Tag Archives: customer focus

Why aren’t Public Service Organizations Customer-Centric?

(Photo credit: UCSF)

The Department of Motor Vehicles (Photo credit: UCSF)

Why aren’t many public service organizations like health, tax, education, transport and treasury or utilities such as power and water authorities customer-centric? Public service agencies differ markedly. Some have an exclusive franchise – public schools, police and roads that are taxpayer funded or water and electricity transmission monopolies that are customer funded. Others operate in competitive markets such as postal and parcel services.

But the case for customer centricity is compelling.

The Case for Customer Centricity

Countless studies have documented the link between organizational culture and organizational performance. Specifically, many studies show that a customer-centric culture drives superior service and value for customers resulting in an experience that creates customer satisfaction and advocacy. This in turn drives exceptional organizational performance in terms of productivity, new product/service success, innovation and financial performance.

Government departments and public service organizations have clearly defined missions to provide a service to their constituents. Each reports to a government official who is part of a central, state or local government that represents a community – much of which is made up of customers that experience the service. Poor experience leads to complaints, that in turn, ultimately affects votes for public officials if service is consistently bad.

Public service organizations that do not understand their customers’ changing needs, or worse, don’t care about their customers, will receive complaints that require additional resources to solve. This creates stress for both employees and customers and takes resources away from their core roles. The momentum and complexity of global change are challenging all organizations, including government agencies, to move faster, work smarter, use their resources more effectively and think further ahead.

Most senior leaders of these organizations know this!

What’s the problem?

Many public service organizations try to focus on their customers, but wonder why their customer service programs have not really worked. A key reason is that senior leaders do not understand the difference between customer focus and customer centricity.

If you ask different people in your organization whether it is customer focused or customer-centric you will probably receive a variety of answers. If you then ask them what they mean by that you will probably get many more. Often many senior managers believe their organization or department is customer-centric while others will strongly disagree.

Another reason is that public service organizations do not measure customer centricity and make it a key performance factor for assessing leader and team performance.

The best starting point is to agree on what customer centricity is and then measure it for your organization. This will get everyone on the “same page” and create the mindset and benchmark that enables you to focus on things you should do to strengthen it.

What is customer centricity?

Research tells us that customer centricity requires a particular culture – a shared system of values and norms (mindset and behaviors) that focus all employee activity on improving the customer’s experience. Values define what is important and norms define the appropriate mindset and behavior that leads to what people do.

Leaders of customer-centric organizations have found that customer centricity is defined by the capability of an organization to understand, predict and respond to customer, market and external environment changes. It is based on the mindset: “what’s best for the customer is best for the organization” and a set of employee behaviors where the customer is central to the decisions they take and how they are implemented. This does not mean that you give customers everything they want, but by understanding their current and future needs you are best able to deliver value that will satisfy them in meeting their objectives in a way that meets your own goals. Customer centricity should transcend all departments and functions and be an integral part of the way employees behave and perform.

How do you measure it?

There are now valid measurement tools available to benchmark your organization’s level of customer centricity. Based on empirical research two tools can be used to assess where you are. The Market Responsiveness Index is relevant to competitive environments and benchmarks the capabilities of your organization on 7 factors. The Customer Responsiveness Index (CRI) is relevant to the vast number of non-competing government agencies and utilities and benchmarks the capabilities of your organization on 6 factors. Both tools reach into a global database to enable you to compare your level of customer centricity against the best… and the worst. But more important they enable all staff to understand what customer centricity is and what actions you can take to embed it in your organization as a sustainable culture.

Three steps for getting started

The following three steps will create some effective momentum:

  1. Hold a forum of leaders designed to create awareness of what real customer centricity means. This may include a debate on whether your organization is customer-centric with one team taking the positive stance and the other team taking the negative view. This will expose different views and help people understand what “being customer-centric” means.
  2. Measure and benchmark your organization’s level of customer centricity and identify strengths and weakness on the customer-centric factors that drive your performance.
  3. Conduct a leadership workshop designed to review your strengths and weaknesses and develop plans to act on the most important priorities ensuring that all leaders are involved.

These 3 steps will lead you to actioning a customer-centric plan based on an objective understanding of where you stand, some milestones and targets to be achieved and a roadmap to get there.

You will find some valuable tools, case studies and examples to help you through these steps in The Customer Culture Imperative: A Leader’s Guide to Driving Superior Performance, McGraw-Hill New York, 2014 by Linden R. Brown and Chris. L. Brown. (The foundation of the research is in Appendix 1, pages 273-287.)

3 Traits a Company Culture must have to create great customer experiences

warning-you-are-being-watched The way customers are treated by your company is a direct reflection of your company culture. If you have a culture based on fear and mistrust, customers will experience the ramifications. Have you ever felt like you were being treated like a criminal for returning a product or complaining about a service? It is highly likely that employees are punished for not following the rules, as a result customers are also punished for mistakes or speaking up.

Company culture can be a difficult thing to define, but just about everyone that works for a company can feel it or describe it in some way.

Software Advice, an online reviewer of HR technology, recently conducted some interesting research that demonstrates the wide range of views from employees on what makes for an attractive company culture. The most cited cultural trait that would attract employees? Honesty and Transparency.

Source: Software Advise

Source: Software Advice

Transparency

This leads us to the first of 3 must have traits, Transparency. Employees want to know where they stand, if the leadership is opaque and vague about performance expectations or what success looks like this is a recipe for low morale and poor customer experiences.

Empathy

The second must have trait is empathy. Empathy is about understanding the other person’s position, in this case understanding the customer’s point of view. What do customer’s experience? What are they trying to achieve? What are their frustrations and how can we eliminate them? A culture of empathy extends to how employees work with each other, what are the other department’s goals and how do we help them achieve their goals as well as our own. Companies that lack empathy end up with unhappy customers that leave.

Trust

The final must have trait is Trust. This relates back to my opening point, a culture of fear results in employees not trusting customers. The customer is out to get them, scam them, take advantage of them just like everyone else in this place! Low levels of trust narrows our thinking, employees go into a survival mode that results in short term wins at the expense of long term relationships.

Have you ever had the feeling you are not welcome when you walk into a retail store? (See the image at the top of this post) Unfortunately in retail, theft is a major problem, however, as with most major problems it is subject to the 80/20 rule. In other words most people are not thieves but the signage and the retail staff’s attitude can make everyone feel that way – not good for business…

Are these cultural traits present in your company?

The link between customer focus and employee engagement

Employee Engagement and Customer Focus

Customer focus and employee engagement are two sides of the same coin.

Clearly if your customers are going to be satisfied it takes an engaged workforce that is passionate about their work and holds a strong desire to deliver great experiences.

What we have found to also be true however is that employees become disengaged when they lose meaning in their work. This meaning can only come from recognition and acknowledgment from customers (whether internal or external).

In our work with our clients we have found when increases in customer focus occur (measured with our MRI tool) this is followed by increases in employee engagement (measured with the Gallup Q12 tool).

It is the result of getting on the same page as to the purpose of the business, namely creating customers and the personal satisfaction that comes from doing valued work.

What has your experience been? Does customer focus and employee engagement run in tandem in your company?

6 questions on customer focus every leader must answer

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There has always been a lot of talk from business leaders about being customer driven, customer focused, customer centered in their business activities but what does that really mean?

Here are some key questions and answers to help leaders wanted to improve their organization’s level of customer focus:

1. Why be customer focused?

a. It pays – countless studies tell us businesses with high levels of customer focus sustain a growth path and are much more profitable

b. It’s more satisfying – a pat on the back from a customer makes the hard work all worthwhile

2. How does a customer focused business and team think?

a. It has a shared belief that “what’s best for the customer is best for the business”.

b. The customer is at the heart of all decisions – it is enacted by saying “How will this decision affect the customer; how will it benefit the customer?”

3. What do customer-focused people and teams do?

a. They get feedback from end customers and act on it

b. They get feedback from service provider partners and act on it

c. They gain insights on what bugs customers

d. They understand what will create real added value for intermediate and end customers

e. They realize that it’s the customer’s perception of what is valuable that counts, not their own view of what’s valuable

f. The biggest challenge is for us to gain a customer’s perception of what is really valuable

4. How can we measure how customer-focused we are?

a. Measure what people do in the business that affects the value delivered to customers – adding customer perceived value is a positive; doing non-value work is a negative

b. This comes down to how we behave – in relation to customers and competitors; how we collaborate with each other and our partners

5. What leads to loyal customers spending more and not considering the competition?

a. Personal relationships that create advocates

b. Consistent high value service delivery

c. Continually interacting with customers, listening for feedback, asking, customers how we are doing

d. There is great satisfaction in understanding a customer’s real need and helping them satisfy it

6. Who creates value for customers?

a. Everyone – if you are not creating value for customers, you are draining the business of its potential and future

b. The user experience is affected by everything the business delivers or does not deliver

c. Customers don’t care about your processes, they want a solution to their real problem

d. We should all be focused on solving the end user’s business problem/needs

The role of inspiration and emotion in customer focused culture change

The logical rationale for being customer focused is very hard to argue with.

We know that if we can make great products and create an awesome customer experience we will be more successful.

And yet we often find we get stuck in a short sighted web of fear and self interest that results in us not acting in a manner that will get us and our businesses the best results. In short culture stops us from making things happen.

At MarketCulture we have found that rationale arguments are not enough, people must emotionally buy-in to the idea of improving their own and therefore their organization’s customer focus.

When we can trigger both the rationale and emotion drivers we see change happen.

I have embedded a short video that describes the type of change we are looking to help our clients undertake, would love you feedback on if you think it is an effective way to communicate the message.

Starting the customer culture journey Step 1

Creating a customer focused culture sounds so simple, so basic, so fundamental and yet most companies never quite get there. To be sure it is a journey but like any journey you need to start somewhere and pick a few stops along the way.

The first stop involves knowing where you really are as an organization. How customer focused are you? Certainly your customer’s will have some strong opinions on this….. But to really get to the heart of things you need to start inside the organization with the people responsible for being customer focused and developing a customer experience. What do employees think? Do they believe they work in a customer focused environment?

We have a number of tools to help companies measure the behaviors that customer focused team’s exhibit. These help everyone get on the same page regarding what a customer culture really is and what is required to create it inside any organization.

Getting this type of feedback is the first step in becoming customer focused. It is usually tough for leaders to hear and see results that are not favorable, even though sometimes there may not be big surprises. But getting feedback is part of being customer focused so if leaders cannot accept and use feedback that is the first issue that needs to be addressed.

How customer focused is your business?