Authenticity in customer-centricity – how today’s business has to be built on trust


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Trust is at the heart of every business transaction, big and small. If anything, technology has made it even more important and given us new ways to build it.

A decade ago the idea of staying in a stranger’s house during your vacation would have been unthinkable. Then along came Airbnb and changed the way people travel forever. They did it by building trust, in their own brand and between individuals. In simplifying the communication between hosts and guests and allowing guests and hosts to rate each other while constantly iterating the system to improve it, Airbnb gave its customers the ability to assess other people’s reputations and created trust in the booking process. Airbnb’s whole product is built on trust, and the business of trust has turned them into a company worth billions.

Trust from the top

So how does an organisation build trust? Leadership is the lynchpin. The leadership of the organisation has to take customer service seriously and not just give it lip service. It’s not enough to say “yes we’re customer-centric and we have good customer support. We answer the phone really fast and we solve our problems very quickly.” That’s not what it’s about.

It’s about saying, genuinely, that the whole company is going to align behind its customer strategy and is going to take the time to understand it from an entire sales process and strategy. Leadership needs to take a stance, it needs to be authentic and they need to back it up by empowering the organisation to own it across different functions – from product idea, to design, to implementation and improvement.

Fundamental to this is designing and building a frictionless process which makes this easy for the entire business: for customers, for partners, for the whole ecosystem. Businesses need to have a digital strategy that joins the dots to understand how they make sure they automate, have transparency, and are looking at continuous improvement through a combination of technology, process, and the smart people they have.

It means a commitment to transparency which starts with gathering data, turning that into useful information, and sharing that internally to understand where improvements can be made. It means listening to what customers are saying and building feedback into everywhere in the business and everything the business does.
But it starts with leadership first – if it’s not serious, if the business leader isn’t authentic about it, success is unlikely because the team will follow the leadership role model.

Trust and service

Customers buy a service, they don’t buy technology. They buy an outcome or an experience. A customer buying from an organisation is effectively saying “you’ve made me a promise, I expect you to deliver on that promise.” In this service experience, every part of the business has to collaborate, and every part of the business has to be joined up on what they’re trying to achieve. True customer service isn’t restricted to the customer service or marketing teams, it should span all functions of the business.

I like to see product groups working in the field across teams, in cross-functional working groups. Building that into ways of working breaks down the silos which prevent the opportunity to learn what’s happening with customers, but also what’s happening within teams. The sharing of ideas, innovation, and customer feedback needs to be built into the business’ fundamental way of working.

Trust and the team

If your team is engaged and aligned and feel informed, in turn they create the right passion within the organisation, and will embody that in everything they do. Team engagement is part of customer-centricity. Engage your employees, understand where they’re coming from, measure their engagement and satisfaction and find vehicles and ways to engage with them, formally and informally, to make sure you’re getting their feedback. An aligned, empowered, inspired and informed organisation is going to take you far.

The other thing that’s important in leading teams is not being afraid to share bad news. If a business misses its numbers, has an issue with a latest product release, as an outage, share it, because those people might just say “we won’t let that happen again.” They also might have answers, that, maybe as leaders, we haven’t thought of yet. Include them and make the company better by sharing all of the news. They are the people that run the business every day – it’s not the COO or the CEO, it’s the 100s of people in the business that make it happen.

If you want to measure all aspects of your business and what’s happening with your customers – start by building employee engagement into the company culture and make sure as a leader, you understand it. You want a happy, innovative, social, happy team and need to know that’s where they are at. This level of engagement can make a business from good to great.

Trust disappears a lot faster than it can be built, or rebuilt. Take customer-centricity seriously, it doesn’t just happen. It’s not about customer service, it’s about your entire organisation aligning around your customer and bringing value to them. Build it in early and bring it to life, and your customers and your team will respond in kind.

Carmen Carey
Carmen Carey is the COO of Unbabel. Founded in Lisbon, Portugal, in 2013, the company’s vision is to become the “World’s Translation Layer.”Unbabel eliminates language barriers for many global enterprises, including Facebook, Expedia, and Skyscanner. Carmen is a prominent woman in tech whose career to date encompasses leadership roles as an executive in fast growing global VC-backed and publicly traded technology companies. Before joining Unbabel she was CEO of Apica, and has also been CEO of Big Data Partnership, COO of MetaPack, CEO of ControlCircle and COO of MessageLabs.


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