Lay the Groundwork for a Customer-Focused Culture



Carolyn Hall
02/09/2011

Corporate culture, as any business textbook will tell you, is tricky to define, and trickier still to change. Culture cannot be created with the flick of a switch or simply imposed. Businesses are increasingly adopting customer-focused business processes to gain competitive advantage. Especially prevalent in industries where product offerings and price no longer provide sufficient differentiation, this new focus offers many benefits.

These key steps can help you to build the foundations that will support a customer-focused culture.

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Cement your customer relationships

To build your business around customers you need to understand them, so create a regular dialogue. Don’t send an annual survey to see if they’re satisfied with your products, contact center or delivery performance. Talk to them regularly at key points in your relationship with them—when they’ve made a purchase, called your contact center or canceled an order. If you arm yourself with the tools to better understand your customers, you will be better able to act in their best interests. Create a process through which you can share feedback with the right people in your organization and put things right.

Involve the crew

Customer feedback is not always welcomed by employees: too often feedback is used as a euphemism for "complaints," which leads to fear and disengagement. Your employees possess great insight into your customer base and how you treat them. Create a process that leverages this knowledge base and will enable you to better understand employee views.

When listening to the Voice of the Customer, remember to include and share the positive feedback. While acting on negative feedback may strengthen customer engagement, sharing and acting on positive feedback will strengthen employee engagement. Use feedback as a carrot, not a stick and feedback will become a welcome motivator that underpins your culture.

Rebuild your processes

Evangelizing is just one step in developing a new corporate culture. To engage employees you must make changes and demonstrate what you’re doing. Where customers and employees are telling you that you could be doing something better, take action. And tell them you’ve taken action. By asking for feedback, you’re setting up a level of expectation that you need to meet, otherwise the process is destined to fail. Changing corporate culture is a long-term goal and demonstrating that you’re truly investing in change will help to drive further change and engage your employees in the process.

The changes you make may be internal or external. For example, feedback may identify a business process that makes sense to internal stakeholders, but confuses or frustrates customers. Alternatively, you may find that some employees don’t feel equipped to resolve certain customer queries, which you can address through tailored training and coaching. Share the changes you make with the appropriate audience. The first changes may be hard but they will speak volumes and start to build a culture which embraces improvement.

Check your measurements

Whatever metrics you use to measure success in your business, a handful of them will already be customer-focused. Customer satisfaction, complaint levels and first call resolution are all commonly used to monitor the way in which companies handle their customers. But your customer and employee feedback may uncover more intelligent ways to understand customer relationships. Learn how your customers judge their relationship with you, rather than the other way round. For example, they may be less interested in how long your call center takes to answer the phone, and more keen to know that the person they speak to can really help them. If the metric matters to your customer, it matters to you.

Make the metrics accessible across the company and use them to create common goals. Don’t try to share every scrap of data with every person in the company, but share the right data with the right people. Use your data to illustrate how everyone’s actions affect the customer experience. If you’re basing metrics on feedback data that you’re regularly collecting, then your data will always be changing. Show people what’s changing and give them the tools they need to check on the data so that it becomes part of their day.

Share responsibility and construct a common goal

Involvement and engagement build and solidify corporate culture. When employees can identify and resolve failures, they contribute to that culture and help it to become entrenched. Just as change must be demonstrated, employees must be empowered to take actions that can help build, and maintain the customer-centric culture.

The customer must not be seen purely as the domain of the customer service team so it is crucial to have buy-in from the top level of your business. Not only must executives take the issues seriously, but they must be seen to take it seriously. Some companies have sped the process along by tying financial rewards to the new customer-focused metrics, and having senior executives, as well as front line staff rewarded on the same numbers. Few things say ‘’commitment" like senior people pegging their success on the same figures as the rest of the business.

Changing a corporate culture cannot, and should not be an immediate process, and neither can it be a half-hearted one. Businesses that truly dedicate themselves to building a customer-focused culture can be stronger competitively—and provide better places to work.

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