What’s the difference between customer focus and customer culture?

aligned customer culture

Ask any business leader if they and their business is customer focused and you will invariably get the answer – “of course”! But, you’ll find, as I have, that the term ‘customer focus’ means different things to different people.

It ranges in its meaning from ‘good customer service’ to ‘identifying the needs of customers and delivering products and services that meet those needs’ to ‘ensuring that the whole organization, and not just frontline service staff, puts its customers first’. In this last meaning, every department and every employee should share the same customer-focused vision. For this to occur, an organization must have a culture based on the belief that what’s best for the customer is best for the business. It is this meaning of customer focus I call customer culture.

A customer culture is embraced by every individual, team and business unit. It is embedded in people through induction, leadership, processes, rewards, key performance measures, a common language, and an expected way of doing things. What’s more, customer culture is a discipline – a shared set of behaviors and skills that can be developed, refined and practiced to become habits that lead to better personal and business results.

A strong customer culture delivers a customer experience that is consistently excellent along the whole service chain. The ultimate aim is to have the customer make your business the center for everything they do for your particular offering. You can’t get to the ultimate unless you start with the right culture – a customer culture.

Does a customer culture matter?

It may sound like a simple question with an obvious answer. For most of us the answer to this question is intuitive: yes, customer culture matters! We are all customers and when we reflect on our most fulfilling business relationships we sense these companies are focused on our needs and helping us be satisfied and successful.

But, does customer culture really matter to business performance? Our answer is a resounding Yes! After spending 3 years researching this question we have scientific evidence to show that it does matter. It has a deep impact on an organization’s business performance and sustainability. In fact, you only have a sustainable business if it is driven by a customer culture.

How do you get it?

Although companies like Amazon and Zappos provide great inspiration, they are examples of companies that were born with a unique deeply innovative leader who embedded a customer culture from the start. But, what about companies that must transform from an inward looking culture to one that is externally focused and embraces the customer like many of the telecommunications and energy incumbents that have a monopoly legacy? Or companies like HP or Starbucks that were born with a customer culture, lost it along the way and are having to work hard to get it back.

Research and experience show there are 4 stages to getting and keeping a customer culture: Initiation, Implementation, Embedding and Reinforcement. I will talk about each stage in my next four blog posts.

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