What has potentially the greatest influence on your business success? You may say that depends on your industry; your instinctive response may be to cite government policy or market conditions, leadership style or organisational structure. And that may be partially true, but every business sector has one defining success point: customers.
You may argue that customers have always been important, but interestingly the rise of the technological age has put a renewed emphasis on the business/customer relationship. We now live in a homogenous world, technology has levelled the playing field for small and large businesses alike with product ideas spreading across the world at the touch of an internet button. Increasingly this has moved the emphasis from the ‘what’ to the ‘how’; from the product itself to the way in which it is delivered.
Even if that were not enough to place customer excellence at the heart of the business model there are two other factors in play; innovation and Generation Z. This latest generation has never known a time without fast access to broadband. As we comment in our book Building a Culture of Innovation “These are the always on, connected, multitasking generation.” They won’t sit passively on the sideline and be sold products; they expect to be involved in a brand’s creation and destiny.
Add in the innovation imperative which actively requires an in-depth focus on customer insight alongside the building of collaborative solutions and your customers are now an intrinsic part of your business model.
Promoting customer experience means building a culture which sets customers at its heart and that means recruiting those who will promote and enhance the new culture.
So customer experience is central to business success and that requires the building of a customer-centric culture. Let’s make one thing clear; customer experience doesn’t come from slogans on the wall or parroting key phrases at the beginning and end of each telephone conversation. Nor is it simply confined to customer-facing positions. Unless every action and interaction, every decision and every development is carried through with the customer experience in mind, you will never deliver true customer worth.
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Your culture is the DNA of your organisation; it is the way things are done, the attitudes and the outlook displayed by your people. Promoting customer experience means building a culture which sets customers at its heart and the only way you’re going to do that is if you firstly take steps to engage your existing people in the desired culture and secondly advise your recruitment process to bring on board those who will promote and enhance the new culture.
Over the past few years there has been a lot written about hiring for cultural fit but it is safe to say there is also a fair amount of misunderstanding about what cultural fit actually means. Hiring for cultural fit does not mean taking on a bunch of clones who will all march to the same drum. That way only leads to groupthink and stagnation. Rather, hiring for cultural fit requires companies to bring people on board whose ideas and outlook not only reflect those of the organisational culture but will also bring something to the party to enhance it.
In fact, hiring for cultural fit sits well alongside the current business move towards diversity and inclusion. Bringing on board a diverse range of people who can bring their own knowledge, background and experience to enhance and further the customer experience culture of the organisation is key to the growth of a strong and successful business.
The hiring process
What does this mean in terms of the hiring process? Well we’re not going to tell you to throw out the rule book but we are going to suggest a change of attitude and emphasis. Your relationship with your people starts before you even place an advert for the new position. So what are some of the key actions in hiring for a customer-centric culture:
- Reframe the job description. For a start, creating customer experiences means moving away from a head down jobs-worth mentality and towards a more holistic and empowered view of the organisation. Sure there are some qualifications which you may be looking for but by moving the job description away from a purely task oriented model towards one which encompasses desired attitudes and expectations, you are already starting to frame a customer experience position.
- Advertise your culture. The next step comes when you advertise the position. Here again, showcasing your culture within the advert will help to attract individuals who will sit comfortably within the new organisational framework. Back this up with the way you interact with candidates; using every communication to demonstrate that your culture is a true part of your DNA rather than a superficial gloss.
- Pick people not qualifications. And please, whatever you do, don’t screen a candidate’s CVs based simply on qualifications and experience. Yes, they might be the most highly qualified individual on the planet but it only takes one apple to sour a barrel and all of your hard work in building a customer centric culture has gone to waste. So you may well have to bring more candidates in for interview and you will certainly have to rephrase your interview questions in order to draw out personality and attitudes.
- Soft skills matter. That leads us on to the importance of soft skills. In a world which has moved away from pure task-orientation you want your people to be able to communicate, to interact and to collaborate. If I can’t listen how can I really understand the problem and if I can’t communicate, how can I work with others in order to deliver customer-centric solutions? Your interview process should therefore include an element of open discussion/interaction which helps to draw out and showcase the soft skills you require.
- Onboard culture. Our final top tip is to create an onboarding process which helps people to start engaging with the culture as quickly as possible. The days of ‘there is your desk get on with it’ are long gone. You’ve made the right impression so far, you’ve picked a great candidate; now it is time to help them to make a real difference. Introduce your new people to the organisation and give them time to get to know their new colleagues, devise a programme which helps them to build a holistic view of the business and appoint a mentor who themselves demonstrates customer-centric skills. Quite simply, what you do in the first few days will make a measurable difference to the long term delivery of great customer experiences. And don’t forget, whilst you are showcasing your culture to your new hires, it’s a great opportunity to reinforce the message across your existing team.
Admittedly this new on boarding process may well take more time than the old ‘tick box and you’re hired method’ but it is time well spent. With a customer experience-centric culture supported by a diverse range of people all of whom have customer service at their heart, you are well on track towards delivering a product or service which truly resonates with your customers now and for years to come.
About Jo Geraghty
Formerly head of HR for Goldman Sachs France and Switzerland and with 16 years experience working in change management for various investment banks across the globe, Jo Geraghty brings a wealth of practitioner experience to change projects. She is co-author of the book “Building a Culture of Innovation” which was published by Kogan Page on 3rd December 2015 and which was shortlisted for the CMI Management Book of the Year awards 2016.
With a global reputation as an expert in building high performance cultures, Jo specializes in working with CEOs and leadership teams of global organisations, SMEs and fast growing businesses; helping to deliver sustainable performance improvements through successful organisational culture change and employee engagement initiatives. She was recognised in the 2017 Smith & Williamson Power 100 index for her work to boost productivity through positive company culture.
Jo is also a speaker on high-performance leadership and organizational culture and a regular guest lecturer at several of the UKs leading business schools. Jo can be contacted via the Culture Consultancy website http://www.cultureconsultancy.com/