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7 ways to build a customer-centric culture

The customer is always right. Right? Whether you agree or not, the customer should always be the main focus of your business. Senior Principal Analyst at the Qualtrics XM Institute, Aimee Lucas, explains how to create a customer-centric culture that’s at the heart of your organization.

‘Culture is how employees act when no one’s looking’

Culture is how employees think, believe and act,” says Aimee Lucas. “It’s how your employees behave when no one is looking.”

With more than 18 years of experience building successful CX (customer experience) programs, Aimee knows that for XM (experience management) to flourish, employees at all levels — especially leaders — have to support continuous experience improvement. In other words, great XM is not just a one-off task. It means weaving CX into the very fabric of your culture.

What is a customer-centric culture?

Customer-centric definition:

In a customer-centric organization, every person shares the goal of creating great customer experiences, from the C-Suite leader who decides to invest in a customer charter, to the retail associate who goes the extra mile to track down the product their customer needs.

Each person understands that their customer is the most important part of their job, and that they have a personal responsibility and an important role to play in making that customer’s experience the best it can be.

The XM Institute defines culture as having three parts:

1. Think

Employees understand the company’s vision and why it matters. It’s developed through the organization’s communication, and the messages it gives through its values, routines and structures.

2. Act

In order to be successful, employees adjust their behavior according to the company’s priorities. That includes how they act when nobody is looking.

3. Believe

Employers learn from example that their leaders genuinely believe in and live the company’s values.

Why is being customer-centric so important?

The customer is king. But who crowned them, and why?

Smart business people have always known that happy customers lead to more sales, a strong reputation and a viable business in the long term. But customer-centricity, where the customer is not only a priority but the raison d’etre of the entire company, is a relatively new idea that has had a transformational effect on the business landscape.

The new emphasis on customer-centric business stems in part from the development of online technology. Customers and businesses are closer than ever before, with lines of communication and influence that stretch far beyond a simple transaction. Customers can learn in as much detail as they like about how businesses treat their customers, what their support and customer care is like and the quality of their products and services.

Businesses meanwhile have an unprecedented level of insight about their customers. Research, data-processing and analysis of customer experience means companies tailor experiences for their customers and build strong, lasting relationships. Great customer experience has become a differentiator for businesses and an important driver of customer loyalty.

Watch the webinar: (Kick)Starting a CX Program

So how can you embed a customer-centric culture into your organization?

1. Lead with purpose

Aimee says that leading with purpose is not about being a nice person or a likable manager. “It's about acting in a way that motivates employees and creates a higher-performing organization.”

Aimee argues that purpose is what will align, motivate and empower your organization.

“Leading with purpose means you're focusing on the fact that values drive behaviors.

“An organization must articulate and commit to a clear purpose that aligns all employees day-to-day decisions and is more compelling than simply increased profits.

“And because leaders are ultimately responsible for ensuring that an organization behaves is that cohesive unit, they themselves must demonstrate what we call the 5 Ps of purposeful leaders.”

The 5 Ps of purposeful leaders

2. Make change a habit

It’s important to get employees in the habit of accepting and promoting change. This is because organizations naturally support that status quo and the people that work for them are creatures of habit, according to Aimee.

But it’s crucial that we get into the habit of accepting change. Even if it’s small.

“Every day we’re bringing in X- and O-data that’s helping to show us where we need to make changes,” says Aimee. “We've got to find ways to build that muscle that helps people prepare for ongoing adjustments with a little resistance to making changes.

“We need to actively learn from successes and failures. Sometimes during transformations things work. Other times they don't, and both successes and failures can teach the organization lessons and those lessons should then be reapplied to future activities.

“So for these efforts to be successful, many employees have to do things differently. And doing something differently requires the complete destruction of the status quo.

“As Pablo Picasso said: ‘every act of creation is first of all, an act of destruction.’ Picasso was probably not thinking about customer experience,” Aimee jokes, but then again — there is truth in this, after all: “any major initiative requires significant change, typically crossing over organizational boundaries.”

3. Drive decisions with data

That brings us neatly to our third way: using analytics to grow the use of data-driven insights. Organizations need to create a mindset for using experience management data to run their business and evolve well beyond just looking for a readout of metrics.

In a data-driven organization a few things are clear. The first of which, according to Aimee, is that facts trump intuition.

“The organization is compelled to make decisions based on facts rather than gut feel.”

Aimee explains that traditionally, CX programs merely ask the question, ‘what’s the score?’ But this isn’t enough. To get real insight we need to not only be measuring, but describing why something is happening, then predicting what will happen next, and most importantly prescribing what to do about the problem. This, Aimee explains, is where the insights start getting juicy.

“Being able to predict where the largest impact of a poor experience will be can be incredibly helpful in directing effort where it is more important to the company.”

“It’s about bringing your O-and X-data together to uncover specific prescriptions of what actions it should take to address the experience issue you’re having.”

This means you’re saving time and money misdirecting your efforts into things that just aren’t valued by your customers — and instead leaving you time to focus on the things that’ll make a real difference.

4. Make it a core value

One way to communicate at every level that customer centricity matters is to make it one of your brand’s core values. That means it’ll be embedded throughout the employee experience, from the walls of your offices to the “about” page of your website to the onboarding material new hires receive.

“It's important to communicate and embrace a consistent set of brand values,” Aimee says. “Those brand values are the heart of your customer experience strategy.

“Brand values define as an organization how you want to treat your customers. And when everyone in the organization understands that purpose, believes that purpose, embraces those brand values, then the organization is on a path to consistently deliver experiences that resonate with customers.”

Making customer-centricity a core value sends a strong message about your priorities. After all, there are only 4 or 5 (6 at the outside) slots on that values list. Putting “customer-centric” at the top spot signals how much it matters. Core values are a commitment – they tell the world how you want to act and what people can expect from you.

5. Model CX through EX

EX (employee experience) and CX are closely related, sharing some key principles, practices and outcomes like loyalty and engagement. When you adopt a customer-centric culture, it makes sense to model the way you treat customers in the way you treat your people.

Listen to their feedback and encourage them to provide it. Take action on what you learn. Adopt a journey-based approach to the employee experience, looking at touchpoints from recruitment and onboarding to promotion and development to succession planning, and how they individually and holistically contribute to an overall experience.

Above all, empower your employees to create experiences for customers that are authentic and based on their beliefs and values, not just processes and behaviors.

6. Hire for common values

The culture of an organization is made up of the people within it, through their actions, thoughts and behaviors. It can be summed up and communicated by values and messages, but at its heart, culture is about the individuals who make up your organization.

It makes sense then to put customer-centric values and priorities at the heart of your hiring process. When you begin getting to know a potential new employee, spend time clearly communicating your values and finding out about theirs, and make customer-centric attitudes and experiences part of your selection criteria.

7. Close the loop

However much you invest in customer experience, however central it becomes to your culture, you’ll always make mistakes. Fortunately, that could turn out to be an opportunity in its own right.

Closing the loop with customers means treating feedback of all kinds, and negative feedback in particular, as the start of a dialogue rather than a piece of performance data. When someone has a poor experience and tells you about it, you can close the loop by reaching out to them quickly and arranging a solution. Done well, this activity can actively strengthen the customer relationship.

How does that affect your culture? When people in your business are given the opportunity to close the loop, they see first hand what a good experience means to a customer. They’re empowered to make changes that improve the customer experience, and they’ll feel a sense of ownership and pride in having done so.

Culture metrics

How do you measure something as subjective and holistic as culture? It’s not a single-metric answer, but you can collect data across a few dimensions that will help you keep track of the health of your company culture.

  • Employee description
    Use a short poll or survey to ask employees to describe your company culture. You could do this using open field questions, but it may be easier to deal with the data if you use multiple-choice questions that allow employees to choose adjectives.
  • Manager appraisal
    Ask leaders and managers across your organization to rate the level of cultural adherence and consistency in their teams. Again, you could use a poll for this, either using open text or a numerical rating scale.
  • Exit interview feedback
    How do employees leaving your organization feel about your culture when they look back at their experience as a whole? How would they describe it? Adding a question on culture to your exit interview or exit survey questionnaire can help you keep track.
  • Onboarding feedback
    While exiting employees can give you a summary of your culture in retrospect, new hires can give you feedback with a fresh pair of eyes. Add some culture measures into your onboarding surveys to take advantage of their perspective.

Take it further: Discover the tools that help you build CX into your company's DNA with a free demo