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Is the CFO Really Responsible for the Subscriber Experience? These CFOs Say “Yes!”

Customer engagement doesn’t traditionally spring to mind when thinking about the CFO role.

But in recent years CFO responsibilities have shifted dramatically.

While responsibility for P&L, financial reporting, and forecasting remain non-negotiables of the job description, the rise of subscription companies and the tight link they need to maintain with customers has made the quality of the subscriber experience of paramount importance. Add to that, ever-intensifying business competition and technological change, and it’s clear to see why the concept of the subscriber experience is now part of the CFO’s ever growing list of strategic responsibilities.

So what is this “subscriber experience”?

In short it’s the ongoing interaction that happens between a subscriber and the business to which they subscribe. These ongoing transactions may have historically sat with a dedicated customer service team (e.g. renewals, service issues, or billing questions), but now the concept of subscriber experience is much broader, encompassing far more than resolution of customer issues. Instead, the responsibility for ensuring a good subscriber experience is spread out through an organization, reaching all the way into the finance function. Zuora Co-Founder and CEO Tien Tzuo interviewed four leading CFOs — Todd McElhatton, CFO of Zuora; Mark Garrett, Adobe’s legendary ex-CFO; Megan Murray, eMoney’s Head of Finance; and Steve Cakebread, CFO at Yext (formerly CFO at Salesforce, Pandora), and author of the upcoming “The IPO Playbook: An Insider’s Perspective on Taking Your Company Public and How to Do It Right,” for their read on how to get customer engagement right for a stellar subscriber experience.

Translating Forecasts Into Action

As the CFO role has changed, it has also become more strategic. As Mark Garrett of Adobe explained, one of the outcomes is CFOs are now tasked with not only making forecasts, but also to “then tell me what to do about it.” In other words, today’s CFOs have to be adept at translating forecasts into actions. To do that, they need to capture accurate customer data, extract meaningful insights, and then recommend actions that improve the subscriber experience.

It's so incredibly important to understand how your customers are purchasing: What’s their financial relationship with you? How are they consuming your resources? And then exploring why.

Megan Murray, CFO, eMoney Advisors

Using Customer Insight to Scale Growth

Businesses need to be willing and able to gain deep understanding of their customers if they are committed to putting customer engagement front and center. Who are your customers? What do they want? How do they engage? And how might they react to, for instance, a change in pricing strategy, product features, or the launch of new services. As Megan Murray put it, “it’s so incredibly important to understand how your customers are purchasing. What’s their financial relationship with you? How are they consuming your resources? And then exploring why.” That calls for a degree of data and tech savviness paired with curiosity. It calls for the ability to harness and parse data — and then use these insights to manage relationships. As Zuora CFO McElhatton puts it: “the answers to the why and how of customer engagement are key to how you scale your company to that next level of growth.”

The answers to the 'why' and 'how' of customer engagement are key to how you scale your company to that next level of growth.

Todd McElhatton, CFO, Zuora

Optimizing for the Subscriber Experience Cross-Functionally

Many CFOs are noting and reacting to the vanishing distinction between front and back office. For one thing, customers don’t think in terms of front and back office — who cares who’s responsible for upgrading your subscriptions; you just care that you’re able to easily upgrade whenever you want to. For another, the criticality of customer engagement means silos between finance and operations teams need to come down, data needs to be shared, and teams need to collaborate across functions. Automation helps, because it frees up teams’ time to focus less on manual work and more on understanding and analyzing data and then applying that data to improve the subscriber experience. But ultimately, the shared goal of optimizing the subscriber experience means changing behaviors and getting aligned, so that teams not only use common data but speak the same language, and communicate as they work towards the same goal.

All this might sound like more of a revolution than an evolution of the CFO role.

But it’s a reflection of how anticipating, then meeting, and even exceeding customer needs across the subscriber lifecycle has increasingly become front and center — and, especially for subscription companies, critical.

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