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7 Keys to Creating a Culture of Customer Centricity

Brian Cantor

It is difficult for call center professionals to escape advice about creating a customer-centric culture within their organizations.

Sadly, it seems it is even more difficult for them heed that advice and actually create the desired experience culture.

In today’s efficiency-minded, technology-driven call center, emphasis on profitability often outweighs emphasis on long-term culture creation and customer experience design. We care about the customer when it comes to the little, convenient things—easing up return policies, posting on Twitter, smiling when people come into the store—but when it comes to revolutionizing the way we do business, we hesitate to throw money and resources at practices not immediately aligned with traditional notions of productivity and efficiency.

Exacerbating the struggle to embrace a cultural shift is the tendency to rely on outsourcing providers for customer support. Brands might be fully committed to revolutionizing their own culture, but when it comes to the partners in their network, they lock themselves into a tunnel of efficiency. Feeling as if they are paying strictly for performance, these organizations center their expectations on efficiency and quality benchmarks rather than on cultural alignment and customer-centricity.

That mindset needs to change. Outsourcing remains a viable option for many customer service functions, but in the age of the customer, it cannot be synonymous with passionless, impersonal "efficient" customer support. The outsourcing provider must be a seamless extension of the brand, and its commitment to customer delight and cultural shift must exactly mirror that of the brand itself.

After all, when a customer seeks support for a brand’s product, the service he receives shapes his opinion of the brand itself. He does not have a relationship with the specific outsourcing provider, and he will not give poor customer service delivery a pass on the grounds that it came from people in another location who know nothing about the brand they are representing or the customers they are trying to serve.

Committed to mirroring the philosophy of the players it supports, Zynga gets this, and it assures its outsourcing partnership with TELUS International is based on cultural alignment rather than metrics. As Zynga’s Ramon Icasiano confirmed, he does not give credit to TELUS for things it is obligated to do as an outsourced call center.

TELUS is supposed to meet certain goals for variables in the vein of average handle time and first call resolution, so Zynga does not pat the organization on the back when it achieves those goals. Any competent BPO organization can—and is expected to—hit basic efficiency and productivity benchmarks for its clients.

For an organization to be a successful Zynga outsourcer, it must demonstrate a compelling alignment between itself, Zynga and the customer. It must fully understand and create the culture Zynga believes necessary for engaging its customers, removing the divide that so often plagues outsourced customer service functions.

Achieving that alignment is a two-way street. Zynga can do everything in its power to set expectations and provide assistance with training, knowledge-sharing and culture, but if the outsourcer itself does not make the effort to view the customer experience through its client brand’s eyes, the relationship will not pan out as desired.

Call center outsourcing requires a partnership—not simply a formal business contract—and both sides must operate with that relationship in mind.

At the 13thAnnual Call Center Week in Las Vegas, NV, Zynga’s Icasiano and TELUS International’s Jeff Puritt shared a "lucky seven" list of guidelines for creating a cultural alignment between customer service partners. If both the brand and vendor collaboratively motion towards these seven guidelines, they will allow for the creation of a seamless customer experience culture that pays dividends in customer satisfaction and loyalty.

  1. Align on Core Values - A culturally-driven customer experience is about believing more than it is doing. Customer service partners want their paychecks and will step up when asked, but if they are not fundamentally committed to the same priorities and objectives as the brand they represent, they will always fall short in uniting to delight the customer.
  2. Reinvent Partner Engagement – Partnerships cannot be predicated on "us and them" mentalities, let alone "us versus them" mentalities. The "seamless" experience offered to customers must be rooted in a truly seamless internal experience that makes agents from the outsourcing provider feel dialed into the brand and brand staff feel dialed into the vendor. Cultural exchange programs and agent swapping are among the practices that will actualize this concept.
  3. Unite on the Guiding Principle, the "Moment of Truth"Did you delight the customer? Check yes or no! In addition to sharing core values, the partners must share in recognition of a clear result that occurs at the "moment of truth" when the customer evaluates the experience he had with the brand. Contrasting views of success are unworkable here; if both brand and vendor are not united in their interpretation of that ultimate "moment," they will struggle to create truly successful customer engagements.
  4. Magnify the Voice of the Customer – Customer service is ultimately about the customer. Excitement about organizational culture often manifests itself as "Kumbaya" initiatives that are nice on the surface but ultimately meaningless for the customer experience. True cultural revolution is about assuring that the service organizations are uniting to create the experience the customer wants, and that means basing call language, metrics, CRM programs, promotions and upsell opportunities on their ability to bridge a real gap for buyers.
  5. Motivate Agents to Excel – Excel is the key word when it comes to agent engagement strategies. Anyone can throw pizza parties or offer up half-hearted cries of, "Good job, sport!" but truly-connected, customer-centric managers know how pivotal agent happiness is to customer satisfaction. Rewards should be meaningful, substantial (think, more than a free cup of coffee) and in the spirit of the organization’s culture. Rewards are only worthwhile if they help make agents want to succeed as brand ambassadors.
  6. Shore Does Not Matter – Focus on Customers at Every Touch Point – As long as customers are at the center of support efforts, shore need not be a concern. Some businesses prefer to keep their processes in-house. Others see value in outsourcing their workloads. But neither is inherently better than the other; the differentiator is a customer focus. The office’s location does not matter if your brand can consistently be there for the customer. Successful agents identify themselves by their role in delivering customer satisfaction rather than by their native accent or office location.
  7. Stand for Something Bigger – Research continues to show that customers gravitate towards brands that stand for something. It might not be wise to vocally support a polarizing political candidate, but showing evidence of morality and support for the community is a clear key to the customer’s heart. It is also a great means of engaging agents, who want to feel a fundamental attachment to the brand they represent. Believing in what the brand believes them will make them infinitely more confident and comfortable representing that organization to customers.