I originally wrote today’s post for Shep Hyken’s blog. It appeared on his site on May 29, 2020.

There’s a lot of talk about customer-centricity and customer-centric organizations, but what does that really mean? Sadly, many people think that it’s all about just giving the customer what she  wants, saying “yes,” and bending over backwards for her. That’s not it at all. If your business is customer-centric, those things are the least of your worries.

Customer-centric companies put the customer at the center of all they do. That means that they ensure that they make no decisions without first thinking of the customer and the impact those decisions have on the customer. The customer is infused into everything they do. I like to say: No discussions, no decisions, no designs without bringing in the customer and her voice, without asking how it will impact the customer, how it will make her feel, what problems it will help her solve, what value it will create and deliver for her.

As I’ve been writing and talking about customer-centricity, I continue to land on four inputs that feed into and inform a customer-centric culture. Let me explain each one here.

1. Leadership

An important thing to note about a customer-centric culture is: it is deliberately designed to be that way. It doesn’t occur by accident. This design comes from the top, from the CEO. The CEO (and the entire leadership team) must be committed to bringing the customer voice into all they do. The leadership team must communicate to employees what it means to be customer-centric and how it impacts the work they do. That also means that they must lead by example and model customer-centric behaviors.

To further perpetuate, they’ve got to recognize and reinforce behaviors that are in line with customer-centric expectations. Reinforcing the behaviors and actions that you want to see –especially when combined with modeling them – is more powerful than simply talking about them. Remember: you get what you allow; what you allow must align with what you’ve designed.

In addition, leaders must always put people first and recognize that their employees’ needs come before their own. This should be a basic tenet of any culture: people first, and the numbers will come.

2. Core Values

To further support that the customer-centric culture is deliberately designed, the company’s core values must align with and support customer-centricity. Examples of customer-centric values include: listening, customer-focus, people first, customers first, deliver WOW through service, customer obsession, obsess about our members, focus on the customer and all else will follow, strong relationships create guests for life, innovation, collaboration, etc. You get the idea. You don’t have to have values that mention the customer, just values that align with the customer-centric culture that you are trying to create.

And to that last point, it’s not enough to just have core values; you’ve also got to define associated behaviors. Go through the exercise of outlining examples of acceptable and unacceptable behaviors relative to each value so that there is no question of what they mean or how they translate to customer-centricity. And don’t forget, policies and processes must be designed with the values in mind so that employees can and will, without pause or question, always do the right thing.

3. Employees

During my third stint on Shep’s Amazing Business Radio, we talked about the importance of employees to the customer experience and about how you can’t have a customer-centric culture without putting employees more first.

There’s no customer-centric culture if it’s not lived by employees. (Well, there is a culture, but it’s not the one you want or have designed for.) Values are meaningless unless they inspire and drive the behavior that you expect your employees and executives (they’re not exempt!) to display. In other words, your core values mean nothing if everyone in the company doesn’t live them. Once you’ve established the behaviors related to each core value, you’ve go to ensure that employees have the proper training, tools, and resources to live and breathe them. And they must be empowered to do what you expect them to do.

It might surprise you to hear, too, that hiring for culture fit is important to getting the customer-centric culture you want. You’ve got to get the right people on the bus, the people whose values and purpose align with your company’s value and purpose. Hire for attitude, train for skill. When you hire people who care about people, a customer-centric culture is much easier to create.

Establish a Culture Committee to meet regularly to identify, discuss, and plan ways to promote and to drive the desired culture throughout the organization. This committee helps to create that groundswell of adoption throughout the organization of the culture traits as defined by the core values and corresponding behaviors.

4. Customers

Customer understanding is the cornerstone of customer-centricity. You can’t have a customer-centric culture without customers, without bringing the customer voice into the business! A customer-centric culture is informed by customers. A customer-centric business understands and knows that business is all about the customer, that the purpose of a business is to create and to nurture a customer.

Customer understanding is achieved in three ways: (1) listen (feedback and data), (2) characterize (research-based personas), and (3) empathize (journey mapping process). The critical part of customer understanding is to do something with what you learn. You’ve got to act on it. You’ve got to bring these learnings into every discussion, decision, and design. You’ve got to use the data and the insights to design and deliver an experience that solves customer problems, helps them achieve the jobs they are trying to do, and addresses their pain points. In short, you’ve got to deliver value to your customers in order to achieve business value. This is the heart and the spirit of customer-centricity.

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As you can see, a customer-centric culture isn’t just about giving customers what they want. There’s a foundation – these four inputs – that must be in place to ensure that customers are at the heart of all the business does. Do you have all four of these components feeding your customer-centric culture?

Your input determines your outlook. Your outlook determines your output. And your output determines your future. -Zig Ziglar

Annette Franz, CCXP is an internationally recognized customer experience thought leader, coach, speaker, and author. She recently published her first book, Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the “Customer” in Customer Experience (and at the Heart of Your Business); it’s available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. Sign up for our newsletter for updates, insights, and other great content that you can use to up your CX game.

Image courtesy of Pixabay.

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