The 8 Behaviours of a Customer-Centric Leader

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In a major customer centricity programme I ran a number of years ago, we interviewed over 100 people at all levels of the organisation. We wanted to understand how customer-centric they considered themselves to be and compare these findings to the behaviour of the whole business.

The results were staggering: a full 100% of people scored themselves good to very good on the topic of customer centricity. Everyone we met was truly convinced that they understood what customers wanted and that they acted accordingly. They also all knew the corporate mission statement placing the customer at the heart of every decision.

As the company’s customers painted a rather different picture, we dug deeper and a more nuanced view emerged. Those we interviewed considered themselves to be customer-focused, but their bosses, well … that was a different matter. In spite of the customer rhetoric in PowerPoint presentations, their real priorities became clear every time quarterly numbers were due.

Hit the targets was the mantra. No matter what the commercial consequences might be. Burning the occasional customer was acceptable collateral damage, as long as it meant bonuses were safe.

In other words: everyone talked about customers, but the business, the leaders and the CEO weren’t walking the talk. The root cause for this was that they didn’t see the financial value of customer-centricity, but from their people’s perspective, they were all words and no action.

If you want your business to become customer-centric, it’s important that as a leader, you avoid this trap.

You need to convince your colleagues of formulating a set of clearly observable leadership behaviours to which each of them is willing to be held accountable. Only if people see that their leaders are living the customer values the organisation puts forward, they will be willing to live these values themselves.

To provide a more tangible illustration of this, I have listed eight behaviours which I have heard being formulated by senior teams embarking on a journey towards customer-centricity.

For each, every executive typically commits to:

  • spend at least a day a month personally talking to customers to better understand their needs;
  • ask what is in this for our customers? at every decision, so that their team always considers the customer’s voice;
  • systematically include measurable customer objectives in performance reviews, starting with their own;
  • enable and encourage their staff to engage with customers by giving them time and resources;
  • call meetings to review customer feedback in their team at least once a month and invite other departments to these reviews;
  • set the example in going online at least once a month to seek out customer comments and make a positive (direct or indirect) contribution to their conversations;
  • seek to include customer lifetime value as a metric in all financial and investment decisions;
  • make a formalised, quarterly effort to seek new ways of focusing on their customers.

I’m not saying that you should adopt all of the above (though it might be an idea :-).

I am saying that by living a set of clearly observable customer-centric behaviours you can help your colleagues distinguish whether you are a talker or a walker.

So which one will you be?

If you would like to know more about the topic of customer-centricity: get in touch, ask my colleagues at Futurelab, check out my book “So You Want To Be Customer-Centric?” or join the LinkedIn group by the same name.

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