Super-charge the Journey to Customer-Centric Culture.


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BLOG-IN-BRIEF. Customers have more choices than ever on where to spend their time and money. Having strong voices in social media and on-line rating sites have further shifted the balance of power, creating the “hyper-empowered customer”. Accordingly, organizations large and small are keen to create cultures that are inherently more customer-centric, if not customer-obsessed. For perennial customer experience leaders and best-in-class service brands, this means going beyond traditional change management to adopt an underlying organizing principle that fundamentally re-sequences organizational and operational DNA.

As one of the original management gurus, Peter Drucker did us all a huge favor. With his oft-quoted “The purpose of business is to create and keep a customer”, he distilled business down to its essence — business is, always has been, and always will be about the customer. Fast-forward 65 years, with the basis of business now shifted to customer experience, many organizations are now rediscovering Drucker’s basic idea by taking steps to become more customer-centric, and ultimately customer-obsessed.

Customer-Centric Culture is a DNA-Level Challenge.

Putting customers back at the center requires more than cosmetic changes, executive fiat or internal re-orgs — it requires embedding customer-centricity into the corporate culture to unify, align and mobilize all parts of the organization. In practice, this translates into a fundamental resequencing of organizational and operational DNA to the point where decisions, actions and ways of working are prioritized around the customer, and where every customer interaction is predisposed to: 1) consistently deliver on customer expectations, relative to brand promises; 2) routinely deliver elevated or exceptional experiences that delight at moments that really matter to customers; and 3) occasionally provide those memorable, shareable “WOW” experiences that truly surprise.

Hear it from Horst #1.

Don’t look at yourself, look at your customer. Be sure you have your customer in mind when you create something. Be sure it’s customer-focused, not self-focused”.

— CX words of wisdom from Horst Schulze, Cofounder of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. &
Author of “EXCELLENCE WINS: A No-Nonsense Guide to Becoming the Best in a World of Compromise.

What CX Leaders and Best-in-Class Service Brands Do.

In the annual CX Index rankings, Forrester indicates that customer-centric culture is one of the distinguishing features separating leaders from laggards. When taking a closer look, perennial customer experience leaders and best-in-class service brands go much deeper than simply declaring customer-centric culture as an overarching aspiration, philosophy or mantra. Specifically, they share the common attribute of actually operationalizing customer-centric culture through an underlying organizing principle that has tangible, familiar, authentic and pragmatic resonance within their respective organizations.

The Organizing Principle: Super-Charge the Journey to Customer-Centric Culture.

There’s nothing more powerful than a central metaphor to bring clarity to enigmatic topics, such as customer-centricity, customer-obsession and corporate culture. To that end, an organizing principle serves as a reference point from which everything else in an organization can derive context and meaning. Metaphorically speaking, if customer-centric culture is the “engine”, leadership is the “gas”, then organizing principle is the “oil”. Correlated to, but often distinct from, the external focus of “brand”, organizing principles provide an internally-focused True North that describes “HOW” the organization will achieve its customer-centric objectives. First and foremost, whether in the form of an organizational capability, competency, behavior or belief, an organizing principle must pass the test of being tangible, familiar, authentic and pragmatic within each individual organization.

CASES-IN-POINT. As real-world examples, the organizing principle for the customer-centric culture at Apple may be described as “design”, perhaps “corporate entrepreneurship” for Google, “unlimited choice” for Amazon, and “German Engineering” for BMW. As one of the more enduring examples, Toyota famously operationalized its customer-centric culture through the organizing principle of “quality”. Whether it is “security and privacy” for financial services organizations, “personalization” for retailers, “exclusivity” for luxury brands, or “sustainability” for auto companies, an organizing principle can become the shared element that brings people together, turning the promise of customer-centric culture into operational reality.

The Case for Service Excellence.

For perennial customer experience leaders and best-in-class service brands, such as The Ritz-Carlton, Chick-fil-A, USAA, Kaiser Permanente, Southwest Airlines, Trader Joe’s and Zappos, it could be said that they have collectively adopted “service excellence” as their organizing principle. Through the service excellence organizing principle, employees within these brands subconsciously, intentionally and continuously work to inject high-quality service delivery into every customer journey across every stage of customer life-cycle. As a practical outcome the daily pursuit of service excellence unifies the organization around the customer, providing a tangible, familiar, authentic and pragmatic representation of how customer-centric culture is operationalized in all parts of the business.

Why Service Matters to CX.

With surprisingly little fanfare, the vast majority of global economic activity (77% in the U.S.; 65% globally; The World Bank) is now driven through intangible (digital or physical) service propositions, rather than physical products. Not to be confused with or narrowly defined as the “customer service department”, service is the primary medium for the exchange of value externally between customers and businesses, and internally between organizational units. Finally, as companies seek to become more customer-centric, service really matters because it evokes the inherently human behaviors, norms and values, such as humility, empathy and doing right by others, that are fundamental to actually being customer-centric.

Why Excellence Matters to CX.

Excellence matters more now than ever — the business world is full of friction, inconsistencies and compromised expectations – 80% of organizations believe they deliver a superior customer experience, but only 8% of their clients agree. Achieving excellence isn’t just about closing the gap between expectations and experiences, it’s about actually elevating expectations. More than just an aspiration, the pursuit of excellence offers organizations an opportunity to stand against the corrosive forces of mediocrity and indifference. For customer experience leaders and best-in-class service brands, the pursuit of excellence goes even deeper, it’s an institutional habit, appealing to the part of human nature that is always striving, always raising the bar, and always seeking better for the greater good.

WHAT LEADERS CAN DO TODAY. An organizing principle doesn’t always have to be created from scratch, or even be novel — it often already exists within an organization, but needs to be fully articulated and explicitly integrated into customer-centric cultures. Accordingly, as part of the culture-shaping or culture design process, leaders can get started today by asking critical questions to uncover their organizing principle and put it through the test of tangibility, familiarity, authenticity, and pragmatism. It should be noted, that while prevalent in customer experience leaders and best-in-class service brands, service excellence as an organizing principle certainly isn’t the only possible way operationalize customer-centric culture.

When contemplating an organizing principle, consider a few questions:

  • Is there a core idea within your corporate history or story that drives your way of working?
  • Can this core idea be reflected in tangible form (e.g. trained, measured, written, physical or digital artifacts, etc.).
  • Would this core idea be recognized as a familiar, organic part of the organizational language?
  • Is their evidence supporting this core idea as an authentic (i.e. credible, non-hype, etc.) truth within your organization?
  • Can this core idea be expressed in pragmatic form that can be implemented, trained and measured?
  • Does this core idea aligned with and supportive of your customer-centric culture?

Hear it From Horst #2.

You can define yourself as excellent if you create excellence, no matter what your job is….If you take pride in what you do and always strive for excellence, you will not only create excellence, but earn the respect of your colleagues and your customers.”

— CX words of wisdom from Horst Schulze, Cofounder of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. &
Author of “EXCELLENCE WINS: A No-Nonsense Guide to Becoming the Best in a World of Compromise.

Customer-Centric Culture is an Essential Journey Worth Taking.

Harnessing culture to drive customer-centricity is no trivial matter or quick fix. As a point of reference, Forrester states that it may take up to five years to fully make this shift. Despite the seemingly long road to success, any organization in any industry should be encouraged — customer experience leaders and best-in-class service brands show that an organizing principle brings a tangible, familiar, authentic and pragmatic clarity that really moves the operational needle on the journey to customer-centric and customer-obsessed culture.

Wayne Simmons, CCXP
Bayer Pharmaceuticals
Wayne Simmons is a growth-focused senior leader, specializing in building winning brands through world-class customer experience. As the Global Customer Experience Management Lead for Pfizer, Wayne is responsible for building and deploying customer experience capabilities across the enterprise. Wayne is also on the faculty of the Customer Experience Management Master’s Program at Michigan State University, a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP), and a board member of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA). Wayne resides in the New York City metropolitan area.


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