Zoom CEO strives for sustainable customer happiness

A top Silicon Valley leader explains how to build a company based on customer experience. Lessons include hiring, culture, and placing customer satisfaction before higher profits.
Written by Michael Krigsman, Contributor

Making customers happy on a sustained basis is hard and expensive. As a result, business leaders often de-prioritize the importance of customer experience when making investment choices related to time, money, and product focus.

Customer experience often dies from the decisions of a thousand small cuts. For example, do we cut corners on features because we think customers won't notice? Do we release the product without enough testing, effectively turning customers into guinea pigs who pay us for that privilege? Do we make it easy or hard to cancel subscription renewals? How good is our customer support and service?

Also: What's next for 2019? 5 customer connection trends to watch

Given the importance and challenges of customer experience, I invited a respected startup founder and advocate of customer happiness as my guest on episode 321 of the CXOTalk series of conversation with the world's top business and technology innovators.

Eric Yuan is CEO of Zoom Communications, one of the fastest growing SaaS software startups in the world. By any measure, Zoom is an extraordinary company, for example:

  • Ranked No. 3 in the Forbes Cloud 100 list for 2018
  • Ranked No. 2 among large companies on the Glassdoor list of best places to work in 2019
  • Named Frost & Sullivan's 2019 Company of the Year in the Global Video Conferencing Industry
  • Listed as a contender to go public in 2019, with a current valuation of over $1 billion

As a paid customer of Zoom and a speaker at their user conference, I got to know Eric Yuan personally over the past several years. During that time, I have repeatedly heard him discuss the theme of customer happiness. Based on the company's performance combined with my own experience, I am quite comfortable presenting him as someone who can legitimately teach us about customer experience.

Watch our full conversation in the video embedded at the top and read edited excerpts below. You can also check out the complete transcript, to learn how customer happiness shapes Zoom's product, culture, and hiring.

What is Zoom?

Eric Yuan: Zoom is a modern enterprise video communication company. We're working very hard to make video communication frictionless.

How fast are you growing?

Eric Yuan: We more than doubled the employee headcount over the past 12 months and we grew our user base revenue well. We think that's the outcome of happy customers. As long as every day we make our product better, process better, and also make sure every interaction with our employees and the customers better, I think everything else will be taken care of.

Also: CIO case study: Customer experience and digital transformation

What does customer happiness mean for you?

Eric Yuan: That's the most important thing.

Every day as a CEO who manages a company, I have so many things to work on but, ultimately, I've got to understand what's the number one important thing as a business.

If we cannot make the customer happy, nothing will matter. That's why this is our number one priority. If a customer is happy, everything else will be easier. Customers will like to talk with us, share our stories with others and, essentially, will help us to further improve our product experience and also make our business better.

Does customer happiness start with understanding their perspective?

Eric Yuan: Absolutely. You've got to look at everything from a customer perspective. If you truly care about them, you are not only going to look at it from your perspective. When you build a product, you will say, "Hey, will this product, will this feature, deliver happiness or add value to a customer or not?" Anything you do, look at it from a customer perspective. Then, actually, the customers, they will feel more like a part of your business. They're happy to grow your business.

What does customer experience mean?

Eric Yuan: Ultimately, it's three things. When we talk about happiness, first of all, your product has got to work. Every time a customer is using Zoom, they really like it. That's the number one thing; your product has got to work. Every time after the meeting is over, customers say, "Yes, this experience is great." They enjoy using your product.

The second thing is your process. When you do business with customers, you've got to make sure your process is very simple but very easy.

The third thing is about the people. Meaning, because not only do those customers use your product but, also, we want to make sure every interaction between Zoom employees and customers  — like support, customer success managers, engineers, product managers  — every interaction between our company and the customers, they enjoy it. Process, people, and the product, from all those three aspects, we make sure the customer is happy.

Also, understand one thing. Sustainable happiness comes from making others happy.

We apply that theory to our business. So, as a business, we do all we can, look at everything from a customer perspective to make the customer happy. Then our business will be happy. Then employees will be happy and then I will be happy.

How do we make sure the customers are happy? We look at every interaction from the product, the people, and the process.

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How much time do you devote personally to customer happiness?

Eric Yuan: One hundred percent or maybe 200%. Every day, I look at my calendar. Either meeting with customers or looking at our internal process and how to simplify that, how to make sure we design our company process and also from an end-user perspective. We will look at it from our employee perspective. Even look at it from our internal perspective and also the product as well.

Every day, just look at all those three things: people, product, and process. I spend all my time on those three things.

I give you one example. Like free users, they want to call our support. They want to get some questions or try to get some help. If we really focus on customer happiness, we will help them. That's what we did over the past several years. We still serve our free users very well.

Also: I thought Comcast had improved, then I called customer service

Say the customer wanted to cancel. We make cancellation very easy. They do not need to spend too much time to call us, do this, and then cancel the service. We make everything easier. So, any decision we are going to make it here, we always want to make sure, "Will this help our customer or not? Will this change benefit our customer or not?" Ultimately, that's part of our company culture.

Can you separate company culture from product development?

Eric Yuan: You cannot separate those two. The product is kind of more like the outcome of your company culture, right? If you do not have a great culture, occasionally you might develop a good product. However, that's not sustainable. Very soon, you are not enlisting new customers. You try to add some features you think is right. The customer may not like it.

Also: If being customer first is so important, why don't companies do it?

If you have a good culture, really look at everything from a customer perspective, I think your product will be sustainable. Meaning, you always can improve your product, improve your process, and improve everything centered around the customer experience. That's why culture is the number one thing. The product is sort of the outcome of that.

Disclosure: Zoom is a long-time paid underwriter and supporter of CxOTalk.

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