The ability of a business to deliver an exceptional experience to customers is dependent on one thing – it’s culture. Successful CX requires a culture that puts the customer at the heart of every decision and action made. Unfortunately, for most organisations, that’s easier said than done.
You can build as many customer journey maps as you want or implement as many customer feedback systems or undertake a major digital transformation project, but none of these will matter much if you’re not able to create a ‘customer centric’ culture within your organisation. Dr Linden Brown, author of The Customer Culture Imperative, points out that why organisations like Amazon, Ritz-Carlton and Apple excel over their competitors is due to their ‘customer centric’ culture.
He says, “Each of these brands have one thing in common – a culture that is very focused on the customer. Jeff Bezos, from the very start of Amazon has had this customer obsession or customer mindset. Amazon has developed a way of working where everything stems from the customer and then working backwards into the business to create the products and services and experiences that customers want”.
To create a ‘customer centric’ culture requires every individual in an organisation to embrace the idea that every action and decision made has an impact on the customer experience. Dr Brown elaborates, “Creating a ‘customer centric’ culture has two pieces to it. The first piece is having a customer mindset. Those companies that have a customer mindset, effectively bring the customer inside the business. Some companies will actually have a meeting room with a spare chair that’s for the customer. That’s to remind people that the customer needs to be considered when their talking about the issues and the problems affecting the business.”
“The second piece is the behaviour and how we act which flows from the mindset. This behaviour and how we should act needs to be defined and understood by everyone in the organisation. For example, if you take a company like Ritz-Carlton they have their gold standards which defines what’s expected of their people in dealing with customers.”
‘Customer centricity’ is not a difficult idea to grasp, but it is a difficult idea to make happen. Getting people to change their behaviour and the way they think can require time and considerable effort. Particularly with long established organisations who have extensive legacy systems and processes in place.
Companies lose it over time
Most businesses that have been successful and achieved significant growth have started with a founder who based the business around the customer and meeting or exceeding those customers’ expectations. The problem is, as companies get bigger and evolve over time, they lose this focus on the customer. Dr Brown observes, “As companies grow they need to create functions and departments within the business that are fully staffed, including finance, HR, operations, IT, R & D and so on. They become silo based, where they fail to keep the mindset and the behaviour the business originally had.”
For many companies, particularly large ones, the focus shifts away from customers to managing internal processes, improving bottom-line performance and pleasing shareholders. These things are important but they’re not the things that the business is ultimately dependent on for its revenue, growth and profitability.
Changing the culture to become customer focused
To successfully implement a customer-centric strategy and operating model, according to the Harvard Business Review, a company must have a culture that aligns with them — and leaders who deliberately cultivate the necessary mindset and values in their employees.
Culture acts as an invisible force, guiding how people behave. In a true customer-centric culture, an organisation’s structure, processes and procedures, communication channels and reward systems are established such that putting the customer at the centre of every decision and action becomes second nature.
Changing the culture and mindset of an organisation is a mammoth task that can require considerable investment in recruitment, training, re-designing processes and operating procedures, as well as revising communication channels. It will also entail implementing things like a Voice of Customer (VoC) program and implementing customer feedback systems to bring the customer into the heart of the business.
Dr Brown highlights, “it’s not about undertaking a one off project with a defined goal or deadline. It’s about introducing an ongoing commitment to continuous improvement so the business can respond and be pro-active to current and future customer needs.”
It many cases it’s nothing short of redefining the entire nature of the organisation and the way it operates. Dr Brown advises, “To make it happen, you first need to be able to make the case that it’s actually worth doing. Senior leaders and the board need a compelling reason to make the necessary investments to change the culture of the organisation. You need to link those investments in customer experience to the business. How will it, if implemented properly, generate revenue growth, improve profitability, deliver competitive advantage and so on.”
Every one needs to be on the journey
It’s important to understand that the customer experience and being ‘customer centric’ is not the exclusive responsibility of the marketing or customer facing teams. It’s the responsibility of everyone within the organisation. Gartner highlights, “CX outcomes tend to diminish when marketing or any other single department attempts to lead and execute CX alone. CX leaders need to partner and collaborate with other departments to make improvements throughout the entire client life cycle.”