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Why You Must Create and Sustain a Customer-Centric Culture

by Colin Shaw on October 25, 2018

Most companies today know that putting the customer at the heart of everything they do is vital. Doing something about it, however, tends to fall into the unknown category.

The fact is, improving your Customer Experience means you must also become more customer-centric. But what is customer-centricity and how do you do it? What aspects of the experience should you focus your efforts to improve?

Creating and sustaining a customer-centric culture was the subject of a recent podcast. We discussed how organizations can move from a company that doesn’t give a hang about putting customers first to a company that puts customers first intrinsically.

When I worked at British Telecom almost 20 years ago, Customer Experience was just becoming a thing. We had six values. The first one was, “We put customers first.”

But guess what? Customers never went first.

Customers never came first because we did not have a customer-centric culture at British Telecom. Our culture was very much focused on British Telecom. We only said we put customers first because it made us feel better about the fact that we always put the company first.

Even twenty years later, we still see organizations using this strategy about Customer Experience in our global customer experience consultancy. Our clients will also talk about putting customers first, but when push comes to shove, and we start to talk about customer-centricity, we discover that they don’t really.

Customer-centricity Is Easy to Say and Hard to Do

Organizations engaged in an earnest effort to improve the Customer Experience often overlook some vital aspects of the experience. These critical aspects are how the customer feels during the experience.

Part of the reason so many organizations only say they put customers first rather than actually putting them first is that doing so is difficult. Customer-centricity requires an organization to commit to putting the customer first in everything they do, which means everything from design to production to delivery to billing to support, and so on.

Every person in the organization needs to have the same idea of what it means to put the customer first and what specific action to take to achieve the goal. Moreover, their efforts should be both consistent and automatic, or in other words come naturally (more on that in a minute).

customer centric podcast

Hear the rest of the conversation on “Creating and Sustaining a Customer-centric Culture” on The Intuitive Customer Podcast. These informative podcasts are designed to expand on the psychological ideas behind understanding customer behavior. To listen in, please click here.

It’s Worth It—for Billions of Reasons

Throughout my life, I have learned that the sometimes the most difficult things to do are the things most worth doing. Customer-centricity is no different. Companies that put customers first and have a customer focus tend to outperform those organizations that don’t. For proof, I offer the following for customer-centric company you might know, the Walt Disney Company:

customer centric graph

That’s 95.79 billion reasons Customer-centricity matters.

The Journey from Naïve to Natural

For my second book, Revolutionize Your Customer Experience, we undertook research about customer-centricity. We discovered that all organizations are on a journey from Naïve to Natural as it pertains to customer-centricity. The four stages are, Naïve, Transactional, Enlightened, and, finally, Natural.

customer centric model

Let’s take a closer look at each stage.

●      Naïve: Organizations focused on what is good for the company. It could be because they do not know any better or because they don’t need to be, as would be the case in a monopoly. It could also be because they don’t care.

●      Transactional: These organizations treat customers like transactions, something to process. They typically have customer service departments and talk about putting customers first, but a bit like my former employer, don’t really embrace the customer at the heart of everything they do.

●      Enlightened: These companies know you need a holistic view and understand how the emotional aspects of an experience are crucial to include and manage in your Customer Experience design. Another name for this group is the “almost there” stage.

● Natural: These are the ones that get it. Putting the customer at the center is intrinsic to every action they take. To reach this Natural state, however, organizations must examine all the parts of the experience, and be deliberate in the changes they make to their status quo to create a customer-centric experience

Where you are on the journey is reflected in the experience you provide. If you focus on operations, or are company-focused, you will provide an experience that is company-focused as well. However, if you are customer focused, then your experience will also be.

We often encourage organizations to adopt an outside-in approach to overcome this obstacle. Most companies have an inside-out approach, which means they are working away in their organization, doing their processes in a way that works best for the company. So, inside-out means it is as if they are inside and look out at customers. An outside-in approach says that you look at your organization and its experience as if you were a customer yourself. In other words, you are on the outside of the organization looking in.

The outside-in approach helps you understand how the experience is for customers. It also helps you see all the ways that your process and how it makes you feel are not customer-centric.

To have a great Customer Experience, you need to be more customer-centric. If you don’t focus on achieving a customer-centric culture, you Customer Experience improvement plan will not work. You must shift the organization’s mindset first, then improve the Customer Experience.

Getting There

Moving to the new orientation isn’t a smooth process. It requires defining and designing a customer strategy. It means changing your methods. It means addressing the culture of your organization and how it measures success. It needs you to train your people on the full meaning of a Customer Experience and giving them the specific actions and words that will deliver the experience you want.

Some people will never change. Some people will think that this concept of customer-centricity is rubbish and all the organization needs to do is lower its price. In the past twenty years, I have learned that if any of these people that will never change are the leaders, then you don’t have much hope of changing the orientation on the organization.

So, for those of you pursuing a natural state of customer-centricity, ensure that senior management is supporting your effort. Moreover, that support should be more than words; it should include a mix of resources (e.g., time and money) and authority (e.g., permission to knock heads with anyone who is obstructing your progress).

Staying There

Let’s say, you have done it. You made the transition from Naïve to Natural as an organization. Now that you arrived there, you need to stay there.

First of all, you must show your results to senior management. More specifically, you need to show the value (e.g., $$$$) that you generated with your efforts. We have a product called the Emotional Signature that measures the level of emotional engagement you have with your customers and ties those emotions to value for the organization. Certain emotions produce more value than others and therefore, you can prove that having a Customer-centric culture was worth the trouble.

The first step to becoming more customer-centric is to realize where you are oriented today. Our Naive to Natural self-assessment helps define the current level of customer focus you have. You can discover where your organization is on the journey toward achieving a “Natural,” customer-centricity, and, perhaps more importantly, decide where you want to go.

To take our FREE Naïve to Natural self-assessment, please click here.

Customer-centricity is crucial to your Customer Experience. However, putting the customer at the center of everything you do is harder than it sounds. It’s more than a “value” in a list like it was at my former employer. True customer-centricity requires a hard look at your orientation now and a comprehensive plan for what you will change to get to the orientation you want.

However, it’s worth it. Having a customer-centric culture pays. In some cases, it pays in nearly 96 billion ways.

Follow Colin Shaw on Twitter @ColinShaw_CX

Colin ShawWhy You Must Create and Sustain a Customer-Centric Culture