Customer Experience Strength Depends on Being Customer-Centered

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customer-centered customer experienceUncentered pottery will eventually crack, just as management uncentered on customers will lead to costly cracks in customer experience. A primer on using a clay pottery wheel explains: “The pot is only as true and as strong as the centering. This is a very critical step as it is the foundation of the pot.”[1] “The first thing a potter will tell you is that an uncentered piece is a worthless and ugly one. In fact, the first thing you do on a wheel is make sure the clay is perfectly centered.”[2]

Likewise, the first thing management should do is make sure the business is centered on customers. After all, when customers quit buying, all the rest becomes irrelevant.

Like clay on a potter’s wheel, a business is malleable. Your culture is pliable as long as patience, humility and perseverance prevail among the C-suite. Their attitudes will shape the malleability of the rest of the company. With workable clay, the potter must rely on proven principles for robust centering.

Here are 10 proven principles for centering your business on customers. They will lead to organic growth: an upward trajectory set in motion without ongoing stimuli. This article is the capstone of a 12-part series on Customer-Centered Business: 10 Keys to Organic Growth, which prescribed 4 prerequisites for each of these 10 keys:

1. Goals — Sharing the Vision
Customer experience programs do not add up to “a master plan” or a “plan for directing overall operations and movements”.

  • Scope Accurately: Span the end-to-end customer life cycle.
  • Identify Stakeholders: Customers plus all parties in your company (plus suppliers and partners).
  • Be Bold: By definition of “end-to-end customer experience” itself, customer-centered business is the universal aim of customer experience strategy.
  • Setup for Success: Corporate strategy and customer experience strategy must be mirror images.

2. Values — Walking the Talk
Customers see your company in terms of your people’s behaviors — not just the behaviors of customer-facing people, but everyone who sets and drives policies, processes, and handoffs throughout your company and its broader ecosystem.

  • Double-check Your Priorities: Put your money where your mouth is! Every decision you make indicates whose interests you’re putting first.
  • Double-check Your Alignment: Create a hand-in-glove experience! Everything the customer perceives about their journey with you indicates your right-fit or ill-fit for them.
  • Influence Everyday Thinking: Center your thinking on customers! That’s what customer-centricity is. “Centric” = the center of one’s attention.
  • Influence Everyday Doing: True outside-in businesses engage every job level and every functional area in proactive management of their respective ripple effects on customers.

3. Structure — Nurturing the Ecosystem
Business ecosystem (= customer experience ecosystem) includes customers, employees, suppliers, distributors, partners, agencies, competitors (in that order) and rituals (planning, funding, reviewing, rewarding, reporting, communicating, advancement, training) and the logistics and interactions between all these stakeholders and rituals. Like a rainforest ecosystem, you must think holistically about the inter-dependencies of all elements. Think about the food chain, what informs what, who influences whom, who needs whom, what makes things tick, what gets in the way of success.

  • Understand Your Company’s Whole Ecosystem: Take inventory of your company’s rituals. How could customer experience context be infused in each ritual?
  • Respect Ecosystem’s Needs in CX Hierarchy: 1st, customers are your primary source of funding, and 2nd, employees and suppliers comprise your core capabilities. 3rd, distributors and partners (channel, alliance) extend your core capabilities. 4th, all of this serves the interests of your investors.
  • Weave-in CX to Everything Everyone Does: Customer experience context for rituals, roles and decision-making of all kinds can make all the difference between ongoing success or disruptive snafus (e.g. massive costs and negative public relations from United dragging passenger from plane, Wells Fargo signing up clients to phony accounts, JC Penney abandoning discounts).
  • Maintain Strength of CX in Your DNA: When you make it integral to advancement criteria and executive hire criteria, you’ll be much more likely to maintain a strong CX ecosystem for decades to come. When you make it central to your Board of Directors’ thinking and doing, customer experience ecosystem will more likely develop deep roots within your company.

4. Processes — Preventing Silos
Silos mean you’re out of sync with customer well-being. Silo costs include re-work, delays, scrap, morale, churn and lost opportunities for your company and for customers. It’s possible that most pain in business is caused by silos, affecting employee experience, customer experience, and shareholder experience alike.

  • Sync Workflows with Ease of Doing Business: Conduct an annual audit of workflows to identify anything that’s out of sync with ease of doing business for (a) your customers, (b) your channel partners, (c) your employees. When you find something that’s a hassle, assess the ROI of fixing it in terms of consequences to your (a) customers, (b) channel partners, (c) employees, (d) financials. Let the key recipients of a process’ outcomes have the loudest voice in the audit.
  • Sync Short-Term with Long-Term: Make it clear everywhere in your company that short-term actions must sync with long-term objectives. Otherwise your carefully crafted ease-of-doing-business workflows are being sabotaged.
  • Sync Customer Experience Efforts: Ironically, in our quest to manage customer experience we may inadvertently create higher expectations and establish process silos ourselves!
  • Sync Universality: Whenever something is assigned or created, build-in universality. It’s so much simpler and cost-effective to build-in universality than to correct the lack of it later.

5. Policies — Empowering Growth
Do your policies set free your customers and your employees? Policies are designed to protect, but sometimes they disintegrate — rather than protect — customer relationships. And customers’ mistrust of companies propels regulations, protests and negative word-of-mouth. It’s a two-way street, so if you want your customers to trust and love your brand, show them you trust them and your employees as well.

  • Empower Your Target Market to Empower You: Negative policies may be aimed at the irresponsible few, yet they also affect your best customers. Turn it around. Find ways to motivate good behaviors.
  • Empower Your Employees to Empower Customers: Cumbersome employee policies may be causing you to lose customers or some of their potential spending. Productivity slumps for employees often spell delays, waits, and productivity slumps for customers.
  • Empower Yourself to Empower Customer Trust: Lax ethical standards breed sloppiness that comes back to haunt. Customers assume that the way you treat yourself and employees reflects how you value customers.
  • Empower Your Company to Empower Your Industry: Borrow best practices from other industries. Crummy practices are beneath your aspirations to be a leader. Rise above the norms.

6. Motives — Driving Win-Win Attitudes
Criteria for promotions, raises, hiring, bonuses, budget expansion and recognition reveal your true motives about customer experience. These criteria drive behavior even more than goals and values. These “business rituals” criteria are the truth about your culture. They’re the engine behind your growth.

  • Center Your C-Team on Customers: Corporate objectives must make it clear that customers’ well-being is your path toward growth. Regularly assess what’s at-odds or in-harmony with your customer experience objectives.
  • Center Your Rituals on Customers: Put a customer-focus placeholder in the template for every ritual.
  • Center Your Metrics on Customers: Organize your data with customers’ care-abouts at the center, and your other care-abouts fanning out as spokes in a wheel. Regularly assess performance targets of all kinds to first highlight what’s in it for customers.
  • Center Your Attitudes on Customers: Employees and customers take their cues from informal actions much more than executives realize. Consistency and transparency are essential, particularly by leaders, and certainly by customer-facing personnel.

7. Engagement — Collaborating for Results
Remember the last time you complained to a colleague about something you didn’t like at work? It was probably something about collaboration, right? Remember the last complaint you heard from a customer? It probably stemmed from poor collaboration: someone not being well informed, someone not paying attention to information, someone not having the other party’s back, sharing opportunities or pulling together.

  • Set the Example for 360-Degree Collaboration: In team sports, it starts with the coach’s tone, words, body language, and follow-through. Every manager bears the responsibility to provide customer experience excellence context to what they communicate verbally and non-verbally. Every manager should think of their responsibility as a 3-legged stool: accountability for customer experience ripple-effect plus talent plus resources.
  • Make it Obvious for Every Role: In team sports, every player learns how their role contributes to the whole team’s success. Use voice-of-the-customer to help your talent in every role to understand customers’ expectations.
  • Recognize it Early & Often: In team sports, ongoing praise and guidance from the coaches and team captain are vital to forming good habits that foster excellent performance under pressure and in casual play. Individuals get reinforcing feedback, yet rewards or penalties are experienced as a team.
  • Include it in All Your Plays: In team sports, it’s unheard of for one player to act independently, disregarding the other players — every play incorporates 360-degree collaboration, because getting to the goal requires alertness every moment.

8. Improvement — Preventing Issue Recurrence
The silver bullet of customer experience financial rewards is preventing recurrence of pervasive issues brought to your attention by customer feedback. By minimizing or eradicating these issues you’ll find gifts that keep on giving. You’ll redirect precious resources from massive ongoing fixes to higher-value investments.

  • Understand Customers’ Realities: Is your voice-of-the-customer (VoC) approach designed to make your whole company smarter than your competition about your customers’ realities? If not, re-design it!
  • Establish Cross-Organizational Teams: Does every organization in your company understand “what’s in it for them” regarding customer experience success or failure? If not, remind them that their budgets, salaries and dividends come from satisfied customers.
  • Understand Root Causes: Do you create action items that address the ultimate root issues? If not, make it a habit to address the fifth root. Make sure actions are not lipstick on a pig.
  • Establish Adoption & Accountability: Do you facilitate adoption and accountability for tackling chronic customer issues? If not, make this the focus of leadership at the C-level and among the customer experience management team.

9. Innovation — Creating Mutual Value
Customer experience value creation is creating mutual value for your whole customer base in any part of the end-to-end customer experience, across the full customer life cycle, spanning customers’ entire dealings with your organization, products, services, channels and affiliations. It’s value as seen by the customer, relative to their alternatives, relative to all the costs they endure, and relative to the outcomes they’re pursuing.

  • Value Your Customer Value Quotient: It opens your thinking for innovations on both sides of the ratio, where the numerator includes product and service value, and image and personal value, and the denominator includes customers’ cost dimensions: money plus time, energy worry, inconvenience, frustration, and ripple effects to the buyer’s relationships with others.
  • Value Your Value Creators: Generally, customer-facing functions are deliverers, and upstream functions are creators. The upstream functions absolutely must be plugged in to proactively manage their impact on customer experience excellence.
  • Value Everybody’s Creative Potential: Everyone in your company can contribute to customer experience value. Ideas can be borrowed from other fields, formulated in the shower, spurred by informal conversations or inspired through creativity techniques.
  • Value Constructive Feedback: Value creation is strongest in company cultures where risk is tolerated and encouraged. It’s faster when failures are welcomed as learning opportunities and shared for organizational learning. It’s more profitable when everyone has insatiable curiosity about customers’ views and their realities.

10. Momentum — Embedding Within Your DNA
Your business can develop customer-centricity DNA. How? Weave customer-centered thinking and doing in everything everyone does. Don’t make it extra work. Make it a context for all work. DNA refers to characteristics that are embedded into the fabric of your existence.

  • Align from the Top: The buck stops at the top. Anything at odds with customers’ well-being spells flaws in your company’s DNA. Focus the company on the goals of your primary customer segments. Synchronize vision, mission, values, objectives, structure, policies, and rituals with these customers’ goals.
  • All Hands On-Deck: A chain is as strong as its weakest link. Each executive who reports to the CEO plays a mission-critical role in customer-centricity DNA. Their respective organizations must be attuned to the voice-of-the-customer and its implications for their discipline’s role.
  • Maximize Value Attainment: Feed the hand that feeds you. Establish systematic cycles for company-wide attention on root causes of customers’ chronic issues, to prevent recurrence. Empower all employees to be creative in generating new value that customers will reward.
  • Maintain Transparency: Earn trust. Relationship strength is built on trustworthiness. Be straightforward, humble, brave, and generous with customers, employees, suppliers and partners of all kinds. Consistent performance over time, among locations and lines of business, and across the end-to-end customer journey is the key.

“The pot is only as true and as strong as the centering. This is a very critical step as it is the foundation of the pot.”[1]

[1] HowToMakePottery.com
[2] 8 Life Lessons Pottery Teaches

This article is twelfth in a year-long series with these topics:

Introduction: Customer-Centered Business: 10 Keys to Organic Growth

1. Goals — Sharing the Vision
2. Values — Walking the Talk
3. Structure — Nurturing the Ecosystem
4. Processes — Preventing Silos
5. Policies — Empowering Growth
6. Motives — Driving Win-Win Attitudes
7. Engagement — Collaborating for Results
8. Improvement — Preventing Issue Recurrence
9. Innovation — Creating Mutual Value
10. Momentum — Embedding Within Your DNA

Image licensed for use by ClearAction from Shutterstock.

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