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Developing a Customer-Centric Culture

I recently had the privilege of teaching an ICMI Customer Experience (CX) Boot Camp to a group of contact center leaders in Alexandria, Virginia. The very first exercise I had attendees complete was a CX Maturity assessment. With each participant rating their maturity in the areas of people, processes, and technologies, people scored dramatically lower than the other two.

While this surprised me at the time, it really should not have. There are wonderful change methodologies available to guide us in the creation of effective processes. When it comes to technology, we can always write a check for something new. Sadly, there is no shortcut for developing a customer-centric culture. It’s by far the most difficult piece of the puzzle to get right, and it’s also the most salient.

So how can we as Customer Experience and Contact Center leaders be intentional about something so nebulous? I will concede that there is no perfect formula for motivating people toward customer-centricity. Even so, these proven techniques will act as a blueprint on which to build your own custom approach.

Two expectations I’d like to establish upfront: a culture change of this magnitude requires a great deal of time, and it cannot be done alone. Ensure the true support of your leadership team and surround yourself with a strong change coalition before embarking on this journey.

These techniques are organized into three stages:

  1. The Gate: The quest for customer-centricity begins at the hiring stage.
  2. The Fence: A significant portion of your employees are sitting on the fence and need a push. I’ve got just the thing.
  3. The House: Create an environment in your house where employees are intrinsically motivated to help customers and co-workers alike.

3 stages of customer-centricity

Stage One, The Gate

It’s time to stop the bleeding. We must prevent individuals who are going to harm the culture from entering the organization. Before we can hire to a higher standard, however, it’s essential to establish that standard. In simple, yet specific terms, you must define your culture. Then and only then can the group begin to move toward the new objective.

Establish a “Top Talent” Beacon

When you look inside the world’s most customer-centric organizations, there is fierce pride. These organizations often receive hundreds of applications for each opening, but they are selective in who they interview and hire. Their top talent actively brings in more top talent, and they treat the act of referring a friend like a sacred pledge. They only invite someone into “the family” if they know they’ll be an exceptional fit. This cycle actively attracts the type of employees that will have a strong desire to serve customers uncommonly well from day one.

eNPS Will Reveal Much

The best way to know if you have a strong referral culture such as the one described above is by instituting an “eNPS” score . The eNPS question will look something like this: “On a scale of zero to ten, how likely would you be to recommend this as a place to work?” This will allow you to gauge the willingness of employees to act as an ambassador for your organization. Your eNPS score will range from -100 to 100. The type of culture described above will very likely rate in the 50+ range. A “good” referral culture would be represented in the range of 20-50. If your score is below 20, developing a customer-centric organization will most likely be an uphill battle. The candidate pool will be lack-luster, and the pressure to get talent into the door quickly will supersede the priority of only hiring the very best of the best. Don’t despair if your eNPS score is low. You’ve done the right thing to establish a baseline early. Keep reading for methods to improve it!

Be the Gatekeeper

As a CX leader inside of my organization, I’m privileged when peers ask me to interview their candidates for roles of all types. I imagine myself as the customer, asking questions that will help me understand if this person is going to create a great experience for me or not. It’s far easier to attract the right talent who will excel in your new culture naturally, versus attempting to “re-program” existing staff members.

Additionally, the role of the CX leader does not stop in the interview stage. Customer Experience should play a vital role in the onboarding process as well. New hires can be indoctrinated immediately on who the customer is, and the essential role they play inside of the customer’s journey.

Stage Two, The Fence

Every organization has a population of employees who are “on the fence.” These individuals have the capacity to excel inside of a customer-centric culture, but for a whole variety of reasons, they aren’t fully engaged. Often, these employees perceive they are a victim of something--an ineffective boss, co-workers who are not pulling their weight, confusion around company strategy, or maybe all of the above. Sadly, it’s often easier to slowly stop caring than it is to find another job, but customers can sniff out a disengaged employee faster than Hopper going for a cigarette. What these employees need is a good push--either towards the organization’s center or perhaps towards greener pastures.

Achieve Harmony Between Culture and Brand

The most effective way to reduce the “fence” population is by creating an authentic alignment between culture and brand. We are all tempted to try to replicate famous cultures from amazing brands such as Zappos, Amazon, and Virgin Group, but the truth is, we can’t. Each brand is unique, therefore every culture must also be unique. In her brilliant book “Fusion: How Integrating Brand and Culture Power’s the World’s Greatest Companies” , Denise Lee Yohn makes it exceptionally clear how this is the lynchpin to a customer-centric culture. Compelling organizations are authentic. The way the company presents itself to the world must emanate outward from the inside at all levels. There is no room for employees to “hide” and give less than their best.

Ramsey Solutions in Nashville, Tennessee is one such organization. It’s chartered by none other than the famous financial radio personally, Dave Ramsey. Dave is fanatical when it comes to developing an authentic culture. As an employee, if you are not living the principles that Ramsey Group teaches to its customers, you will not be working there for long. If you are not living the mantra of “ helping others and extending hope,” you will stick out like a sore thumb. This laser focus draws exactly the right talent from all over the world and prevents employees from riding the fence. Employees represent the brand with such fervor that the entire community takes notice, and ultimately customers win.

All or Nothing

Taking a “one foot in, one foot out” approach to culture change is destined to fail. As Jeff Toister describes in “ The Service Culture Handbook ,” a redirection in culture cannot be a “pet project” or just another program. It must be the central priority from which every other business initiative flows. Leaders at all levels must actively participate and set the new precedence. Not just once, but again and again and again until mentalities and behaviors finally begin to change. Many employees will be skeptical by nature and they will gravitate toward their perch on the fence. We must prove to them definitively that this culture shift is not a “here today, gone tomorrow” fad. This will require tremendous focus, repetition, and consistency from leaders.

Stage Three, The House

As a recap, we’ve covered how to attract the very best customer-centric talent going forward and how to motivate your existing employee population to get off the fence. Let’s bring the discussion home and learn how to embed the new culture into the very fiber of the business.

Customer Ambassadors

Despite being a massive organization with over 155,000 employees, Schneider Electric boasts one of the most customer-centric cultures I’ve ever seen. With a global organization this complex, it can be incredibly difficult to establish any form of consistency. One way they’ve been able to achieve this is by fostering an army of “Customer Advocates.” These individuals are hand-selected across the business and brought through intensive, on-going training. The ambassadors are equipped to bring the evolving CX strategy back into their functional groups. What a brilliant way for the Customer Experience group to extend its roots and to drive meaningful change throughout!

Strengthen Internal Relationships

Think about the “cool house” where everyone went to hang out when you were in high school. While you may not have recognized it at the time, it was likely strong relationships among the family that pulled you in. It is a fundamental human desire to live in a community. We are drawn to groups that support each other. It is no different for companies. When we create a sense of belonging within the organization, enhanced customer relationships are the result. Alternatively, if internal relationships are dysfunctional or shallow, it’s nearly impossible to “go deep” with customers. As Denise Lee Yohn says, “Your employees can and will only deliver experiences to customers that they experience themselves.”

This is the fundamental problem with an executive who stands up in front of a struggling organization and announces “we are going to create a customer-centric culture.” From what foundation? Employees will have no idea what that even means until they experience it from their leaders and subsequently from each other.

In conclusion

A customer-centric culture is built from the inside out. When we are zealous enough to only allow the best talent in, tear down “the fence” mentality, and create an authentic service environment inside of the organization, customers will be blown away by the transformation!

Special thanks to Jeff Toister for his assistance on this piece.

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