What is customer-centricity DNA? Can you develop it, or must your business be “born” with it? DNA means “the fundamental and distinctive characteristics or qualities of someone or something, especially when regarded as unchangeable”. And centricity means “being situated at the center; a position of central prominence or importance”. Accordingly, customer-centricity DNA means your business is customer-centered in all that it does.
The best-loved brands tend to be “born” with customer-centricity DNA: Amazon, BMW, Caterpillar, Google, Harley Davidson, IDEO, IKEA, JetBlue, Johnson & Johnson, LL Bean, REI, Trader Joe’s and UPS were identified in the book Firms of Endearment. “They actively align the interests of all stakeholder groups, not just balance them … and can do seemingly contradictory things such as pay high wages, charge low prices, and get higher profitability.” Indeed, the financials seal the deal: “the public FoEs (firms of endearment) returned 1,026% for investors over the 10 years ending June 30, 2006, compared to 122% for the S&P 500; that’s more than a 8-to-1 ratio! Over a 10-year horizon, FoEs outperformed the Good to Great companies by a 3.1-to-1 ratio.”
Your business can develop customer-centricity DNA. How? Weave customer-centered thinking and doing in everything everyone does. Don’t make it extra work. Make it a context for all work. DNA refers to characteristics that are embedded into the fabric of your existence. If you’re a parent, you can relate to this concept readily: your children are central to every decision you make, whether it’s what to have for dinner, which sofa to buy, where to go on vacation, whether to work late, and so on. Customer-centricity DNA means your customers are the context for every decision and hand-off, and for all parties with which you associate.
The preceding 10 articles in this 12-part series, Customer-Centered Business: 10 Keys to Organic Growth, explain how you can establish customer-centricity DNA in your company’s strategy, values, structure, processes, policies, motives, engagement, improvement and innovation.
Here are 4 prerequisites for embedding customer-centricity DNA in your company:
1st Prerequisite: Align from the Top
The buck stops at the top. Anything at odds with customers’ well-being spells flaws in your company’s DNA. Focus the company on the goals of your primary customer segments. Synchronize vision, mission, values, objectives, structure, policies, and rituals1 with these customers’ goals. Coordinate all the roles that manage any part of the customer experience, and establish them as facilitators and influencers of the rest of the company. Set yourselves up for success.
2nd Prerequisite: All Hands On-Deck
A chain is as strong as its weakest link. Each executive who reports to the CEO plays a mission-critical role in customer-centricity DNA. Their respective organizations must be attuned to the voice-of-the-customer and its implications for their discipline’s role. All functional areas must incorporate these three elements into their daily work: (a) anticipate customers’ reactions to their decisions, (b) prevent recurrence of issues for the whole customer base, and (c) continually create mutual value across the end-to-end customer life cycle. Cross-organizational collaboration is necessary, with rewards for making a difference for customers at-large. Connect cause-and-effect metrics with high visibility and a holistic view. Empower upstream functions.
3rd Prerequisite: Maximize Value Attainment
Feed the hand that feeds you. Establish systematic cycles for company-wide attention on root causes of customers’ chronic issues, to prevent recurrence. Empower all employees to be creative in generating new value that customers will reward. Simplify employees’ work to enable their efficiency and effectiveness toward making customers successful. Cultivate customer-centered capabilities for all employees and partners. Your customers’ success is your success.
4th Prerequisite: Maintain Transparency
Earn trust. Relationship strength is built on trustworthiness. Be straightforward, humble, brave, and generous with customers, employees, suppliers and partners of all kinds. Consistent performance over time, among locations and lines of business, and across the end-to-end customer journey is the key. Prevent surprises and welcome early warning signals. Nurture unquenchable curiosity about customers. Outlaw non-conformance to customer-centered management. Like attracts like.
It’s best to be “born” with customer-centricity DNA. New assignments, initiatives and relationships can start that way. Regardless, it’s time now to inject customer-centricity DNA across your company. Embed it by following the prerequisites described above. Embedded customer-centered management ensures the ongoing legacy of customer experience investments and your company’s ongoing differentiation, value-generation and organic growth.
1Rituals include planning, reviews, budgeting, onboarding, development, advancement, rewards, and other cadenced aspects of running a business.