How Are You Establishing a Customer Focus in Your Organization?

by Jeannie Walters

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As business owners, we know that establishing a customer-focused organization is as easy as simply intending to.

Alright, that’s not true at all. But we want to believe it, don’t we?


If we squint, we can convince ourselves that intention equates to success. After all, you always have the customer in mind (and cheers to you for that!), so any work you do is organically customer-focused by association.

Organizations, departments, and initiatives grow though — and experience doesn’t scale along with it. Your good intentions get drowned out by noise.

Consider the ways growth and scale as an organization can threaten the focus on the customer:

  • Quick hires are made based on skill sets, not the actual whole person. The guy who might be great at fixing widgets just might be terrible with people. 
  • Rules are established instead of culture. Following the rules is not fun, but believing in a culture is.
  • Risks are discouraged and punished. Employees learn to do what’s always been done, even if it’s only been a few months!

And you, the business owner or department leader, the very one who said this would be a customer focused organization, has lost touch. You’re not to blame; there are simply too many responsibilities, too many people to manage, and too much to do to worry about what is actually happening to the customer.

In Andrew Mason’s well-published and honest resignation letter from CEO of Groupon, his last paragraph struck at the very cause of this issue (emphasis mine):

If there’s one piece of wisdom that this simple pilgrim would like to impart upon you: have the courage to start with the customer. My biggest regrets are the moments that I let a lack of data override my intuition on what’s best for our customers. This leadership change gives you some breathing room to break bad habits and deliver sustainable customer happiness – don’t waste the opportunity!

That word – intuition – can be a dirty word among business types. Venture capitalists want banking statements, not emotional ones.

And yet no matter how much data we collect, we are human. Every day. Trying to manage the outcome from humans is vexing, whether they are employees or customers.

Where have we gone wrong?

When we speak of employee engagement and happy workplaces, we often leave out the customer. The important step in ensuring a superior customer experience is understanding what your employees need to not only have a wonderful experience themselves, but to understand the goal of being a customer-focused organization.

How customer-focused organizations communicate has everything to do with BOTH sides of that coin — employee and customer experience.

For an amazing example, check out this culture manifesto from Hubspot (via Slideshare):

The Hubspot Culture Code
Via Hubspot’s Slideshare.

The challenge – the WHAT in your culture – is what will define your customer experience. Every organization pretty much says the same things:

  • We hire the best people
  • We believe in work/life balance
  • We want results

…You’ve heard it before. But really thinking about the nuances of your culture will take you the extra step of helping to define and establish it.

Need a nudge in the right direction?

Let’s look at some traits of organizations who’ve established a customer-focused culture:

1. Playfulness

Neuroscience is supporting that people are at their best when they have time to play.

Play can be lots of things – breaks for video games, silly team challenges, or just an atmosphere that encourages this type of attitude. (3M allows time off to employees for personal interests to encourage innovation.)

2. Understanding

Employees know what’s best for the customer is not always what’s best short-term for the company. (Ritz-Carlton empowers employees to do whatever it takes to solve a customer issue. Each employee has specific budgets allowing real money to be spent to make customers happy.)

3. Relevant Perks

Jackson Fish Market, a user experience firm, described it this way:

Finally, startups need to realize that people are human beings. They’re not always rational. The 70k per year offer with lots of perks may be way more attractive than the 80k per year offer at the “scrappy” company.

The perks may cost less than the 10k difference. They may even cost the same. (Imagine what you could do for each employee’s comfort and convenience at work with an extra 10k each year.)

But most humans will weigh the environment and convenience of the perks above their straight cash value. Especially when they’re something they can show off to their friends.

Amen. Employees who are treated well AND understand the mission AND are held accountable is the best combination. Make your mission about your customers, rally your employees to be part of this customer focused organization and then keep at it.

Ok, your turn: let me know about your experiences. Have you ever been part of a truly customer focused organization? How did it go?

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Jeannie Walters

Jeannie Walters is the CEO/Founder of Experience Investigators, a global Customer Experience consulting firm. She has 20 years of experience helping companies improve loyalty and retention, employee engagement, and overall customer experience. Jeannie is a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP,) a charter member of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA,) a Professional Member of the National Speakers Association, LinkedIn Learning instructor, TEDx speaker, and President-Elect of the National Speakers Association Illinois chapter. Learn more here.

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