You know the brands that do customer culture well. They create such a focus on the customer that everything and everyone throughout the organization is on board.
Where does this organizational magic come from? In a word, it all comes back to the culture.
Sometimes the customer-focused “way” is seen as a brand within a brand. “The Disney Way” or “Zappos Culture” is shorthand for that relentless view to prioritize customers, their wellbeing, and their goals.
But positive platitudes aren’t enough. As companies move from thinking about customer experience objectives to acting on them, they need to turn generalized well-wishes into specific strategies, plans, and disciplines that will define their “way.”
This is where a lot of efforts lose steam. It’s easy to TALK customer experience. It’s easy to say things like, “We love our customers!” Shareholders and stakeholders are often enthusiastic about any announcement to focus on customers even if that announcement lacks any specifics to support it.
If you want your organization to truly have its own customer-centric “way,” it’s time to get specific about creating a customer-centric culture.
Here are six foundational practices we use when consulting and workshopping with our clients to get specific and create that organizational magic.
Six Ways to Actively Build a Customer-Centric Culture:
1. Assure your customer experience mission is defined and communicated.
Without knowing where you are going, how do you know if you’re heading the right way?
Your Customer Experience Mission Statement is what guides your intentions, actions, behaviors, and even rewards. This is the important first step that, ironically, is usually overlooked.
Zappos did this with their 10 Core Values. Others do this with a guiding principle, like Nike’s ambition to make everyone an athlete.
Here’s an example that’s close to my heart: The mission of Experience Investigators is To Create Fewer Ruined Days for Customers.™️ This translates into how we work with clients, partners, and each other. It helps us stay focused on the customers we’re serving, especially when they might be one or two degrees away from where we are in their journey.
It’s just as important to your culture to communicate about this mission in an ongoing way. It’s not enough to say it – how is your brand living it?
To lean on the famous Zappos cultural example again, they were known for asking their employees to bring their own flair to their workspaces, have spontaneous parades through their offices, and more. I’m not saying your culture needs to match that of Zappos, but it needs to be something and it needs to be clearly defined, recorded, and shared across the organization.
Ready to create your own CX Mission Statement?
2. Use your mission not only in service of your customers, but your employees.
The brands with the most effective brand cultures are also the ones who use their customer-focus as a factor in their decisions. And being customer-centric isn’t reserved just for the customer support or customer success teams. It is a guiding factor in how to hire, evaluate, and encourage employees.
Creating a culture focused on customers has to start and end with focusing on employees. A culture that aspires to be authentic for customers must live up to that in the employee experience, too. People want to live their values, and that includes at work.
Employee journey mapping and other techniques can be used to really understand where, how, and when to reinforce the mission. Team members want to deliver their best, and it’s critical that the definition of this is well-articulated and communicated throughout their experience.
This also translates into employee compensation and rewards. Not all organizations are designed to do this right away, so it’s important to ensure the right mechanisms are in place. In other words, don’t jump into tying compensation to customer-centric measurements until there’s confidence in how these are tied together.
Employee journey mapping and 360-degree surveys are techniques to help, but the first step is to define what the experience should be for employees. What expectations do they have, and what expectations does the overall culture have for them?
Whether you want to improve your Employee Journey Maps or need help creating your first, our free Employee Journey Map Template can help. Get it here.
3. Bring customers into your meetings and events.
It’s sort of amazing to think about how many organizational leaders don’t interact with customers. They may have never even met one!
In workshops , I start with a “recent customer profile” exercise to highlight how easy it is to get far away from actual customers. Many leaders look at me sheepishly and say things like, “does it have to be an external customer?” Or, “what if the most recent is a few years ago?”
I’m not here to shame anyone… I get it. It’s easy to be tasked with responsibilities like balancing budgets and innovating around products and simply never interact with customers directly.
But customer-centric cultures make it a point to include the customer, either directly or indirectly, into their regular work cadences.
- The Cancer Treatment Centers of America bring a patient into their board meetings to share their personal stories.
- Some organizations start meetings with customer quotes – alternating between those that praise and those that critique them.
- Many retailers ask executives to spend a day or two per year in a store. Watch one or two episodes of Undercover Boss, and you will see how eye-opening this type of experience can be!
4. Leverage technology, tools, and data on behalf of the customer.
We continue to live in amazing times. The acceleration of technology means those brands that understand how to harness its power will provide better experiences for customers.
Within your culture, this means ensuring phrases like “That’s how we’re told to do things” or “I don’t have that in my system” are banned from customer conversations.
Your systems need to be aligned to your customer, and not the other way around.
Centralizing data into “one view” of the customer is key to serving them better. As tools like chatbots and other channels are offered, what the customer doesn’t see is just as important as what they do see. If centralizing all customer data is not yet an option, a customer-centric culture demands workarounds and communication that still serves the customer seamlessly.
A truly customer-centric culture avoids those “you should have gotten that from our accounting department” conversations that blame the customer.
It’s true that artificial intelligence (AI) can actually help provide a more personalized, more convenient experience. But technology succeeds only if deployed with the customer experience top of mind, and not as an afterthought.
5. Gain support and make it stick.
A culture starts at the top. Leaders from throughout the organization must be leading and supporting efforts around customer experience and walking the talk themselves. This means…
- Prioritizing resources
- Reporting on customer experience metrics in meaningful ways
- Creating standards to ensure governance around what’s most important
Your customer experience governance culture does depend on your culture, priorities, and plans. But there are definite best practices around creating a governance structure (sometimes referred to as a framework) that leads to delivering on the promises of customer experience.
Good governance means defining standards, including cross-functional leadership, and frequently checking in on how to prioritize improvements for customers AND employees.
Without these well-articulated and defined standards, how do you know if you’re prioritizing the right things? These standards help secure funding, assign accountabilities, and more.
6. Pay attention to inadvertent cultural changes.
Cultures evolve with the times. The stuffy corporate cultures of suits and ties gave way to casual Fridays eventually, and then the business casual culture of the 2000s. Some culture change is intentional, but there are other sneaky ways cultures change, and if leaders aren’t paying attention, the culture can shift dramatically.
Many organizations started as a “sales” culture. Competitive monthly and quarterly benchmarks for sales led to aggressive sales tactics.
Declaring a customer-centric attitude doesn’t change those behaviors on its own. Salespeople might still believe they are judged on those numbers, even if they aren’t anymore. This can happen in contact centers and other teams, too.
After a rough quarter, team members might start pointing fingers at other departments and whispering to colleagues about who is really at fault. This behavior doesn’t lead to positive action.
Debriefing and discussing ways to improve is healthy. Blame and shame are not. Watch for these shifts and proactively work against them to protect the customer-centric culture you’ve worked so hard to define.
Recapping Six Ways to Actively Build a Customer-Centric Culture:
- Assure your customer experience mission is defined and communicated. Your Customer Experience Mission Statement is what guides your intentions, actions, behaviors, and even rewards. This is the important first step that, ironically, is usually overlooked.
- Use your mission not only in service of your customers, but your employees. Team members want to deliver their best, and it’s critical that the definition of this is well-articulated and communicated throughout their experience.
- Bring customers into your meetings and events. Customer-centric cultures make it a point to include the customer, either directly or indirectly, into their regular work cadences.
- Leverage technology, tools, and data on behalf of the customer. Technology succeeds only if deployed with the customer experience top of mind, and not as an afterthought.
- Gain support and make it stick. Leaders from throughout the organization must be leading and supporting efforts around customer experience and walking the talk themselves.
- Pay attention to inadvertent cultural changes. Some culture change is intentional, but there are other sneaky ways cultures change, and if leaders aren’t paying attention, the culture can shift dramatically.
Culture is nuanced because people are nuanced. Stay relentlessly focused on your mission and your people. You can’t expect one to perform without the other.