Building a customer-centric culture is more challenging than you might initially think. But every organization has the ability to build a strong customer-centric culture- and it doesn’t have to be complex.
The business environment is never static. The economy inevitably goes through boom and bust cycles. Disruptors, emerging trends and unexpected events — like a pandemic, for example — can throw a wrench in your carefully thought-out strategy. But there’s one thing that propels successful organizations through the external ups and downs that are largely outside of their control. And that one thing is something they absolutely can control: building and maintaining a customer-centric, mission-driven culture.
What Is A Customer Centric Culture?
A company that puts the customers experience and satisfaction at the core of every decision and activity, has a customer-centric culture. The employees know that customer satisfaction is the responsibility of everyone in the organization. They support the sales team to enhance customer interactions. The company also seeks feedback from clients and shares it with the team to increase personalization of the customer experience.
A strong, vibrant customer-centric culture is an organic and natural strength that cannot be compromised. That’s why you’ll see that the most productive, growing organizations spend a lot of time leveraging this innate competitive advantage. It’s integral to their success, and it’s one of the secrets to high-performance leadership in tough times.
But knowing how important it is to have a customer-centric strategy and being able to build customer-centricity into your culture are two different things. In fact, many organizations find it really challenging.
What Gets in the Way of a Customer-Centric Culture
Most businesses like to say they’re customer-centric, but in many cases, it only applies to a specific function or department, like sales or customer service. Even then, we often see that there’s really a product-focused or sales-driven mindset that’s influencing how people behave. This hints at why building a customer-centric culture is more challenging than you might initially think.
Here are a few of the reasons you might be struggling to build a customer-centric culture in your organization:
Culture is difficult to define in a tangible way
It’s often described as the psychology, attitudes, experiences and beliefs of an organization. It’s the specific collection of strong values and norms that are shared by people and groups within an organization. Culture greatly influences the way people interact with each other and with stakeholders outside the organization, but when leaders talk about it, it can sound like some sort of elusive, invisible force. It’s “the [company name] way.” You know it when you feel it.
Pinning it down to tangible actions isn’t always easy. By defining the culture in terms of how the mission creates added value to your customers, you can begin to add clarity and link it more directly to a customer-centric strategy.
Company culture is about people
Culture is about people, not plans, structures and systems. But it can be a lot easier to focus on the process and procedures than the interpersonal aspects, so that’s what frequently gets the attention.
Strong cultures must be self-sustaining to succeed, so they can’t be mandated. They rely on each employee’s commitment to practice customer-centric behaviors every day. Once that happens, you have something pretty powerful. The focus on the customer can be counted on regardless of external factors, because changed people change cultures!
A customer-centric culture always focuses on creating value
In organizations with customer-centric cultures, there is a clear understanding of how their distinctive value proposition makes a substantial difference for customers. They know their place in the market and are admired by employees and customers alike.
That seems fairly basic at first glance, but really consider: Can everyone in your organization explain how they — in their specific role — create value for your customers? Are they doing the work every day with that North Star in mind?
Advice for overcoming the Challenges to Customer-Centricity
While these challenges are common, every organization has the ability to build a strong customer-centric culture and it doesn’t have to be complex. There are just a few key principles to keep in mind:
- Everyone in your culture must believe in the clear connection between the distinctive values of the culture and how they make a substantial difference for your customers.
- Customer value must be defined in their terms, which means you can’t build a truly customer-centric culture until you understand what matters most to them.
- The way your organization leverages its assets, especially your people, to make a distinctive difference for and with your customers establishes your “brand” of doing business.
- One of your largest untapped opportunities for building a stronger culture is helping each employee discover their personal brand (attitudes, skills, beliefs and values) and then fostering alignment of their personal brand and the brand of the organization through coaching and development.
- Engaging employees in customer-centric behaviors must be embraced as a sustainable strategy. The health and vibrancy of your culture is predictive of the organization’s ability to create customer satisfaction and loyalty.
Aligning Your Culture to Your Customer-Centric Strategy
Successful cultures are the result of aligning employee skills, attitudes, beliefs and values with strategic priorities. Since the number one priority for most organizations has always been serving their customers, the ability to align employee behaviors with an organization’s value proposition will strengthen customer relationships. It’s this unique relationship with your market that can best be described by the word “brand.”
This description is especially helpful in building a customer-centric culture. It provides a focus for the transformation with tools that support internal brand-building. This is a process that starts with your organization discovering and defining your business brand — the distinctive qualities that ensure alignment with your market and customers. Likewise, employees must discover and define their personal brand in order to clearly identify their distinctive capabilities for serving customers.
Once each employee aligns her or his personal brand with the business brand, it will increase their passion and commitment to creating value for the customer — because it’s not just business anymore; it’s personal. Regular coaching from their manager in this area will unleash even more achievement drive and performance momentum. They will be “walking the talk” of a customer-centric culture.
A Customer-Centric Culture Multiplies Your Competitive Advantage
In his book How the Mighty Fail, Jim Collins pointed to weak or underdeveloped corporate cultures as one of the main causes of failure in many companies. Strong cultures, on the other hand, often prevent great companies from suffering through extended downturns, he observed.
Whether it’s a downturn, a massive market upheaval or just a more fragmented, competitive market, organizations with healthy customer-centric cultures have the advantage, in more ways than one. Here are some of the benefits we’ve seen with clients that have developed a strong customer-centric culture:
- Understand how the work they do connects to and creates value for their customers.
- Feel empowered to focus their energy and talents on creating customer value.
- Are more engaged and motivated because their skills, attitudes, beliefs and values are aligned with the organization’s mission.
- Create a competitive advantage with customers.
- Perpetuate a customer-centric culture through their own behavior.
- Achieve exceptional customer satisfaction and loyalty.
- Expand repeat business.
- Increase referrals and new customers.
- Increase employee engagement, retention and achievement drive, even during challenging times.
- Enjoy greater alignment across functions and departments.
- Enhance ROI from training and development.
- Achieve a competitive advantage in the marketplace.
It all starts with the internal commitment to creating a customer-centric culture that aligns employees with customers. Every company has a choice to make, but if you don’t do it, keep in mind, your customers just might choose to align with your competitors!
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