This was originally published in The Huffington Post on May 16, 2017
Customers are the reason why businesses exist. Many businesses want to be customer-centric and spend time, money and other resources to make it happen. But they don’t get the desired results. One reason why this happens is the lack of a holistic approach by the top management. When you think about companies such as Disney, Zappos, and Southwest Airlines, what differentiates them is their embedded customer-centric culture. These organizations openly share their strategies & tactics; yet people find it difficult to replicate their success. Do you know why? Companies can copy specific organizational practices but will find it very difficult to emulate a winning culture.
But, what is culture?
Simply put, it is the values, beliefs, mindsets, norms, and practices that make an organization.
Clearly, customer-centric culture requires changing the operating system of the company and includes modifying the habitual behaviour of employees, and how they think about the company and it’s customers. This is not easy and requires all the drivers to be aligned in a new direction.
So, what are eight key pillars for building a customer-centric culture —
Everyone, right from the CEO to the front-line staff to the janitor to the back-office staff, should know what comprises customer service.
Demystify quality service
Defining what is customer service is one of the first things a company should do to become customer-centric. Hence, the organization should come up with a ‘service intent’ or a definition of what customer service means for the enterprise.
This ensures everyone, right from the CEO to the front-line staff to the janitor to the back-office staff, knows what is customer service and it is not left to interpretation. Employees should clearly know that when they have to serve either an internal or external customer, they need to ensure that the attributes of service intent are adhered to.
Know your customer
Employees who don’t interact with customers often don’t understand their needs and aspirations. Hence, it is important for companies to provide their employees opportunities to understand how customers think, feel and do things. They need to know what jobs customers are trying to get done through the company, what are their pains and what do they expect to gain by giving you business. There are tools such as customer journey mapping, ethnographic studies, big-picture map, and DILO (a day in the life of) for the purpose.
One value that an enterprise on a journey of customer-centricity should not overlook is empathy.
Embed values that matter
Values are the backbone of an enterprise culture. They act as a guide for employee behaviour and clearly stipulate what to do and what not to do, in a workplace. Whatever values are chosen to embed to build an enterprise known for customer-centricity, it’s important that it inspires the employees and they demonstrate clear bias for action to do what is right for the customers and the company. I believe one value an enterprise on a journey of customer-centricity should not overlook is empathy. Empathy is a universal value. You can read more about it here.
Having decided on the values, these should be reinforced consistently and continuously, and senior leaders should live by them everyday.
Walk the talk
You cannot create a culture of customer-centricity if the CEO and other senior leaders make tall proclamations on a public platform and yet do not find time to follow through. They don’t find time to review issues around customers and customer performance. A CEO committed to customer-centricity will clearly communicate the broad contours of the culture so that all employees know what is acceptable and not acceptable behavior. The CEO should ensure that the customer-culture guides the organization’s strategy and the entire top management day in day out
Recruit & train to embody the culture
Recruitment plays a critical role in building a customer-centric culture. People who get hired should be for culture fitment. While looking for all roles, it would help to clearly state the must-haves and nice-to-haves. Even for roles that don’t face the customer, it’s important to ascertain if they demonstrate the values that make up the customer-centric culture.
Having hired people, company should immerse them on the dimensions of culture in the first few days and clearly tell them what is the service intent. Each employee should know how they would contribute towards customer-centricity. I always recommend that we follow the Centre of Creative Leadership’s 70-20-10 model.
Employees need to understand how their work impacts the company’s big picture.
Research done by Timken shows that companies that outpace their competitors in CX have 50 percent more engaged employees than those with CX that lags their peers.
Clearly employee engagement is a sine qua non for customer-centric culture. When employees are engaged, they like coming to work, are more involved and go above and beyond to meet the organizational objectives. Of course, ensuring this is not easy and requires many things to be in place. The employees need to understand how their work impacts the company’s big picture. Regular communication with employees not only helps ascertain if they have any issues but also if they need any help. Employees need to know on a regular basis how the company is performing and should be reached out to for their ideas. They have to be involved and empowered, so that they can give their best.
Install metrics that make a difference
Metrics drive behaviour. At a strategic level, the metrics that get installed should not only align with strategic aspirations but also help to embed customer-centricity. The metrics that are put in the core-processes should be customer-led and end-to-end cutting across the functional silos. They should also be intuitive so that teams can immediately take actions. To ascertain overall customer engagement, they should have metrics around satisfaction, loyalty and customer-effort. What’s critical here is that all employees in the company should get rewarded on customer performance irrespective of whether they are doing a customer facing job or doing work in back-office.
Establish standards but let employees innovate
A company keen on building a customer-centric culture needs to embed standards for organizational activities that face the customer as well as those that don’t. However, it’s critical that employees should not be told to blindly follow them, instead they should be told the reasons behind the standards and be provided the freedom to decide how to carry them out. They should also be given the freedom to change the way a task needs to be done if there is a better option. However employees can question these standards if they find there is an even better way to enhance customer experience. Remember, great customer experience cannot just happen by forcing people to conform, instead you need to create an environment wherein they not only conform but also innovate.