This is a question I often hear from leaders of large companies that want to create customer centered organizations.
It is one of the key challenges of becoming customer centric. Here are a couple of ideas that we have seen work well.
Recalling your own Personal Customer Experiences
Given we are all customers of someone, at some stage in our lives, we can all recall having a great customer experience or a really bad customer experience.
We run an exercise with leaders and employees of our clients that is a really effective way to build empathy which hopefully leads to compassion for customers.
We ask them to recall the best or worst experience that have had and to break down the elements that made up that experience, why did it stick with them?
More often than not this experience brings back strong emotions, participants get excited or even angry recalling their experiences.
At the end of the exercise we ask participants, has your organization created any of those really great or really poor experiences? Most people will admit yes so the question is why do we as an organization allow those poor experiences to happen when we know how powerful the positive experiences can be?
As you can imagine this fosters great discussion and engages people emotionally and intellectually in firstly understanding why it happens and then what to do about it.
Creating a Service Mindset
Ultimately everyone in an organization is there to help others get their jobs done as well as their own, it is this combination and collaboration of people that creates compelling value. Think about companies like Apple and Amazon where smart teams of people work incredibly hard together to bring their products and services to life for millions of customers.
Building a service mindset helps all employees think about how they can help other parts of the organization be successful so that they can all win in the marketplace. A service mindset requires all employees to think about the impact of their decisions and work not only on customers but other teams across the organization.
Hear from Customers Directly
A key challenge in large organizations is the distance many leaders and employees have between them and direct customer feedback. There is nothing more powerful than hearing directly from customers. It is simply not the same to hear something second hand as it is usually devoid of emotion and context.
As a result another exercise we encourage is having leaders and employees hear directly from customers in open forums or focus groups. The goal is to not just get information or new insights but to gain a sense of how customers really perceive the organization and their top of mind issues. More often than not participants gain valuable new insights into how customers really think about their organizations.
Give people permission to care about customers and then expect it
It sounds strange but in many organizations customers are an afterthought. People are not encouraged to really think about customers in their decision making processes. There are limited rewards or recognition for people that go the extra mile for customers and as a result there is limited upside or downside.
The result is a lack of real passion for customers outside of a small number of salespeople who live and breath customers as their personal livelihood. We know however that this is simply not enough. Customer passion must be pervasive across the organization for both the customer and the company to benefit.
Leaders can give people permission to care about customers by demonstrating that they care through their actions. Then over time they need to expect employees to care and simply not tolerate bad customer experiences.
A great story comes from the NRMA in Australia (similar to AAA in the US), the leadership gave their employees permission by suggesting they could:
“Break all the rules for the customer”
One of NRMA’s services is roadside assistance. They have many great stories of NRMA staff going the extra mile for customers when they are at their most vulnerable, i.e. stranded with their broken down car. One emergency roadside assistance employee even dropped a customer’s groceries to their home so they would not spoil!
What else can you do to ensure employees act in the best interests of customers as well as the business?