Tag Archives: customer culture; customer focus; strategic alignment; purpose of business

Why are so many customer-centric leaders on their own?

businessman thinking in office

Many customer centric leaders we have spoken with are facing challenges they did not expect. While they themselves understand the imperative for a customer culture that will drive future business performance and sustainability and act as role models in leading the business in this way, so often they feel alone and frustrated at the top. Despite their best efforts their leaders don’t see it in the same way.

Why? Because their direct reports are still operating with a functional mindset. Or they see proposed initiatives to strengthen the culture to improve customer experience as extra work they don’t have the time for. Or they don’t understand what it means to be a customer-centric leader and why it is critical in today’s disruptive business environment. And this is spiraled down to middle management and to the people who report to them.

This is perpetuated by managers’ KPIs that are primarily functionally focused. This creates silos, lack of collaboration and lack of effective support for organization-wide initiatives.

This is not solved by ad hoc efforts to get people on board.

It requires a commitment to an organization-wide initiative that measures and benchmarks the current level of customer-centricity and engages leaders at all levels for the their inputs. It requires the development of a customer-centric strategy designed to align people with purpose and job relevance that connects the value they deliver to the customer. It needs to create a focus on easy to understand, credible and robust organization-wide customer metrics that everyone can buy in to. This needs to be part of an implementation roadmap of digestible steps that inspire people to participate in and carry through.

Above all, this must be tangible, meaningful and actionable.

Often the hardest part for a senior leader feeling all alone and frustrated by his or her team members that don’t ‘get it’ is to make a start.

The best place to start is to get a tangible benchmark of where we stand today as a business against the most customer-centric organizations in the world. This assessment involves the participation of all leaders and places a mirror to our business. The Market Responsiveness IndexTM (MRI) is a powerful tool to help you get your team on board. It is an assessment tool that will show you that you are not alone – in fact there are many others in different parts of your business and at different levels that think just like you do.

And they, just like you, want to make a difference that counts.

How a Customer Centric Culture can save lives

virgin-trains_driver

The team at MarketCulture recently ran a one day leadership workshop in Sydney, as is often the case we get to hear some incredible stories of the power of customer thinking.

One that really stood out was the story of a driver for Virgin Trains.

Virgin Trains is a great story of a business that is always trying to improve the customer experience, Richard Branson is well known for saying “there is always another way to delight a customer.”

Many people would think why would you include train drivers in a program designed to improve the customer experience? They just need to drive the train, they are hidden away at the front with little interaction with actual customers.

Virgin did not believe this, their philosophy was that everyone matters when it comes to delivering a great customer experience. As a result the train drivers were included in workshops designed to help each employee think about their role in delivering great experiences.

A week or two after one of the sessions, a veteran train driver was taking the normal route he had taken for many years and as he rounded the bend on a bridge he noticed a slight bump on the tracks. It was not particularly unusual, small bits of debris can often end up on the tracks. However this time, with the recent customer thinking training on his mind, it made him think more deeply about the bump. More specifically he thought about the passengers on the train and his responsibility for keeping them safe.

He wondered whether passengers had noticed the bump? At the next stop he decided to radio the maintenance crews and report it. In the past it was not something he would normally do as it would mean an investigation of something that was in his 30+ years experience probably nothing.

He continued to the end of his journey for the day. As he pulled up to his last stop his shift manager was there waiting.

“That bump you radioed through”… the train driver winced thinking he wasted a bunch of people’s time… the Shift manager continued “our engineers were just out on that part of the track, it seems a strut supporting the bridge has failed. If we kept running trains over that section we would have had a derailment and hundreds of people could have died. I am so glad you noticed it, you have helped us all avoid a catastrophe. Even if it was nothing, I am glad you reported it, customer safety really is our number 1 priority.” The train driver was relieved, not only had he averted disaster but he had been empowered to do the right thing for customers even if it had consequences for the train’s operations.

The driver was later awarded outstanding employee of the year and celebrated at the annual Virgin Conference in the UK.

This is a powerful story about how customer thinking can help people connect their work to the bigger picture and their responsibilities in creating a great customer experience.

For more stories on Virgin Trains and other great customer centric companies you can check out our book, The Customer Culture Imperative

 

5 Reasons why your customers don’t believe you?

customers don't believe you You’d be better off not saying it if you can’t deliver it!

Customer focus is a term both overused and underdone. It sounds good in a mission or vision statement but many leaders don’t really know how to achieve a customer focused culture nor are they doing anything specific about improving it in a sustainable way. Many other leaders may know how to do it, but feel it may not be worth the effort and time required to achieve it.

There are many reasons the leadership of companies talk about it. They believe their customers and employees want to hear the “customer first” story. It sends the right message. Most leaders believe, at some level, focus on the customer is an important part of running a successful business. They understand that without customers there is no business.

So why do leaders of companies talk the talk but do not walk (or run) the walk?

The reality of being truly customer focused – that is, having a customer culture – is somewhat different. It is challenging, particularly when companies have developed habits and structures that work against it.

Internal focus on operations, processes and working in silos create habits that can be hard to change. As companies grow they become more complex, communication becomes difficult and frequently confusing, processes are set-up to maintain quality and improve efficiency and eventually get in the way of doing the right thing for customers. Silos develop and internal politics result in people acting in their own best interests above the customer and the business. These conditions lead to at least 5 reasons why customers don’t believe you.

1. Misdirected compensation

Sometimes people are compensated in ways that work against the best interests of customers. There is no better example of this than the mortgage crisis in the US where mortgage salespeople were incented to sell mortgages to people that could not afford them. This leads to customers not having their real needs met.

2. Short-term focused behavior

Another reason for the lack of customer culture is the short-term behavior driven by an investor focus and reporting of quarterly results. This leads to a focus on profit and revenue to the detriment of customers. An underlying customer culture providing a sustainable business focus will lead to more integrated thinking and reporting based on medium term performance trends.

3. Focus on technical skills

Many of today’s professionals are specialists with highly developed technical skills in their areas of expertise. This leads to a narrow focus without a broader understanding of the business environment and how they affect the value received by customers. Some professions even view customers as inhibitors to getting their jobs done – an annoyance to minimize. For example the university academic that laments the fact that they have to teach students rather than focus 100% on research or the surgeon that dislikes having to communicate in person with patients. Others focus on profit to the exclusion of customer interests. When this attitude takes hold in organizations it becomes a significant roadblock to a customer culture regardless of what the mission states.

4. Operating in silos

Functional silos where there is lack of cross-function collaboration and unclear customer “ownership” creates problems for customers. We have all experienced being sent from one department to another by customer service representatives who are not empowered to take ownership of our problem. This leads to customer frustration and then your customer promise lacks credibility.

5. Lack of strategic alignment

When staff do not understand or care about the company’s strategy and how what they do contributes to delivering value to customers. This leads to the customer receiving mixed service and conflicting messages.

Why should your customers believe you?

What is the purpose of business?

What's the purpose of business?

Ask anyone this question and you will get a variety of answers, the most common being to make a profit. While certainly to make a profit is a requirement I don’t believe it is a business’s reason for being.

Most businesses start out with a problem that needs solving. This problem is one usually experienced by many others. The business develops services and products to solve this problem better than any alternative and WHAMO it has something that people will pay for!

Unfortunately what happens over time is the focus of the business becomes the profit it generates rather than the problems it solves for customers. This often results in short term profit maximization at the expense of customers rather than for their benefit.

The outcome of this short term profit focus often results in toxic cultures where internal groups work against one another rather than for the benefit of the entire organization. The original purpose of the business is lost and employees become disconnected.

By realigning the business with its customers and rallying around a single focus, maximizing outcomes for customers, businesses can find their way again and produce even larger profits.

Remember profit is the RESULT of creating the best possible outcomes for your customers not the other way around.

If you want to create this type of culture in your company, take the Market Responsiveness Index and find out where you stand today.