Numerous research reports point to customer centricity as a key objective for many companies as they head into 2012. However, this will be a difficult path for many companies that still need to make their corporate cultures more customer centric, says Brian Solis, author of The End Of Business As Usual, a new book that examines the changing consumer landscape, its impact on business, and what companies can do to adapt to and lead the consumer revolution.
"While every business believes that getting closer to the customer is a top priority heading into 2012, we're just not seeing a change in the infrastructure or supporting metrics or rewards systems," says Solis. Becoming a customer-centric organization "requires an intentional cultivated culture of customer centricity," says Solis. This means empowering customer-facing employees to engage with customers beyond the call center and creating a team that addresses customers proactively to create and steer positive experiences.
"We must think beyond a reactionary position," says Solis.
As customers use multiple channels to connect with companies, they also have little patience with companies that can't resolve their issues quickly. Customers expect seamless experiences across all channels. This includes the expectations customers have in dealing with a company employee--they expect employees to know who they are, their history with the company, and they want to interact with employees who ostensibly care about their needs.
Leading companies "that have really broken through are creating cultures where employees really can fulfill customer loyalty," says Rob Markey, head of the global customer strategy practice at Bain & Company. Not just customer-facing employees but also product and marketing managers, says Markey.
Product and marketing leaders "set that as not only a clearly-stated objective but as something they demonstrate through their leadership, coaching, and the feedback they provide to employees every day," says Markey, co-author of the book,The Ultimate Question 2.0, with Bain & Company Fellow Fred Reichheld. These actions function as a sort of "GPS" that provides employees with a sense of direction and purpose and which way to turn should they go off course, says Markey.
"They're arming their employees with a clearer sense of mission and a freedom to pursue it and innovate and create on their own," says Markey.
Providing employees with some level of autonomy for decision-making is important for several reasons. For starters, it demonstrates to employees that management has confidence in their ability to make the right decisions on behalf of customers and the company. Endowing staff with a level of independence gives employees a greater sense of connection to the company, says Don Peppers, founding partner at Peppers & Rogers Group.
This starts with properly engaging and incentivizing employees to deliver their best efforts for customers. "Companies with engaged employees will have happier, more satisfied customers," says Peppers.
The empowered employee can also strengthen customer relationships, particularly when a customer needs an issue to be resolved quickly and a customer agent doesn't have to put the customer on hold while they're seeking approval from their supervisor.
JetBlue, Apple, Charles Schwab, and Intuit are examples of companies that have succeeded in developing strong customer-centric organizations. They've done so by creating a "sense and respond" type of approach to customers that's agile and drives long-term improvement, says Markey. Their use of Net Promoter Score (a customer's likelihood to recommend a company or product), which Bain helped develop, is at the heart of these efforts.
"In some of these places, (companies) have unlocked creativity and productivity to new levels and at the same time earning significantly more customer loyalty," Markey adds.
Solis agrees, saying that NPS "is certainly the standard" for how businesses are making correlations between employee engagement and customer loyalty.
In the end, it's about the importance for businesses to adapt to the needs of customers and get out in front of their experiences. Says Solis, "Learning about customers' needs, behavior, experiences, and aligning internal processes, systems, and metrics around the connected consumer will help business build more effective and meaningful relationships with all customers moving forward."
Where is your company on its journey to customer-centricity?