For CX Day: How YOU can build a customer-centric culture in your company

Your CEO keeps saying customers are important. Your own business leader says the same thing. So does your manager. So why do you still think this is just ‘lip service’ and that nobody really cares? I can suggest several reasons, and some practical steps you may want to take to improve things.

In any company, people can only get things done in three possible ways:

  • What you do
  • What you say
  • What you write

To be credible, all three have to match. Consider this scenario:

Bob has been our CEO for the last three years. Our company has almost 10,000 employees. Bob and his leadership team constantly repeat how important customers are to us. Bob just sent an email to all employees announcing the latest quarterly results. Great stuff! We have had another good quarter, with growth of 10%. He also laid out the top three priorities for the rest of the year. They are:

  1. Sell, sell, sell!
  2. Finish the design of our new corporate HQ in Atlanta, and start building it.
  3. Reduce our operating costs by outsourcing our customer service center operations to an Indian service provider.

Hmm…where are the customers on the list, other than the negative impact they will have from the last point? Perhaps the customer initiatives are on the intranet sites of each of Bob’s staff members. [Click, click, clickety-click] Nope. Nothing on any of those pages about what customers have asked us to improve. What now? Let’s see…who is responsible for customer experience on Bob’s staff? [Click, click, clickety-click] Ah…nobody, or should I say ‘everybody’, since that is what Bob says, when he tells us that everyone is responsible for customer satisfaction. However, nobody seems to actually be doing anything practical about it, at least according to what they are telling their own teams. I think that’s a problem. What can I do about it?

Does any of this sound familiar?

The ‘Bystander effect’

Psychologists have studied the bystander effect for years. The phenomenon is quite consistent. Take the example of a person who is drowning. If you believe you are the only person who sees that the person is drowning, it is extremely likely that you will do your utmost to help, even risking your own personal safety. However, if you are one of a hundred people on a bridge who have seen a drowning person float by, it becomes far more likely that nobody will do anything.

The bystander effect is common in companies that have nobody formally in charge of customer experience for the corporation. Everyone assumes that someone else will do the work, so they just get on with their lives. It is difficult to be successful if nobody is in charge.

Additional things you may like to check

It should be easy to check your intranet for evidence of customer-centric investments. While you are checking that, I suggest finding out whether customers are ever invited to your internal meetings. Why not? And how about your major annual sales event? Are customers and other external partners invited? If not, why? Why should your resellers not receive exactly the same training your own sales people receive, for example.

Do you have a formal customer feedback system?

Does your company have a formal list of improvements that customers have requested based on some form of scientific research? If not, any improvement work is likely to be rather random. Most companies have surveys and other feedback systems in place. However few have a process for agreeing and funding what should be done with the results.

Leaders don’t talk about customer experience. What should I do?

Find out who manages their websites, prepares their presentations and otherwise works on their communication material. Give them the results of the customer research. Provide interesting content about improvements that have been made for customers. Write up personal interest stories about people who have gone ‘above and beyond the call of duty’ to help customers. Don’t be a bystander. Take the lead yourself.

Remember to combine the emotional and the rational

I spent years talking about customer experience in a particular way before noticing that I was putting some people in my audiences to sleep. I spoke in terms of percentages of this and that, numbers of escalations, customer complaints that had been resolved, an Account Loyalty Index, and indeed Net Promoter Scores. All very rational. However, when you are in front of an internal audience, talking about customer experience trends, the people in the audience will make up their minds within the first minute. They will jump to an immediate conclusion, based on intuition and emotion. They will have decided what is important long before you present actual data. No matter what the data, it will then be difficult to change their initial emotional reaction. Don’t let this happen! Create the emotion for them, right at the start.

Make it personal

The simplest approach is to start by talking about a single individual customer situation that encapsulates your overall message. Let’s suppose your company provides ambulance services. Your traditional customer experience messaging may talk about response time, number of paramedics available after midnight, cardiac arrest survival rates, and so on. Tables of data. I am not suggesting you should not present that data. I am just suggesting you should start the presentation differently. Let’s suppose response time is the primary challenge that appears in your research. Start with a photo of a family, with one person missing. The caption is “This is Frank Muller’s family. We were five minutes too late to save Frank.” I guarantee you will have full audience attention for the rest of your presentation.

How to ensure ongoing support for your work

If I were to pick a single thing, it would be to demonstrate continuous progress. Agree a set of three to five initiatives. Demonstrate progress on each at least every one or two months. The progress has to be worth the effort.

Can a customer-centric culture always be achieved?

Dunce customers

The simple answer is no. Some CEOs and leadership teams don’t actually care. They believe it is sufficient to have a great product or service. That may work for them in the short term. If you find yourself working for such a CEO, you should probably change jobs. Otherwise, I hope some of the hints I have provided here will help you on your journey.