Creating A Customer Centric Culture – 7 Simple Actions For Leaders


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“We want to build an enthusiastic, customer-centred organisation. So we’re looking for team members who value honesty and safety, people who are full of new ideas and who want to deliver a positive impact every day”. That’s a statement on Southern Rail’s website (and I suspect there’s something similar on lots of other corporate websites too).

So, when Mark Boon, the head of network operations at Southern Rail’s parent company, Govia Thameslink Railway, was seen and photographed ordering passengers on an overcrowded train to move out of a first class compartment and then taking up an extra seat with his bag and jacket, I’m not sure Mr.Boon delivered that ‘positive impact’ and acted as such a great role model when it comes to being ‘enthusiastic’ and ‘customer – centred’!!!

He’s not alone! The Leading By Example Report from The Institute Of Customer Service, reveals that many leaders fail to lead by example when it comes to demonstrating the skills front-line staff see as being key in delivering quality customer service. The report shows that employees are not particularly impressed with what their senior managers do (or don’t do!) and reveals less than 50% believe that senior executives understand customer needs.

Now, clearly these are ‘perceptions’, but often, ‘perception is reality’ and in a world of crowded markets and ever increasing customer expectations, this can have significant impacts on what front-line staff do (and don’t do) when it comes to customer service!

Creating a real customer centric culture is recognised by many as a critical factor for success in today’s ever more competitive world, but what does that actually mean, and how do the best businesses do it? Our research suggests that they take a Dramatically and Demonstrably Different approach. These 3D Leaders ensure that their culture (‘The way we do things around here’) is lived by everyone, especially the leaders. So, what should Mr. Boon (and you?) as a leader do to create and reinforce a customer centric culture?

Well, here are a 7 Simple Actions you could consider.

Action 1: Spell Out What You Expect!

3D Leaders ensure that everyone understands what’s expected of them when it comes to customers and customer service. They ensure that their culture (‘the way we do things around here’) is lived by everyone.  It means spelling out what you expect from your people – not lots of nice posters on the wall, and corporate bullshit on the website, but ‘preferred behaviours’ that are spelt out and can ‘be lived in the day to day’. It starts with the leaders and ensuring they live and reinforce these ‘behaviours’ themselves and, crucially, making sure that they are seen to be doing so. Mr. Boon doesn’t seem to have read that memo!

 Action 2: Be A Role Model – Ensure Your Actions Match Your Words!

This is a critical issue. Lots of business leaders say the right things, but don’t actually ‘live’ them. 3D Leaders ‘drive’ this stuff and ensure that they are seen as great role models. They make the ‘preferred customer service behaviours’ visible and talk about them at every opportunity. They put them on the agenda at team meetings, board meetings and corporate communications. They recognise that their people judge them not by what they say, but by what they ‘do’, and crucially, what they are ‘seen to do’. As a result, they ensure that everything they do reinforces the ‘preferred behaviours’.

In other words, it’s not what you say, it’s what you DO… and are seen to be DOING!

Action 3: Stand In Your Own Queues!

Find out what it’s like to be a customer of your business – does the experience match up to what’s promised? Visit your ‘front line’ as a customer – ring up your own business, visit your own reception, depot or shop, go on your own website – what’s it like being a customer of your business? Click on the image to get a free Stand In Your Own Queues Toolkit to help you do that. Ask your front line people what they think about what’s working and isn’t when it comes to customers and listen to their responses. Asking the questions shows them you see it as important – provided, of course you listen to, and act on, their responses! A simple questionnaire can be a good start (Get someone else to oversee it, not you.), have one to one conversations or group discussions with your people. Why not get some pizzas in, set up a discussion group to highlight ‘key customer issues’. Note – consider getting them to do it without you being there and then feedback the key issues!

Action 4: Create Conversations With Your Customers!

Find out what they think too! Lots of businesses invest a lot of time, money and effort in getting customer feedback which is great. I also think that lots of businesses waste lots of time, money and effort in getting customer feedback. Why? They ask lots of questions, but don’t actually listen, or they listen to the answers and then do nothing about what they hear! 3D Leaders create ‘Dialogue, Not Diatribes’ with their customers – why not create some dialogue with your customers? Give them a call, arrange a visit and find out what they think.

Not sure what to ask? Well, here are 3 questions to get you started…

  • Why do you buy from us? This highlights your strengths and the things you do well – some elements of which you may not be aware of. (Be careful how you phrase this – You might sound as if you’re doubting yourself if you say it wrong!)
  • What one thing do we do or don’t do that irritates or annoys you? This one speaks for itself! The key is doing something about it!
  • What one thing could we do better? Just one thing – it may highlight their priorities and key issues to help identify and develop the areas that count!

Publish, share and discuss the responses with your  people, and do something about what you find out. Make sure that you are seen to be doing so – It’s a great way of reinforcing your customer centric culture. (There are some more questions to consider here)

 Action 5: Champion Your Customer ‘Champions’…

What’s the ‘reward’ in your business for someone who does proactively ‘go the extra mile’ for a customer? What do they ‘get’? Our experience suggests that in lots of businesses, the reward for ‘doing a great job’ is they ‘get’ to do more work! Do you have someone in your team that if you want a job doing well, you give it to them? Even worse, do ‘slackers’ get away with things? Spot and Recognise those that live and demonstrate the behaviours you WANT! Establish ways of spotting and recognising those that are doing things right. Proactively ‘Champion your Champions’, encourage and support them, and where appropriate, highlight them to others in the business – it’s about creating ‘role models’!


Action 6: Challenge Your Challengers…

Constructively challenge those that don’t act in line with your ‘preferred behaviours’ – it’s about making it transparent and consistent!

And finally….

Action 7: Remove Your Blind Spots – See How You Measure Up!

You might be saying ‘I’m doing all this’. Are you really, and if you are, are you being seen to be doing it? 3D Leaders actively seek feedback and put themselves in situations that help them identify the things they’re not doing so well when it comes to this stuff. A great tool we encourage clients to use is STOP, START, CONTINUE where you ask your team what they think that you personally should ‘Stop, Start, Continue’ doing when it comes to being a role model of great customer experience. Again, this could be a simple questionnaire or group discussion – it’s about removing the ‘blind spots’ we all have.  Please remember….. the truth sometimes hurts – you have to listen to what’s said (One client of mine was once told by a team member ‘STOP breathing’!!!)

Whatever you do, the critical bit is DOING SOMETHING ABOUT WHAT YOU FIND OUT!

So, creating a customer centric culture is NOT something you just talk about, it’s something you DO! Even more importantly, it’s what you are SEEN TO DO!

Here are a couple of e-books to help you make that happen – just click on the images to download them..


And finally… if you know anyone at Southern Trains, feel free to forward this to them!!!!

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Andy Hanselman
Hi there! I help businesses and their people create competitive advantage by 'Thinking in 3D'! That means being 'Dramatically and Demonstrably Different'! I research, speak about, write about and work with businesses to help them maximise their sales and marketing, their customer service and their customer relationships.


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