Category Archives: Customer Centric Culture

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.

This is why many business leaders waste half their effort and don’t even know it!

There is an old adage in advertising that says: “I know that half my advertising is wasted, but I don’t know which half”. In many cases, we know that all of it is wasted.

So it is with strategy and culture. Most senior business leaders spend considerable time on strategy – and rightly so. We do need to know where we are trying to go. But much less time – and sometimes virtually none – is devoted the other “half”: culture.

Some pundits believe “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. But that is beside the point. Business leaders need strength in both or at least half their effort will be wasted – and sometimes all of it. The strategy sets the direction and culture delivers (either well or poorly) the value of the strategy to the marketplace.

Our experience in many organizations across the globe is that the biggest missing piece is a customer-centric culture that is aligned with a customer-centric strategy. Repeatedly we find a lack of alignment between the stated strategy and what people are doing. Also, we see, more frequently, strategies that attempt to address and create customer value but the culture is not aligned with delivering to meet customer needs and desired customer experiences.

Aligning Customer Strategy and Culture

Aligning customer strategy and culture

You just need to see the disruption occurring in so many industries and almost from observation you can predict impending corporate collapse. Which retailers will survive? Which health services will prosper? It will be only those that develop a strategy centered on customer value and experience with a customer-centric culture across the entire organization that has the capabilities to deliver it.

If you have a question about the adequacy of your culture and believe you are not in the right-hand top box in the diagram, you should start by measuring it and benchmarking where you stand against the world’s best customer-centric companies. To discover the next steps on what you need to do, have a look at the groundbreaking book: The Customer Culture Imperative.

Is there a customer-centric gene?

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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.

This is how to become the answer to your customer’s prayers

Pope Francis at general audience

The simple answer is to make sure you know what they are praying for!

We call this customer insight. In other words, what are your customer’s needs? What are they trying to accomplish and how can you help them achieve it?

While you as the leader of your organization might have these answers, can everyone in your organization answer these questions? Really great organizations have clear answers to these questions and are aligned and empowered to deliver the experience customers value. Their leaders are what we call customer-centric leaders.

Is the Pope a customer-centric leader?

My co-author, Linden was surprised recently when he spoke with a CEO of a multinational business this month and asked him who came to mind as a customer-centric leader. He immediately answered: “the Pope”! Linden said: “Tell me more”.

He then went on to tell explain that a customer-centric leader must be prepared to take risks and he or she must go out and meet with customers and spend meaningful time with them questioning and listening. This type of leader must be prepared to be challenged and also to challenge the current status quo and visit customers in the most difficult markets. This person needs to be authentic with customers and employees through an ability to communicate personal experiences that are relevant and create belief in their followers. He said the current Pope does all these things. He travels widely across different national cultures, talks with his “customers”, takes risks particularly with personal safety and is prepared to question current dogma in the Catholic Church. He comes across as an authentic person with those he meets and how he communicates to the world at large. It got me thinking. Can we learn something from the Pope about customer-centric leadership?

This type of leader must be prepared to be challenged and also to challenge the current status quo and visit customers in the most difficult markets. This person needs to be authentic with customers and employees through an ability to communicate personal experiences that are relevant and create belief in their followers.

He said the current Pope does all these things. He travels widely across different national cultures, talks with his “customers”, takes risks particularly with personal safety and is prepared to question current dogma in the Catholic Church. He comes across as an authentic person with those he meets and how he communicates to the world at large.

It got us thinking. Can we learn something from the Pope about customer-centric leadership?

How a customer culture has created “The Amazon Effect”: A vision of the Future

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Ever since reading the classic Competing for the Future I realized that a business leader must have one eye on the present and the other on the future. Every organization is running two businesses – today’s business and tomorrow’s business! To build capabilities today for tomorrow’s business requires a cultural capability for agility, change and customer centricity. I call this cultural capability: peripheral vision – the extent to which leadership and staff in the business monitor, understand and respond to trends and changes in the larger environment including technological, economic, social, political, legal and the natural environment (such as climate change). This future oriented cultural capability also leads us to build disciplines around customer and competitor foresight – what will customers’ future needs be and who will be future competitors and where will they be coming from.

The need for organizations to build these cultural capabilities today is demonstrated by what I call the Amazon Effect. Amazon just announced the acquisition of Whole Foods, a natural and organic foods supermarket chain with 465 stores in North America and the UK. What are the implications? With its online technology capability, Amazon now has a bricks and mortar chain that can be leveraged with its delivery capabilities, elevating online selection and ordering of Whole Foods private label products. It will also bring change to the current retail format with new technology like no cash registers – all to add to the ease and convenience for consumers. This will have a huge impact on other supermarkets, food and grocery manufacturers and the entire retail industry.

What would be the impact in the car industry if Apple bought Tesla or in wearable technology if Google purchased Samsung? How is VISA dealing with PayPal and Apple Pay and hotel chains coping with AirBnB? Many of these challenges for established companies are yet to happen – but they will……and soon.

I am thinking about what this means for my own business and what cultural capabilities and strategy we need to build now to ensure its future. What is your Amazon Effect – the thing that would require you to totally reinvent your business? Building cultural disciplines in peripheral vision, customer foresight and competitor foresight will enable you to become prepared to face these challenges, make the changes you need to make, take up future opportunities and run a growing and sustainable business. Without them you will struggle at best, but more likely be consigned to the history books.

Preparing for your future business requires customer-centric leadership that galvanizes all your leaders and staff to build capabilities firmly focused on who your future customers and competitors will be and how the whole organization is geared to adapt and provide ongoing superior value for customers.

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

Customer Centric Leaders have a Service Focus where Authenticity Trumps Ego

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Lars Bjork, the of CEO Qlik, has built the company with a service focus around a “we” Leadership Style.

My father had a particular view of service. You served your customers, your employees, your family, your community and your shareholders. He would employ people fresh out of jail to give them a second chance. He knew his staff and their families and helped them when they needed help. He knew what his customers wanted and needed and trusted his staff to deliver value. He led his business with integrity and authenticity. He was a highly respected and successful businessman. From his background in retail he told me if you do all of these things right “…the profit will come up through the floor.”

Lars Bjork agrees. He has led Qlik as CEO for the past ten years and has been there from its days as a tiny start-up in Sweden to becoming a world leader in business intelligence software. Qlik was purchased by a private equity firm in 2016 for $3 billion. It now has around 40,000 customers and offices in 26 countries. Bjork says “leadership, for me, is that you serve the team. And the team is the people who work for you.”

How does that operate in practice? Bjork describes it this way.

“I do a lot of town halls and video. People want authenticity, an unscripted sense of ‘this is how it is’. They don’t want to hear packaged BS. They can see that from a mile away. I try to be transparent and share a bit about my private life – because how am I going to learn stuff from people, how are they going to feel comfortable with me, if I don’t share anything?”

He also asks a lot of questions and listens intently to the answers. This has become formalized with a “listening forum”. This occurs where he brings a dozen people together from different sections. He can’t say anything for an hour. They give him feedback, and he just takes it in. He does not push back or dismiss it. This leadership style is one of authenticity and service.

In our current research involving interviews of customer centric leaders I find the most impressive and effective ones are authentic, service focused, and good questioners and listeners. It doesn’t mean they have no ego. They do, but they are essentially team players and do not let their egos dictate decisions. They often do have to make the tough decisions but they do it, like my father, with authenticity and with a “service” mindset.

Learn more about the power of a customer centric culture in our award winning book, the Customer Culture Imperative.