Does customer engagement rely solely on Marketing, Sales, Success or Service strategies? When the CEO of Air New Zealand made the mindset shift replacing We Fly Planes with We Fly People1, the whole company began to focus on empowering customer engagement. Keeping the aircraft clean, adjusting policies and processes, smoothing hand-offs — everything behind-the-scenes as well as customer-facing was seen in a customer-focused viewpoint. It’s driven employee engagement and customer engagement at the same time: customers noticed these changes, and within 24 months of posting the largest corporate loss in New Zealand corporate history, the business was turned around to a profit. Since that time it has consistently been among the highest profitable of full-service airlines around the world.1
Customer engagement is successful to the degree that the rest of the company empowers its success. It’s an enterprise-wide imperative.
In my talk show interview with Chris Brown and Dr. Linden Brown of MarketCulture, Chris said, “Creating customer advocates through great customer experience is based on value perceived by customers. Everyone in a company ultimately affects that value. There is a fundamental effect on the delivery of customer experience.”
The whole enchilada. Delivery of the customer experience goes beyond a momentary transaction. It’s either hamstrung or propelled by the product itself and by processes, policies, attitudes, data availability, and so forth. Linden said, “Anyone in a company can deliver greater value to customers by being customer-focused. A train driver for Virgin Rail received a customer experience award even though train drivers don’t interact with customers. Going from Edinburgh to London, this train driver noticed a bump on the rail. It wasn’t his job responsibility to worry about a rail bump, but he reported it as something that could affect customers and their safety.” Customer engagement is empowered through both generating positive experiences and preventing negative experiences.
As a customer yourself, things you buy are clearly affected by decisions of the supplier’s Safety, Facilities and Finance departments, right? Accordingly, executives must foster unquenchable thirst to think outside-in enterprise-wide.
“Culture is a reflection of decision-making in a business. Customer-centricity is fundamentally the culture of an organization — it’s not about Customer Service and the front line, but rather, a way of doing business as what’s best for the customer. It’s how the business is run: What are we doing to maximize the value of what customers are getting from us?” — Chris Brown, CEO of MarketCulture
Trust drives business growth. “Jeff Bezos has embeded customer-centricity in Amazon,” explained Chris, “and he uses the expression customer obsession quite a bit. Customers are never satisfied. Using that motivationally drives the organization forward. When Jeff was looking at customer feedback about Amazon Prime movies, he noticed some people reporting technical glitches stopped the movie mid-way, and asking for a refund. Jeff asked, ‘If we already have this data, why are we waiting for customers to call us?’ This is a pervasive example of how he does things across the whole business.” Now customers receive an automatic refund or credit when something goes wrong with a movie. It saves time for customers and for Amazon. It prevents precious budget tied up with remedial investments. In the short-term, revenue may be affected, but in both the short- and long-term unnecessary costs are prevented, and great gains are made in customer trust.
“When Jeff Bezos was first to post books’ rating scale online, the CEO of Barnes & Noble told him that some books will only get one star and won’t sell — you don’t understand the book business,” said Chris. “Jeff wanted to help customers make better decisions. Today, if you click something you purchased before you’re notified that you already bought it. Trust is higher in Amazon than in many other organizations. If they offer a credit card or Echo AI device, customers are much more open to these because of trust developed over time.”
Profitability is the goal of customer-centricity. “Fundamentally this is a profit-generating strategy. It’s about organizational performance in striking a balance between what’s best for the customer and what’s good for the businesses,” said Chris. “These are not diametrically opposed. In general, companies tend to be more self-centered and too obsessed about the bottom line, losing sight about how decisions impact customers. But managers must keep front-of-mind that you have to deliver value to get value. We believe that by aligning the company with the customer and what the customer is trying to achieve is the most sustainable growth path.”
“Before Apple iPhone existed, Blackberry and Nokia were dominant and thinking myopically,” said Chris. “They weren’t delivering great experience about integrating Internet and other emerging needs of customers. They lost sight of customer experience. The danger of being product-centric or finance-centric is short-term thinking. There is an advantage in pressure for performance, but short-term internal focus means management will likely to raise prices without indicating the added value for customers, and over time that erodes customer trust. When management launches a new product customers are not interested because of trust lost. We see this in banking and insurance industries, particularly. There is a way to balance.
“There are some measures to help a financially-focused company to become more customer-centered,” said Linden. “We’ve worked with CFOs who have helped their company become customer-centric through an emphasis on lifetime value of customers.”
Roadblocks. What’s preventing customer-centricity? “Management lacks measurement of what’s happening in the business culture in ways that help them direct improvements in the business,” explained Linden. “There is a lot of measurement with external customers in the form of NPS and such, but most businesses are missing what’s needed in customer-centered behaviors, what’s needed in the business to drive customer and competitor knowledge, and what’s needed to improve customer insight and foresight. What’s stopping customer-centered decision-making in businesses is lack of tangible improvement data.”
“Many leaders don’t have a customer mindset,” continued Linden. “They don’t see how it’s important for them to support all that’s going on in the business to build relationships with customers. They’re unaware of the importance of role-modeling customer-centric decision-making and activities and behaviors by the way they interact with employees, the way they visit customers, talk to them, get feedback, and understand what customers’ needs are personally. That has a very big effect on the tone of the business.”
“Over past year we’ve been talking with CEOs around the world who are widely esteemed as customer-centric,” said Linden. “We asked them how they became customer-centric leaders. Many of them worked during their teens and college years in a “mom-and-pop” environment. Through mentoring in their careers they’ve become customer-centric leaders themselves. Customer-centric leadership is something that needs to be learned and practiced. Sporting environments requiring teamwork and a trust mindset can contribute a lot to customer-centricity.”
Empowering Customer Engagement Enterprise-wide. In their book, The Customer-Culture Imperative, Dr. Linden Brown and his son Chris Brown describe their research of 10,000 companies’ performance across a 25-year period. Their research proved a strong customer culture drives over 35 business performance measures, including ROI, growth, customer retention, market share and sales. These 35 performance measures can be distilled into 3 pivotal factors: (1) Customer Insight & Foresight, (2) Competitor Insight & Foresight, (3) Peripheral Vision.
Top performing companies in the Market Responsiveness IndexTM have a 32% profit advantage on average, some much higher. The MRITM removes the roadblocks described above: (1) measuring what’s happening in the business culture to tangibly help direct improvements in the business and (2) instilling a customer mindset among executives. MRITM engages your whole company in generating positive experiences and preventing negative experiences. It guides the rest of your company in building trust, empowering customer engagement and driving superior growth.
1How to Create Customer-Centric Transformation Lessons, by Dr. Linden Brown.
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