Customer-Centered Culture: Do This, Not That


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Customer-Centered CultureCustomer-centricity means so many things to different people, but to customers it means one thing: having their best interests as your top priority. Let’s face it: whatever your heart is centered on is where you’ll most likely excel. We see it again and again with marriages, children, hobbies, and bosses — when your efforts are centered around any of those interests, your outputs will probably be rewarded accordingly.

A customer-centered culture is not “driven” by customers to exclude the interests of employees or shareholders/investors. If you think about it, customers don’t want your employees or your company to be unsuccessful. But to maximize your success, you need to optimize (i.e. balance) everyone’s interests, with the lifeblood of everyone’s compensation as your guiding light. The lifeblood of paychecks, dividends, and budgets is not revenue per se — that’s a by-product — rather, the lifeblood is this: addressing customers’ needs better than anyone/anything else is addressing them.

customer centric executivesTo be clear about customers’ needs, it pays to keep in mind that customers buy from you in order to enable a capability they’re seeking: peace of mind, enjoyment, pain avoidance, growth, life itself, and/or to serve their stakeholders’ needs. These needs, from a customer-centered perspective, are called “customers’ jobs-to-be-done“.

Regardless of industry awards for best customer satisfaction, or managements’ conviction that customer-centered culture is already strong, it’s always best to check with your customers about their view: do they feel that you have their best interests as your top priority? Study after study shows a mis-match between customers’ and management’s perspective of customer-centered maturity. For example, the CMO Council found that 56% of managers felt their companies were highly customer-centric, while their customers viewed only 12% of these companies as highly-customer-centric.

This mis-match in perspectives is rooted in the definition of your business’ purpose (the lifeblood or its by-product), what you’re supposed to be doing to meet that purpose (as described above), and how you’re guiding executives and employees to achieve it. The mis-match is short-changing everyone: customers, employees, and shareholders/investors. To maximize your company’s lifeblood and its necessary by-product, it’s necessary to center your culture on customers.

Here are 3 keys to getting it right: set yourself up for success, nurture mindsets, and encourage behaviors for customer-centered excellence.

1) Setup for Success: “Culture” is an organization’s way of thinking and doing. Straightforward assessment of mindsets and behaviors is the essential starting point — and ongoing reality-check — for becoming what your customers need you to be.

DO THIS: Get objective assessments of executives’ and employees’ customer-centered thinking and doing, early and often. Not just customer-facing folks, but everyone behind the scenes and your alliance partners, suppliers, etc. Create a shared vision that’s based on customers’ views. Set expectations for broad engagement in actions and closing the loop with customers. Draft a roadmap that injects customer-centered decisions and actions into everything the company does.

NOT THAT: Expediting issues for top customers is not a good measure of being customer-centered. Neither is a feeling of being close to your customers because of physical proximity or frequency or intensity of interactions. Why? Because it’s typically too little, too late, and because everyone in your company has a ripple effect on customers’ jobs-to-be-done. Being reactive is costly. Being proactive is efficient. Being systemic and holistic is the key to being effective.

2) Nurture Customer-Centered Mindsets: It’s easy to assume that everyone knows what they need to about what’s important to customers. Perhaps your employees use your products and services in their households, or maybe your executives have worked in the industry for decades. In any case, your “sample size” of inputs about customers’ needs is likely too small, and/or your company-wide shared vision of what it means to be customer-centered is probably limited, fractured, or even outdated.

DO THIS: Share customers’ feedback, suggestions, and stories broadly and frequently. Use customer experience excellence characteristics as criteria for hiring, promoting, onboarding, and training employees at all levels and in all functional areas. Establish a commitment-making process and consequences (positive and negative). Coordinate managers of various customer experience efforts (e.g. CRM, VoC, references, retention, acquisition, service, design, messaging, etc.).

NOT THAT: While the attentiveness and friendliness of front-line employees and other customer touch-points are necessary, they’re insufficient. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and customer-facing employees and technologies are at the end of a long line of links that permeate everyone inside your company, as well as those you depend upon externally to enable customers’ jobs-to-be-done. The interdependence of people, processes, and technologies is real. The interdependence of layers within each of these 3 components is always in motion.

3) Encourage Customer-Centered Behaviors: To influence the outcomes ‘re seeking, start at what creates those outcomes: behaviors of employees at all levels and in all functional areas. Mindsets and behaviors are in a perpetual reinforcement loop that results in the reality your customers experience.

DO THIS: Reward teamwork that exemplifies your vision of what it means to be customer-centered. Keeping interdependence in mind, prevent silos of information and efforts, and use customer experience inputs to guide strategies, operating plans, policies, processes, and day-to-day work. Incent leaders and laggards across your company to learn collectively, moving your whole company to stronger maturity in being customer-centered as your customers define it.

NOT THAT: Recognition and bonus criteria that are focused on customers’ behavior, instead of employees’ behavior, is problematic. Recognition and financial incentives that focus on individual employees, instead of teams, also short-changes what it takes to be a customer-centered company.

A sensible approach to customer-centricity is what’ needed for sustained customer experience business results. In fact, companies that optimize (i.e. balance) the interests of investors, employees, and customers — keeping an eye on customers’ jobs-to-be-done as a guiding light — have proven superior financial health, growth, and raving fans, as described in the book Firms of Endearment. For long-lasting customer experience ROI, set yourself up for success, nurture mindsets, and encourage behaviors that build customer-centered excellence.


  1. Customer Experience Strategy is one of the six domains in the body of knowledge advocated by the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA).
  2. The concept of “Do This, Not That” is borrowed from the popular book “Eat This, Not That“, where the weaknesses of common practices and myths are brought to light and sensible replacements are recommended.
  3. Other articles in this series:

Contact the author, Lynn Hunsaker, to find out how to customize these practices to your situation.


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Republished with author's permission from original post.

Lynn Hunsaker

Lynn Hunsaker is 1 of 5 CustomerThink Hall of Fame authors. She built CX maturity via customer experience, strategic planning, quality, and marketing roles at Applied Materials and Sonoco. She was a CXPA board member and SVAMA president, taught 25 college courses, and authored 6 CXM studies and many CXM handbooks and courses. Her specialties are B2B, silos, customer-centric business and marketing, engaging C-Suite and non-customer-facing groups in CX, leading indicators, ROI, maturity. CX leaders in 50+ countries benefit from her self-paced e-consulting: Masterminds, Value Exchange, and more.


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