By now, every CEO knows that a stronger customer focus is the answer to many of their business challenges. Why therefore do so many companies still struggle to adopt a customer-first strategy and culture?
Read on for my own thoughts and perspectives on what should be a top company objective for proven business success.
1. The CEO has stated it as a company objective but has not detailed what and how the organisation will change
While it is essential that a customer-first strategy has a board-level sponsor, it is important that every employee understands their role in making it happen. It should not be treated as just another project but as a long-term company top 3 objective.
When this happens, every division is obliged to see how they will be impacted and what part they will play in meeting it. This is one area where the CEO can’t set it and forget it. He/she needs to be regularly informed of progress and ask “awkward” questions to ensure that everyone is embracing it. Without company-wide support, it will never succeed.
2. The organisation has not fully embraced the strategy
As mentioned above, everyone has a role to play in satisfying and delighting the customer. It is not the job of marketing, sales or market research alone. It is vital that each employee thinks customer first and ensures that every action and decision they make is customer centric.
One easy way to do this is to ask this question at the end of every meeting: “what would our customers think of the decision we just made?” If there is something they wouldn’t like or you know that you yourself wouldn’t approve of, then it needs to be reconsidered.
3. The project is treated just like any other
As with every well-defined objective, it is important that there is a leader supported by a team, to make progress while also adapting and adjusting as challenges arise in its execution. The same is true for a customer-first strategy.
However, unlike most other projects, this one will not have an end date! It should have a timeline to identify milestones, of course. But as the customer will continue to change, the actions needed will need constant adaptation. I like to say that “customer-centricity is a journey, not a destination.”
4. The initiative does not have a visible leader
The initiative must have an executive sponsor and a passionate and charismatic leader, to excite and drive the whole organisation towards a more customer-centric approach to business.
Once the board has endorsed the initiative, the every-day leadership should be handled by someone who exemplifies customer-centricity and has a passion for customer delight. In the most customer-centric organisations, this person is a Chief Customer Officer who sits on the executive board alongside the CEO, CFO and CMO.
According to this recent article in Forbes, the responsibilities of a CCO are to:
- 1. Bring The Customer To Life
- 2. Reach Outside The Organization
- 3. Involve The Front Lines
- 4. Embrace The Data
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As you can see, these are actions that demand specific capabilities that complement rather than replace those of the heads of sales, marketing and PR. That is why a customer-first strategy needs a separate functional head. Trying to integrate these into the responsibilities of these leaders is unlikely to meet with much success.
5. No-one understands how to move the initiative forward.
When you don’t know where you’re going, most people are afraid to take the first step. But that’s the only one you need to know. It’s easier to course-correct when you are moving than when you’re standing still. As already mentioned, customer centricity is a journey, not a destination.
That’s why many organisations now work with a business catalyst to help them take those all important first few steps. Once the project is up and running, occasional sessions are then sufficient to keep the internal excitement for the customer growing.
6. Everyone in the organisation is not clear about their role in satisfying and delighting the customer.
It is well-known that companies such as Amazon and Zappos have new employees enjoy direct contact with the customer from their very first days working in the company. However, this is something that should be encouraged on an ongoing basis as well.
Ideally, every employee should get the chance to watch, listen and interact with customers regularly. The best organisations have such connections on every employee’s annual objectives, specifying such exchanges on a monthly basis as a minimum.
7. They think it costs too much
While this may be the perception, in reality, it costs a lot more NOT to adopt a customer-first strategy. It makes both business sense AND customer sense.
There has been so much research done on the impact of a customer- first strategy that there is no doubt that it provides a positive ROI (return on investment):
- Walker found that 86% of buyers would pay more for a better experience.
- Genesys showed that improving the experience for customers is the key to increasing retention, satisfaction and sales.
- Deloitte and Touch claim that customer centric companies are 60% more profitable.
- Bain & Company research shows that increasing customer retention rates by 5% increases profits by between 25% and 95%.
These numbers should be sufficient to convince every CEO that a customer-first strategy is worth investing in. In fact, it is an essential strategy every CEO would be wise to adopt, no matter what industry they are in.
So what are you or your CEO waiting for? Did I miss a different problem you are currently facing? What other challenges have you faced or are now facing in adopting a customer-first strategy? Please let me know by adding your comments below.