Michael Lowenstein, Ph.D., CMC Thought Leadership Principal, Beyond Philosophy
A recent article on corporate customer-centricity by a prominent market research firm made the case for this type of culture as “the most effective way to meet customers’ changing needs.” The article’s author, though, quoted a study his company had conducted, saying that fewer than half of the CX professionals included felt that their colleagues shared this belief.
The author had several suggestions for building customer-centricity. These included getting C-level executive, customer-facing employee, and middle manager buy-in. Also recommended were a) more proactive, catalytic behavior by CX pros and b) forming closer ties with HR, to help build more customer-centric focus among these three groups.
If customer-centric culture-building and customer-focused initiatives were the only end goals, perhaps these approaches would be sufficient. Here’s the principal challenge: Customer-centric cultures and customer-focused initiatives are rarely enterprise-wide, inclusive of every employee in the enterprise. Customer-centricity, in short, is not pervasively ‘people first’. Only a culture of stakeholder-centricity can be defined in that way.
To be a truly ‘people first’ enterprise, making both employee experience and customer experience an obsession, culture and operational processes are critical. My paradigm example is, or was, MBNA America. In 2006, when it was sold to Bank of America, MBNA was an enterprise of 25,000 employees, the U.S.’ second largest credit card issuer, and an organization noted for both low cardholder and employee turnover. The company’s cultural mantra, shown in the image above, was ‘Think of yourself as a customer.’ Having guided clients through MBNA’s corporate HQ in Wilmington, DE, this slogan was written over each doorway, printed on payroll checks, embossed on desks – – in other words, it was EVERYWHERE and so always top of mind to employees and anyone visiting MBNA offices.
Perhaps more important, MBNA was a people-first culture, with an array of approaches to benefit the experiences of both employees and customers. When the company became part of Bank of America, the MBNA employees publicly thanked Charles Cawley, who founded the company, for all he had done on their behalf (see above). When have you ever seen such a mass valentine card from to an executive?
In my recent employee ambassadorship webinar, three seminal books which offer strategies and stories were identified: Firms of Endearment (2007), Conscious Capitalism (2013), and Everybody Matters (2017). These books emphasized the important linkage between customer experience and employee experience; and they are all strongly recommended. In part, he authors built on ambassadorial ideas expressed in two editions of The Customer Comes Second (1992 and 2002), by Hal Rosenbluth and Diane Peters. At the time of its writing, Rosenbluth was the CEO of Rosenbluth Travel, one of the largest private travel management companies in the world (now part of Amex Travel Services); so, he had plenty of first-hand, well-informed immersion in both customer experience and employee experience.
Per Ralph Walkling (professor of corporate governance and accountability, LeBow College of Business, Drexel University), having a stakeholder-centric culture suggests that management considers the well-being of every entity touched by the business – employees, shareholders, suppliers, customers the community, etc. – when making decisions. In doing so, positive relationships can be maintained, while achieving attractive economic, social, and cultural results.
– Prioritize the influence of each group. This often begins with employees
– Identify and evaluate the needs and interests of each group, through targeted surveys and group processes.
– Harmonize the interests of each group, to minimize conflict
– Develop strategies for each group, so that measurable outcome value can be created
For me, the real meaning of ‘people-first’ stakeholder-centricity was expressed in The Customer Comes Second: “Companies are only fooling themselves when they believe that ‘The Customer Comes First.’ People do not inherently put the customer first, and they certainly don’t do it because their employer expects it. We’re not saying choose your people over your customers. We’re saying focus on your people because of your customers. That way, everybody wins.” Companies able to consistently do this have gotten the culture and operations right, and can keep them right by staying on course, on Labor Day and everyday.