Five steps to building a customer-focused culture in your company

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You can't deliver a winning customer experience with a culture that doesn't embrace the concept, says Henning Hansen.

Businesses are increasingly adopting customer-focused business processes to gain competitive advantage. Especially prevalent in industries where product offerings and price no longer provide sufficient differentiation, this new focus offers a myriad of benefits. Customer experience is the battleground and you can’t win with a culture that doesn’t truly embrace the concept.

Corporate culture, as any business textbook will tell you, is tricky to define, and trickier still to change. Culture can neither be simply imposed on a business nor created by flicking a switch. However, the following key steps can help put your business on the path toward a customer-focused culture.
1)     Cement your customer relationships: To build your business around customers you need to understand them, so create a regular dialogue. Don’t send an annual survey to see if they’re satisfied with your products, contact center or delivery performance. Talk to them regularly at key points in your relationship with them - when they’ve made a purchase, called your contact center or canceled an order. If you arm yourself with the tools to better understand your customers, you will be better able to act in their best interests.

Talking to customers at regular intervals is  not simply about monitoring progress; it is a core part of becoming a business that listens to its customers. If you don’t listen to them, you cannot possibly be focused on them. And listening is only the start. You must act upon what they tell you. Following up an interaction with a survey is a great start, but if your customer tells you they had a poor experience, then you must do something about it. A simple 'Thank you for your input' adds insult to injury. Create a process through which you can share feedback with the right people in your organisation and put things right.

2)     Involve the crew: You can’t impose a change in culture by sending an email saying "We are now a customer-focused organisation". Well, you can try, but the result will be eye-rolling and mockery, not a newly customer-focused culture. Your employees possess great insight into your customer base and how you treat them. Tap this knowledge base to better understand employee views. Don’t limit your outreach to customer-facing staff. A customer-focused culture is not just about providing better customer service at the front line, it is about infusing all your actions as a business with a sense of how the customer is affected by those actions (or lack of them).

Customer feedback is not always welcomed by employees so get buy-in from them. Too often feedback is understood to be a euphemism for 'complaints' and creates only fear and disengagement. When listening to the Voice of the Customer, remember to include and share the positive feedback. While acting on negative feedback may strengthen customer engagement, sharing and acting on positive feedback will strengthen employee engagement. Use feedback as a carrot, not a stick and feedback will become a welcome motivator that underpins your culture.

3)     Rebuild your processes: Evangelising is just one step in developing a new corporate culture. To engage employees you must make changes and demonstrate what you’re doing. Where customers and employees are telling you that you could be doing something better, take action. And tell them you’ve taken action. By asking for feedback, you’re setting up a level of expectation that you need to meet, otherwise the process is destined to fail. Corporate culture is a long-term consideration and demonstrating that you’re truly investing in change will help to drive further change and engage your employees in the process.

The changes you make may be internal or external. For example, feedback may identify a new business process that makes sense to internal stakeholders, but confuses or frustrates customers. Alternatively, you may find that some employees don’t feel equipped to resolve certain customer queries, which you can address through tailored training and coaching. Share the changes you make with the appropriate audience. The first changes may be hard but they will speak volumes and start to build a culture which embraces improvement.

4)     Check your measurements: Whatever metrics you use to measure success in your business, a handful of them will already be customer-focused. Customer satisfaction, complaint levels and first call resolution are all commonly used to monitor the way in which companies handle their customers. But your customer and employee feedback may uncover more intelligent ways to understand customer relationships. Learn how your customers judge their relationship with you, rather than the other way round. For example, they may be less interested in how long your call center takes to answer the phone, and more keen to know that the person they speak to can really help them. If the metric matters to your customer, it matters to you.

Whatever metrics you settle on, make them accessible and use them to create common goals. You don’t have to share every piece of data with every person in the company, but share the right data with the right people. Use your intranet, reporting dashboards or a portal to show them how their actions affect the customer experience, even if they don’t see or talk to customers on a daily basis. If you’re basing metrics on feedback data that you’re regularly collecting, then your data will always be changing. Show people what’s changing and give them the tools they need to check on the data so that it becomes part of their day.

5)     Share responsibility and construct a common goal: Involvement and engagement build and solidify corporate culture. When employees can identify and resolve failures, they contribute to that culture and help it to become entrenched. Just as change must be demonstrated, so must employees be empowered to take action where necessary in order to be part of building the culture.

The customer must not be seen purely as the domain of the customer service team so it is crucial to have buy-in from the top level of your business. Not only must executives take the issues seriously, but they must be seen to take it seriously. Some companies have sped the process along by tying financial rewards to the new customer-focused metrics, and having senior executives, as well as front line staff rewarded on the same numbers. Few things say 'commitment' like senior people pegging their success on the same figures as the rest of the business.

Changing a corporate culture cannot, and should not be an immediate process, and neither can it be a half-hearted one. Businesses that truly dedicate themselves to building a customer-focused culture can be stronger competitively - and provide better places to work.
Henning Hansen is CEO and president at Confirmit.

About Neil Davey

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Neil Davey is the managing editor of MyCustomer. An experienced business journalist and editor, Neil has worked on a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites over the past 15 years, including Internet Works, CXO magazine and Business Management. He joined Sift Media in 2007.

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