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SuccessConnect: all you need is love – and some investment in customer support


Lars Dalgaard's got a lot of heart – and he wants you to know it. The ebullient Danish CEO of SuccessFactors has clearly ideas about how he wants to run his business and work with his customers and it's all about the heart – to the extent that he's insisted that – Eurovision-like – a heart icon replaces the letter 'o' in the company's logo. 

“It's bold and unusual and it doesn't typically go with the idea of a corporation,” Dalgaard admits. “But we've been around for ten years now and it's time that we had a bolder vision than we had before.”
It's a vision that when extrapolated by Dalgaard involves the unexpected figure of the self-styled Queen of Hearts, the late Diana, Princess of Wales.  Dalgaard explains: “When we launched this internally I asked people if they knew where they were when Lady Diana died. I was speaking to my spouse about what it was about Lady Diana that meant that people remembered and she said it was her vulnerability.”
Now this may seem to be straying off topic a bit but hold hard – the Diana comparison does pay a dividend. “There's not  a place in life that you can't make better with heart,even if you're sacking someone,”  argues Dalgaard. “Too many companies don't have enough passion and that will never be an issue at SuccessFactors. It all comes down to heart, a big, bearing pulsating heart. If you have heart, you can give more than ever. I only want to be around people with that type of heart.”
This does seem to be a significant shift away from previous, arguably harder-edged messaging about execution towards a perhaps more HR-focused mantra?  “It is very bold and very different which means you get some strange reactions, but there is an opportunity here for us,” insists Dalgaard.  “The new workforce wants to be around people who think about them. What we are allowing our people to be is vulnerable. We're saying 'it's OK to make a mistake'. Siemens, one of the world's biggest employers, wants to show hear and we want to be the first to show that it's OK to do that.  Employees worlds are getting more exciting than ever before. The biggest change about business is that the employee is a at the nucleus of it. You are the heart of it.”
This changing world is reflected in the changing relevance of corporate roles, suggests Dalgaard. “In the 1970s and 80s, the CFO emerged. Then in the 1980s and 90s, as ERP played a big role, the Chief Operating Officer emerged,” he says. “In the 1990s-2000s, the CIO reported to the CEO and a lot of technology was bought, maybe too much. Now HR wants a seat at the table. Guess what – you got it! Now what are you going to do with it? This is the big thing of the decade. We can help you lead the transformation of your business. Nobody else is leading this but SuccessFactors.” 
That inevitably is a view that would be challenged by the likes of Workday or Oracle, whose first Fusion Cloud apps are to be HCM focused and presumably targeted at the same sort of customer base  in which SuccessFactors has been building what is undoubtedly an impressive foothold. This would seem to imply that the coming years will see a shift in the competitive landscape with rivalry for new business becoming fiercer and all players having to up their game. 
While not commenting on either of the firms above, Dalgaard does suggest that there's an awareness of the need to ensure that customers are happy with what they get. This leads to an unexpected baring of the soul when he declares: “We are the fastest growing public Cloud company – that doesn't come without teething troubles and some of our customers have experienced that. We could have trained more people locally. We're now seeing a 77% increase in cost to invest in customer success. You will see more of that, a very deep investment in customer support. We have heard [customers] and we have made the investment. You will see a lot of improvement there.”
Dalgaard concludes with a message to his established customer base: “You have taken some chances with us. You jumped in and found that the water was warm. Sometimes it was a bit cold. But we will find a way to make this work. We have some principles as a company that no-one else has.”