What is a Customer-First Culture, and Why is It Important?
There are plenty of noble reasons for wanting to create great customer experiences. Each interaction a customer has with your brand is an opportunity to make their day even the slightest bit brighter, which is as meaningful today as ever.
It’s a fact that delivering a great customer experience makes brands’ bottom lines brighter, too. Great customer experience means better business results. Customers will spend more, stay longer and tell their friends about the brand. If metrics like retention rate, lifetime customer value, and new leads from referrals are important to your company, then great customer experience is too.
It’s nearly impossible to deliver great customer experience without creating a customer-first culture. The best brands in the world boast cultures that empower employees to deliver for customers. Yet many organizations have legacies of cultures focused on short-term goals like quarterly results or product-focused cultures that all but ignore the customer experience. When leaders want to change these cultures, they realize it requires greater work than just announcing that it’s time to think about customers more.
How can you create a customer-first culture?
I get asked this question quite a bit. I wish there were a simple recipe: Oh! You just mix in some leadership and toss in a splash of data, then top it with some team-building exercises. Bake at 400 for an hour, or a little less at high altitudes.
Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Building a customer-centric culture is not something you can address with a list of tactics.
Culture is a funny word. It can mean different things to different people. Because culture is often talked about in obtuse, abstract ways, employees can be cynical about the word. Leaders can assume the culture is good for everyone when it isn’t. And customers can lose trust in organizations that don’t have cultures that align with their values.
When done well, a customer experience culture provides:
- An engaged, empowered workforce
- An authentic, open environment where employees do their best work
- An innovative, future-focused and adaptable work community focused on solving customer challenges
It takes building a foundation of meaningful strategy, mindset and purpose… and then fulfilling a fanatical commitment to that purpose in each part of the organization.
How can you be sure the culture you want is the culture you have? How can you lead an organization through a cultural transformation? While I can’t give you a recipe, I can offer some guidelines — as the Four C’s of a Customer Experience Culture.
What are the Four C’s of a Customer Experience Culture?
Briefly, the Four C’s of a CX Culture are:
Let’s explore each in more detail.
Culture can be described as “how and why we do things around here.” The collective conscience of the organization drives these decisions based on purpose.
The foundation of a customer-first culture is knowing what promises have been made to customers, and what experience we want to deliver.
The challenge with many organizations is a lack of collective conscience. Employees are asked to make judgment calls and defer to policies that are outdated, unfair or not aligned with the vision, mission and values of the organization.
As a result, the brand promises one thing but delivers another. Customer experience suffers, and customers lose faith in the overall brand.
There are three ways to ensure the collective conscience of your organization is clear.
- A Customer Experience Mission Statement, customer-focused and separate from your Corporate Mission Statement. Do you know what yours is? Is it well-articulated and internalized throughout the organization?
- The Ideal Customer Journey. Do you know what it looks like? Do employees understand their role in delivering this, even if they don’t consider themselves as “customer-facing?”
- Your Known Customer. The better you understand the customer and their journey, the more you know if you can deliver for them in the best ways. A customer-first culture brings the customer into the conversation.
Related: Why a CX Mission Matters — And How to Create One
People throughout your organization must internalize the mission and then find ways to live it.
If there’s one gap in almost every organization, it is usually around communication.
Cultures are built on communication. It can’t happen just one way.
- Leaders must communicate around the mission and how to live it in an ongoing way.
- Employees must feel empowered to communicate to leaders about what they see. What’s working? What’s not?
- Honest communication on behalf of customers can’t lead to punishment or retribution.
Consider how internal communications reflect (or don’t!) the customer-first culture. Do they mention customers, the customer experience mission, customer feedback, and goals around customer experience?
What happens inside the organization shows up on the outside.
Brands who reflect a mission on the outside of the organization have to live that on the inside. If they don’t — if daily employee experiences feel misaligned with the company’s Customer Experience Mission — the result is a cynical culture and poor results all around.
What’s tolerated on the inside of the organization that is not acceptable in the customer experience?
A B2B firm promoted their friendly, open partnerships with clients. Yet inside the organization, there was a culture of one-upmanship and backstabbing. An unhealthy internal culture can’t hide from customers forever. They perceive it and realize the experience isn’t consistent for those who deliver for them.
How consistently does your culture reflect your Customer Experience Mission?
It’s not enough to tell people to “think of the customer.” Unless you cater to an ideal customer segment of clairvoyants, only thinking of them won’t be very meaningful. Those thoughts have to be reinforced with actions.
Talk is cheap. Translate the ideas into action by asking employees to incorporate the mission into actionable ideas:
- Add a customer experience mission question to every agenda.
- Incorporate customer feedback data and quotes into project plans and product roadmaps.
- Provide incentives to those employees who develop customer-centric ideas.
- Reward those employees who earn high marks from customers.
How Does Your Organization Score?
Of course, when we usually think of The Four C’s, we’re talking about diamonds: Cut, Color, Clarity and Carat weight. These aren’t simply Yes/No boxes to check; each C is graded on a scale.
Similarly, we should think of the Four C’s of a CX Culture on a scale. Where does your organization score on each item? No organization is perfect. Where do you have the greatest opportunity to grow?
Cultures are never built in a day. They are developed over time and evolve. Customer-first cultures require an eye toward the future and persistent attention on the present.
If that feels overwhelming, remember that the result of making these improvements is real. How well your organization delivers on these 4 C’s affects how well you can make your customers’ days a little brighter… But it also affects lifetime customer value, referrals, retention, and other key metrics that, when improved, can make your days brighter too.