Culture. Pop culture. Counter-culture.
People throw the term “culture” around like confetti. But when you think about it, it’s surprisingly difficult to define exactly what we mean by culture. And company culture is no exception.
Luckily, it’s something people have spent a lot of time thinking about.
In the Handbook of Human Resource Management Practice, author Michael Armstrong defines company culture as a “pattern of values, norms, beliefs, attitudes, and assumptions that may not have been articulated, but shape the ways in which people in organizations behave.”
Put simply then, company culture is “the way things are done around here.”
When your company sees the customer experience as absolutely core to what you do, you have a customer-centric culture. Customer satisfaction brings meaning to your organization, forming the basis of both internal and external communication and providing the driving force for action.
As Alfred Chandler said, structure follows strategy. By making customer satisfaction your central function, your company forms around the pursuit of this goal. Companies with a customer-centric culture are driven by the desire to create the best possible customer experience. But this goes far beyond simply offering great customer service.
Every touchpoint, from awareness through to post-purchase, has the customer’s best interest at heart.
Perhaps at this point, you are clasping your chin in thought, asking “does my company have a customer-centric culture?”
Why not use yourself as a cultural barometer? Some useful questions to guide you might be:
Let’s admit — this all sounds like a lot of effort. So, why a pressing need to create a customer-centric culture in the first place?
Well, placing customers at the very heart of everything a company does makes total business sense. In fact, research by Deloitte shows customer-centric companies are 60% more profitable when compared to companies that don’t focus on the customer.
So why don’t all companies do it?
You’d think they would, but the truth is far from it.
In fact, the CMO Council shows us that “only 14 percent of marketers say that customer-centricity is a hallmark of their companies, and only 11 percent believe their customers would agree with that characterization.”
Most companies fail when it comes to customer-centricity, not because they don’t have the right intentions, but because they fail to create a customer-centric culture. Good intentions are meaningless without a solid strategy behind them.
It’s well worth getting it right, though. Positive benefits include:
But this is just the start.
Being customer-centric is good for your staff too.
Among people who say customer satisfaction is a key priority for their company, 83% think that they will be working there in two years; among those who don’t see customers as a high priority, it’s 56%.
Of course, it’s all very well talking about it, but how do you actually go about creating a customer-centric culture?
We’ve got a few tips for you.
Stories bring meaning to our lives. Issues of morality, the purpose of life, the beliefs that strike to the very core of our humanity — all come from the stories we encounter.
So, what’s your company’s story?
It may seem like a rather tall order to create a company story on this scale, but by breaking it down into little chunks, it’s manageable.
Ask yourself why your company exists. What do your customers want from you and what do you want for them? Democratize this process to ensure everyone feels a part of it.
Condense the result down into a short and snappy core statement relating to customers.
Take McDonald’s as an example, ‘To be our customers' favorite place and way to eat’. Spot on. The customer experience is at the very heart. It’s clear what the story is here.
Think about the values needed to reach this goal. These value statements define what the company believes in and how they are expected to behave, creating the company culture. Of course, the values need to be lived. Coca Cola demonstrates one of its core values, diversity, with its public Global Diversity Mission page, which lists the company's diversity-related efforts.
Harness tales of employees going the extra mile for customers and make them legendary within the company. These stories will be retold and shared, helping forge a collective sense of purpose and identity.
There’s no point in creating the narrative then sitting back and hoping for the best. For your company to truly live this approach, ingrain the message in everything the business does.
But be careful, this could quickly become unpalatable if it feels inappropriate and forced. Consult with staff to see what is meaningful to them. Perhaps it’s something as simple as starting team meetings with a positive anecdote about a recent customer interaction.
The will to drive this strategy forward starts with leadership. Unless leaders practice what they preach, the dream will never be realized. But leaders also need help to keep grounded.
A recent Harvard study found that CEOs spend 72% of their time in meetings and only 3% of their average 62.5-hour-working week with customers.
It’s so easy for them to lose sight of the customer experience. Social media is one obvious way of connecting. But why not make time for leaders to take on customer service positions to help keep in mind the value of those relationships?
In one great story from Giles Fraser in a MyCustomer.Com article states:
“She was very impressed with how helpful and engaging the Sainsbury’s employee was who helped her with her shopping to the car. It was the CEO, Justin King.”
Make sure the skills needed to create a customer-centric culture filter through your whole organization by being clear what you are looking for at the hiring stage and selecting for it. Empathy is invaluable. Create a training program that is designed to foster empathy through role-play scenarios, encouraging friendly curiosity towards strangers and practicing active listening.
Consider, too, the tangible aspects of an organization that people, hear, see, or feel. Logos, job titles, products, the physical arrangement of company spaces — is everything optimized for customer experience? Pay particular consideration to customer experience during development.
You can’t know what you don’t measure. Create a continuous learning cycle through regular reviewing and be willing to embrace mistakes.
Some companies might be happy to just chuck churn rate and lifetime customer value into the mix and leave it at that. There’s so much more to it. Ask what customers think. Really listen. Too often companies just offer an opportunity for token token feedback.
Some ideas might include:
Tech creates feedback loops through social media and website tools. To set your company apart, be truly accountable to what customers say. Customer viewpoints can even help drive product development. Walkers potato chips in the UK let customers vote and choose flavors produced, involving customers to feel part of something bigger.
Tying financial rewards to customer feedback is easy for customer-facing roles. But what about making leadership bonuses accountable to customer feedback metrics? This way you encourage them to reinforce the customer-centric approach throughout your company.
Technology can disconnect us from reality, but it can also bring us together, increasing customer-centricity by providing opportunities for direct interaction between your customers and your staff.
Real-time solutions improve communication and encourage relationship building. Traditional email back and forths have been a real barrier, but with personalized live chat, it’s easier for customers to be heard. Visual tools like cobrowsing add an extra element to collaboration, aiding explanation and with 55% of communication being non-verbal, video calling is a great way of digitalizing the face-to-face customer experience that’s sometimes needed.
Use technology to make your company easily accessible through omni-channel support. Letting customers choose how they interact with your brand means they build a relationship on their terms. They will appreciate your flexibility.
Keeping historical interactions between you and your customers allows your company to act with one voice, creating truly personalized conversations. No two customers’ experience with the brand is exactly the same. This shows the brand recognizes and appreciates customers’ unique experiences.
A truly customer-centric organization cares about their customers’ well-being, and this means caring about the world they live in. It’s easy for a company to fall into the trap of thinking about customers in purely transactional terms — far harder to strive to create a better world for them to do business together.
Happy employees are a brilliant asset for your business. Your employees are the ones who are going to be looking after your customers after all. Show you trust your employees by giving boundaries but the freedom to work within them, take the time to understand their individual motivations to get the best out of them, and most of all, make them feel like a valued part of the bigger picture.
Creating a sustainable business model means factoring in long-term environmental consequences. After all, no planet, no customers. P&G shampoo brand Head & Shoulders created the first recycled shampoo bottle to demonstrate this commitment.
Companies often pay lip-service to corporate social responsibility, but by proving your company lives these values, you can stand out from the crowd. Ben and Jerry’s were willing to go through a rigorous accreditation process to show their social mission is as important as their economic one, display the resulting B-Lab accreditation as a badge of honor. Proof of their belief in using business as a force for good.
Businesses exist only thanks to their customers, so putting them front-and-center of everything a company does makes complete business sense. But creating and successfully maintaining a customer-centric culture is no easy task. It takes hard graft and an endlessly proactive and carefully strategized approach. By keeping these five tips in mind, you are well on your way to a customer-centric future.
Benedict Clark is a psychologist and writer, having previously spent 8 years in the digital marketing industry. With a master's degree in Business and Occupational Psychology from Kingston University, he writes about the interplay between customer experience and psychology for Acquire.