Category Archives: MRI

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.

Why most companies don’t deliver great customer experiences

Poor Customer ExperiencesWe are all customers and we know what a great customer experiences feels like. We also know that a great customer experience influences our behavior, we want to talk about it with friends and we feel good about doing business with the company that provided it.

We know all this and yet we see time and again examples of poor experiences, just like this Range Rover customer above taking revenge on the company that clearly did not create the right car ownership experience. Why does this happen?

In our work with clients we have found a number of key reasons:

1. Culture – culture drives everything in an organization.  It creates the expectations for how employees behave. It can be left to chance or actively managed. The culture develops not from what people say is important and valued but by what is visibly shown to be important through the way people behave.

For example many companies say that customers are important but then will make decisions that will directly disadvantage the customer in the interests of the business. Bank fee increases, hidden charges, confusing pricing models are great examples of companies trying increase profits without providing customers with any more value.

This is usually the result of short term profit pressures. The message: customers are important until we need to make our numbers – then all bets are off!

2. Goaling – what’s measured gets done. The metrics a business uses will drive behavior, if none of those metrics include measures that are important to customers, people will not focus on the impact they are having on customers.

3. Hiring – hire people that buy into the company’s mission and actually want to add value and contribute to delivering on it. Specifically put hiring practices in place that filter out those that can’t connect their work with customers. Test potential employee’s mindsets, do they have customer friendly skills like the ability to listen, accept feedback, empathize with other people’s positions.

4. Silos – silos can be great, they drive efficiency and specialize expertise but when they become too competitive and an “us and them” mentally develops collaboration is crushed and customers will suffer.

So what do companies with strong customer experiences do right?

Improving the customer experience is about changing a company’s culture.

Companies that can achieve a customer culture take improving the customer experience as seriously as improving financial outcomes.

Our studies of organizations around the globe that have built strong customer cultures have revealed some major themes:

Strong and visible leadership

Leaders are not only committed to the customer experience but also able to instill that commitment in the rest of the organization. There are usually two primary  leaders involved in the process – a CEO or business unit leader who sets the vision and a head of strategy or customer experience who helps execute the strategy. In addition a guiding coalition or customer engagement council that brings in representatives of the broader leadership team it established to oversee progress.

These leaders commit to changing the way they do things in a way that sends the right message to the organization – that customers are important.

A clear mission, vision, and values

A clear purpose beyond “profitable growth”, one that actually does inspire and connect with people emotionally and is contextualized in a customer frame is crucial. This should drive a clear set of behavior standards that capture the intent of the organization and create accountability for customer service and the customer experience among staff members. Amazon’s mantra is “save customers money” and it drives everything (more on this here)

These are not just words on a page. Rather, companies must reinforce these beliefs and behaviors at employee inductions, coffee talks  and the regular team meetings. Companies should use real customer examples to ensure that the mission, vision, and standards resonate throughout the organization.

Customer Immersion

In larger organizations people get disconnected from customers, they lose site of the value being created and what its actually like to be a customer. A process of regular customer immersion sessions helps executives and employees regain that connection. This may include call center sessions, customer visits, bringing customers into internal planning sessions and so on.

Consistent Communication

All messages should incorporate customer focused elements so that managers and staff see the customer experience as a strategic objective that is as important as other financial outcomes. It’s essential that companies consistently communicate what constitutes the right customer experience not only in the strategic plan but also in job descriptions and performance evaluations.

Buy-in from all staff

Defining the reasons for the change and the personal value of being involved in a customer culture change initiative is crucially important. All staff need to understand the reason for the shift in focus and how it will benefit both customers and the business. Staff then ultimately need to see it is in their own self interest to change the way they go about their work.

A way to measure culture change

External and internal measures can be used to assess whether a company is actually changing, the image below shows the relationship between the internal measure of “Customer Culture” relates to the external measure of customer satisfaction and ultimately profit growth.

Customer Culture Foundation Pyramid

A customer culture can be measured using the Market Responsiveness Index which allows companies to see the progress they are making against a benchmark of companies around the world.

A message to leaders

Improving the customer experience is about changing a company’s culture. This change is the most powerful, legacy-defining step a leader can take to improve the performance of a business and the engagement of employees. Senior executives must not only take responsibility to make the customer experience a priority but also must allocate the necessary time and resources to make it a reality.

While there is work involved, it does not necessarily need to be expensive and the payoffs are enormous.  Show me any massively successful company in almost any industry and 8 out of 10 times they have a strong foundation based on a customer culture.