Category Archives: Customer Centric Leadership

This is the secret to delivering powerful Customer Experiences that only a handful of CEO’s know about!

Richard_Branson_Customer_Centricity

Why engaged customer-focused employees are vital to business success!

In today’s market, the majority of companies have very little to differentiate themselves from their competition. Their product and services are very similar if not identical. It is so easy to change to another company that it can be done in minutes or even seconds on the web. Social media can instantly let millions of people know what just took place. Customer expectations have changed and their demands are greater than ever.

Future business performance and sustainability will come down to whether or not customers continue to use your products and services or leave for an alternative supplier. It costs 7.5 times as much to gain a new customer yet the majority of companies spend their budgets on attracting new customers. What are you doing to retain your current customers?

MarketCulture’s purpose is to help companies recognize the importance of building stronger customer experiences that retain customers. We believe that inspired, engaged and empowered employees focused on customers are vital to success. It comes down to how the company delivers on its promise and ultimately it is all employees that make this happen. It takes one bad experience and you have lost a customer.

As leaders do you truly understand what your employees need in order to deliver a great customer experience? Are we telling them what to do or are we engaging them in what they believe is important? Richard Branson says that engaged and happy employees deliver superior customer experiences. Virgin enters markets where customers are dissatisfied. They quickly win a strong market share by providing great service with a touch of magic. Employees want to be part of the solution and feel that they belong. They want to be listened to and feel that their feedback contributes to the success of the business. Your employees are the ones that retain or lose your customers.

Companies today implement many tools that measure either employee engagement or customer satisfaction. They allow leaders to know whether or not they have happy/unhappy employees or satisfied/dissatisfied customers yet they rarely provide insight into how they can improve. Leaders need to understand what employees need to deliver the company’s promise and customer satisfaction.

“There are many ways to center a business. You can be competitor focused, you can be product focused, you can be technology focused, you can be business model focused, and there are more. But in my view, obsessive customer focus is by far the most protective of Day 1 vitality.” Jeff Bezos – Amazon Founder and CEO

How do we engage employees to build stronger customer experiences?

Customer experience comes down to the way your company and employees behave – whether you deliver or not on your promise. It can be as simple as responding to a customer in a timely fashion or just the tone of your voice. Amazon is now one of the biggest companies, yet they have retained a strong focus on their customer experiences even as they have grown to employ more than 300,000 people. The test of a company is not when things go well but when they don’t. Customers are looking to receive the value they paid for or they will simply try an alternative supplier. Where do you start building a stronger customer experience? You can start with the customer and find out whether or not they are satisfied but that is after the event has occurred and maybe too late. Alternatively, you can start with those that create the experience – “the employee” – and find out what they need in order to be able to deliver a great customer experience.

Steve Job’s recognized this towards the end of his time as CEO of Apple when he said:

“It’s not about me, it’s about the company and it’s about the cause. It’s not about everything being dependent on me. I have to build a culture, I have to think about a successor, I have to think about setting this thing up to do well over time. And in the end, what matters is, I want Apple to be an enduring great company and prove it didn’t need me.”

How do we do it? – It is simple. Listen to your employees, find out what is important to them, engage them, act on their feedback, empower them to solve customer problems and they will deliver better customer experiences.

MarketCulture researched 100’s of companies across the globe that exhibited both customer-centric decision-making with employees empowered to deliver great customer experiences. Some of these companies included Amazon, Google, Virgin, Apple, and Ikea.

The research revealed 8 disciplines that employees act on to deliver great customer experiences. We found these disciplines used across the entire organization including all support functions. This was not evident in companies that deliver inconsistent customer experiences.

Through both quantitative and qualitative employee feedback companies are able to act on strengths and weaknesses in order to support employees in delivering superior customer experiences.

What – A unique employee assessed customer engagement measurement tool.

Where do we start? The first step is to discover what is important to the employees in order to provide a better experience for customers. To do this we need to engage the employees and gain their feedback. The Market Responsiveness Index (MRI) is a unique assessment tool that all employees, including leaders, complete. The MRI has quantitative (scaled questions/benchmarked) as well as qualitative feedback (verbatim comments). This will identify the strengths and weaknesses of your company against companies that use best customer-centric practices. This will create change and build future business performance through the retention and growth of customers. Studies have shown that companies with Customer Centric practices outperform the others.

What is the Market Responsiveness Index (MRI)?

The MRI is a web-based employee assessment, requiring 15-20 minutes to complete, that benchmarks employee behaviors within your business against the most customer-centric companies in the world. This translates into 8 key disciplines all with a strong focus on the customer. These are Customer Insight, Customer Foresight, Competitive Insight, Competitor Foresight, Peripheral Vision, Cross Functional Collaboration, Empowerment and Strategic Alignment. Your company’s performance in these disciplines has been shown to drive future customer satisfaction, revenue growth, and profitability.

The MRI will provide key benefits to your company.

1. Momentum, Engagement and a New Mindset: It will create focus and momentum for a Customer Centricity initiative across the business and can be used to drive the embedding process.

2. Measurement: It is designed to provide the basis for benchmarking and measuring progress on those customer-focused behaviors that drive customer satisfaction, advocacy, revenue growth, profit and plans for individual managers to drive improvements.

3. Gain Insights: Hear directly from employees on the key issues holding the organization back from being more customer-centric in specific areas and across the entire business.

4. Tangibility and Communication: It makes customer culture tangible for all staff by identifying relevant activities that support business strategies. Through its methodology and measurement process, it facilitates communication of clear priorities.

5. Gain broad employee involvement: It provides staff with an opportunity for input and direct engagement in Customer Culture initiatives and a forum for agreeing with actions to be taken and a feeling that they are a key part of the journey and contributing to its success.

6. Build a common language across the Business: It also acts as a tool for ensuring staff within the business “get it” and develops a common language and behaviors from Customer Culture initiatives. It forms the basis for ongoing discussions and actions deep within each functional group which is where the ultimate success in embedding customer culture will be determined through collaboration.

7. Accountability: It provides customer-centric behaviors that can be included in the Key Performance Indicators of managers and their teams.

8. Benchmark: It provides the business with a benchmark against some of the world’s most customer-centric organizations. How do you compare with companies like Amazon, Apple, 3M, Virgin and others included in the database? The current database includes more than 300 corporations globally across B2B and B2C and several hundred business functions and units.

Interesting in starting your journey to a customer culture? Learn more here.

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.

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 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?

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.

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.