How to Build Customer-Centric Culture

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Before we address how to build customer-centric culture, let’s examine the terminology: what culture is and what it is not. Culture is not executives talking about high level strategy. Equally, it is not your Brand Book. The language surrounding business strategy and brand management assumes a certain level of business acumen not required of every position in an organization. Strategy and branding are business management tools. They do not cover HOW employees work with each other and interact with customers. Some employees might not even understand some of the business language you use when you speak (and are too embarrassed to admit it)

What leaderships says on stage at a company offsite is just the first step of building customer-centric culture. As a matter of fact, if the leader does not follow through with culture driven actions, s/he risks creating a bad culture. The bigger the gap between what the leaders says and does, the greater the risk to culture. In short, culture is the alignment of what leaders say and what they do.

Let’s say a leader claims his organization has a results-driven culture. Then, he goes on to promote an employee who did not deliver results. With this misalignment, she created culture of mistrust in leadership, not the results-driven one he intended. The results driven-culture required that low performer be fired.

What is Customer-Centric Culture?

Now, let’s talk about what customer-centric culture is. The premise is that the ways executives and employees speak and act start with the customer (a customer-first mindset) and prioritize customer needs over other stakeholders’ (ie: shareholders, and, even, employees).

So, how to build customer-centric culture?

It is a difficult thing to do. You need to figure out how to motivate your employees to put the customer first.  And the only way for employees to do this is if their needs are already met. In other words, your employees can focus entirely on the customer when they are happy.

This is why we talk so much about employee experience as a first step in any customer experience project. Because, although this connection is not always obvious to leadership, for any organization to build customer-centric culture they first must build an employee-centric culture.

Co-create with Employees

I cannot tell you how often we meet with prospective clients who tell us they just finished a culture engagement. But, for some reason, the culture is not coming through in customer interactions. In other words, their people are not acting in accordance with the organizational values.

My next question is always the same. Were employees involved in creating the culture? The answer is always no.

Unless employees are engaged in the build out of your organization’s culture, they will not understand exactly what is expected of them. So do not expect that when you tell a call agent, “one of our values is CARING,”  he will go above and beyond when customers call. Your employees are not mind readers. Nor do they have your vantage point in the business. You have to translate the concepts into actions that pertain to their jobs. Or even better, ASK your employees what they can do in their day-to-day interactions to express CARING to your customers.

And don’t forget to ask what can YOU do to help them exercise CARING every day. Be willing to provide the training, technology, or procedure changes asks that will come your way.

Empower Frontline Employees

In his book “Customers for Life”, Carl Sewell wrote “The people who deal with customers must have the authority to resolve problems.” Customer-centric culture assumes employees who interact with customers have the POWER to fix customer problems and provide services above and beyond, when needed. Let’s make sure that is true.

To build customer-centric culture, you need to go through the exercise of mapping as many customer needs scenarios as possible. Then, you need to calibrate your procedures and technology to empower your employees to be the customer solution at every customer touchpoint.

Let’s take high end, elite sound equipment provider BOSE as an example. I am an existing customer since 2017, who already has purchased 3 or 4 pairs of $200+ headphones. My lifetime value is pretty high.  Last night, my customer journey stared online. The chat agent could only provide 20% off for my last transaction if HE ordered the headphones. But, he was not allowed to receive payment from me via chat. Here is a procedure that handicapped the agent to solve customer problems.

Keep in mind that customer-centric culture lives as much in the small things as the big things. To continue with my example, after a digital pay link failed to process my payment with 3 different cards, I was told to call BOSE in order to pay for the headphones, only to be told they are also not allowed to accept payment.

So, let’s evaluate what happened. A repeat customer, changed 3 channels and was unable to complete a simple purchase. A quick search of the BOSE website showed Value as one of their values (“Together, we create value for our customers.”) I have no doubt this is a commitment at the top.

However, customer-centric culture needs to include the seamless end-to-end purchasing customer journey with the technology and procedures design it requires.

Become an NPS Shop

I might sound like a broken record talking about customer feedback again. It is only because we keep interacting with firms (big and small) that do not collect customer and employee feedback.

If you want to know how to build customer-centric culture, don’t skip this step. You must collect both customer and employee feedback. Full stop. And make sure it is not the last thing on your roadmap that never happens. Collecting customer feedback is the first step of becoming customer-centric. You simply must know what your customers think about your products, services and overall experience.

How can you make the claim your have customer-centric culture if you do not know what your customers think?

Focus on Actions

To wrap up, customer centric-culture is not what your leadership and employees say. It is the alignment between what they say and what they do.

To build a network of actions that happen consistently, engage your employees in the architecture of those actions.

As the the leader, you also need to behave accordingly. At your level, what that means is you need to rule in favor of customer experience. Even when the business case has negative ROI.

You may also have to spend money on a new procedure (or two, or five) that makes the customer experience more effortless, at the expense of your P&L.

And, last but not least, you can no longer promote employees only on results. Going forward you MUST factor in HOW those employees achieved these results. If the answer is by failing to respect the culture you claim you have, you need to pass on promoting that rising star. And that will hurt. For all.

But then again, nobody said building customer centric culture is easy.

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