What is the greatest threat to creating a customer-centric culture? Responses from a variety of internal and external associates ranged from the slightly cynical to the pragmatic, but all were candid and heartfelt:
- Mistaking metrics like NPS, not attitudes, as drivers of behavior change
- Trade-offs in priorities coming down to bottom line vs. customer satisfaction
- Lack of the right or enough insight
- Poor design
- Departmental conflicts
- Not having resources to do customer research
- External pressure to reach quarterly goals
- Not knowing how to put the customer in our decision-making
- Competitive feature wars
- Provincial management that builds internal fiefdoms to preserve job security
According to research on the State of Customer Experience Management by Bruce Temkin, there are 20 behaviors exhibited by customer-centric companies. The following are the ones where companies struggle the most. In other words, very few actually even do them:
- Senior executives support decisions to trade-off short-term financial results for longer-term customer loyalty.
- Marketing does as much brand marketing inside the company as it does outside the company.
- User-centered design approaches are used to design interactions in all touch points (Web, phone, store, email, etc.).
- The company provides industry-leading training for employees.
- Customer experience metrics are reviewed and treated as importantly as financial metrics.
What Exactly is a Customer-Centric Culture?
A culture is a collection of habits, practices, beliefs, arguments, and tensions that regulate a community’s life. In effect, much of the thinking is done by the culture itself. It drives the decision-making, solutions offered, behaviors rewarded and shunned, and ultimately, what outcomes the community creates. By that definition, a customer-centric culture puts the needs of its customers at the heart of the way it runs its operations.
I believe the greatest threat to a customer-centric culture is that the customer is amorphous and an afterthought in the way a company conducts business.
- If teams don’t holistically understand the needs and problems of a specific customer, how can they truly design solutions for them?
- If specific customer metrics are not built into the Marketing Requirements Documents, how will success be declared from the customer’s point of view when the product or solution is delivered?
- If a vision for what the desired experiences should be are not articulated and used to guide initiatives and development, what are the chances the experiences will be what is actually desired?
- If asking about the impact on the customer’s experience is not a habit, what is the likelihood that what is delivered will be consistent?
- If the particular customer journey is not mapped out, well understood, and used as a guideline, how will we reach a common destination?
- And finally, if a company cannot create consistently good (and sometimes great) experiences in the most important areas to customers, how can there ever be hope to differentiate from the competition to win the hearts and minds of as many customers as possible?
Remember that a culture is defined as a collection of habits, practices, beliefs, arguments, and tensions that regulate a community’s life. In effect, much of the thinking is done implicitly by the culture itself. Culture drives the decision-making, solutions offered, behaviors rewarded and shunned, and ultimately what outcomes the community creates.
Understanding Your Customers is a Key Part of the Solution
I suggested that the greatest threat to having a customer-centric culture is that the customer is amorphous and an afterthought in the way a company conducts business. If teams don’t holistically understand what drives the needs and creates the problems for a specific customer, how can they truly design solutions, marketing, purchase opportunities, and support them effectively? Take the Millennials, for example. This is the generation that was born from 1980 to 2010 — the second baby boom. They currently make up one-third of the world’s population, and in the next few years will be responsible for managing nearly 2 trillion dollars. These are the up-and-coming IT decision makers, end-users, managers, business owners and home managers.
These individuals are the first generation of child-centric raising practices and born during a time of unprecedented wealth. They are also the first generation that has grown up with a proliferation of technology — in a real sense; they were born to be wired. As a result, they have developed a unique set values and characteristics. Here are a few:
They are tremendously optimistic, confident, and feel entitled to a great life (extrapolate job, marriage, home, travel). Some refer to them as the “look at me” generation.
- They are technically connected and are collaborators — relating everyone as peers. They are tremendously concerned about the environment and society in general. Some call them the “we” generation.
- They are tech savvy and impatient, requiring speed and convenience and expect experiences and things to be easy.
- They are entrepreneurial — with their connections and technology, they are starting businesses in unprecedented numbers.
But it’s not just this generation that has these characteristics. In fact, because of the proliferation of ideas and views enabled by technology, the world is taking on a “Millennial” mindset.
Transforming Understanding to Culture
So the question becomes, what is your company doing to meet the needs and requirements of the customer of the future?
When you are developing solutions and experiences, are you inclusive of the changing demographics and fast moving expectations of our customer base? Do you look beyond a competitive product set to envision the future roadmap and consider what else is influencing expectations, particularly other experience-obsessed companies such as Apple, Google, Amazon, and Zappos?
Having a customer-centric culture is a demanding and evolving effort. It requires innovation, progressive thinking, and the ability to intimately know your customers. Does your company have what it takes? I want to hear what you think and why. Please feel free to post your response!
- Putting Customers First: If Not You, Who?
- Customers First Drives Business Performance
- Customer-Centricity is Controversial
- The Myth of Customer Centricity