Special Report: Chris Hardie’s SUPCONF Talk About Partnership Relationships

Hey there! I recently attended SUPCONF New York, and so here’s a short overview of Chris Hardie’s (of Automattic) talk on switching from transactional to partnership relationships.

Chris’ talk on moving from transactions to partnerships hit on a few points that I had informally recognised myself. Chris is on the VIP team in Automattic; the team that works with some of the biggest customers using WordPress, such as FiveThirtyEight, The New York Times and Reddit. As a disclaimer, Automattic is a customer of Expensify, and I work for Expensify.

Chris pointed out the value of partnership-based relationships, primarily: they lead to happier customers, and longer relationships. I feel like that’s definitely something that we would want to strive for!

In the talk, Chris compared the language and cultures of both types of relationships, and gave examples of how Automattic’s VIP team have moved towards partnership as a model. One example was moving from the idea of the customer always being right, to the process of you and your customer being partners in finding a successful outcome. I feel like we have been doing this, but that it’s extremely valuable to have these concepts reinforced.

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There’s a few key points that Chris raised which I feel like we should mention, in terms of transactional cultures versus partnership cultures. In terms of transactional cultures, Chris made specific note of defining success as closing tickets, not admitting to limitations or mistakes, having confusing process for escalations, and having extensive customer-bashing. Those all set up the relationship with a customer as “oppositional” relationships, where they exist to pay us, and we exist to provide them with a service.

In contrast, partnership-based cultures are built around limiting customer-bashing, and involve kick-off calls with customers, regular check-ins and everyone being customer-facing. There’s also the expectation that customers will need to be involved in doing the work too, and that internal- and external-facing documentation is extremely similar.

I feel like we’re doing this well in Expensify, in particular when we’re working with managed customers, but there’s always an opportunity to work better to make our customers our partners.

So, what thoughts do you have on working with customers as partners? If you’re interested, Chris has the slides from his talk on his own blog.

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