Five (of Ten) Foundational Principles of a Customer-Centric Organization

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Customer-centricity is an often misused term, but it actually has a pretty straightforward definition: put the customer at the center of all the business does. (It does not mean that we will always say “Yes” to everything the customer asks for, nor does it mean that the customer is always right.) That means that you take the time to understand your customers and then don’t make any decisions without thinking of the customer and the impact that decision has on her.

To define a customer-centric organization, I like to say: No discussions, no decisions, no designs without bringing in the customer and her voice, without asking: how it will impact the customer? how it will make her feel? what problems it will help her to solve? what value it will create and deliver for her?

To get your entire organization thinking differently, you’ve got to first know and embrace the principles and the practices of customer-centricity, and you’ve got to ensure that everyone remains aligned to achieve the desired outcomes of designing such an organization.

The following outlines five of the ten principles of customer-centricity that I write about in my latest book, Built to Win: Designing a Customer-Centric Culture That Drives Value For Your Business. I’ll share the other five in next week’s post.

Principle 1: Culture is the foundation. Culture = core values + behavior. You’ve got to have the core values in place to support a customer-centric culture. A culture of customer-centricity is one that is deliberately designed to be that way. And that only happens when there’s a commitment from the top to put the customer and the customer experience front and center. It then becomes a mindset shift and a behavior shift for the organization, and, ultimately, a culture shift.

The values must be socialized and operationalized. Acceptable behaviors must be outlined to help employees and executives know what it means to be customer-centric. And no processes or policies should be developed without the values (and, hence, the customer) in mind. The same goes for when decisions are made.

Principle 2: Leadership commitment and alignment are critical to success. If your CEO doesn’t demonstrate commitment to the transformation by being the role model for how to deliver a great experience and by committing resources to achieve the goal, it won’t happen. As a matter of fact, it can’t just be the CEO; it must be demonstrated by the entire leadership team. There must be alignment across the board.

Leaders across the board must commit to putting the customer at the heart of the business. That commitment comes not only in a verbal form but also in the form of resources – human, time, capital, etc. – to show employees that “we mean business.” Commitment is real; it’s tangible.

Principle 3: Employees must be put more first. You cannot be customer-centric without putting employees more first. Who is supposed to be customer-centric? Employees. Plus, we know that the employee experience drives the customer experience, so you’ve got to design and deliver a great experience for employees first in order for them to take on customer-centric behaviors and actions.

Putting employees more first means that you will take the time to understand your employees, their needs, and their pain points so that you can design a great experience for them. This includes ensuring they have the tools, training, resources, processes, and policies to be customer-centric.

Principle 4: People before products. Customer-centric companies put the customer into all they do, including when they design products and services. For whom are you developing the product if you don’t consider the customer and understand what problems your product will solve for her?

As such, you must bring your understanding of customers’ needs, problems to solve, and jobs to be done into product design and development. Help your customer solve problems; don’t just create products and add features and functionality (which add complexity, oftentimes) without customer understanding. Find products for customers, not customers for your products.

Principle 5: People before profits. Customer-centric companies take a different stance when it comes to business. They realize that when they take care of their people, the numbers will come.

They approach business from a different lens: they focus on taking care of employees and delivering a great employee experience, understanding the employee experience-customer experience connection, and creating and delivering value for their customers and for the communities around them – knowing that the outcome is that shareholders will achieve value, too. They look at the full equation, not just on that latter component.

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That’s it for the first five foundational principles. Check out Built to Win (download a free chapter via that link!) for more details, brand examples, and action plans to adhere to these principles and to transform your business to one that is customer-centric. It’s paramount to remember that a customer-centric organization is one that is deliberately designed to be that way.

Fix the culture, fix the outcomes.

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