What makes a customer centric culture?

A customer first culture is a key part of digital transformation. It’s what many organisations are striving for – so what does it look like?

A lot of organisations are making a lot of noise right now about the customer. Many are seeking to change their culture to put the customer at the heart of everything. At least, they say they are.

The thing is, creating a customer centric culture is about a lot more than a few posters on the back of toilet doors and a new mouse mat or two.

So what does make a customer first culture?

Chris Brown, co-author of The Customer Culture Imperative: A Leader’s Guide to Driving Superior Performance, describes a customer centric culture as ‘a shared system of values and norms (mindset and behaviors) that focuses all employee activity on improving the customer’s experience’.

It is based on the premise that what’s best for the customer is best for the organisation. It creates behaviours where the customer is central to how decisions are made and implemented.

Here’s how it plays out in practice.

The work

People working in customer-centric cultures are found in cross-functional teams, task forces, communities of practice and skunk works.

While organisational silos may still exist, people are not tied to them. Instead, people collaborate across boundaries around the shared goal of serving the customer better.

Henley Business School’s Andrew Kakabadse has studied organisational success to pinpoint the starting point as ‘value’ – creating value for the customer in new and unexpected ways.

He suggests diversity of thinking is critical in creating that. And this diversity, he concludes, comes through collaboration – a blending of ideas and viewpoints that leads to innovative new products, services and processes.

Ikea’s former CEO, Anders Dahlvig, says the retailer’s collaborative culture is central to its success. He advises other companies to build cross-functionality into their operating models from the outset to avoid a silo-culture setting in and dominating the future.

The rules

The Virgin Group’s mantra “there is always another way” encourages new ideas and differences of perspective.

A customer centric culture requires that every employee has the autonomy and confidence to act in the best interest of the customer – whether that means challenging their boss or ripping up a rule book. What matters is the customer experience, not doing the ‘right thing’ according to a predetermined set of rules or processes.

The space

One way to spot a customer centric culture is to look around the place where work happens. In a customer centric culture, a quick look at the walls, screen savers, meeting rooms etc should give you a good idea who the customers is and what the company does to delight them.

One customer first programme I worked on recently had a key objective of disrupting employees’ everyday work to ensure they collided with customers.

We gave employees the task of inviting customers to the office and then finding creative ways to visualise what happened when they were there. This led to a whole bunch of creative installations around the office – pictures of people and their lives with props and speech bubbles highlighting their needs, thoughts and feelings.

The language and stories

Does your company speak in numbers? Users? Segments? Do you ever really talk about your customers as people? Four-dimensional people like you? Customer centric cultures do. And they do it all the time.

Customer conversations are the lifeblood of customer-centric organisational life. The stories that make up the totems of the organisation – and that get told and replenished – are about customers. Because what gets talked about most matters.

The pace of change

Customer centric cultures seek to provide new forms of value to their customers every single day. They embrace change and have a bias for action – for making things happen quickly. Because customers want their needs met, not excuses about systems, processes or checklists.

The people that jump over hurdles to meet customers’ needs are celebrated and rewarded in customer centric organisations. And, as a consequence, they tend to stay longer.

If you’d like to chat about creating a more customer centric culture inside your organisation do get in touch: belinda.gannaway@brilliantnoise.com

You can also find out more about creating a digital culture by downloading our free Culture Change in the Digital Age book here.

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