4 Keys to Customer Centric Culture

Updated: May 24, 2010

1. Communication. The vision and values that top management communicates, both verbally and behaviorally, set the tone and direction. What top management focuses on guides the thinking and efforts of the entire organization. The key is consistency: at every opportunity, continually communicate the necessity of making it easier and nicer for customers to get and use solutions. Consistency occurs in formal and informal meetings, written correspondence, external messages, and in every business process and every management ritual such as performance reviews, annual operating plans, performance dashboards, etc. Consistency builds trust and passion, which are necessary ingredients for true customer-centricity.

At USAA, which provides insurance solely to military families, customer-centricity is built by stepping into their customers' boots - during new-hire orientation, employees strap-on a military helmet, 65-pound backpack and flek vest, to build empathy for customers. They read real letters from troops in Iraq, eat a military MRE "meal ready to eat", and supervisors call them troops and use military time. As a result, USAA has a long history of topping industry lists for best customer service.

2. Skills. Customer-centric values and vision must be supported by proficiency in related technical and soft skills. Examine competency requirements for everyone - not just customer-facing roles - relative to your customer-centric values and vision. This includes channel partners, suppliers, and other external entities. Proficiency is the vital link between strategy and execution.

At Nordstrom, employees are selected on their capabilities to anticipate and meet people's needs. They're encouraged to try new approaches to selling and customer service, with the mantra use good judgment in all situations giving them a tremendous sense that they're trusted to always do right by the customer.

3. Accountability. What gets rewarded gets done - whether the rewards are tangible or intrinsic. Interestingly, intrinsic rewards have proven to be more powerful in adjusting a group's ways of thinking and doing. Risk tolerance and penalties also determine the degree to which customer-centricity takes root. Above all, monitor cause-and-effect and also perceptions of fairness in terms of logic and equity; these elements are pivotal to success.

At Enterprise Rent-a-Car, customer sentiment is measured at the rental office level. Only employees in offices that score at or above the overall company average are eligible for promotion, raises or bonuses. At EMC, achieving the target for their leading indicator of customer sentiment, system availability, is a go/no-go determinant of the bonus for the entire company.

4. Systems. Systems-thinking means acknowledging the big picture and linkages between its components. Scrutinize your business policies and procedures and tools for their contribution or detraction from the goal of making it easier and nicer for customers to get and use solutions. Systems include formal and informal inter-department communication and interactions and handoffs, and connections outside the enterprise.

At Dell, SVP of customer service Dick Hunter asked employees to send him notes about the inconsistent and dumb things the company was doing. Combining this input with customer's verbatim comments to their call center led to significant changes in the customer experience.

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