Three Imperatives for Creating a Customer-First Culture

Employee Engagement
Employee Engagement
The first step in creating a winning customer experience is to create a customer-first culture. Here are three action items for getting started.

Today's consumers are smart. They have more power than they ever have had before and they know it. With the ability to make or break a product and a brand's reputation with one simple tweetor Facebook message that could go viral instantly. If your company is consumer-facing, you need to create a customer experience that leads to customers for life. It may come as a surprise but only 20 percent of organizations have a well-developed customer experience strategy, while 58 percent have a strategy in development. In many cases, organizations are unable to bring their customer experience strategy to life due in part to unaligned leadership teams, managers who are not empowered to make decisions in regards to the execution, andfrontlinerepresentatives who are bombarded with conflicting priorities and policies that can prevent them from delivering an authentic customer experience. This can often times lead to difficulty in changing to support the customer experience.

The first step in creating a winning customer experience is to create a customer-first culture that breathes life into the experience and places it at the heart of your company brand. You become an organization that truly believes in the experience you are promising-your customer is number one and everyone at every level understands how they contribute.

It all starts with senior leadership.

As with any new strategy or program, the senior leadership team needs to build clarity and alignment around how their organization defines customer centricity and loyalty. To do this, it is paramount to examine the realities of what is happening in the marketplace and internally in the business to make better customer-focused decisions that the frontline can execute. Once you have consensus about your priorities as an organization, you can design and augment processes with the frontline in mind, enabling everyone to deliver a consistent customer experience. Keys to success:

  1. Identify the barriers inhibiting a customer-first culture. Define your desired culture, specifying "how we work together" to deliver a great customer experience.
  2. Develop a "story" with big-picture visuals that help the whole organization better understand the brand promise and what illustrates the optimal customer experience and people's delivery roles within that experience.
  3. Address the barriers between functions by making operational, process, or behavior changes, and ensure each prioritizes the customer.
  4. Share what's working, be transparent about organizational challenges, and reinforce best practices for moving forward.

Manages need to act as owners.

There is a manager capability gap. They are the linchpins for change and they aren't leading and coaching as needed. Managers need to have the why, the what, and the how of the corporate strategy and brand or else they can't successfully translate it for the front line. All of this impacts levels of employee engagement and there are direct correlations between employee engagement and high levels of customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Inspire your managers to act as owners, which will empower them to make good decisions that support the strategic customer-first priorities of your business. Here is how you can do that:

  1. Ensure people have the leadership and coaching skills they need to act as owners.
  2. Identify and communicate "bright spots" of what the best managers are doing to drive the customer and employee experience.
  3. Showcase what your best managers are doing and how others can adopt and emulate those same behaviors.
  4. Underscore the importance of leadership and manager transparency around key measures and drive ownership of the results of the entire team.
  5. Develop guides for fostering ongoing conversations about the journey to becoming a customer-first organization.
  6. Implement feedback loops so managers can provide insight on how well initiatives are working and ways to optimize the customer experience.

Individual contributors need to create authentic customer experiences.

It's imperative to connect everyone to the strategy. Let them know they can personally make a difference every time they interact with a customer, no matter their title, shift, or location. Consistency is key. As new initiatives are handed down to the front line, leaders must help them prioritize where they should focus their efforts. Delivering an authentic experience in which the individual embodies the customer-first culture makes the biggest impact on customer loyalty. Things to remember:

  1. Make sure every individual contributor has the skills and knowledge needed to deliver on the customer-first vision. Inspire people to see what is possible.
  2. Engage employees in the company's big-picture approach to customer experience, helping them understand their roles with visual tools.
  3. Ensure employees have easy references and tools for delivery on their jobs.
  4. Prepare them to anticipate customer needs in order to exceed expectations.

You only get one chance to make a great first impression. This is never truer than with regard to your customers' experiences with your business. Creating a customer-first culture that is embodied across your entire organization makes all the difference in how your brand is perceived and applauded.