Speaking and sharing my experience for as long as I have in the customer/experience relationship space, I’ve had the absolutely pleasure of making some friends along the way. People that will just pick up a phone or message back and forth to share some guidance, insight or an ear. One of those amazing people is releasing her 2nd book. That would be CCXP founder and CEO of CX Journey, Inc. Annette Franz, and that new book is Built to Win: Designing a Customer-Centric Culture that Drives Value for Your Business. I’m extremely excited to further learn from her and, I have no patience, so we had a discussion about what it takes to build a customer-centric organization that I wanted to share with you.
How do you define a customer-centric organization?
In its most basic sense, it means that everyone within the organization puts the customer at the centre of all the business does. (Important point: It does not mean that you will always say “Yes” to everything the customer asks for, nor does it mean that the customer is always right.) And that really means that you take the time to understand your customers and then don’t make any decisions without thinking of the customer and the impact that those decisions will have on her.
To define a customer-centric organization, I like to say:
No discussions, no decisions, no designs without bringing in the customer and her voice, without asking how it will impact the customer, how it will make her feel, what problems it will help her to solve, what value it will create and deliver for her.
It’s a way of doing business – a way of being. It’s strategic. It’s proactive. It’s co-creation. It’s long-term. It’s relationships. It’s omni-channel. It’s enterprise-wide; it’s not simply individual heroic efforts. And it’s a culture that is deliberately designed to be this way. Customer-centricity flows through the veins of the organization and into everything every employee does – not just if or when a customer is in front of her.
You talk of 10 foundational principles in your new book Built to Win. I’m assuming to truly be a customer-centric organization you need them all. But where should you start?
Yes, you’re right. You do need all ten of them to be customer-centric. To critical principles really are the starting point, and it’s why, in the book, they are principles #1 and #2. Not necessarily in that order but together, at the top. The two principles are:
- Culture is the foundation.
- Leadership commitment and alignment are critical to success.
In short, the culture (defined as core values + behavior) must be deliberately designed to be customer-centric. And that means that the CEO – and the rest of the executive team – must always ensure that they take customers’ best interests into account as they operate the business.
What are 3 ways you can tell if your organization is customer-centric? And ways you know it isn’t?
That’s a great question. In the book, I have an assessment with 25 different factors to take into account as you consider whether your business is customer-centric or not. I could’ve added more factors than I did, but there was only so much room!
In Built to Win, the factors are in no particular order, but I’ll share a few here:
- Have visible (and visibly) customer-centric leadership, demonstrating a customer commitment from the top down.
- Have a C-suite executive (e.g., a CCO) who champions the customer across the entire organization.
- Have a customer experience vision that aligns with the corporate vision (or are one and the same).
- Speak and think in the customer’s language.
- Use customer feedback and data to better understand their customers.
Quite frankly, if the organization is not rooted in all ten of the foundational principles, I’m afraid it’s quite challenging to be customer-centric.
Every organization says it wants to be focused on the customer but what gets in the way of words meeting reality?
Well, first, we want to be customer-centric, not customer-focused, which to me is really a soft and squishy word for, “Yea, we take care of the customer in front of us” and doesn’t represent to depth to which the customer is ingrained in everything the organization does.
What gets in the way? Usually, it’s a leadership issue. When I first start working with new clients, I interview the executive team, some employees, and some customers. I want to get a lay of the land with my own eyes and ears. And, without fail, all roads point to the leadership team.
Case in point: You get what you reward. If you reward sales and growth but talk about being customer-obsessed, the behaviour you see will still only be sales-driven, not customer-driven. It’s like Peter Drucker said, “The bottleneck is always at the top of the bottle.”
How does it show up for customers (I’m thinking from the brand relationship with them)?
Here’s one way, or one example.
There’s a great quote from Marc Lore, the founder of Jet.com. He said, “The values create value.” Truly, they do. Remember, culture is core values plus behaviours. A customer-centric culture has values that support putting the customer (or, simply, people) at the heart of the business. Culture is a driving force in creating value for customers and for the business. Yes, values do create value.
First, when your values drive a customer-centric culture, you’re putting customers at the centre of all you do – again, no discussions, decisions, or designs without thinking about the customer. Solving problems for customers creates value for them – and ultimately creates value for the business. Second, when customers’ values align with the brand’s values, when customers are aligned with a brand’s purpose, they are more likely to prefer, purchase from, and recommend the brand to others than those who are not.
When words get in the way of reality, when we don’t do what we say, we end up not delivering value for the customer. We end up finding customers for our products, not products for our customers.
Why would employees want their organization to be more customer-centric? What’s in it for them?
When businesses put the customer at the heart of the business, they have to (must) put the employee more first. Without employees they have no customers and no customer experience. It’s so important to take care of employees and make sure they have the tools, training, resources, processes, etc. that they need to do their jobs and to do them well.
Culture is often defined as “what employees do when no one is looking.” It’s like the energy or the vibe of the place. Great cultures make for a great experience, no doubt; toxic cultures drain and demoralize and make for a painful employee experience. If you’re going to take care of your customers, you have to first take care of your employees. When they are happy, satisfied, and engaged, they are more productive and more likely to stay.
The thing about a customer-centric culture is that it could just as easily be called a people-centric culture. People (employees, customers, vendors, partners, etc.) are at the heart of the business, and if businesses take care of the people, the numbers will come.
What’s the downside of not being customer-centric in today’s marketplace?
Innovation, growth, and competitive advantage are just three things that go by the wayside when businesses don’t put the customer at the heart of all they do.
What’s your favourite example of a customer-centric organization and why?
I’m going to be boring and old school in my answer here: Zappos. I’m a fan girl, for sure. Tony Hsieh certainly set up this company to be customer-centric. There’s a great culture. Employees love working there. And customers love doing business with Zappos. It’s all just easy.
Big thanks to Annette for being generous with her time. I’m soooo all over her new book – Built to Win.
Any further questions I should have asked? Share them below.