Category Archives: customer focus

The irresistible force meets the immovable object – Customer Experience meets Corporate Culture

customer experience and corporate culture

In this age of the customer, improving the customer experience has become an “irresistible force”. Companies have seen their products commoditized as competition intensifies and the speed of product introductions continues to accelerate.

The customer experience provides an opportunity to create differentiation. How you treat customers across all company touch points provides a treasure trove of opportunities to build more value.

An exploration of the customer experience uncovers new insights into what really drives value for customers. For example in the telecommunications industry the one constant communication customers receive every month is there bill. Customer’s ability to understand the bill and the way it is presented to them has a significant impact on how customers feel about their telecommunications provider. In fact a confusing bill can be a cause of customer churn.

As companies begin to recognize the opportunity to create better customer experiences they come up against the “immovable object”, corporate culture.

Customer experiences are ultimately created by employees. Without a corporate culture that supports a focus on customers, customer experience leaders face the challenge of creating the culture necessary to deliver on the desired customer experience.

So how do you address this challenge?

We wrote a series of blog posts to help:

Start here with “5 ways to Ignite Customer Culture Change”

What can customer experience leaders learn from the CIA?

Lessons for Customer Experience Professionals from the Central Intelligence Agency

In his book, The Art of Intelligence, ex-CIA operative Henry Crumpton who also spent a year with the FBI, contrasted the cultures of the two organizations as he experienced them in 1999 as follows;

  1. The FBI valued oral reports much more than written ones. The CIA prized written reports that could be used for analysis.
    • Customer experience leaders benefit from both oral and written reports as a means of communication to all relevant functions and touch-point areas.
  2. The FBI did not have information systems that were accessible by different field offices. The CIA used high-speed information systems with huge data management and analysis and upgraded these systems constantly.
    • Customer experience leaders should engage in constant monitoring and have access to  real time systems of data capture and dissemination.
  3. Another difference was the importance of reliable sources and the attitude toward them. Both placed a premium on good sources, but the FBI did not pursue them beyond a current investigation. CIA officers routinely compared notes and lessons learned (although specific sources were not revealed).
    • Customer experience leaders need reliable sources of information and an ability to learn from successes and mistakes.
  4. The FBI collected evidence for its own use, to prosecute a criminal. As a result the FBI lacked a customer service culture. The CIA collected intelligence for others and therefore had to focus on their customer’s needs.
    • Customer experience leaders themselves should be customer centric in their behaviors in relation to all stakeholders to have credibility within their organization.
  5. The FBI field offices acted as their own centers of authority. The CIA station had an incentive to report intelligence to CIA headquarters, because the users of intelligence were there and beyond, including the White House.
    • Customer experience leaders should disseminate relevant customer insights as widely as possible to influence the customer centricity of the entire organization.
  6. The FBI had both carrots and sticks when dealing with Congress and consequently had strong political influence and was well-connected. The CIA had minimal leverage on Congress.
    • Customer experience leaders must be well-connected and wield influence with the senior executive team and the Board to enable them to effectively link customer experience with corporate vision, mission and strategy. They need to be able to call in influential “heavy-weights” to support their strategies.
  7. FBI investigations were retrospective, tied to past or ongoing investigations. The CIA was attempting to identify future threats.
    • Customer experience leaders need to be future focused as a foundation for improving the current situation.
  8. The CIA had a global perspective and the FBI an America centric focus.
    • Customer experience leaders should have peripheral vision that takes in the current and future impact of wider external forces that will affect future customer experience.

No doubt things have changed in both organizations since 1999 and they did have well defined different missions, but leaving the specifics aside, which organizational culture is yours most like? How is your customer experience being impacted?

Do your customers inspire you? How Virgin Rail was saved by its customers

inspired by customers

Sometimes our customers inspire us to great heights. 

Recently Richard Branson’s Virgin Trains created a major bureaucratic turnaround by sheer force of will and the inspiration of their customers.

On September 10th 2012, Richard Branson and his CEO of Virgin Rail, Tony Collins, were answering questions at a Parliamentary Enquiry in London initiated by Branson. This was about the awarding of the West Coast train franchise (London to Glasgow) to a competitor, FirstGroup – a franchise that had been held by Virgin Trains for the previous fifteen years.

Branson said: “We submitted a strong and deliverable bid based on improving the customers’ experience through increased investment and innovation.”

He added: “Our team has transformed the West Coast line over the last 15 years from a heavily loss-making operation to one that will return the taxpayer billions in years to come.”

Branson, who had considered abandoning the rail industry in Britain after this 4th unsuccessful bid (second each time), decided to put up a fight this time. It was not because of the money – he has plenty of that – it was because of the customers and the staff of Virgin Rail.

Buoyed by 170,000 passenger signatories to an e-petition supporting the company, rallying support from unions and staff, he decided to press the government for an investigation into the transport franchise tendering process and how decisions were made.

When asked on 10th September by a member of the Parliamentary Inquiry why he was objecting, he said: “The customer is the heart of our business”. He went on to say that customers and staff had given overwhelming support to him and the CEO, Tony Collins, and he did not want to let them down. The growth of over 10% per annum in passenger numbers over the previous 10 years was testimony to the customer appeal and quality of the service provided.

The parliamentary Enquiry overturned the decision to award the franchise to the competitor, citing irregularities and lack of transparency in the bid decision.

Here is a man who believes that the most important thing in business is to have satisfied customers and fully engaged, happy staff around a customer culture that delivers increasing value to all stakeholders – and he has proved it in Virgin Rail and other Virgin businesses.

This only happens when your customer culture is so strong that your customers not only like your products and services, but they love you and your organization. When the going gets tough, your customers will “go in to bat for you”.

Would your customers help save your business?

How to be insanely service centric – Lessons from Zappos

Customer Culture Car from Zappos

Zappos is renowned globally as a legend in customer service, partially for the e-retailer’s unique approach to customer interaction management. Zappos invests in the call center not as a cost, but as a marketing opportunity

Recently, Software Advice  Analyst Ashley Furness sat down with the company’s Customer Loyalty Operations Manager Derek Carder. He said the company’s whole strategy is to create loyalty through incentivizing ‘wow’ moments and emotional connections. Here are the four KPIs they use to monitor, track and improve performance:

  • Measure Total Call Time, Not Time Per Call

Instead of valuing quick time to resolution or processing high call volumes, Zappos looks at the percentage of a time an agent spends on the phone. Agents are expected to spend at least 80% of their time in customer-facing communications. This measure – called personal service level – is a way to empower the team to utilize their time how they see best promotes customer loyalty.

Reps who achieve this target get receive rewards, while those who fall below the 80 percent line are coached.

  • Quantify and Reward Wow Moments

Zappos measures calls against a 100-point scale called the “Happiness Experience Form.” This is based on answers to the following questions:

  1. Did the agent try twice to make a personal emotional connection (PEC)?
  2. Did they keep the rapport going after the customer responded to their attempt?
  3. Did they address unstated needs?
  4. Did they provide a “wow experience?”

Agents are expected to achieve a 50-point average or higher. Again, agents earn incentives for meeting their goals, while under performers are required to take extra training.

  • Mine for Idle Chats

Zappos monitors “abandonment time,” or periods when an agent has a session open even though the customer already disconnected from the chat.  Carder said sometimes agents do this purposely to avoid responding.

This strategy of looking for idle chats zeroes in on the cause of unproductivity. When agents aren’t productive, customers wait longer. And the longer they wait, the more apt they are to abandon the session.

  • Reward Perfect Attendance and Punctuality

Zappos uses a program called Panda to combat absenteeism. Employees receive a point for every day they miss work or come in late. Staff with zero points in a given period receive a varying number of paid hours off. These hours can be accrued and stacked for an entire paid day off, Carder explains.

The primary take away is that Zappos created metrics that emphasize creating a relationship with the customer rather than rushing them through the call. At the same time, these KPIs still successfully improve performance and make employees feel appreciated and rewarded.

This is what call center metrics look like when they are designed to maximize value for customers, rather than minimize costs for the company…..

Thanks to Ashley Furness for providing great inputs for the content of this post, for more on this story visit her here

How you can create killer customer insights

Customer Insights

Customer insight comes from a deep understanding of customers’ needs and drivers of customer behavior at a level well beyond what customers themselves can explain. These needs are understood from what customers tell us, but more deeply from what we observe customers doing and the frustrations they have in using particular products, services and companies.

Richard Branson, when trying to identify industries to enter a new Virgin service, asks the brainstorming question – “What are 10 things that nobody would say about this industry?” He and his team then prioritize those ideas that would create value for customers and profits for virgin. The next step is decide if a Virgin service can be designed to deliver some of these unspoken values in that industry. It is a great example of outside in thinking, starting with the customer’s pain points or needs and working backwards.

At Mercedes-Benz, rather than asking customers “What do you think of Mercedes-Benz?” a standard question that gets the standard answers about high quality, luxury and so on, they reverse the question –

“What do you think Mercedes-Benz thinks of you?”

This unique twist on a common question results in much deeper insights. Many customers responded initially by saying thing like “ you think we are made of money … that we have all the time in the world”. These responses  led the company to find ways of making its car servicing much more convenient for customers and to build in servicing costs to the initial purchase or lease arrangement.

In both cases these are questions designed to get customer insight that goes beyond what customers will normally tell us.

Are you asking the right questions?

7 ways to make a customer culture stick

how to make customer culture stick

Research and experience show there are 4 stages to getting and keeping a customer culture: Initiation, Implementation, Embedding and Reinforcement. In my last two posts I outlined the actions to take at the initiation and implementation stages. In this post I focus on the 7 actions to take during the embedding stage.

The focus of this stage is on institutionalizing the customer culture through supporting systems, on-going training, increased employee empowerment and accountability of all individuals and teams for delivering an improved customer experience.

1. Formalization of customer culture through symbols, rituals and artifacts

This often includes organization structure changes, more open office designs, images of customers taking precedence over images of products, customer invitations to corporate meetings and cross-function teams evaluating new market opportunities.

2. Development of customer focus behaviors at leader and individual levels

Key performance indicators measuring the level of customer focus are formalized for performance reviews and designing personal development programs.

3. Delegation of decisions from the Customer Engagement Council (made up of senior and influential leaders) to all organization members

The power to make decisions on behalf of the company shifts to all employees within an agreed framework. This new empowerment and accountability is sometimes hard to accept by long-standing employees. Some companies have used a “buddy” approach to help less experienced staff gain new skills and confidence.

4. Measurement of customer culture

Culture change is not a “bolt-on”; it is a “built-in” process. Effectively done, it can’t be “unbolted”. Measurement covering the breadth and depth of the organization is necessary to determine to what extent customer culture has been built in.

5. Measurement of customer satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy against targets

Ongoing measurement is part of customer culture embedding and provides a frequent benchmark of customer engagement performance. It guides how the organization needs to adapt to changing market trends and customer needs.

6. Formal alignment of rewards and recognition with customer metrics

Remuneration systems and promotion is formally tied to customer culture behaviors and customer engagement performance.

7. On-going training program

This is valuable for two groups:

  • new and recent hires
  • pockets and groups within the organization found to be lacking a customer mindset and relevant skills

Documented case studies of successes and learnings are often used to demonstrate successful customer engagement experiences.

My next post will outline the actions required to reinforce the customer culture and avoid the complacency and arrogance that frequently occurs with sustained success.

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.

If you want to build this capability in your organization check out our MarketCulture Academy.

How customer immersion programs amplify a customer culture

customer immersion programs

One of the most significant challenges for large businesses is staying engaged with the lifeblood of the business – customers. As businesses grow people become disconnected from customers at all levels of the organization. It’s the leadership’s role to bring a focus back to customers and how every individual has an impact.

There is nothing like the personal customer insight and impact to be gained from interacting with customers. You get the raw emotion of a frustrated customer appealing for help if you listen in to customers describing the problems they are having with your product or service to a call center rep. It can have even greater impact if you watch customers trying to buy your product and experiencing increasing frustration from time-consuming processes or unwieldy websites.

Senior executives and other non-customer facing staff don’t really understand their customers unless they can experience what customers are going through. Customer immersion programs are designed to do just that – give people a first hand experience of how customers are thinking and acting.

Credit Suisse, based in Switzerland, follows a five step process for immersing executives and senior managers with a customer perspective:

  1. Conduct business: the executive goes into a branch, waits in line and conducts business with a teller
  2. Watch the customer: look at what the customer looks at and see how he behaves when doing business with the company
  3. Talk to customers: ask questions of customers and listen to their responses
  4. Investigate other channels used by customers such as the website, call center and the company’s publications: use these channels as a customer to apply for credit, get an answer from a sales rep and decipher brochures
  5. Review the experience at a workshop: discuss insights, compare experiences and lessons learned

On this side of the Atlantic, Adobe recognized they weren’t always easy to do business with, and were not consistently delivering the level of service customers expected. Adobe’s Customer Immersion Program provides Adobe’s senior leaders with the opportunity to experience first-hand what their customers experience when they engage with Adobe. Like Credit Suisse, executives and senior managers at Adobe have the opportunity to experience what a customer would experience by playing the role of a customer. Also they experience the interaction with customers when they call in with a problem or a need. Check out this short video describing what’s involved:

Adobe’s Customer Listening Post facility brings customer experiences to life –  live video and data feeds showing what’s happing in real-time.

Technology such as camera phones, videography, button cameras and online diaries to document the immersion process enable you to play back customer interactions and experiences with your business.

The power of the immersion program is when it challenges people’s perceptions of who their customers are and how they use their products. A key benefit of immersion is its ability to create a culture of consumer-focused thinking within the organization from top to bottom. First-hand experience and advocacy by senior executives dramatically enhances a customer culture in the organization. Companies best internalize the consumer perspective when executives at all levels can experience its impact. It fosters a greater appetite for customer understanding. It ultimately leads to an improved customer experience.

Come and hear more about how to create a customer culture at these two great live events put on by GlobalHRNews and the Executive Next Practices Institute:

November 13, 2012 – Global Leader Conference – Chase Building New York


November 29, 2012 – A Re-Set of Strategy and Opportunity Capture for 2013 – Academy of Motion Pictures in LA

Just 3 weeks after the US elections, join top CEO’s and other leaders from the FORTUNE 500, regulators, authors and industry thought leaders as we view a “360″ of the economic and leadership world for 2013.

I will be presenting on  “The Seven Disciplines of a Customer Centric Culture” and part of a panel discussion on the implications of the election results and what to expect in 2013.

Stop adding features start adding value!


Those of us that have worked in the product management world know too well how easy it is to add features to a product without adding value. This is one of the key challenges in business – how do we improve the value we are offering customers without adding cost?

Unfortunately this question is often answered by adding more features to an already feature rich product. The outcome is usually a product that is more complex and often less valuable at a higher cost (thanks to the costs of adding the new features!)

What drives this behavior? Usually is one or more of the following factors:

  1. The pressure to constantly increase sales.
  2. The pressure to lead the competition
  3. Trying to be all things to all customers. (Listening to that one customer that wants a special feature)
  4. Making assumptions about what customers want without really testing their validity

How do you avoid making this mistake?

Ask yourself three questions:

1.  Does this new feature compliment the core purpose of the product?

In other words is it adding value to the problem being solved by the product. For example does it make sense to add a clock to a dishwasher? No! the product is not designed to tell the time, its job is to wash dishes.

2. Does adding this feature reduce the value of other features?

There are many examples of overly complicated solutions frustrating users. Logitech has built a whole business around simplifying remote TV controls which are notoriously difficult to use. It feels like 90% of the buttons on a TV remote are for features I would never use. This makes the whole device seem clumsy and over engineered.

3. If I add this new feature what can I take away?

Regularly review what can be removed from the product and still have it accomplish what the customer wants to achieve. Use the following criteria to prioritize which features must go:

  1. Features that are costly to support
  2. Features that detract from other value-adding features
  3. Features not used by customers

This same thinking applies to everything in marketing. Are adding value or destroying it?

How customer service stories can fire up your staff!

Creating a customer centric culture can be hard work. The goal of creating a culture where business decisions at every level of the organization, in every function are made with customers in mind takes effort and great leadership.

One way to drive continued momentum is to hear stories of great customer service that inspire and motivate. Here are a couple of great videos from some Customer Service experts describing some of the experiences they have had and the impact it had on them.

This first one is from a great customer service speaker, Shep Hyken, describing how a taxi driver can create a great experience just by doing things a little differently:

This second video is from Ross Shafer, an Emmy award winning TV host turned Leadership consultant and author. In it he tells the story of how one person made a huge impact during a routine stay at a hotel during one of his roadshows.

This next one would be really cool if it actually happened! Regardless it is an inspiring promise to customers and stands out from the crowd in terms of airline advertising:

Finally here is a video we created about what we think it really means to be a customer centric organization: