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What Is Your Customer-Centric DNA?

What Is Your Customer-Centric DNA?

/ Strategy, Customer Experience, Strategic management
What Is Your Customer-Centric DNA?

Highlights from the recent North American study on customer-centricity.

An organization’s DNA is the combination of formal and informal practices that determines its identity and the ability to execute its strategy. Many companies today strive to be customer-centric.

Companies that have achieved customer-centricity have attained a level of maturity that allows them to respond to customers in the most appropriate ways. They engage, train and mobilize their employees, who are aware of the correct behavior to meet customer needs and who know when and how to act according to the circumstances needed to keep customers satisfied. Throughout every touchpoint of the customer-centric organization—whether it is directly or indirectly interfacing with the customer—there is a clear sense of purpose and discipline around how to improve and enhance the customer experience.

In 2014, Janet LeBlanc + Associates Inc. collaborated with the Peppers & Rogers Group and Contact Center Pipeline to understand the state of customer-centricity across North America. Of the 327 business leaders who responded to the North American study on customer-centricity, 57% reported they were developing or in an early infancy stage of achieving customer-centricity.

The online survey, distributed in 2012 and 2014, dug deep into the discipline or methodology used to comprehensively design, implement and manage customer experience within an organization. It evaluated the 45 essential practices across five pillars of customer-centricity needed to achieve customer experience maturity.

This article presents some highlights and summary results from this research study and provides the opportunity to reflect on how well your organization has progressed along the journey toward customer-centricity.

Pillar 1: Strategic Alignment

Organizations that are strategically aligned with a customer-centric agenda have their organizational systems united to effectively govern the customer experience. They ensure that the customer experience is explicitly tied to a mission statement and that the brand reflects customer-centricity. Improvements in customer metrics are reported regularly to investors and key stakeholders. Employees understand the vision of the “ideal” customer experience. For example, at Zappos.com, the entire organization is aligned around one mission: to provide the best customer service possible.

Successful organizations that have culturally embraced the customer experience have a distinct and sustainable competitive advantage. Weaving customer experience management into the fabric of your organization provides the discipline needed to comprehensively manage a customer’s cross-channel exposure, interactions and transaction with a company, brand or service.

Many organizations aspire to be customer-centric and to strategically align their organization around the customer, yet less than 35% report directly linking annual executive performance to customer experience improvements. Although 52% of participants of the study report having a brand promise that reflects customer-centricity, only 33% use performance management to track customer experience improvements.

Customer experience must be a key measurement on the corporate agenda—going much deeper than simply a quarterly report of Net Promoter Scores. Employees can easily spot an organization that provides “lip service” to the importance of improving the customer experience—talking frequently about how important customers are to the business, yet focusing primarily on short-term returns ahead of the necessary investments to improve the experience. (See Figure 1 for additional study findings on Strategic Alignment.)

Pillar 2: Senior Leadership

Senior leadership is vital to the success and health of an organization. Organizations take on the personality of their leaders as they shape their culture and promote the mission at every turn. Senior leaders remind us what matters most to be successful and recognize the efforts of employees who are working to realize their vision.

A customer-centric leader has a strongly held belief that improving the customer experience will increase the bottom line. This leader recognizes the power of a positive customer experience to create an emotional connection with customers that generates loyalty. Customer-centric leaders channel the voice of the customer. They write and tell stories about the customer and find lots of ways to interact directly with customers to nurture the relationship.

Less than half of those surveyed consider customer experience a recurring leadership agenda, and 63% don’t consider their companies’ leaders to be customer-centric. The absence of customer-focused leaders is dramatic in its effects. Without strong executive support for customer initiatives, organizations move too slowly, stagnate and lose their way. Decision-making becomes fragmented and silo-based, without the benefit of having the customer in the center of executive discussions. (Figure 2 provides additional study findings on the Senior Leadership role.)

Pillar 3: Customer Insights

Customer-centric organizations aggressively seek to understand the customer—who they are, what they want, and how they perceive and evaluate their experiences. Mechanisms are put in place to understand the strength of the relationship a customer has with an organization in the form of a loyalty or advocacy measure. As well, the types of interactions that occur with frontline employees and throughout all channels are measured and used to quickly identify and resolve trouble spots in the customer experience.

Organizations with good customer experience measurement practices track the customer experience on an ongoing basis using customer perceptions as the ultimate test of performance. Sophisticated “voice of the customer” practices are critical to maturity because they allow the company to understand the state of its current customer experience. This drives them to improve experiences, and most importantly, to measure how efforts are progressing over time.

Almost 40% of respondents to the “North American Study on Customer-Centricity” reported an excellent rating in their ability to drive product development using evolving customer expectations (see Figure 3). Twenty-eight percent reported regularly tracking how customer-focused frontline employees behave at all interaction points.

Pillar 4: Employee Engagement

Customers expect to receive a consistent experience regardless of the channel or touchpoint they interact with—whether it be through a website, 1-800 call center, sales representative, or retail outlet. Organizations manage tens of thousands of interactions with customers every day and the challenge of ensuring a consistent, branded customer experience across every touchpoint is a struggle for even the best-in-class.

There is no doubt that engaged employees drive positive organizational results. Companies with good customer experiences have twice as many engaged employees than companies with poor customer experiences.

Employees who are fully engaged have a stronger emotional commitment to an organization and its goals. They are more willing to spend higher levels of discretionary effort and go out of their way to please customers, thereby improving customer satisfaction as a result. Engaged employees are absent from work less frequently, meaning a less-experienced replacement worker is not required to fill their role. They are less likely to have safety issues and more likely to perform at higher quality levels, resulting in fewer problems.

Customer-centric organizations clearly define what employees need to do to improve the customer experience. They provide them with the right information to address customer issues and give employees the authority to resolve customer issues on the spot. Thirty-three percent of the study’s respondents reported training employees to deliver a consistent experience across interaction channels. (See Figure 4.)

Pillar 5: Measurement and Rewards

At the most basic level, measurement and rewards are about shaping behaviors, identifying those actions and activities that will guide employees to implement company strategy, and achieving an organization’s business goals. The most effective rewards and recognition are given in the context of a larger organizational strategy. Employees need to know what is expected of them and why a change in behavior is important and worthy of a reward.

The most successful recognition programs use a combination of informal and formal programs that balance feedback from leaders, peers and customers—creating a culture of recognition and feedback. Reward and recognition programs should not only reward top performers—they should motivate all employees toward the desired behaviors. In fact, reaching the greatest number of employees (70% or more) with a recognition program will have the highest impact.

Employees make thousands of customer-related decisions every day. Recognizing employees immediately after they have created a “WOW experience” will show appreciation and strengthen their understanding of the ideal customer experience.

While 35% of respondents stated they are excellent at rewarding and recognizing achievement of customer experience improvements, 31% report using rewards, other than monetary, to reinforce customer-centric behaviors (see Figure 5). About 26% tie corporate compensation to a customer loyalty or related measure.

Enterprisewide Commitment and Collaboration Are Required

In order to drive customer-centricity throughout an organization, commitment and collaboration are required across the entire enterprise. Senior leaders must understand the essential practices across all five pillars of customer-centricity if they are to transform organizational culture.

To this end, strategic alignment at the corporate level must ensure that organizational systems effectively govern the customer experience. The senior leadership team needs to be a strong role model for customer-centric behaviors and regularly spend time interacting directly with customers. Employees need regular customer experience measurement systems in place to understand the customer—who they are and what they want from their experience—and use customer insights to evaluate their performance. They need constant recognition and reinforcement about what the ideal experience should be and how they are performing relative to customer expectations.

Organizations that have mastered the ability to design and implement a consistent, intentional customer experience, one that delivers on their brand promise, will outperform the competition.

Janet LeBlanc

Janet LeBlanc

Janet LeBlanc is an internationally recognized customer experience thought leader, coach, consultant, and speaker. She has 25+ years of experience helping companies around the world understand how to engage employees to consistently deliver the ideal branded experience.

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