Recently I was talking with Dmitry Pukhov, co-founder and owner of a very successful event catering company in Moscow. When I asked him about customer-centric leadership he said the core characteristic is a desire to help people that comes from the heart. He said he believes that we all have a gene that can create a drive to provide service to others. But only some people have developed this gene – through their upbringing, experience, interaction with others who use it and mentoring from customer-centric role models.
There is some scientific evidence to support this. Research shows that people who are more caring and compassionate towards others share a common gene variation linked to the receptor for oxytocin (sometimes referred to as the “love” hormone) that plays a key role in the formation of social relationships and impacts our capacity for empathy. The science suggests that those with the “GG” variant of this gene are better with people and generally more caring.
But all is not lost for those of us that don’t have the “GG” genotype. There is also evidence to suggest that compassion and empathy can be developed through socialization with people that role model it and experiences that elevate it.
I asked Dmitry why his business is so successful – it has grown rapidly over the 12 years since he founded it – and he told me it is because being customer-centric and service focused has always been the driver in his business. He recruits people that exhibit the customer-centric gene and invests in the ongoing development of the gene in all his staff.
Are you using your customer-centric gene or is it dormant? If you want to know what to do to develop it, refer to our book: The Customer Culture Imperative.
A friend of mine recently retired as the head of emergency services for a county outside Washington, DC. His current gig is a volunteer EMT, a job he held at the beginning of his career. “I can’t think of anything better than helping someone recover from an injury,” he recently told me, adding, “what really stresses me out are spreadsheets.” He said it in a lighthearted way, but I knew he wasn’t kidding. Here is a person who is more settled working with life-threatening situations than sitting in front of a computer and typing on a keyboard. “I knew I wanted to do this work ever since I was a kid,” he said, citing the TV show Emergency as an early inspiration.
Not everyone who goes into customer service or sales roles become drawn to it in early childhood, but I suspect that many who pursue a career in these capacities similarly self-select into it, genes notwithstanding. If you don’t find genuine pleasure working with people, customer-facing roles won’t be your thing. My friend was honest with himself about his distaste for office work, and was able to pursue his passion.
Be careful where gene-based explanations take you! Hair color is genetic. Does this mean red-headed people just naturally have hot tempers? Skin color is genetic. Are people with black skin just naturally more athletic? Certain learning disabilities like dyslexia are genetic. Do people with dyslexia (like Leonardo Di Vinci, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Ludwig Beethoven, Richard Branson, Walt Disney, Steven Spielberg), just naturally creative? I am not suggesting this research is a hoax, just concerned about it be used as an excuse, copout, generalization, and the most insidious–profiling people into categories unrelated to their humanity.
Great story Andrew, thanks for sharing it! I think it is something everyone can develop to varying degrees but certainly comes naturally to some people more than others. I am more of a spreadsheet guy and yet enjoy interacting and working with customers. In today’s business world it really takes a multi-disciplinary team to create great customer experiences, what unites those teams is a common desire to create the best solution and experience for customers.
I am not sure it is a gene. It probably has to do with mind-set. And if the mind-set is I have to do everything to make the customer happy and make it right for the customer, you are all set. The gene will help.
People who are hard driving and also with the customer mindset can be more customer centric than those who are laid back with the right genes
Dmitry makes an important point. Proactive, ambassadorial employee behavior can certainly be trained; however, it is easier to get such staffers when beginning with individuals already equipped with some of these native proclivities. Example: Southwest Airlines is noted for utilizing panels of current employees and volunteer passengers to screen applicants for ‘people-first’ traits. To only bring culturally consistent employees on board, Southwest turns away or eliminates 98% of those who apply.
Yes Chip, I agree. This is one possible piece of many that make up the jigsaw puzzle of customer-centric people. Environmental factors such as early experiences, training and business role models are probably other pieces that contribute to developing a customer-centric mindset. As Michael has noted with Southwest Airlines I see many more companies today looking for people with these characteristics – not only for front-line roles but in support functions where cross-functional collaboration is a key to delivering a consistently great customer experience.