customer experience strengthUncentered pottery will eventually crack, just as management uncentered on customers will lead to costly cracks in customer experience. A primer on using a clay pottery wheel explains: “The pot is only as true and as strong as the centering. This is a very critical step as it is the foundation of the pot.”[1] “The first thing a potter will tell you is that an uncentered piece is a worthless and ugly one. In fact, the first thing you do on a wheel is make sure the clay is perfectly centered.”[2]

Likewise, the first thing management should do is make sure the business is centered on customers. After all, when customers quit buying, all the rest becomes irrelevant.

Like clay on a potter’s wheel, a business is malleable. Your culture is pliable as long as patience, humility and perseverance prevail among the C-suite. Their attitudes will shape the malleability of the rest of the company. With workable clay, the potter must rely on proven principles for robust centering.

Here are the first 5 of 10 proven principles for centering your business on customers. They will lead to organic growth: an upward trajectory set in motion without ongoing stimuli. This article is the capstone of a 12-part series on Customer-Centered Business: 10 Keys to Organic Growth, which prescribed 4 prerequisites for each of these 10 keys:

1. Goals — Sharing the Vision

Customer experience programs do not add up to “a master plan” or a “plan for directing overall operations and movements”.

  • Scope Accurately: Span the end-to-end customer life cycle.
  • Identify Stakeholders: Customers plus all parties in your company (plus suppliers and partners).
  • Be Bold: By definition of “end-to-end customer experience” itself, customer-centered business is the universal aim of customer experience strategy.
  • Setup for Success: Corporate strategy and customer experience strategy must be mirror images.

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2. Values — Walking the Talk

Customers see your company in terms of your people’s behaviors — not just the behaviors of customer-facing people, but everyone who sets and drives policies, processes, and handoffs throughout your company and its broader ecosystem.

  • Double-check Your Priorities: Put your money where your mouth is! Every decision you make indicates whose interests you’re putting first.
  • Double-check Your Alignment: Create a hand-in-glove experience! Everything the customer perceives about their journey with you indicates your right-fit or ill-fit for them.
  • Influence Everyday Thinking: Center your thinking on customers! That’s what customer-centricity is. “Centric” = the center of one’s attention.
  • Influence Everyday Doing: True outside-in businesses engage every job level and every functional area in proactive management of their respective ripple effects on customers.

3. Structure — Nurturing the Ecosystem

Business ecosystem (= customer experience ecosystem) includes customers, employees, suppliers, distributors, partners, agencies, competitors (in that order) and rituals (planning, funding, reviewing, rewarding, reporting, communicating, advancement, training) and the logistics and interactions between all these stakeholders and rituals. Like a rainforest ecosystem, you must think holistically about the inter-dependencies of all elements. Think about the food chain, what informs what, who influences whom, who needs whom, what makes things tick, what gets in the way of success.

  • Understand Your Company’s Whole Ecosystem: Take inventory of your company’s rituals. How could customer experience context be infused in each ritual?
  • Respect Ecosystem’s Needs in Customer Experience Hierarchy: 1st, customers are your primary source of funding, and 2nd, employees and suppliers comprise your core capabilities. 3rd, distributors and partners (channel, alliance) extend your core capabilities. 4th, all of this serves the interests of your investors.
  • Weave-in Customer Experience to Everything Everyone Does: Customer experience context for rituals, roles and decision-making of all kinds can make all the difference between ongoing success or disruptive snafus (e.g. massive costs and negative public relations from United dragging passenger from plane, Wells Fargo signing up clients to phony accounts, JC Penney abandoning discounts).
  • Maintain Customer Experience Strength in Your DNA: When you make it integral to advancement criteria and executive hire criteria, you’ll be much more likely to maintain a strong CX ecosystem for decades to come. When you make it central to your Board of Directors’ thinking and doing, customer experience ecosystem will more likely develop deep roots within your company.

4. Processes — Preventing Silos

Silos mean you’re out of sync with customer well-being. Silo costs include re-work, delays, scrap, morale, churn and lost opportunities for your company and for customers. It’s possible that most pain in business is caused by silos, affecting employee experience, customer experience, and shareholder experience alike.

  • Sync Workflows with Ease of Doing Business: Conduct an annual audit of workflows to identify anything that’s out of sync with ease of doing business for (a) your customers, (b) your channel partners, (c) your employees. When you find something that’s a hassle, assess the ROI of fixing it in terms of consequences to your (a) customers, (b) channel partners, (c) employees, (d) financials. Let the key recipients of a process’ outcomes have the loudest voice in the audit.
  • Sync Short-Term with Long-Term: Make it clear everywhere in your company that short-term actions must sync with long-term objectives. Otherwise your carefully crafted ease-of-doing-business workflows are being sabotaged.
  • Sync Customer Experience Efforts: Ironically, in our quest to manage customer experience we may inadvertently create higher expectations and establish process silos ourselves!
  • Sync Universality: Whenever something is assigned or created, build-in universality. It’s so much simpler and cost-effective to build-in universality than to correct the lack of it later.

5. Policies — Empowering Growth

Do your policies set free your customers and your employees? Policies are designed to protect, but sometimes they disintegrate — rather than protect — customer relationships. And customers’ mistrust of companies propels regulations, protests and negative word-of-mouth. It’s a two-way street, so if you want your customers to trust and love your brand, show them you trust them and your employees as well.

  • Empower Your Target Market to Empower You: Negative policies may be aimed at the irresponsible few, yet they also affect your best customers. Turn it around. Find ways to motivate good behaviors.
  • Empower Your Employees to Empower Customers: Cumbersome employee policies may be causing you to lose customers or some of their potential spending. Productivity slumps for employees often spell delays, waits, and productivity slumps for customers.
  • Empower Yourself to Empower Customer Trust: Lax ethical standards breed sloppiness that comes back to haunt. Customers assume that the way you treat yourself and employees reflects how you value customers.
  • Empower Your Company to Empower Your Industry: Borrow best practices from other industries. Crummy practices are beneath your aspirations to be a leader. Rise above the norms.

These 5 keys to customer-centered business form the backbone vital to realizing the full promise of CX ROI. If your executive team is frustrated with financial results from customer experience management, you must revisit these success factors. If your executives are skeptical or eager to to fast-track CX ROI, their best path is to implement these fundamentals. Customer experience management really is similar to forming clay on a potter’s wheel: when it’s hastily pursued or mis-centered, it’s weak, less attractive, and prone to fall apart. When it is well-centered it’s strong, beautiful and long-lasting; it serves its purpose for the ages, a gift that keeps on giving. See the next 5 keys to customer-centered business here: Secrets to Customer-Centric Business Growth.

For more information, see Customer Experience Growth: CEO’s Guide
[2] 8 Life Lessons Pottery Teaches

This article is twelfth in a year-long series, shown below. It was originally published as an exclusive CustomerThink Advisors column as Customer Experience Strength Depends on Being Customer-Centered.

Image licensed for use by ClearAction from Shutterstock.