by Priya Stipe

Five steps to walking the talk 

Before the coronavirus upended markets and industries, many companies were striving to create customer-focused cultures. The pandemic has only intensified the urgency, and challenges, of getting there. Companies that survive and thrive through these tough times will understand their customers’ changing needs and be able to quickly pivot to meet them. 

How does a company re-energize its culture in ways that empower employees to better serve its customers? Knowing that innovation is critical to meeting new customer expectations, how can a business innovate more and better? Many organizations realize they need to get out of their own way to do so yet remain mired in bureaucratic structures and mindsets that keep them from acting quickly to meet customers where they are. 

Point B’s Perspective 

We believe every interaction with your customers affects your value to them and their value to you. Today’s most successful businesses are focused on making every interaction better. At the heart of this effort is a culture that aligns and engages everyone in the company around understanding their customers and innovating to meet their needs. 

We see many companies that are eager to create a customer-focused culture without fully understanding how it will impact their organization, operations and processes. Early efforts to become customer-centric are often limited to only one or two well-intentioned groups within the organization. But siloed attempts will always fall short. No company can build a truly customer-focused culture unless the effort is prioritized, aligned and coordinated across the entire organization. The customer experience needs to be owned and championed by the whole organization, and the impetus needs to come from leadership. 

Five steps to getting everyone on board  

How do you foster a customer-centric culture that drives innovation? To embed a customer focus, change needs to be holistic—from strategy and structure to how employees are engaged and rewarded for the integral roles they play. 

Strategy. Customer-focused companies build their strategy on deep customer and market insight. They have a customer strategy that is clearly articulated across the organization and at every level. Everyone knows what the strategic priorities are, what customers want and need, and the role they play in how the company will deliver.  

As you develop strategy, remember to look beyond direct competitors to understand your company’s experiential competitors—disruptors in other markets and industries that deliver valued advances such as breakthrough speed, on-demand services and personalization. These experiential competitors can have a significant impact on your customers’ expectations when they interact with you.  

Structure. How do you align your entire organization to deliver on a customer-centric strategy? What does your operating model look like?  

Ideally, every department across the organization is aligned on the customer experience (CX) strategy and there is clarity in the roles and processes to support that strategy. But not every company is there yet. Traditionally, organizations are built to deliver the operational functions and priorities of each department, not to deliver customer experience through the integrated operations of each department. Organizations have begun taking different approaches to remove siloes and create an operating model that drives customer-centricity and agility. 

A shift to a customer-centric operating model can take many forms. The primary goals of the structure are to drive alignment and collaboration around the customer, create agility, and support the company culture while enabling the behavioral change required to support a customer-centric culture. It doesn't have to take a major reorganization to make the shift. Some examples of these approaches include:  

  • Creating an interim CX organization to define, elevate, and deliver against customer priorities with the goal of incubating customer-centric ways of thinking and capabilities across the organization. 
  • Implementing a CX steering committee or cross-enterprise transformation team built as a hub and spoke model that bring together disparate departments and disciplines to deliver customer-centric priorities. 
  • Defining a matrixed, CX-focused structure that aligns disciplines and experience teams to define and deliver against customer priorities.  
  • Building a fully CX-focused organization structure to align departments and resources to CX capabilities. 

All these approaches ensure that different parts of the organization are working together and progressing toward the same metrics and goals. 

Decision-making. Who owns your decisions, and how are they made? Don't give in to the pitfalls of decision-making – remove silos, make customer-centric decisions but align to business goals and growth, use data as the foundation for decisions, and create flexibility to test-and-learn. Healthy decision-making strikes a balance between strict business performance frameworks and the art of a customer-centric, test-and-learn mindset. Using data allows companies to align customer-focused decisions to business outcomes and create a platform for innovation and agility.  

People. In order for a customer-focused culture to take root, everyone needs to understand their customer goals, how those goals will be achieved and the specific role they play in making them come to life. Companies lose steam if the atmosphere is too risk-averse and people are afraid to embrace the test-and-learn approach essential to innovation. You want people to feel empowered and excited to think outside the box. Having the right structure, priorities and accountability in place can help you find that middle ground for innovation—allowing people to test and learn in an environment where there’s no room to spiral down and plenty of room to spiral up. 

In work as well as every aspect of life, people want meaning and a sense of agency. It’s important employees don’t feel change is something happening to them, but rather something is happening because of them. When they understand the why of change (meaning) and the role they play in bringing it about (agency), it’s easier to make any necessary shifts in structure and responsibilities. 

Rewards. We find many organizations want to empower their people to innovate and act in more customer-centric ways, yet they haven’t structured their reward system accordingly.  

How will you reward your employees’ evolution toward customer-focused innovation? How will you encourage more test-and-learn behavior, which inherently involves some failure and adaptation? It’s counterproductive for people to be afraid of thinking and acting outside the box for fear of failure.  

If you expect innovation, reward innovation—clearly and consistently. 

The Bottom Line 

When your company’s culture is truly focused on meeting your customers’ wants and needs, you’re positioned to grow revenue through superior customer experiences and strong customer loyalty. You can reduce costs by creating streamlined, simplified customer experiences and high employee retention. And you’ll be equipped to generate higher rates of innovation by making continuous improvements that meet customers’ evolving needs and expectations. Your entire organization will be continuously learning, adapting and evolving by staying close to its reason for being. 

At a time when many companies are losing money due to the pandemic, investing in a customer-centric culture may seem like a daunting challenge. But this is actually an opportune time to make a customer-focused cultural shift the driver of resetting your business for success going forward. Seize the moment, get everybody on board, and you’ll position your company to be light years ahead in the post-pandemic world.