Keeping a Customer-Centric Culture During Social Distancing

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It’s probably safe to say that few of our organizations, no matter how well-meaning, eased perfectly into these new routines of working from home and distancing ourselves physically from our workplaces, our colleagues, our teams and our customers.

There is a myth that customer-centric cultures happen by intuition and a little magic. “Their people just get it!” Building a truly customer-centric culture is a strategy that requires business discipline and real practices.

How can leaders continue to focus on brand culture today, in times of social distancing?

1. Set the stage.

Clear, communicated expectations are critical right now.

I totally understand this is a big challenge. It’s hard to set the stage for long-term goals and “what’s next” when so many of us simply can’t predict. We don’t have clear ideas around timing, changes in the market, and how we’ll all be feeling from one day to the next.

Instead of forecasting for the year, quarter or even month, it might be enough to say “this is what we need to focus on today.”

What was motivating your drive to be customer-focused before all these changes hit? That still matters.

  • Share that motivation with the team and do so on a regular basis.
  • Communicate what your expectations are around how to deliver to customers.
  • Forecast what you can, when you can.

If your customers need specific types of help right now, clearly define what help you’re offering. Doing this for customers and your team will minimize confusion and uncertainty, which is something we all need less of right now.

2. Continue to look for gaps and pain points in your customer’s journey.

Today might not be the day to revamp the entire digital experience, even though that may have been the original plan for the year. But today might be the day to review what you’ve learned so far about what needs to be improved and act quickly on the ways that will help the most.

Those needs might be temporary. There are new and shifting pain points based on today’s reality. Addressing these new pain points quickly is an impactful way to serve customers. Working as a team to solve these new challenges means building a culture that is focused on your customers.

Using customer journey maps, or even building a few during this time, is a great way to lead.

  • Approach other teams and departments to brainstorm ideas for quick innovation around these real challenges.
  • Build that cross-functional team around customer experience and lean in on the expertise from other leaders.

If everyone is focused on the customer, it becomes less about departmental ownership and more about the entire customer journey. Your people want to help right now, and serving in this way might be a great way for them to do it.

3. Make empathy an action.

It’s one thing to remind your team to show empathy to customers. It’s another thing to dedicate time to internalize it.

Empathy can only happen when we really understand the other person and the emotions they’re feeling. One of the best ways to do this is to hear a customer story, read real comments from customers, or ask your front-line staff to share one story of how they helped a customer in need.

The best organizations do this anyway. They make time to share how one connection, one reaction, one creative workaround made a difference to a customer. It’s a powerful way to help your team zero in on why this matters. Prioritizing this shows how important this level of empathy is to your team.

If you are having a virtual daily stand-up meeting or a weekly team gathering, those are great opportunities to share customer stories.

  • Look in your survey feedback, or seek out recordings for customer stories.
  • Share with the team and identify what feelings were there and how your organization either supported that customer or didn’t.
  • Share the bad comments, too. It’s not always easy to hear, but some of those stories can really challenge us to practice empathy in better ways in the future.

Empathy is always a critical part of a customer-centric culture. Today, it’s a critical part of getting through the day.

4. Ramp up your gratitude.

Your team is working under the same stress as all of us right now. Look for ways to thank individuals and teams who went above and beyond for customers. Then express that gratitude privately and publicly.

Thank you goes a long way.

  • Show your team how customers show their appreciation now, too.
  • Now is not the time to breeze through those customer comments that say “Jack was great. I really appreciate the help.”
  • Instead of the usual “atta boy” that might happen, take a minute to tell Jack how he not only delivered for the customer, but also delivered for your brand.

That customer will remember kindness during this time well beyond that comment. That will ultimately serve the organization.

Making a point to provide kudos in a public way, even if it’s on the team Slack channel, reminds your entire team how to connect their daily actions with staying focused on customers.

5. Celebrate those victories.

It’s true you might have some chutes during this time before you get to the ladders. Your customer experience metrics might show customer frustration, your contact centers might have long hold times as record numbers of customers seek support. It’s hard to hear those negative things day after day, week after week. It might start feeling like “why should we care?”

It’s understandable, but continuing to care is as important now as ever.

Those little victories are still there, and it’s time to celebrate those.

  • Maybe your team managed to address the newest frequently asked questions via the app, which led to a slight dip in inbound inquiries to your customer service team.
  • Or maybe that Customer Satisfaction Rate decrease is actually tied to how customers are so disappointed they can’t get to your physical locations, and the comments show that.

Everyone needs a win right now, and it’s imperative we share and celebrate those.

Recapping 5 ways to keep a customer-centric culture during social distancing:

  1. Set the stage. Clear, communicated expectations are critical right now.
  2. Continue to look for gaps and pain points in your customer’s journey. Using customer journey maps, or even building a few during this time, is a great way to lead.
  3. Make empathy an action. Share a customer story, read real comments from customers, or ask your front-line staff to share one story of how they helped a customer in need.
  4. Ramp up your gratitude. Look for ways to thank individuals and teams who went above and beyond for customers. Then express that gratitude privately and publicly.
  5. Celebrate those victories. Everyone needs a win right now, and it’s imperative we share and celebrate those.

Staying focused on building a customer-centric culture is one way to really serve both your customers and employees.  I’ve watched as brands of all kinds have adapted in record time, innovated around products that are useful now and offered services customers need in times of challenges.

What action can you take today to serve your customers and your employees during this time? Start with one of these ideas and then invite your team into the process.

They’re ready, and so are you.

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