vice president and general manager of global customer experience. As Cisco's customer experience manager, Subaiya is tasked with making sure users get a return on investment as soon as possible, and that they achieve the business outcomes they expected when buying Cisco products. We discussed what drives his CX strategy to accomplish that.

What does customer experience mean to Cisco?

Thimaya Subaiya, CiscoThimaya Subaiya

Thimaya Subaiya: The Cisco services and customer experience organization is about 30% of the entire company. It focuses on what are we doing for our customers to accelerate their journey for adoption and implementation, as well as plan to value and drive faster business outcomes. This entire organization is focused with one goal in mind, which is: We sell you product, we want to make sure that you adopt it in the way that you want to adopt it. We want an extremely simple, conjoined motion with our partners, that's what we're striving for.

Many companies have invested in digital customer experience in the last five years. At what point did Cisco decide it would focus on CX, and what steps did you take to get that rolling?

Subaiya: We started looking at this about three or four years back. We needed to not only pivot how we do customer experience and customer success, but we [also] want industry-leading methodology, as well as aligned tools. As we transition from being a hardware company to be being more of an application service provider -- together with being a strategic partner of the customer -- what we realized is that customer experience needs to be at the top.

Every customer, especially in the SaaS world, is dealing with so many different vendors across the board. They all try to stitch it together, and sometimes it's extremely hard. Unless you go horizontally across all the different features of software, go deep into every single feature, and then drive customer adoption, they're not going to get the value for what they purchase in those products.

What does your customer experience application look like?

Subaiya: From a customer-facing perspective, we have two primary businesses: One is advisory service, which we call business-critical services. We can predict with AI if you are going to have a crash in a certain network, all your application layers may go down because of these five things, for example, and you have to take remedial actions. The other is support.

With the Cisco CX Cloud, we pull together all the information for a customer in a central place. So they're not chasing down multiple different things, looking at advisory and support separately. You can also see any advisory logs that have been put out on any of your assets, which assets are affected by it, what's the impact. The CX Cloud brings all the entire Cisco portfolio based on use cases. Our partners get a version of this that has the exact same information -- but they also have access to APIs, so with customer consent they can take all this information and push it into their digital platforms. So it becomes a two-way street with a partner. The customer sees one interface instead of going to 20 to 30 different [places].

So that must have been a pretty heavy data lift to make all that stuff accessible to your own agents, technicians, partners and users.

Subaiya: A huge data lift. But apart from that, it's also a huge integration that we went through because in the back end, our entire services team has a service delivery platform that is a combination of multiple third-party vendor tools. We have a customer success console that's built on the Salesforce platform, so we get a 360-degree view of the customer. We've been able to bring all that in. We use Adobe Experience Cloud for digital journeys.

We are trying to bring the concept of customer success and bridge the gap between services and customer success.
Thimaya SubaiyaSVP and general manager of global customer experience, Cisco

We are trying to bring the concept of customer success and bridge the gap between services and customer success. What we've seen is that 80% of adoption challenges happen because implementations haven't been done right. We are starting to get away from the problem of implementations not being done right. The second thing that we've also seen is that you can create faster adoption when a customer is digitally engaged with you.

So we've essentially combined all these different things to be able to bring it to life in one simple form.

What is next for CX Cloud -- what are your final goals as you continue to build it?

Subaiya: [With CX Cloud], we're starting to see, a lot of times, we're dealing with millions of different devices in the customer, or millions of different applications. The boom in IoT devices is going to spiral out of control with 5G coming in. With IoT, that's going to go into the tens of millions of devices. So being able to present automation, and being able to automate across your entire network globally, is where we're going next, in terms of technology and taking CX cloud next.

Like some other tech companies, does Cisco believe that customer experience, partner experience, employee experience and self-service are all converging?

Subaiya: Absolutely. A lot of times we take employee experience for granted. And just the fact that we're able to connect the dots and bring it all together, whether you're a customer success executive, with Cisco, you're with a partner, or if you're somebody working on something with the customer, all three of you have access to the exact same thing, you'll know exactly what's going on.

Cisco security dashboard
Among the many dashboards Cisco created for its updated customer experience is this one, which shows security advisories for a user's Cisco hardware and, increasingly, software outlay.

What advice do you have to your customer experience manager peers who are building their own experiences? How do you tailor it to be relevant to the specific needs of your customers?

Subaiya: My buying experience has to be fairly simple. On the consumer level I can walk into a store, and buy something and plug it into my car. It's not even part of my car, and I'm good to go. That's simplification of an overall experience. What I expect on the consumer side is exactly now what I experience on the enterprise side. I want the exact same experience that I'm getting when I buy technology for a company -- but now I want it at a much larger scale. So being able to bridge that requires simplification of your overall customer buying experience. Customer experience, post-purchase, has to be just seamless.

How do you build trust in your digital customer experiences? It seems to be a foreign concept to some companies, and very natural to others.

Subaiya: Trust in our security is our No. 1 thing. [Making sure] the data is obfuscated in such a way that there's absolutely nothing that's going to go out or get breached across information sharing, especially in the cloud world. Also, trusting that what you see is actually true, relevant data.

Finally, you have to be able to take any customer's feedback extremely seriously, and listen to what they tell you. It is an important component of what we do as an organization, [with some of the feedback collected] through that trust network of our partners.

Ninety percent of our revenues go through a partner ecosystem that touches many different industries, many different geographies. With that ecosystem comes a lot of learning and a lot of trust in us to listen and to respond to what they are seeing within their different markets as partners. Getting feedback from partners does not mean getting everything that I want to hear, because they are critical about some stuff that we're doing. But at the same time it is feedback that I pay attention to because I know they deal with the customer who has that problem.

This Q&A has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Don Fluckinger covers enterprise content management, CRM, marketing automation, e-commerce, customer service and enabling technologies for TechTarget.

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