Author Archives: Dr Linden Brown

This is why every business should have a “Minister for Foreign Affairs”

Flowchart on a chalk board

Recently I interviewed Annalisa Gigante, a Board member of ZIS (Zurich International School) and former Head of Innovation at LafargeHolcim. We were talking about customer-centric leadership and Annalisa suggested that companies could really benefit from a “Minister for Foreign Affairs”. She said today “we need to know what’s going on with the rest of the world.”

I thought about this and realized that the amount of disruption we are facing in our businesses and work lives suggests that we can gain better context on what’s happening, make better decisions, and have a better chance of benefitting from it if we do what she suggests.

In our research and work with companies wanting to become more customer-centric, we have called this factor: Peripheral Vision. That is, the externally focused “wide vision” activities carried out to understand the likely impact on the future business from changes in technology, society, economy, political and legal, and the natural environment.

Many companies seem to have a “Minister for Foreign Affairs”, but like we see in politics, often the learnings and potential impacts of these insights are not widely shared – and consequently not acted upon. In practice, peripheral vision should be built into future business strategies. But in our experience, it is frequently missing.

If you want to know how you can identify if your “Ministry of Foreign Affairs” is effective, find out about how our MRI (Market Responsiveness Index) can help you.

You can’t fake customer-centric culture

Woman holding mask of her happy face

We hear a lot about fake news these days – what’s real and what’s fake is sometimes hard to know. That’s not the case when it comes to customers “reading” your culture.

Let me recount my experience with 3 upmarket restaurants in Sydney, Australia.

Sydney has many fine restaurants. I will compare my experience at two of these – Aria is at Circular Quay looking at the opera house and the Sydney Harbor Bridge and Jonah’s is on a cliffside on Sydney’s northern beaches overlooking Whale Beach and the Pacific Ocean. Both serve fine dining at expensive prices with excellent food.

I decided to book Jonah’s for my wife’s birthday and asked for a table next to the window overlooking the ocean. I was told this was not possible and when I asked why, I was told by the manager that there are many factors that they use to decide who have the window tables – when the booking was made, how many people are in the party, what the booking levels are for that particular day. I was making the booking more than a week in advance and on a weekday at the earliest lunchtime sitting, but still could not be told whether I would get a window table. Choices were 12 noon or 1.30pm. He said, “ we are very busy, we get tours and we decide on the day where people sit.” There was an arrogant tone in his voice so I decided to try Aria.

The call to Aria was a totally different experience. “Yes, we can give you a window table, would you like a surprise cake for your wife’s birthday?” You can choose your time of arrival – “12.30pm is fine and you can stay the whole afternoon.” Aria is just as busy as Jonah’s but you have a completely different mindset. At Jonah’s it is all about their convenience, their operational procedures, their rules for organizing tables. At Aria, it is about what the customer wants and how can they be satisfied. You cannot fake it. The customer mindset exists or it doesn’t. The customer knows this with a simple phone call.

Then there is the dining experience. My wife and I went to Pilu, a Sardinian specialty restaurant at Freshwater beach on Sydney’s northern beaches. This too is an upmarket restaurant. What impressed us about this restaurant was the staff. The sommelier knew every detail possible about the wines, the server knew exactly what was in each dish and could explain it. Both established a relationship with us by telling us about their hometown in Italy. They were not rushed, were patient with our questions, answered them fully and made suggestions. At the time of payment, the manager told us how much of a team effort was involved and how his team worked together to make a memorable experience for their guests. At the end of the evening, they asked if we would like to give them information on our birthdays and we would be offered a 5-course degustation meal free at that time. We happily signed up and provided the information they wanted.

A customer culture only exists when it is authentic and all employees are part of a happy, collaborative team, knowing that it is the customer that is the center of their world. It can’t be faked. It’s the difference between getting the business and creating advocates and not getting the business and getting bad reviews.

How do you get it? You will find many of the answers in our book: The Customer Culture Imperative.

Is there a customer-centric gene?

genetic technology concept, gene engineering, 3d rendering, abstract image visual

Recently I was talking with Dmitry Pukhov, co-founder and owner of a very successful event catering company in Moscow. When I asked him about customer-centric leadership he said the core characteristic is a desire to help people that comes from the heart. He said he believes that we all have a gene that can create a drive to provide service to others. But only some people have developed this gene – through their upbringing, experience, interaction with others who use it and mentoring from customer-centric role models.

There is some scientific evidence to support this. Research shows that people who are more caring and compassionate towards others share a common gene variation linked to the receptor for oxytocin (sometimes referred to as the “love” hormone) that plays a key role in the formation of social relationships and impacts our capacity for empathy. The science suggests that those with the “GG” variant of this gene are better with people and generally more caring.

But all is not lost for those of us that don’t have the “GG” genotype. There is also evidence to suggest that compassion and empathy can be developed through socialization with people that role model it and experiences that elevate it.

I asked Dmitry why his business is so successful – it has grown rapidly over the 12 years since he founded it – and he told me it is because being customer-centric and service focused has always been the driver in his business. He recruits people that exhibit the customer-centric gene and invests in the ongoing development of the gene in all his staff.

Are you using your customer-centric gene or is it dormant? If you want to know what to do to develop it, refer to our book: The Customer Culture Imperative.

This is why superb customer experience is not consistent or sustained by most businesses.

Sad Male Professional - Isolated

Don Peppers wrote a profound article recently pointing out that most companies are not acting on building superior customer experience over the medium and longer term. He tells us that most of what is being done delivers minor efficiencies and is short-term in impact – NPS measurement that addresses the symptoms and not the cure, customer journey mapping that is not really acted on, and creation of a customer experience role or function that has no authority and limited influence across the organization. Over time this impetus dilutes and dies as senior sponsors move focus on to other initiatives. He provides some good advice on how to overcome some of these weaknesses.

In our experience, most companies, claiming to be customer focused or embarking on the activities noted above, are missing the key foundation required for sustained customer experience success – a strong customer-centric culture. The diagram below illustrates how a customer engagement culture encompassing all leadership and employees drives customer experience, which in turn creates loyalty, advocacy, and better business performance.

Customer Culture Pyramid 2017

Peppers notes, and we agree, that customer experience is a journey. It requires the capabilities that a strong customer culture delivers and needs a focused plan and commitment by senior leadership to carry it through to the medium and longer term. It requires a “customer” mindset in all parts of the organization and a deliberate commitment to embedding this at all levels and all functions as “the way to do business”.

It should begin with measurement and benchmarking of the level of customer-centric culture in all parts of the business. This highlights strengths, weaknesses, levels of employee engagement with customers, and priorities for capability building. This forms the foundation for an ongoing customer experience improvement strategy that all employees in the business can buy into and can contribute towards its implementation.

At MarketCulture we have a proven roadmap that successful companies use to build an ongoing customer experience capability that delivers consistency and sustainability – and results in sustained growth and industry-leading profitability.

How do Customer-Centric Leaders leave a Legacy?

leaving a legacy through customer centric leadership

This year I have interviewed more than 40 leaders who have been selected on the basis that they are perceived by the people who know them well to be customer-centric. Our consulting partners around the world have been the main source of connection with these leaders.

One of the common themes of these leaders is that they have a sense of purpose that they want to leave a much stronger and sustainable business through the culture they create – a customer-centric culture. Some of these leaders head up multinational businesses in various countries and regions of the world and remain in those countries for only 2 to 3 years before moving to another region. The typical tenure of CEOs in large publicly listed companies is only 3-4 years. So how do they leave a legacy?

The most customer-centric leaders know that they must embed this culture in middle management and up, down and across the business. It is only then that the business will survive constantly changing senior leadership. I have always believed that one of the keys to embedding is a valid measurement of customer culture across the organization. This creates tangibility, employee engagement with customers and targets for improvement. Measurement in tandem with rewards and recognition for customer-centric behavior and performance provides the virtuous cycle for a sustainable customer culture that drives ongoing superior business performance.

That’s why I, with my team, have invested so much personal energy into measuring and benchmarking customer culture behaviors that are the foundation for superior and sustainable business performance in today’s disruptive world.

The MRI tool, developed 10 years ago, now with a rapidly growing database is a key tool that customer-centric leaders can use to fulfill their purpose of embedding customer culture deep in their businesses that can be sustained long after they have left.

What is your leadership legacy?

This is why playing it safe is the biggest risk for legacy companies

toon-1443-innovation

Making pizzas seems like a simple business. After all its been happening for centuries and it seems like almost anyone can do it. But to make a sustainable business out of it and maintain an appealing brand in today’s competitive world requires a customer centric leadership mindset.

A starting point for Domino’s change from an ailing pizza maker in 2010 to a growing food business was a leadership change. Patrick Doyle became CEO in 2010 after Domino’s had experienced several years of stagnating business and declining share price. Doyle realized that he could only revamp the business if he could lead and create a mindset change in staff – a change from an “omission bias” where people worry more about doing something different than no change and “loss aversion” where the focus is on not losing rather than winning. I remember the great American motivational writer and speaker Zig Ziglar saying “.. the fear of loss is greater than the desire for gain”. Doyle realized that playing it safe was the riskiest course of all and he needed to create a mindset in the business that change is a necessity and a learning mentality in which for staff “failure is an option”.

A Customer-Centric Leadership Mindset was Needed to Transform Domino’s Pizzas

The change in Domino’s strategy came with a big picture view and a realization that they were not only in the pizza-making business but also in the pizza-delivery business and how this fundamentally affected the experience of their customers. This meant becoming just as much a tech company as a pizza company to transform the way customers could order and monitor the status of their order using a Domino’s app. Other apps were created to enable customers to provide feedback and become involved in games making ‘virtual’ pizzas.

Staff needed to be open to customer criticism to help them make better pizzas that customers would love eating as well as keeping them warm enough by the time of delivery. So Domino’s took on board customer views of how bad the pizzas were and suggestions on what to do to improve them.

Customers’ frank views were aired in advertising and social media and created a transparency and honesty that enhanced brand trust. Domino’s used staff in ads to describe how they had changed recipes and ingredients to make better tasting products. The company created a delivery car with one seat and a warming oven for up to 80 pizzas. It modernized its image to create more of a sense of style and a sense of humor. All of these things were needed for success. Here is 4 minute video describing what they did:

But the foundation for creating this change to a more agile, customer-responsive business came from the customer mindset brought by the new leader and embedded in the business in a way that enabled them to change and transform. As one senior leader told me recently it is the focus on the customer and their changing needs that is the motivator for leaders and staff to change!

Domino’s business results prove the point. Today, it is the second-largest pizza chain in the world, with more than 12,500 locations in more than 80 countries, and up from a share price of around $8 in 2010 to one of $215 in June 2017.

Learn more about what a customer centric culture and mindset are by reading our book, the Customer Culture Imperative.

The key reason why Customer Centric Leaders can build billion dollar companies

One word. Empowerment.

As a leader it is not easy to “let go”. I find it a real discipline to delegate and enable others in our business to do it their way and to do what’s right for the customer. So many leaders rely on processes as a security blanket that enables them to feel comfortable with what is happening in their business.

But we can take a lead from Tony Collins, former CEO of Virgin Trains in the UK, who told me:

“I put my trust in people not processes”

Tony presided over the transformation of Virgin Trains from an internal oriented public service mentality (when Virgin took the franchise from British Rail) to a customer service culture with customer satisfaction levels and profitability as benchmarks for the European rail industry. This approach empowers people and teams to make their own decisions and not wait for approvals.

Ilkka Paananen Supercell

Supercell’s Founder wants to be the Least Powerful CEO

Supercell’s CEO, Ilkka Paananen, believes the less leaders control the more powerful their companies. Supercell, a Finnish company, was worth about $10 billion in 2016 from the creation and marketing of games accessed by digital devices. Paananen says he wants to be the least powerful CEO in the world. He believes the best people will make the best teams that will produce the best games. He explains it this way: “What I mean by this is that the fewer decisions I make, the more the teams are making. In a dream scenario that means the team is making all the decisions. A couple of years ago, we were working on something called Smash Land. Everyone in the company loved it, and it was so close to meeting its targets but didn’t quite make them. So the team went to a sauna together, talked it out and took the decision to pull the plug. I was travelling at the time, so they didn’t bother to consult me – they just emailed the company to let them know. That’s just how Supercell should work.”

He was inspired by the Netflix approach to operate like a top sports team. It reminds me of a conversation I had with a former New Zealand All Blacks rugby coach who told me that they coach in the belief that “ better men make better All Blacks”. Players are empowered to make decisions under extreme pressure on the field without consultation with the leaders. This makes them a world beating team that almost always wins close games.

As a CEO of a very successful Telecoms company told me recently, when he and his senior team “got out of the way” and let their teams do what’s best for their customers, his company dramatically increased its customer retention rate and customer satisfaction levels resulting in earlier customer account payment – happy customers pay earlier. This translated directly into sustained revenue and profit growth.

These examples constantly remind me to trust my team and our partners to get on with it and create great experiences for our customers.

Learn more in our award winning book, the Customer Culture Imperative.