Category Archives: Customer Centric Culture

How to create a customer centric transformation – Lessons from Air New Zealand

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A little more than a decade ago Air New Zealand posted the largest corporate loss in New Zealand corporate history. Inside 24 months it was turned around to a profit. Since that time it has been amongst the consistently highest profitability of full-service airlines around the world.

The catalyst for this change was Sir Ralph Norris, who was called in as CEO to transform the business. Sir Ralph’s customer-centric leadership and customer focused strategy was embodied in the mindset change from “we fly planes” to “we fly people”. He immediately engaged the top 800 leaders in Air NZ to think about, discuss and act on insights from customer feedback and observation that told them about what customers valued and what they hated about the flying experience.

His legacy, established over several years as CEO of the airline, has been continued by the current CEO, Christopher Luxon. You can see it when you fly with Air NZ – even the safety announcements are engaging as they feature some of New Zealand’s star rugby players, spectacular scenes of the country and references to some famous movies made in the country….

This is a testament to the sustained revenue and profit that can be generated by a culture and strategy embedded in the belief that “what’s best for the customer is best for the business.”

See The Customer Culture Imperative for a roadmap on how businesses like Air New Zealand have done it.

Macy’s Customer Experience: the good, the bad and the ugly.

RETAIL SALEMacy’s, like most retailers, has frequent sales to generate store traffic and boost sales. Here is an account of what happens in- store based on customers’ experiences.

The good: If something is purchased just a few days prior to an upcoming sale, Macy’s will offer the customer the sale price for the items purchased before the sale – that’s good!

The bad: The administrative process for sales assistants to record these pre-sale purchases at the sale price delays the customer 10-15 minutes for the procedure to be carried out. If there is a line of people having this done (which is common due to the shortage of staff on the floor) then a customer can be waiting 30-40 minutes. The pre-sale purchased products are put away for the customer to return to collect on sale day – that’s bad!

The ugly: The customer must return to the store during the “sale” period to collect the goods purchased pre-sale. Again, a line of people waiting for the sales assistant to go out back, locate the goods, bring them back to the counter and process the transaction – that’s ugly!

Why is it like this? The alternative can be such a better experience – either online or in stores that have streamlined processes and found added value to make it a much better experience for customers.

At Macy’s it seems that none of the executives or store managers have actually “walked in the shoes of their frustrated customers”. If they had they would be asking the questions:

What do we have to change to simplify this process for staff and shorten the wait for customers, knowing we are always short of staff on the floor?

How can we improve the customer’s experience while they are waiting in line?

What innovations can we introduce that will enhance the customer’s buying experience?

This is so basic, yet to even ask these questions requires a complete mindset and cultural change starting with senior leadership and through all levels of the organization. If Macy’s and similar stores can’t do this they will accelerate the shift to online buying and hasten their own demise.

You can read more on what it takes to become a customer centric organisation in our award winning book, The Customer Culture Imperative.

Lessons from REI: Aligning your People

We have just completed one of the busiest weeks in retail in the United States, with Black Friday for the physical stores and Cyber Monday for the online retailers. This week now blends together with doorbuster deals bombarding us constantly online and instore in the week leading up to Thanksgiving as well as weekend afterwards.

What is different this year is that some major stores have decided to stay closed during this period. In the land of the consumer this a really big deal!

One chain in particular stands out, REI, the outdoor recreation retailer with more than 12,000 employees and 140 stores around the US decided to close this past Black Friday. See below, their CEO, Jerry Stritzke’s 30 second announcement:

 

“We believe that being outside makes our lives better. And Black Friday is the perfect time to remind ourselves of this essential truth.” – REI CEO, Jerry Stritzke

So what is behind this decision? I believe it is to better align REI’s core values with its actions in the market. REI’s core mission is “to inspire, educate and outfit for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship.”

What better way to live that mission and align all of their people around it than closing on a day that allows their own people get outside and live the company’s mission.

Now that all sounds great but how does that help their customers? No doubt some customers may be inconvenienced by their physical stores being closed. However they will still have a small number of staff manning their website so they are not completely close for business.

REI are reacting to growing concerns by their customers and others that retail in general is overshadowing the core purpose of thanksgiving which is to celebrate with family and friends. They are betting that this decision will pay off over the longer term by aligning their people with their mission while also meeting the changing expectations of their customers.

Ultimately if you want your people and customers to really buy-in to what your company is about you must walk the talk, for me this is strategic alignment in action!

Interested in what it takes to be truly customer centric? Learn more here

What does Customer Centric Leadership look like?

There is plenty of research and anecdotal evidence that tells us if customers believe “we care” about what we sell them, how we serve them and the relationships we create with them, they will remain loyal advocates of our company. This also applies to the “care” senior leaders show to their staff and partners.

This is no better illustrated than by Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks. In the immediate wake of the stock market turmoil around the world on 24th and 25th August, Schultz sent a letter to all his 190,000 staff and partners. As well as assuring them of Starbuck’s continued growth plans despite the stock market volatility and sending his appreciation of their efforts in making Starbucks the number one coffee company worldwide he urged them to think of how their customers might be feeling in relation to this immediate uncertainty He encouraged them to show special care to their customers as follows:

“Our customers are likely to experience an increased level of anxiety and concern. Please recognize this and–as you always have–remember that our success is not an entitlement, but something we need to earn, every day. Let’s be very sensitive to the pressures our customers may be feeling, and do everything we can to individually and collectively exceed their expectations.”

Source: http://www.inc.com/justin-bariso/starbucks-ceo-sent-an-extraordinary-email-to-employees-due-to-the-stock-market-c.html

By being attuned to customer concerns in their everyday lives Schultz was able to translate this stock market event into a communication to staff and on to Starbucks customers that he and they care.

This is a great example of customer-centric leadership. It costs you nothing, but adds to the customer experience in a way that connects emotionally and creates loyal customers as advocates.

Why Collaboration is Key to a Customer-Centric Culture

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In our work with large corporations around the world we find that many of them are challenged by a siloed internal environment that works against a collaborative customer focused culture. Yet we know how important cross-functional collaboration is to driving value for customers that leads to superior business performance. Nowhere is it more clearly seen than in competitive team sports.

“Aussie Rules” football is a unique brand of football in Australia in which each team fields 18 players. It is so popular you can see more than 50,000 fans watching the game in many venues each week across the country. A study of the Hawthorn football team in 2014 found that they won their football games irrespective of who was in the team. Injuries and team member replacements did not change Hawthorn’s ability to win. Even when the head coach was side-lined through illness and the assistant coach took over for a period, Hawthorn continued to win. Superior teamwork as a culture was embedded in the team and throughout the coaching staff and administration. It showed out when they demolished the Sydney Swans – a team made up of several superstars – in the 2014 grand final. Hawthorn’s collaborative teamwork and versatility of players who could excel in many different positions on the field is legendary and has made them clearly the superior team in the competition in recent years.

In business, Ikea, the Swedish based furniture producer and retailer is one of the most successful global retailers. Ikea’s former CEO, Anders Dahlvig, puts the collaborative culture as central to the company’s success. He says: “As a company grows, the earlier you build cross-functionality, the more effective you will be.” He goes on to say with reference to Ikea’s quest to build a collaborative customer culture:

“I think the key thing was this: You have to be prepared not to promote strong performers who are great alone but not great collaborators. I see that all the time: people who are good at optimizing themselves, but cannot work with others. It’s really tough to say ‘You have to go’. But if you don’t get rid of these people you will never overcome your demons.”[i]

This is key learning from Ikea and shows it can be done in a business that is integrated from production through to retailing and operates in widely dispersed countries around the world.

[i] Ikea’s collaborative approach is reported in The Customer Culture Imperative, McGraw-Hill, New York, 2014, Linden Brown and Chris Brown, pages 148-149.

Why aren’t Public Service Organizations Customer-Centric?

(Photo credit: UCSF)

The Department of Motor Vehicles (Photo credit: UCSF)

Why aren’t many public service organizations like health, tax, education, transport and treasury or utilities such as power and water authorities customer-centric? Public service agencies differ markedly. Some have an exclusive franchise – public schools, police and roads that are taxpayer funded or water and electricity transmission monopolies that are customer funded. Others operate in competitive markets such as postal and parcel services.

But the case for customer centricity is compelling.

The Case for Customer Centricity

Countless studies have documented the link between organizational culture and organizational performance. Specifically, many studies show that a customer-centric culture drives superior service and value for customers resulting in an experience that creates customer satisfaction and advocacy. This in turn drives exceptional organizational performance in terms of productivity, new product/service success, innovation and financial performance.

Government departments and public service organizations have clearly defined missions to provide a service to their constituents. Each reports to a government official who is part of a central, state or local government that represents a community – much of which is made up of customers that experience the service. Poor experience leads to complaints, that in turn, ultimately affects votes for public officials if service is consistently bad.

Public service organizations that do not understand their customers’ changing needs, or worse, don’t care about their customers, will receive complaints that require additional resources to solve. This creates stress for both employees and customers and takes resources away from their core roles. The momentum and complexity of global change are challenging all organizations, including government agencies, to move faster, work smarter, use their resources more effectively and think further ahead.

Most senior leaders of these organizations know this!

What’s the problem?

Many public service organizations try to focus on their customers, but wonder why their customer service programs have not really worked. A key reason is that senior leaders do not understand the difference between customer focus and customer centricity.

If you ask different people in your organization whether it is customer focused or customer-centric you will probably receive a variety of answers. If you then ask them what they mean by that you will probably get many more. Often many senior managers believe their organization or department is customer-centric while others will strongly disagree.

Another reason is that public service organizations do not measure customer centricity and make it a key performance factor for assessing leader and team performance.

The best starting point is to agree on what customer centricity is and then measure it for your organization. This will get everyone on the “same page” and create the mindset and benchmark that enables you to focus on things you should do to strengthen it.

What is customer centricity?

Research tells us that customer centricity requires a particular culture – a shared system of values and norms (mindset and behaviors) that focus all employee activity on improving the customer’s experience. Values define what is important and norms define the appropriate mindset and behavior that leads to what people do.

Leaders of customer-centric organizations have found that customer centricity is defined by the capability of an organization to understand, predict and respond to customer, market and external environment changes. It is based on the mindset: “what’s best for the customer is best for the organization” and a set of employee behaviors where the customer is central to the decisions they take and how they are implemented. This does not mean that you give customers everything they want, but by understanding their current and future needs you are best able to deliver value that will satisfy them in meeting their objectives in a way that meets your own goals. Customer centricity should transcend all departments and functions and be an integral part of the way employees behave and perform.

How do you measure it?

There are now valid measurement tools available to benchmark your organization’s level of customer centricity. Based on empirical research two tools can be used to assess where you are. The Market Responsiveness Index is relevant to competitive environments and benchmarks the capabilities of your organization on 7 factors. The Customer Responsiveness Index (CRI) is relevant to the vast number of non-competing government agencies and utilities and benchmarks the capabilities of your organization on 6 factors. Both tools reach into a global database to enable you to compare your level of customer centricity against the best… and the worst. But more important they enable all staff to understand what customer centricity is and what actions you can take to embed it in your organization as a sustainable culture.

Three steps for getting started

The following three steps will create some effective momentum:

  1. Hold a forum of leaders designed to create awareness of what real customer centricity means. This may include a debate on whether your organization is customer-centric with one team taking the positive stance and the other team taking the negative view. This will expose different views and help people understand what “being customer-centric” means.
  2. Measure and benchmark your organization’s level of customer centricity and identify strengths and weakness on the customer-centric factors that drive your performance.
  3. Conduct a leadership workshop designed to review your strengths and weaknesses and develop plans to act on the most important priorities ensuring that all leaders are involved.

These 3 steps will lead you to actioning a customer-centric plan based on an objective understanding of where you stand, some milestones and targets to be achieved and a roadmap to get there.

You will find some valuable tools, case studies and examples to help you through these steps in The Customer Culture Imperative: A Leader’s Guide to Driving Superior Performance, McGraw-Hill New York, 2014 by Linden R. Brown and Chris. L. Brown. (The foundation of the research is in Appendix 1, pages 273-287.)

Why real-time customer feedback is the future for customer centric companies

Feedback

Companies have been measuring customer satisfaction levels for many years and yet many of these same companies have not seen significant improvements or changes. One of the reasons is customer satisfaction research has been a static activity. Satisfaction levels are measured once a year or less frequency. The data is discussed and reviewed but is not integrated or used to drive business decisions. The result is a lack of action. Even worse customers make complaints which companies then try to address weeks after any useful resolution is available.

In fact this cycle of asking customers for feedback and doing little or nothing with it is one reason why most customers don’t respond to surveys. Why should customers spend the time providing feedback when nothing meaningful will be done?

One of the challenges facing companies trying to implement a more real-time approach in the past has been limited resources to apply to the challenge. Real time has required surveys been run more frequently and systems to be available to provide that feedback to the right people at the right time.

Thankfully with the technology available today, a number of companies are providing customer centric organizations with new tools to gather insights and feedback on the go.

A great example comes from the healthcare industry, more specifically hospitals. Patient Experience is something that Hospitals can no longer ignore as a large percentage of their at-risk income under the affordable care act comes from their patient satisfaction levels.

Eric LoMonaco, a great patient centered leader, from the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula (CHOMP) in Monterey recently implemented a real time feedback program using QR codes placed strategically around the hospital.

qr-code used for feedback

The challenge they faced was satisfaction was measured by an external body that would provide reporting after the fact. The result was patients left the hospital with problems that were never addressed. Eric saw the opportunity to implement a system that would allow CHOMP to gain real time feedback that could be directed to leaders in the hospital and responded to in real time.

The impact of this system on patient satisfaction levels has been dramatic and immediate. By scanning a QR code or simply sending a text message directly to a leader in the Hospital, Patients are able to provide real-time feedback that leaders can address immediately as issues arise rather than after the fact.

Eric shares the results CHOMP has been achieved so far in a great article he wrote here and a webcast here.

With this type of technology available, the excuses for real-time customer satisfaction improvements are running out.

It is the combination of a customer centric mindset, coupled with technology and processes that will determine the winners in today’s business environment. To learn more about creating the right culture in your business, check out our book, The Customer Culture Imperative.