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With over 20 years on the frontlines of the B2B SaaS industry, Melissa Henley brings valuable experience and perspective to the practice of CX. In this interview she shares her insights on the common CX challenges SaaS companies face, the roles AI will play in customer interactions, and why the best CX philosophy is summed up in a song by The Beatles!

Tell us the story of how you got involved in customer experience. How did your career lead you here?

I started my career in marketing, first in marketing compliance for a financial services company and then running global marketing communications for a B2B software company. When that software company moved to subscription, they realized they needed to focus more on customer experience. My boss at that time came to me and said, “You like customers, and they like you. Would you like to try building a customer experience team?” And, as they say, the rest is history.  

In which industries, verticals or sectors have you focused your CX career? 

I have worked for almost 20 years in the B2B software sector, primarily focused on subscription/SaaS offerings. Previously, I worked in marketing positions in financial services and higher education.

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Why do so many companies struggle with making CX a priority? What are some common mistakes companies make?

With all the competing priorities we’re dealing with, it’s easy for customer experience to fall by the wayside. It doesn’t directly drive revenue like sales; it doesn’t impact the company’s position in the industry like marketing; and it doesn’t affect board reporting like finance. However, you ignore CX at your peril, because it also impacts revenue, your brand, and the reporting you share with the board. 

Common mistakes I see companies make include: 

  • Overlooking individual customer needs and instead focusing on the collective, general customer (and especially not having or understanding customer personas)
  • Not having a clear vision of what you want your customer experience to be
  • Lacking emotional investment and not caring or getting angry about customers who have a less-than-optimal experience
  • Ignoring negative customer feedback because “it’s just one person” or “they are wrong”
  • Not asking for customer feedback at all, because “we know how customers feel”

In the end, customer experience is about putting the customer first. It seems so simple when you say it that way, but actually putting customer needs at the center of what a company needs to do, and then devoting resources to ensuring that all touch points are seamless and a customer has an amazing experience, is pretty rare. It’s not out of malice or lack of care, but we frequently do what’s easy for us on the back end, rather than what’s easy for the customer, resulting in silos in the customer journey. 

You’ve been selected to give a keynote address at a major CX conference. What topic will you discuss and what major points will you touch on?

I love to talk about love! I feel that when we talk about CX, the core of why many of us got into the industry - the love we have for our customers - can fall by the wayside in a deluge of budgets and spreadsheets and escalation meetings. 

True love is a differentiator, and customers can feel it. But if you want customers to love you, you must love them first. So in my keynote, I’d focus on loving your customers - how do you show them they are loved? How do you build a culture of love in your organization and what does that look like? What do you do with that love once you have it, and how do you keep it?

The Beatles were right - love is all you need. Thank you for coming to my TED talk.

Have you seen, firsthand, any AI impacts on the practice of CX? What impacts are you expecting in the next few years?

AI has definitely made it faster and easier to create content, especially call scripts and emails. Bots have also impacted how we deliver support, although training them is still a time-consuming process. In the next few years, I expect to see AI assisting with the following:

  • Providing more intuitive customer support processes with AI-driven self-service tools, including being able to automatically reply to basic support tickets
  • Predicting customer needs and offering proactive solutions to the customer success manager, so they can make the best use of their time
  • Automatically analyzing customer data to predict and prevent churn - without human intervention
  • Personalizing content and offers without extensive programming and development

What skills have served you best in your CX career?

I have always felt that my background in marketing communication has served me well in my CX career. So much of customer experience is understanding customer needs, visualizing and mapping the customer journey, and communicating to the customer through various points of the process, that being able to write and speak well is a huge asset. 

Laserfiche founder Nien-Ling Wacker always used to tell me never make decisions with money in mind. Make decisions with customers in mind and the money will follow. Customers can tell when you have their best interests at heart. So when you’re transitioning from a call center or customer service mindset, you may be moving from being ruled by metrics - number of tickets closed, first call resolution, or average call time - to being ruled by relationships. If you focus on doing the best thing for your customer, it will always be the best thing for your relationship. 

Nien-Ling also used to tell me that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason — we should listen more than we talk. It’s a great piece of advice that is beneficial in all relationships. We all like to hear ourselves talk because we think we are the most interesting people out there. But in reality, we miss a lot when we aren’t listening. It can be easy to want to jump in with a solution, especially if you’ve been focused on giving solutions as quickly as possible, but instead, try to hear what the customer is saying and understand their problem - that’s how you build a relationship. 

When did CX as a discipline pop up on your radar? How have you seen it evolve or change over that period of time?

I got involved in CX about eight years ago when my boss at the time asked me to build a CX program. At that time, for me, it was more customer advocacy-focused, with a real emphasis on case studies, customer events, references, and user groups. I don’t think any of us realized CX could be a C-level position. 

As time has gone on, CX has become much more of a strategic position, focused on driving revenue. CX is also evolving beyond KPIs like CSAT and NPS to tying their efforts to support overall business strategy. There’s also an opportunity to tie together customer and employee experience that didn’t exist when I got involved in CX, which is exciting, because happy employees make happy customers. 

I think the role of CX will continue to evolve, including driving digital transformation, adopting technologies like AI and AR/VR that might impact the customer experience, and implementing more sophisticated automation to improve customer experience and free up staff time. There will continue to be more integration between CX and EX, and if I had to make a prediction, I think that CX leaders may take on even more of a role in building and architecting the employee experience. 

What trend do you think will be most impactful in (your niche of) the CX space over the next three years?

It’s all about digital transformation! Digital transformation is key to customer delight, because that’s the only way you can offer a seamless, intuitive experience across platforms, browsers and tools. But true digital transformation requires changes to operations, data, and technology infrastructure, customer touch points, and other aspects of corporate infrastructure, which means CX leaders must work more effectively with operations and IT leaders. 

If there’s anything else that you’d like to share with our readers, please let us know!

Sales likes to claim they’re the most important department in any company, but in my opinion, customer experience is the key to any company’s success. CX professionals have influence on all parts of the organization: development, sales, marketing, customer support, finance and more. Our work is always changing, never boring, and you get to see customers achieve amazing things because of your work. Why would you want to do anything else?