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.
While an upward trajectory in sales, profit or market share can be induced (increased via forced or non-organic means) through marketing and price enticements or business expansion and acquisitions, organic growth is spurred by customers’ passion for your brand. Organic growth — without costly marketing/price enticements — is ideal.
Organic growth is the aim of customer experience management: customer retention, share of customer wallet, customer engagement, customer referrals for market share growth — customer lifetime value.
What gets people ahead — or not — is the reality of your culture. These motives drive performance. If motives favor financial factors over customer passion factors, you’ll be leaving money on the table. Financial factors require ongoing enticements and expansions for growth at a steep cost. Financial factors put the cart before the horse: customers are the source of financials, so customers represent the horse and financials represent the cart. Remember that investors leave when customers leave, not the other way around. If you’re following the money you’re following customers, correctly.
Customer passion for your brand requires customer-centered business management. The more your business feels like a natural fit for your customers, the more passionate they’ll be. A win-win attitude is required in everything your business does in order to be customer-centered. Win-win criteria for business rituals demonstrate your conviction that doing what’s best for customers will in due course serve all other needs.
Here are 4 prerequisites to growth-driving motives:
1st Prerequisite: Center Your C-Team on Customers
Corporate objectives must make it clear that customers’ well-being is your path toward growth. Ensure your strategic planning process starts with what’s important to customers. Regularly assess what’s at-odds or in-harmony with your customer experience objectives: structure, agendas, communications, and decision-making.
One example of this was shared by the CEO of HCL Technologies who drove complete realignment of his company to cater to what customers need. Another example is from Kootenay Savings Credit Union, which realigned with customers from the top down to spur growth.
2nd Prerequisite: Center Your Rituals on Customers
Rituals are the regularly cadenced things you do to run your business: staff meetings, ops reviews, performance reviews, onboarding, succession, budgeting, recognition, and so forth. Inject customer-focus into all of these rituals. Initially, put a customer-focus placeholder in them and allow each work group to customize the customer-focus element, with a few examples of what’s expected. Take an inventory of what every group selected and build standardization into these rituals a little more year by year.
At Amazon, every meeting starts with a customer story to set the tone. At Applied Materials, team recognition categories and criteria fostered collaboration, customer-oriented handoffs for all employees, prevention of problem recurrence, and new value creation across the customer life cycle.
3rd Prerequisite: 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 your dashboards, scorecards, and performance targets of all kinds to first highlight what’s in it for customers, and secondarily to link what’s in it for financials, operations, employees and other stakeholders.
One example of missing the mark for customer-centered metrics was shared recently by Bruce Temkin, co-founder of the Customer Experience Professionals Association. A hotel placed a laminated letter on a bedside table with instructions to provide a “10” rating when they received a survey. In the quest to manage customer experience, this actually ruins the experience for many customers. It negates the validity of the survey. As such the investment of money and time in the survey by the company and customers is a complete waste, and even spurs ill will. It’s a blatant company-centered motive, no matter how much customer sweet talk surrounds it.
4th Prerequisite: 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 among leaders, and certainly among customer-facing personnel. At SunTrust, a couple of leaders started asking during conversations in meetings: are we saying this because customers told us so, or because we’ve been bankers so long? This question became a habit across the company. At Sungard, once a month a customer shares in a webinar what it’s like to be their customer. This has been eye-opening for engineers and others who rarely get the opportunity to see their customers’ realities.
How well do your business rituals criteria foster organic growth? When your success criteria rewards prevention of hassles and creation of mutual value, both formally and informally, that’s customer-centered.
Imagine how your culture could be more customer-centric if everyone had to demonstrate how they’re improving customer experience in order to be promoted, get a raise, get hired, receive a bonus, expand their budget, or receive recognition. (“Everyone” means every job level and functional area. “Customer” means external customers overall, as well as whoever is the recipient of each person’s output for use in subsequent processes, with customer touch-points as the end-game processes.)
Would your customers be better off? Would it be more enjoyable to work at your firm? Would that increase productivity? Would it reduce turnover of employees, customers, and shareholders? How much is turnover costing now? What’s a rough estimate of potential gains?
Think about how customer-centered business rituals criteria would change the following:
- Hunger for new insights from voice-of-the-customer
- Smooth handoffs between internal suppliers and internal customers
- Cross-organizational collaboration to improve value to customers
- Omni-channel consistency and synergy
- Balance of long-term and short-term focus
- Efforts to innovate mutual value for customers and the firm
- Silo-bridging across organizations, data, systems and processes
Customer-centered business is a way of life that keeps on giving. Customer passion is the engine for organic growth with many desirable byproducts: customer evangelists going above and beyond to promote your brands of their own accord, lower costs, more resources available for innovation, industry leadership, sustainable results.
This article is seventh 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.
Thank you for this, Lynn. As a support professional, we get that we want to put the customer ahead of financial factors but it’s often difficult to articular this to the rest of the organization (i.e. CFO). This really helps.
Thanks, Jeremy. It may seem that hands are tied for encouraging the rest of the company to help with customer experience. I found during my 11 years at Applied Materials that I could meet with the leaders of the various business rituals to make them allies in making customer needs a prominent factor in their templates and content. They took these ideas to their leaders for signoff and rollout, which they led.
Anyone leading customer experience can do this. The more allies the better. We started with something that would make sense to our execs and employees, and over time we added sophistication, especially emphasizing anticipation and prevention.
Rituals are how business gets done. So adding a customer factor to each ritual has more power than you’d imagine in shifting culture (prevailing ways of thinking and doing). As customer factors are embedded in rituals you may see more significant transformation benefiting customers . . . with a positive domino effect on employees and investors.
Your post is timely and hopefully readers will understand that the customer is, and always has been, at the center of business. Too many fads and “silver bullets” have detracted marketers in the past 25 years from understanding customers (both those that pay and the internal customers that deliver the product/service to those that pay). Peter Drucker stated so accurately “There is only one valid definition of business purpose: to create a customer… Because it is its purpose to create a customer, any business enterprise has two — and only these two—basic functions: marketing and innovation…” Too many people are enamored with the tools (advertising) and do not really know if their product or service is what the customer wants or needs. And great marketing begins at home – every employee needs to understand how their role helps drive a tighter customer relationship. Nice work tying a bow around this fundamental concept.
Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Tim. A VP I reported to said a company should have only manufacturing and sales functions, with every other function minimized or eliminated. I was shocked at such an idea, thinking every job role had an inherent right to exist.
Thinking about it, though, I see his point. The company exists to serve a customer’s need better than any other source. Financial rewards are a desirable byproduct of this. All jobs are a desirable product, too. Creation and delivery of a customer’s need is the core. Everything else is peripheral, or in service to that.
When we manage our businesses in accordance with these truths we can be much more effective and efficient. It cuts through what everyone complains about.
I’m hoping companies will enjoy much more success by centering on customers in this regard. It will make life more enjoyable for customers. We’re all customers, so we all win.
Thank you, Lynn, for the article. Liked all the points you mentioned. Out of all the points, I strongly agreed with the last one about an attitude towards customers. Always listen to what customers want from your business and try to offer services and products accordingly. Keep them happy, without them you are a big zero.
Good point, Sreekant. I’ve given a lot of thought to the best ways to listen to customers, and here are 5 keys to listening better than your competitors are listening: 5 Radical Changes to VoC of the Future for ROI Maturity.