It’s popular to promote customer-centricity, but it’s very difficult to consistently demonstrate it. The word centric means that a specific thing is the focus of attention and effort. Customer-centric means that other concerns than the well-being of the customer take a back seat while the customer is in the foreground.
This may seem simple, but reality proves that customer focus is elusive. In Accenture’s Delivering the Promise study, 75% of executives rated their customer service as above average, while 59% of their customers rated their experience with these companies’ service as somewhat to extremely poor. Likewise, in the CMO Council’s Customer Affinity study, half of companies said they were extremely customer-centric, but only a tenth of their customers agreed.
The building blocks of a customer-centric culture are communication, skills, accountability, and systems.
1. Communication. The vision and values that top management communicates verbally and behaviorally set the tone and direction. What top management focuses on guides the thinking and efforts of the entire organization. The key is consistency: at every opportunity, continuously communicate the need to make it easier and more enjoyable for customers to receive and use solutions. Consistency occurs in formal and informal meetings, written correspondence, external messages, and in every business process and management ritual such as performance reviews, annual operational plans, performance dashboards, etc. -centricity.
At Amazon.com, founder Jeff Bezos once started a meeting by announcing that an empty chair at the table represents the customer. Throughout the meeting, executives were forced to include the customer in the discussion as if they were present. This became a habit – the way the group thought and acted.
2. Skills. Customer-oriented values and vision must be supported by mastering the associated technical and soft skills. Examine the competency requirements for everyone—not just customer-facing roles—in relation to your customer-facing values and vision. This includes channel partners, suppliers and other external entities. Competence is the critical link between strategy and execution.
At Nordstrom, employees are selected for their ability to anticipate and meet people’s needs. They are encouraged to try new approaches to sales and customer service, while the mantra of using good judgment in all situations gives them a tremendous sense that the customer trusts them to always do the right thing.
3. Accountability. What gets rewarded gets done – whether the rewards are tangible or intrinsic. Interestingly, intrinsic rewards have been shown to be more effective in tailoring the way a group thinks and acts. Risk tolerance and penalties also determine the degree to which customer focus takes root. Above all, monitor cause and effect and perceptions of fairness in relation to logic and justice; These elements are critical to success.
At Enterprise Rent-a-Car, customer sentiment is measured at the rental location level. Only employees in offices with a score equal to or higher than the overall company average are eligible for a promotion, raise or bonus. At EMC, meeting the target for their leading indicator of customer sentiment, system availability, is a go/no-go determinant of the company-wide bonus.
4. Systems. Systems thinking means acknowledging the big picture and the connections between its components. Examine your business policies, procedures, and tools to determine whether they contribute or interfere with the goal of making it easier and more convenient for customers to receive and use solutions. Systems include formal and informal cross-departmental communications and interactions and handoffs, as well as connections outside the organization.
At Dell, Dick Hunter, SVP of customer service, asked employees to send him notes about the contradictory and stupid things the company was doing. Combining this input with the customer’s verbatim comments in their call center resulted in significant changes in the customer experience.
Motives are at the heart of true or false customer orientation. Customer centricity as the number one priority must permeate the entire organization and not be challenged by other concerns as the organization’s primary focus and efforts. All other goals can be achieved more with consistent customer orientation.