Business Transformation

How a Customer First Mindset is Driving VMware’s Growth Strategy

By: Annie Lin, Senior Director, Business Strategy, VMware  

This article is part of a three-part series between VMware’s CIO leadership who are rolling out VMware’s largest transformation yet: VMware’s transition to a Software & Subscription as a Service model. Follow along as we learn what it means for 40,000+ of our global colleagues to come together and transform as ONE VMware. 

Happy customers make growing businesses. A culture rooted in customer satisfaction is the key to retaining happy customers. As VMware transitions to a SaaS and Subscription business, we must re-imagine the way we think, deliver and support our customers through every touchpoint in their customer journey. To do so requires both a business and culture shift.  Previously in this culture transformation series, we discussed what it means to transform together as ‘One VMware’. The article highlights several major shifts in our culture today. We empower all organizational levels to act with an ‘Outside In’ mindset and be “consumption-obsessed” in how we make decisions to support our customers. 

What does it mean to act with an ‘Outside In’ mindset? Simply put, ‘Outside In’ means putting the customer at the center of how we design, build and deliver our products and services. This requires a shift in focus, from projects and features to customer experience and outcomes. This maniacal customer focus requires constant iteration and data to optimize for a positive experience at every touchpoint in the customer journey. This shift in mindset encourages our teams to be more outcomes driven rather than output driven. We help customers achieve their goals and structure our platform and services to build upon those successes.  

Customer centric mindset vmware

Operating with this ‘Outside In’ mindset requires unified internal cohesion across all cross-functional teams, from leadership to practitioners. This culture inspires every colleague to design for the best customer outcome and value. Basic tenets include listening, learning and curiosity with an openness to changing our minds. This is the ‘SaaS First’ mindset that will allow all of us to deliver a consistently delightful experience through every stage of the customer lifecycle.  

VMware’s CIO organization, approximately 2,000 colleagues strong today, demonstrates how we embrace customer centricity in our everyday work and how we practice this ‘Outside In’ approach. 

Moving away from ‘what’s next for the product’ to ‘what’s next for our customer’ 

For our Chief Digital Transformation Office (CDTO) product management team, it was imperative that we build a product ecosystem that clearly mapped to customer value. To do so required a mindset shift from thinking about features we wanted to design, to thinking about the product personas that we were designing for. Regardless of who our “customer” was, whether it was a product used internally or for our external customers, our goal was to build features that drove the highest impact and value to our personas. 

Let’s dive into an example with our International Pricing team. Here, we took a holistic approach by first understanding the end-to-end pricing process and mapped each step of this process to the individual persona it touches, such as our partners, the billing team, the pricing team and many others. This impact assessment was conducted through the entire process, all the way to the end-customer who receives the ultimate quote.  

Creating this holistic, end-to-end view enabled us to better understand the customer journey, the rationale behind each feature requested, and the personas impacted. By moving this thought exercise to the front of the product development process, we transitioned away from the mindset of ‘what’s next for the product’ to ‘what’s next for our customer’. 

This is evident through our persona-based story writing in our product development lifecycle. Each story is tied to a persona, and each word carries impact and meaning. When an engineer reads about a story or feature, they can quickly digest who is impacted, and how their user experience would change as a result of this feature. With stories that focus on the desired outcome, our engineers have the freedom to think creatively about how to solve the user’s problem and feel empowered to make decisions on how best to develop this product.  

This is just one example of how we are trying to infuse this ‘Outside In’ persona perspective into our product ecosystem.  

It’s not just “what” we build, but more importantly, “how” we build it  

Delivering an exceptional experience for customers requires our internal operations, such as billing operations, to be set up for success. Today, our Billing Operations team delivers numerous monthly customer invoices a month, accurate and on time. This is accomplished through the many SaaS billing engine enhancements that ensure a seamless end-to-end billing experience. Examples include invoice auto-validations without manual intervention and reporting capability to track and fix issues around invoice generation. All these enhancements help improve the efficiency and productivity of the Billing Operations teams and its ease of doing business with our customers.  

This efficiency required a large transformational effort. To manage customer billing and orders, track and report revenue, we had previously used traditional ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems. However, ERPs are typically built for generic use cases that serve a variety of customers. Therefore, our SaaS Billing & Commerce IT team faced several challenges when trying to customize and add features. To ensure that we had a scalable model to deliver new features quickly and keep up with dynamic customer needs, we needed to build a modern SaaS billing platform. To do so, we needed to re-invent the way we built products, starting with our architecture. 

We restructured the ERP into independent business domains and grouped related billing capabilities into independent, lightweight, plug and play microservices using Tanzu, which could be consumed by any of VMware’s businesses. For our customers, this API-driven architecture meant that we could deploy new capabilities faster while strengthening our SLA commitments. For our engineering teams, this approach meant we could quickly develop and deliver business capabilities in an agile manner via anytime deployments, rather than spend cycles customizing features that end up driving complexity with inability to scale.  

With this customer-focused mindset, we broke down a legacy monolith structure and re-designed for flexibility and scale to deliver a significantly improved billing experience for both our Billing Operations team, and ultimately, our customers. 

Leveraging AI/ML to enable customer self-service during Log4j—and beyond 

When Log4j hit, many of our customers needed immediate self-service support. Fortunately, VMware has consistently invested in customer behavior data with the objective of data unification—that is, to deliver critical data management capabilities so that our customers and partners could access the right data, at the right time. This consumption-obsessed approach resulted in a significant reduction in incoming tickets at a time when they should have been at record highs. With this prepared mind, our data engineering team stated, “If tomorrow’s issues are similar in scale to Log4j, we are prepared.” 

How did we achieve this at scale? We started with a focus on predicting potential customer problems and resolving them before they’re noticed. Previously, much of VMware’s support focused on responding to incoming customer tickets. Our team size grew along with growing customer requests. A more scalable approach was to reduce the growth of tickets by getting customers to their answers faster. Multiple cross-functional teams who all play a part in servicing customers came together to understand how customers self-served when searching for help. We started tracking how many “hops” or clicks customers had to make within the VMware ecosystem (e.g., chat bots, knowledge base articles, etc.) to get to the information they were searching for. We partnered with various applications and portals across VMware to pull in the right behavioral data, connecting the dots, and leveraged AI/ML algorithms to serve the right information and ensure we’re surfacing what they need at the first search.  

In addition, we also built VMware Proactive Incident Prevention Advisory (PIPA) to alert customers around availability, outages or if we had detected they’ve been subject to an attack and how they can respond.  

Incremental progress is great, but step-change—removing the need for our customers to open a ticket—is the ultimate goal. Customers are loyal to certain brands because they ‘just work’ the way they want them to. And that’s the expectation our customers have for all their partners, including VMware. 

Leading with change: Transforming old collaboration into new collaboration 

Change is hard. With any transition, there will be pain that paves the way to greater results. These are just a few examples of how VMware is creating an environment where every colleague is encouraged to think, speak and act with empathy towards the customer experience. From the top down, and across all functions, every team member is expected to develop a deeper understanding of what it means to act with an ‘Outside In’ customer-centric approach. As VMware furthers its SaaS transformation journey, we continue to break down traditional organizational silos to create a truly open organization that works as ‘One VMware’ to deliver the best customer experience.