5 Essential Qualities of a Customer-Centric Leader

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Whilst it would seem that leading a customer experience transformation is a rock star role, the reality is that it’s anything but; with some practitioners managing dual roles simultaneously until they earn their stripes.

From day one, the role requires a leader who is customer purpose driven, an inspirer, a great listener and communicator, a consummate negotiator, politically savvy, a relationship builder and passion fuelled with a big ‘can-do’ attitude.

Customer experience is now firmly on the agenda as a solution to fuel growth. Many leaders are questioning the sustainability of ongoing funding for customer acquisition; acknowledging the cost of customer attrition and the inherent risks of negative word of mouth.

To deliver customer-led transformation, business leaders need leadership qualities that shape cultural change; shifting the business’s mindset to embrace customer-first and changing behaviour that puts customers at the centre of their decision making.

5 Essential Qualities for Customer-Centric Leadership:

1. Empathy
In short, being empathetic means feeling what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes; feeling what your customers are experiencing, evaluating the emotional impact of the experience and making positive change as a result. Empathy is an important part of leadership and culture and to be a driver of customer led change you’ll need the ability to imbue this quality in others.

Top tip to develop empathy
Emerging Leaders: Map the end-to-end customer journey from your customers’ point of view to understand customer behaviour and importantly, what your customers are thinking and feeling when interacting with your business.
Mature Leaders: A powerful change-maker in driving empathetic decision making is having a constant reminder of your customer needs and expectations. Pull up a seat at the decision making table and ask the question ‘how will our customers feel about that?’

2. Envisioning
A future facing quality that helps enable people across the business to imagine what’s possible for the benefit of customers. Great customer experiences begin with employees who know about it, care about it, and are well positioned to deliver it. This leadership quality embraces the future, helping guide the work to improve experiences.

Top tip to develop envisioning
Emerging Leaders: Ensure you begin and sustain ongoing discussion with your leadership team and functional group leads to galvanise their continued support for the role that everyone is playing in improving the customer experience.
Mature Leaders: Having defined your customer experience vision, ensure the future state is underpinned with agreed service principles that guide employee behaviour to deliver the desired experience.

3. Storytelling
Being a great communicator is an essential quality for CX leadership performance. The art of telling the customer story, empowering others to story tell, formalising an internal customer channel, ‘marketing’ the work internally, celebrating wins. A great storyteller with a good communications program is a conduit to enable sustainable customer centricity.

Top tip to develop storytelling
Emerging Leaders: I tell my clients ‘practice makes perfect’. Tell your customers’ story frequently and enable team leaders to share the customer journey with their teams.
Mature Leaders: Shifting to customer-centric decision making is a discipline that needs consistent focus. Empower functional teams with tactics such as starting every meeting with customer success stories to embed positive change.

4. Collaboration
The heart of customer-centricity is putting the customer at the centre of the business’s decision-making to all work together for the good of your customer. The leadership quality of collaboration is central to the success or failure of the work. As a great collaborator you have the ability to be inclusive, a great listener, curious with a desire to understand, a diplomat and a relationship builder.

Top tip to develop collaboration
Emerging Leaders: Identify people across the business that demonstrate an affinity for improving customers’ lives; these people just get it. They become promoters of the work, influencing peers and advocating for change.
Mature Leaders: One of the greatest hurdles will be the alignment of cross functional teams. Without collaboration you will remain the custodian, the driver and solely responsible for the work. Never forget to connect the work of improving experiences to business results to keep the wider team focused on the CX goals.

5. Agility
Agile leadership is prerequisite now to manage the rapid shifts in customer expectations. This leadership possesses qualities of team inclusiveness and community, coupled with having a passion for innovation to make the customer’s world better. Leaders who have this quality hit the ground running; they are the change makers, not missing the opportunity to capitalise on the anticipation and excitement of change for the betterment of customer and the business.

Top tip to develop agility
Emerging Leaders: Your first 100 days will fly past and before you know it a competing priority has hijacked the customer experience effort. Ensure you ride on the momentum and excitement of customer discovery to capitalize and drive quick-win actions for change.
Mature Leaders: Be prepared to be flexible and adaptable in driving customer-led change and master the leadership qualities of collaboration and communication to harness the multiplier effect of the ‘many hands make light work’ principle.

Customer experience leadership excellence helps change our customers’ world. They are catalysts that disrupt and drive positive change that’s great for customers and equally great for business.

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