Raise the temperature to achieve customer-centricity


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It is 14 degrees BELOW zero on the farenheight scale here in Minneapolis today. That’s without wind chill factor, so anything I write today is mindful of raising the temperature.

Raising the temperature is actually one of the tactics leaders employ to drive adaptive change. More on that and other tactics in a moment.

In our last few posts (you can link to them below) we began to address the challenge of creating sustainable change, especially when the type of change isn’t just a technical challenge against which you deck more resources, or a puzzle with one and only one correct answer. Customer- centricity sometimes looks like a puzzle or technical challenge, but other times it is really an adaptive challenge.

By ‘adaptive’ I mean a challenge where the answer isn’t clear ahead of time, where there is uncertainly along the way and some risk of failure even as you start to give up current behavior patterns. Not surprising, adaptive challenges can be scary, driving some to try to force it into a technical solution, or attack those who place a spotlight on the uncertainty of the road ahead.

So what’s a leader to do?

Ron Heifetz and colleagues have written several books on the topic of adaptive leadership, where there are no easy answers. Here are four ways to raise the temperature, which means to increase tension within the organization so people give the challenge of change more than lip service:

  1. Draw attention to the tough questions. It’s not enough to say “We will be customer-centric”; it’s a matter of surfacing the underlying dilemma that becoming more customer-centric requires giving up on some cherished ways of protecting the bottom line, and to do this without driving the company into an unprofitable state.
  2. Give people more responsibility that they are comfortable with. Customer scripts are comforting to call center reps, but always sound insincere. Make them and their supervisors really work the issues, without giving away the store and you force employees to start thinking like owners of the company.
  3. Bring conflicts to the surface. IF you think being customer-centric is motherhood and apple pie, then you aren’t looking for the competing values that are just below the mission statement. What happens when customer needs bump up against employee needs and you can’t satisfy both without taking a bigger hit to the bottom line than you committed to your shareholders? If it really were as easy as writing a new mission statement and value proposition, we’d have a lot more happy customers in this world.
  4. Protect gadflies and oddballs. As you start to engage people in dialogue about change, some people will have ideas and criticisms that are really out there. “Let’s be totally transparent about our supply chain decision-making”; “Let’s give the customer a no contract option, so we have to delight them!” Leaders need to make a place for these voices to get heard. They may be the source of your next disruptive innovation in customer service!

If the temperature gets too hot, leaders can moderate the tension by taking back responsibility for some of the tougher issues (like being accountable for the bottom line during the next quarter), or lengthen the timeframe for seeing some level of performance change.

Driving customer-centricity into your culture means changing the power structure, at least for some people. And that will create resistance.

The only way to be sure how much productive tension is right for your business, says Heifetz, is to move back and forth from the balcony (the strategic level) to the dance floor (the operating level) and continue to revise your assessment of how much pressure the organization is ready to absorb.

Either way, you are at the crossroads of organizational change. I know you want to foster more customer-centricity; what I don’t know is how you are going to get there!

How have you seen leaders challenge hearts and minds within an organization to foster a more customer-centric culture?

Where do you see the greatest resistance to change?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Marc Sokol
A psychologist with an eye for the ways organizational dynamics make it possible or impossible to delight customers, I see the world from the eyes of customers, employees and leaders who strive to transform customer experience.


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