CFO World

How to design a customer-driven culture

Why you can't have good CX without a customer-driven culture

There’s no doubt leading organisations have recognised customer experience is vital to future-proofing a business. But CX doesn’t all happen at the customer service end of the buying cycle. Increasingly, organisations are realising to offer great CX, a customer-driven culture must be behind every aspect of interaction.

With this push has come the buzzword of around having a customer-driven culture. But what does that actually mean and why is it important?

Chief customer officer at Mercer, Cambell Holt, divvies organisations into two types: Those who have understood for a long time the primacy of the customer in terms of their own survival; and those that have been focused on the transaction, with customer value being a secondary output.

“The companies that haven’t had the primacy of the customer as part of their DNA are realising too late to fix it,” Holt tells CMO. “Consumer expectations are continually evolving. As an organisation innovates to meet untapped needs, they’re almost creating a new baseline for customer expectations. Most brands are in a continual state of catch up with evolving customer needs.”

For businesses to perform at their best, there is a need to retain the customers you’ve got, not just acquire new ones, KPMG Customer, Brand and Marketing Advisory partner, Mark Hassell, says.

“We are in a fiercely competitive world, and we must recognise this and develop an overarching business strategy and put the customer at the heart of it. If you develop a business strategy and culture outside of the customer, you’ve got a problem,” he says.

As CX transformist, managing partner of Temkin Group, and co-founder and Emeritus Chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association, Bruce Temkin, puts out, customers are becoming acutely more aware of the experiences they have, and are therefore becoming more demanding. Businesses who can’t keep up are going to lose customers. Full stop.

According to Forrester’s Customer Experience quality (CX Index), brands are struggling to keep up with customer expectations.

“In the last year, only two brands had statistically significant increases to their CX Index score and the rest had plateaued or dropped,” senior analyst serving customer experience professionals, Tom Champion, says. “We attribute this to brands failing to make structural changes within their organisations.”

Put simply, the whole reason a business is operating is to support their customers in some way. And according to founder and president of CustomerBliss and co-founder of the Customer Experience Professional Association, Jeanne Bliss, if you’re only just now realising this, and offering an already frustrated customer belated service, you’re too late.

“We’re using the words ‘customer experience’ in the discipline of experience, versus the expense of service. It’s almost too late if you’re only offering customer service, because you’ve already done something to cost the company money by not having a process or people who support the customer,” she claims.

“So now you’re incurring costs because you’ve got a frustrated customer having to reach out to get help with something they probably shouldn’t have needed to get help with. The whole idea of CX is crafting an experiencing using emotions, whereas service is very reactive.”  

Marketing and customer service: All for one and one for all

Holt says CX is marketing, and marketing is CX, and there is no longer any distinction between the two. All of the value an organisation can create needs to be focused on the delivery of great value to a customer.

CEO of syfte, Katja Forbes, adds to this, saying every single facet of a business, whether it is sales, marketing, or the executive level, must be oriented towards customer ‘need’, not customer ‘want’. “The word ‘need’ is deliberate. We don’t deliver what they want, and if you wait for them to tell you what they want then you’ll get something inaccurate,” Forbes says.

“But if you design your culture around what they need, it will match up to the expectation, stated or unstated. Frankly, organisations that don’t do this will have a slow slide into mediocrity. It’s a given now that people can interact with your product and service in whatever way they want at whatever time that suits them to achieve whatever they want to.  

“Customer expectations are higher than they have ever been. We have a wonderful echo chamber of social media now that provides everyone’s points of view, and it is taking customer interactions public. So, organisations that can meet customer expectations will be the ones who will have success in the future, and the ones that don’t and instead chase these misguided digital priorities, will slide off into mediocrity.”

Putting the ‘culture’ in customer-driven culture

One thing is increasingly clear: You cannot design a customer-driven culture without employee buy-in and empowerment, and this means getting support from the top down and reorganising organisational priorities. Much like the customer journey is now driven by marketing, the experience an organisation delivers to its customers will always be a reflection of its culture.

As Temkin points out, you can make improvements in how to interact with customers, but those changes will always devolve over time to reflect the beliefs within the business.

“If you want to have lasting change in how you deal with customers, you need to make sure that your culture supports it,” he says. “The customer experience is everyone’s business. Ultimately, the experiences we create for our customers are the result of decisions and actions made by groups across the entire organisation.”

When it comes to customer centricity, Champion believes organisations today are great at doing pilots and setting up things well in pockets. But only real leaders scale that mindset across the whole organisation. When that happens, the organisation is more effective at bringing together diverse expertise for the biggest customer impact, setting up the right mechanics so that the entire organisation can pivot with ever-shifting customer needs.

“Unfortunately, many organisations struggle to give dedicated attention to culture initiatives. They'll either hope that culture change is a lucky by-product of other initiatives, or they don't have clear understanding of the timelines required for a serious culture change. That's why we also see many organisations hitting a wall with their customer experience programs,” he says.

Hiring is the most important decision a company can make, according to Bliss, alongside getting rid of practices that create an imbalance between customers, employees, and a company.

For Hassell, driving a customer service culture begins and ends with the front-line. Those who do not engage the rest of the organisation behind the front-line with a customer-first mentality, will impair the front-line’s ability to deliver.

“The winners of this game are the ones who fundamentally understand what a compelling customer vision is, ones that can inspire everyone in the organisation to get behind it, ones that empower everyone involved to think customer and to develop processes that collectively deliver the promise, and your people are engaged as a result. It is a team sport,” he says.

Accenture Interactive managing director, Michael Buckley, says organisations fix CX through employees. “Create an environment where attrition is low. If you create the right environment, it gives you an amazing ability to service the client,” Buckley says.

“Integrity and honesty must underpin everything. You live and die by the environment you have, so do you have empathy to understand what your employees want? It might not be something very big at all, it might be something simple. Fix this and you will fix your CX at the same time.

“Embrace the idea is of becoming a ‘living business’. The clients can see through it when the environment is not right.”

Up next: Driving top-down change, how technology fits, plus your checklists for what to do and NOT to do when designing a customer-driven culture

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Top-down change

Champion says leader organisations don't prescribe how employees should behave, they instead create the conditions for customer-centricity at scale. This means that from the top there is clear executive endorsement that customer-centric values are core to the company's goals, and from the bottom, staff are enabled with the right access to insights, technology, and skills so everyone can make customer-first decisions.

Adding to that, Holt says any customer-driven program has to start from the inside out. “Twenty years of frustration has taught me unless the leadership of an organisation has conviction around the primacy of the customer, then there’s very little that others can do at other levels to create real change,” he says.

“Those organisations focused on the bottom line are generally looking in the wrong spot. Nobody ever shrunk a business to greatness, and yet that’s the first place a business goes because it’s the easiest. They can see, smell, and touch cost—what’s more intangible is the notion of value creation. That’s a more esoteric concept than most, and requires more cohesion within a company than many have.

“Empower the people in your organisation to make the decisions, giving more autonomy to people who are closer to the customer. I see people who haven’t seen a customer in years making decisions about value creation for consumers. Decisions need to be devolved towards the front-line.”

Similarly, businesses still operating in silos and setting employee KPIs around cost, rather than around the customer, are setting themselves up for failure. With organisations so complex, concepts like information overload, analysis paralysis, and disengagement are real threats to any transformation initiative, Champion notes.

“A challenge facing organisations now is that their staff has heard for years that they're on a 'customer-first transformation', and they're disengaged from this narrative,” he claims. “Alignment, personalisation and resonance are a few ways to package this better. But what really helps is driving noticeable positive change to the employee experience. Part of this is the right incentives and recognition mechanisms to reinforce good behaviours.

“Tangible changes for the benefit of employee experience might be to swap out a system to one with better usability, or changing KPIs to something like end-to-end journey metrics instead of an interaction metric, to drive more collaborative behaviours.”

Bliss setting the right accountability is what matters. “Are you asking for accountability by customers’ lives or accountability by the silo? It is about designing to customer goals, instead of designing to your personal agenda,” she explains.

“There has to be a place in companies for finding the right people and trusting them to make judgement calls instead of turning people into policy cops.”

Forbes agrees organisations get the behaviour they reward, and much of it is not CX-focused.

“You can reward the fastest call handling time, but did they solve the customer’s problem?” she asks. “Have the metric of customer satisfaction as a KPI for success instead. Your customer is the North Star, a lot of companies have not quite grasped that yet. Empowerment of staff and reward the right things, and get signals back from staff about what is working, and what isn’t.”

The technology factor

Of course technology has been heralded as the answer by many vendors to solving the CX conundrum, and many businesses are implementing tech without fully thinking through the reasoning and goals behind it, expecting it to be a silver bullet. What happens instead is a cost disaster and a CX transformation halted in its tracks.

“People and processes are more important than the technology itself. Unless you change these, then the new tech isn’t going to deliver on the promise, and you’re not going to achieve the customer value you set out to,” Holt says. “The structure is: People, process, and technology, with tech a very deliberate third. If you take a new tech with a great deal of promise and apply it to an existing business model then stand back and wait for greatness to happen, you’ll be disappointed.

“And yes, the whole world changed a few years ago when software-as-a-service and the cloud come into being. What’s possible now is astonishing. The question should be how are you leveraging technology to create more value for your customer? I see a lot of people talking about CRM, or marketing automation, or content management systems, and very often I never hear the word ‘customer’.”

Hassell adds martech can help your customer service by bespoking experiences, but bespoking everything can mean you’re out of business. Knowing where to ramp up and knowing where to leave it is key.

Forbes says AI and technology are facilitators of great CX. Companies that nail the utilisation of those technologies are the ones that nail anticipatory design.

“And that is design that’s one step ahead of you, it takes everything it knows about you and anticipates what it is you’re going to need,” she explains. “We want people to go away from their interactions feeling understood. AI and ML and the mining of data does give you a lot of power in helping customers to be understood in their interactions, and feeling important.

“However, don’t take away all their choices. Choice does let people feel like they have control. Always provide them with a way out. A bad implementation of a chatbot, for example, will make things worse.”

Up next: Your must-have checklist for designing a customer-driven culture

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A checklist for designing a customer-driven culture

1. Purposeful Leadership: Leaders act consistently with a clear, well-articulated set of values.

“For the culture to change, the leaders must change. Executives must become self-aware of how their actions are perceived by the rest of their organisation, and be deliberate in the choices they make to ensure they are signalling the right type of expectations,” Bruce Temkin says.

2.Compelling Brand Values: The organisation is committed to delivering on a set of promises to customers.

“You need as compelling vision, and sitting behind that is a product proposition and a service proposition that responds to the drivers of choice that your customers have. Your front line people, your digital offering, has got to bring to life what the proposition is all about, so your recruitment strategy, training, reward strategy, and how to inspire people, must all be aligned,” Mark Hassell says.

“Really think about the proposition you’re trying to create, it needs to be one that resonates and inspires the organisation. What is the customer vision? What does success look like? The mistake companies make is going out on a promise they have not thought through. They have not done the hard yards. The CX you want to drive needs to have an operational engine room sitting behind it.”

3.Employee Engagement: The workforce is committed to the success of the organisation.

“People are creatures of habit, so they need to be convinced to change how they act. And it takes more than posters,” Temkin says. “Culture is driven by how people think, believe, and act. So you need to create an environment that helps employees in all three of those areas, and not just use marketing tricks to convince them that something is different.”

“Make sure you address the tangible and intangible when designing a culture program,” Tom Champion continues. “Trust is huge driver of anything to do with people, whether it's customer or employees. We've studied the drivers of trust, and found they amount to Integrity, Competence and Transparency. Without addressing these, you'll lower the ceiling on the ROI of any customer-facing initiative and diminish the success of any employee engagement program.”

4.Customer Connectedness: Decisions across the organisation are based on deep insights about customers.

“Surprise amplifies people’s experiences, by something like 400 per cent,” Katja Forbes says. “So if it’s a negative or positive surprise, that’s going to be something they will take away and remember. But there is a fine line between surprising people with things beneficial to them, and making people feel like you stalk them. Get anticipatory design right, you can get some experience wins for customers.

“It doesn’t always have to be technical; lot of things you can do to delight people and make them feel important and understood can be done just by using what you already know about them.”

And what NOT to do:

“Don't treat culture change as an internal marketing campaign,” Temkin warns. “Too many organisations just throw up posters and put splash pages on their intranet. Employees are smart enough to figure out when an organisation is just applying lip service to organisational change. If you're not committed to really driving culture change, then don't bother.”

“If someone says 'we're already customer-centric' that's a big red flag to me,” Champion says. “It's critical to align key stakeholders' understanding of the concept, which often means breaking down preconceived ideas and exposing hard truths around how customer-centric they are, or aren't. Don't think culture change will happen as a lucky by-product of other initiatives. You need explicit programs of work to address it.” 

“We talk to clients who believe that customer service ‘is in our DNA’, but actually nothing has changed, it’s a buzzword,” Hassell says. “There’s this sense that people have to respond, but increasingly making these statements and changing nothing is actually impacting your brand significantly, because you’re not delivering what you say and people abandon you. Customers can see it a mile off and they vote with their feet.”

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