Tag Archives: Customer Centric Leadership

Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos explains how he drives a passion for customer obsession with his senior leadership teams

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Creating a customer-obsessed culture requires strong leadership and one of the very best exponents of the practice is Jeff Bezos of Amazon.

Even though Amazon now employs more than half a million employees and serves more than 300 million customers, Jeff Bezos personally reads every customer complaint email sent to him. While he does not respond to them personally, he is immersed in them as a way to stay in touch with the reality of what is going on in the business.

We call this, customer immersion, and it is one of the most important activities any CEO can engage in.

So how does he manage the wide range of customer complaints/feedback he receives directly?

He is known to forward the email directly to the leader accountable for that area with a simple “question mark”. The question mark is his short-hand for can you look into this? why is this happening?

Leaders know they are then on the hook to drill into the issue and find out what is happening and resolve it in a systemic manner, ie so it does not occur again!

And this is the crux of what makes a customer-obsessed culture different, leadership takes this seriously and follows through on making the changes necessary so that the source of the complaint is eliminated…. this simply does not happen in most organizations.

This approach gives Bezos a frontline insight into what customers think and experience. It is a huge leadership advantage as he can maintain a pulse on what is actually going on across Amazon’s massive and complex business.

In this great article by Julie Bort, Jeff explains:

“The thing I have noticed is when the anecdotes and the data disagree, the anecdotes are usually right. There’s something wrong with the way you are measuring it.”

For 10 years MarketCulture has helped leaders around the world understand how to engage employees in building a customer-obsessed culture. The MRI Assessment provides valuable feedback to leaders they can act on to enable employees to deliver great customer experiences.

MarketCulture has proven scientifically that a stronger customer culture will drive increased business performance through retention of customers and increased advocacy.
Contact us now to find out how we can help your company become customer obsessed.

How do leaders become customer-centric?

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Source: OCEAN/CORBIS

To answer this question it can be helpful to start with the opposite question: why aren’t leaders Customer-Centric? In many cases, it appears to depend on chance!

There are many reasons leaders are driven away from being truly customer-centric:

  • the dominant profit and shareholder value focus in many organizations,
  • the siloed and internal focus in most large corporations,
  • the pressure on short-term results at the cost of customer relationships and customer value.

But these are not the most important reasons!

In our research of more than 65 senior leaders around the globe customer-centric leadership occurs by chance – an upbringing in a family that runs a small business, working for a boss who happens to be customer-centric, an experience in a business that is ruined by lack of attention to customers.

What is lacking in organizations and tertiary learning institutions is the systematic training and development of leadership with a specific customer-centric focus.

There are virtually no university courses around the globe dedicated to the teaching of customer-centric leadership. Most organizations do not have this as a focused L&D program for senior leadership, the extended leadership group or for prospective and aspiring leaders.

How can you expect leaders to have the new currency of customer-centric leadership required for success by the new world of disruption and customer-driven strategies if you leave it to chance?

There are simply too many organizational pressures working against it.

Don’t leave your organization’s fate up to chance!

There is an answer. Research reported in The Customer Culture Imperative tells you what is required. Learn more about our dedicated Learning and Development program for leaders at here.

What drives leaders to become customer-obsessed?

Mature Man Clutching Arm As Warning Of Heart Attack

I was speaking recently with Rashid Velemeev, CEO of Sindbad Travel, one of Russia’s biggest online travel booking agencies based in St Petersburg. We were discussing customer-centric leaders and he mentioned that he believed an important characteristic is that they feel internal pain.

They can’t accept the way things are and they must change it to relieve their pain. It may be an experience of very poor service or of a product that does not work properly or an experience with people in a company who just don’t care. It creates a burning desire to do something about it.

When we think about this we realize that many businesses are started today because the founder has had a very poor customer experience and feels compelled to fill the gap created in the marketplace. It becomes a passion to make things right and if implemented well becomes a very good business.

Are you a leader that feels pain because things are not done right in your business to consistently deliver customer satisfaction? Do you feel the pain personally with each customer complaint? If so you can relieve that pain by implementing some of the ideas in our book: The Customer Culture Imperative.

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

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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”

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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.

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?

Customer Centric Leaders have a Service Focus where Authenticity Trumps Ego

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Lars Bjork, the CEO of 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 become 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.