A potter’s wheel makes a great metaphor for customer-centered business. Clay that’s well-centered yields a strong result; off-centered clay is ugly or eventually cracks. Likewise, customer-centered business is likely to sustain organic growth, whereas non-customer-centered business requires a lot of costly and unpleasant “Band-Aids®” and may eventually cease to exist. The potter focuses first on foundational stability, then shaping, then fine-tuning. Customer-centered business requires truly customer-centric goals, values and structure — shaped by outside-in thinking infused in processes, policies and motives — and fine-tuned with systematic internal engagement, improvement and innovation of the end-to-end customer experience, and inherent momentum. The growth-generating strength of your customer experience efforts hinges on how customer-centered your business is.
This article is the capstone of a 12-part series on Customer-Centered Business: 10 Keys to Organic Growth. Foundational keys to organic growth were described in Part 1 of this two-part article: How to Center Your Business on Customer Experience Excellence summarizing the prerequisites for true customer-centricity for the goals, values and structure of your enterprise. Sharing the vision, walking the talk, and nurturing the ecosystem are foundational musts for customer-centered business. Like clay on a potter’s wheel, your customer experience foundation must be well-centered or cracks will appear in what your customers see. Like clay, your culture is pliable as long as there’s a thirst for customer insights and passion for applying them.
Outside-in thinking permeates your business to the degree that your processes, policies and motives are shaped by customer experience insights. These principles make up day-to-day life for employees and customers: ease-of-work and ease-of-doing-business. The greater the customer-centricity of processes, policies and motives throughout your company, the better the employee experience and customer experience will be, leading to stronger business growth.
The list below outlines shapers of ease-of-work and ease-of-doing-business — outside-in thinking infused in your business processes, policies and motives. Each of these keys has 4 success factors, summarized below as bullet points. Click the links to see more detailed advice for each of these keys. Make sure your customer experience strategy covers these success factors to maximize revenue and profit generation.
6. Motives — Driving Win-Win Attitudes
Criteria for promotions, raises, hiring, bonuses, budget expansion and recognition reveal your true motives about customer experience. These criteria drive behavior even more than goals and values. These “business rituals” criteria are the truth about your culture. They’re the engine behind your growth.
- Center Your C-Team on Customers: Corporate objectives must make it clear that customers’ well-being is your path toward growth. Regularly assess what’s at-odds or in-harmony with your customer experience objectives.
- Center Your Rituals on Customers: Put a customer-focus placeholder in the template for every ritual.
- Center Your Metrics on Customers: Organize your data with customers’ care-abouts at the center, and your other care-abouts fanning out as spokes in a wheel. Regularly assess performance targets of all kinds to first highlight what’s in it for customers.
- Center Your Attitudes on Customers: Employees and customers take their cues from informal actions much more than executives realize. Consistency and transparency are essential, particularly by leaders, and certainly by customer-facing personnel.
7. Engagement — Collaborating for Results
Remember the last time you complained to a colleague about something you didn’t like at work? It was probably something about collaboration, right? Remember the last complaint you heard from a customer? It probably stemmed from poor collaboration: someone not being well informed, someone not paying attention to information, someone not having the other party’s back, sharing opportunities or pulling together.
- Set the Example for 360-Degree Collaboration: In team sports, it starts with the coach’s tone, words, body language, and follow-through. Every manager bears the responsibility to provide customer experience excellence context to what they communicate verbally and non-verbally. Every manager should think of their responsibility as a 3-legged stool: accountability for customer experience ripple-effect plus talent plus resources.
- Make it Obvious for Every Role: In team sports, every player learns how their role contributes to the whole team’s success. Use voice-of-the-customer to help your talent in every role to understand customers’ expectations.
- Recognize it Early & Often: In team sports, ongoing praise and guidance from the coaches and team captain are vital to forming good habits that foster excellent performance under pressure and in casual play. Individuals get reinforcing feedback, yet rewards or penalties are experienced as a team.
- Include it in All Your Plays: In team sports, it’s unheard of for one player to act independently, disregarding the other players — every play incorporates 360-degree collaboration, because getting to the goal requires alertness every moment.
8. Improvement — Preventing Issue Recurrence
The silver bullet of customer experience financial rewards is preventing recurrence of pervasive issues brought to your attention by customer feedback. By minimizing or eradicating these issues you’ll find gifts that keep on giving. You’ll redirect precious resources from massive ongoing fixes to higher-value investments.
- Understand Customers’ Realities: Is your voice-of-the-customer (VoC) approach designed to make your whole company smarter than your competition about your customers’ realities? If not, re-design it!
- Establish Cross-Organizational Teams: Does every organization in your company understand “what’s in it for them” regarding customer experience success or failure? If not, remind them that their budgets, salaries and dividends come from satisfied customers.
- Understand Root Causes: Do you create action items that address the ultimate root issues? If not, make it a habit to address the fifth root. Make sure actions are not lipstick on a pig.
- Establish Adoption & Accountability: Do you facilitate adoption and accountability for tackling chronic customer issues? If not, make this the focus of leadership at the C-level and among the customer experience management team.
9. Innovation — Creating Mutual Value
Customer experience value creation is creating mutual value for your whole customer base in any part of the end-to-end customer experience, across the full customer life cycle, spanning customers’ entire dealings with your organization, products, services, channels and affiliations. It’s value as seen by the customer, relative to their alternatives, relative to all the costs they endure, and relative to the outcomes they’re pursuing.
- Value Your Customer Value Quotient: It opens your thinking for innovations on both sides of the ratio, where the numerator includes product and service value, and image and personal value, and the denominator includes customers’ cost dimensions: money plus time, energy worry, inconvenience, frustration, and ripple effects to the buyer’s relationships with others.
- Value Your Value Creators: Generally, customer-facing functions are deliverers, and upstream functions are creators. The upstream functions absolutely must be plugged in to proactively manage their impact on customer experience excellence.
- Value Everybody’s Creative Potential: Everyone in your company can contribute to customer experience value. Ideas can be borrowed from other fields, formulated in the shower, spurred by informal conversations or inspired through creativity techniques.
- Value Constructive Feedback: Value creation is strongest in company cultures where risk is tolerated and encouraged. It’s faster when failures are welcomed as learning opportunities and shared for organizational learning. It’s more profitable when everyone has insatiable curiosity about customers’ views and their realities.
10. Momentum — Embedding Within Your DNA
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.
- 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 rituals with these customers’ goals.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Growth is the purpose of business and customer experience management. Ideally, high growth is generated and sustained with minimal resource expansion. To achieve that ideal, efficient processes and strategy execution must be in alignment with what customers reward. To sustain high profit growth, continual fine-tuning — internal engagement, improvement, innovation and momentum — must be systematic and embraced by all nooks and crannies of your business and customer engagement, repurchases, and positive word-of-mouth must be achieved chiefly through organic methods rather than costly enticements. Organic growth means customers feel you’re in-tune with their expectations and goals, and accordingly your investment is minimal in find-and-fix, remedies, escalations, customer winback, loyalty incentives and other “Band-Aids®“. This is customer-centered growth.
This article was originally published as an exclusive Advisors monthly column on CustomerThink.com as Customer Experience Strength Depends on Being Customer-Centered. It is the capstone article — twelfth in a year-long series with these topics:
1. Customer-Centered Business: 10 Keys to Organic Growth
2. Goals — Sharing the Vision
3. Values — Walking the Talk
4. Structure — Nurturing the Ecosystem
5. Processes — Preventing Silos
6. Policies — Empowering Growth
7. Motives — Driving Win-Win Attitudes
8. Engagement — Collaborating for Results
9. Improvement — Preventing Issue Recurrence
10. Innovation — Creating Mutual Value
11. Momentum — Embedding Within Your DNA
12. How to Center Your Business on Customer Experience Excellence