Mastering Customer-Centric Culture: The 5 Essential Disciplines

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Culture is the new black.

Every year, Merriam-Webster analyzes all of the searches in their online dictionary. They find the most popular search term, with the largest increase in search volume, and give it the title of the “word of the year.”

“Culture” took home the prize in 2014.

Apparently, throughout the year, hundreds of thousands of people were looking for clarity in the broad, nebulous notion of culture.

The customer experience (CX) space has experienced a similar trend. There has been a commensurate increase in culture talk. Temkin Group recently predicted that this will be the year of the employee, and MCorpConsulting states that customer-centric culture is a top priority for companies serious about customer experience improvement.

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Are we turning CX inside-out in 2015?

Based on client and prospective client conversations in the last two weeks, we would concur with our compatriots. Customer-centricity appears to be a very real priority for CX leaders in 2015. It’s an interesting trend for our space, which traditionally views CX in an outside-in manner (i.e., customer feedback leads to internal improvements). But now, prospects and clients are asking how to develop their CX from the inside-out.

This has been so striking that we’ve kept tabs on the types of challenges we’re hearing. Here are a few comments emerging from CX leaders at mid- and large-sized enterprises:

“Our biggest gap to reaching our customer experience goals now is in changing the culture. We have all the tools for customer understanding and listening in place, what we need now is a way to measure and manage the cultural engagement piece.”

“Leadership is challenging us to define the behaviors that drive the experience for our clients. We know what engages our clients but we now need to boil this down to a core set of competencies or behaviors that everyone understands, can be trained on, and can deliver.”

“We are fundamentally changing our business model. Moving from a 50-year history of focusing on delivering products to the business market to delivering an experience to consumers. This will require a fundamental shift in our organization and we need to ensure we have the right values and culture and engagement in place to ensure our success.”

But why now?

While these executives represent very different organizations in very different sectors—communications, technology, professional services—they all have one thing in common: They’re far along the maturity curve.

They have been tackling customer or client experience for several years. They have closed-loop feedback systems. They know who their ideal customer is. They have journey-mapped, listened socially, text analyzed, base-lined NPS, identified quick wins and big, hairy CX goals. They have the foundation, the scaffolding, the walls and the roof in place.

But, now, it is time to get their house in order.

The Five Essential Disciplines

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As my colleague, George, recently wrote in his post Customer-Centric Cultures Don’t Just Happen transforming your culture to be centered on your customer takes work. It takes grit. It takes commitment. And, in our research, it also takes mastering five essential disciplines:

  1. Expectation Setting: Taking clear responsibility for the customer, and the importance of that responsibility to the organization’s mission, vision and values.

  2. Storytelling: Making a habit of collecting and sharing customer feedback and stories.

  3. Cross-Team Collaboration: Building internal trust and collaboration, and emphasizing excellence in internal customer experience, as well as external.

  4. Customer Decision-Making: Considering the customer in the terminology and language of the business, when setting priorities, and when making decisions.

  5. People Practice Design: Aligning major people practices—hiring, training, performance management, rewards and authority levels—around the customer.

How well would you rate your organization on these disciplines? Where are you falling short?

What next?

Just like the steps you took to understand your customers, your customer-centric culture transformation begins with a baseline understanding of where you are today. The PeopleMetrics CX Culture Navigator tool can help you establish where you are on five, proven dimensions of a customer-centric culture. Then we can give you a roadmap with clear steps and programs to your goal.

However, if your organization isn’t yet ready to jump into diagnosis—perhaps you haven’t made friends with HR yet—we have developed a duct-tape, elbow-grease approach that should get you part of the way there. You can download our FREE 10 question self-assessment tool by clicking the button below. Complete it yourself or bring it to your next CX Council or Executive Team meeting.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Kate Feather
Kate is the leader of Customer Experience Transformation practice at PeopleMetrics. She partners with dozens of Fortune 1000 companies to provide Customer Experience Strategy and Voice of the Customer consulting services.

8 COMMENTS

  1. Great article. When first attempting these types of approaches, we were afraid our team would feel like it was going to seem disingenuous. The interesting thing was that it started a conversation. The more people spoke about client experiences, the more excited they became. At the end of the day, its about communication and community.

  2. The reason why we need to establish a customer-centric culture is because we’d like our patrons to really love and establish their loyalty with us.
    In the organization that we belong, we should able to convey our beliefs to everyone more clearly and express them with values. These values must explain how our staff, suppliers and customers should be treated. If we need to put these beliefs in pictures, do it. Making our philosophy clear to all must be our priority.

  3. We have been always saying that a transformation of corporate thinking and mind-set is required to get a customer culture. This transformation starts at the top and has to go through all levels and all departments.
    Unfortunately, like CX transformations and Customer culture transformations, this is often done only at selected employees/departments.
    Thus the culture does not really change. No wonder Dick Lee laments that more companies are not becoming like Amazon et al

  4. Kate…I would add “Customer Presence” to your five disciplines. All of the customer-centric organizations with which I have worked–companies like Ritz-Carlton Hotels, USAA, Cadillac, Marriott, etc.–find ways to directly involve customers in the design, planning, and often delivery of service. Instead of just surveys, they have customers attend important meetings to offer input and feedback. Focus groups are held on-site so employees can watch, not at an off-site marketing research facility. They find unique and creative ways to stand in their customers shoes, not as a spectator but as an actor. The customer’s presence in the life of the company is direct, not indirect; real, not symbolic.

  5. Thanks for your comments, Marc and Allen. Completely agree that it starts with clarity and collaboration. In our Employee Engagement research we have discovered that the highest performing employees are engaged most by their organization’s customer focus – the support for the customer in words and actions from the top down. Defining, sharing, and working together in service of the customer is not only the route of building customer loyalty but also the route to engaging top performers.

    Realized that the link to our Customer Centric Culture self-assessment tool wasn’t included in the reprint of this article. If anyone is interested you can download here:

    http://bit.ly/15CbcK5

    Thanks!

  6. Agree with building the customer-centrtic culture from the inside-out; however, in addition to integration of customers into the culture as Chip suggests, it’s also absolutely essential that internal and external stakeholders contribute to understanding how effectively the goal of customer centiricity is being reached. This requires fairly detailed and thorough outside-in, voice of the stakeholder, dimensional and micro-segmented input that goes beyond anecdotal data collection and storytelling. http://customerthink.com/inside_out_advocacy_creating_and_sustaining_customer_centricity_and_loyalty/

    Further, there needs to be a cultural gauge, through reputation and image analysis, on how the visible DNA of the enterprise is perceived. There is a definite connection between how the organization is viewed and how stakeholders behave: http://customerthink.com/corporate_reputation_and_advocacy_linkage/

    Finally, completely agree with People Practice Design built around the customer, which I would label and define as employee ambassadorship, a more customer-focused concept than employee engagement: http://customerthink.com/do-you-really-wanna-work-here/

  7. Agreed great article and I agree with Chip “Customer Presence” is key. I suggest we also add ‘aligned values’ to the list. The core of culture is its values. It, and the informal organization, is what guides the right behavior. A culture that rewards only profit but not satisfaction will struggle with customer-alignment until it changes its values (not just put words on a poster) and the leadership team acts in accordance with those values.

  8. Terrific article and a smart series of comments.
    To add to the dialogue, here’s a recent experience with a 30-year-old company.
    Anticipating resistance to change from senior levels and lower levels, the VP Marketing asked us to conduct Voice of Customer research with customers and sales channels.
    The VP then used the VoC findings to engage the CEO and President to support the change process. The VP then launched a small test program based on recommendations from the research. Armed with the quantifiable results from the pilot, the VP was able to reinforce the value of reengineering to the President and CEO who then agreed to take action and directed HR to develop comprehensive customer centricity training for every employee.
    One of the tests of the efficacy of this strategy was whether people at the loading dock and mailroom could articulate the customer centricity vision as well as the executive suite. When that occurred we felt we were on the road to meaningful change.

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