Why Many Barriers To Customer Centricity Have Nothing To Do With Customers
By Camille Nicita, President & CEO, Gongos, Inc.
Companies have long been proficient at soliciting customer feedback. And, today they have more behavioral data at their disposal than they know what do with. But how many organizations truly act upon the insights they glean from all of these inputs? According to 2017 Temkin data, despite the fact that 60% say they are doing a good job at soliciting customer feedback, only 38% of firms are doing well at developing actionable insights based on the data and 24% are doing well at making changes to their business accordingly.
So, if they recognize this inaction can stall out growth and innovation, what’s holding them back? The answer frequently lies with internal dynamics. In fact, as the president and CEO of a decision intelligence company focused on customer experience and insights, I’ve found that the barriers to achieving customer centricity often don’t involve the customer at all. Rather, to develop customer centricity into a meaningful strategy, you’ll need focus, discipline and your own system of measurement and rewards.
The Paradox Of Growth
While there is no perfect customer-centric organization, those that excel have done an incredible job of resisting the trap of the paradox of growth. That is, organizations frequently fall victim to their own success. As a company grows, it needs to scale, and infrastructure is necessary to support that growth. But the many functional areas that serve as a buttress don’t directly serve the customer. Hence, their compasses aren’t oriented toward the customer as central to decision making, and an imbalance of priorities can take place.
As this occurs, the once outside-in perspective shifts to inside-out. By the time this hits the frontline, it can manifest into unsatisfactory customer experiences and failure to live up to the organization’s founding principles.
Diagnosing Customer Centricity
Organizations should identify gaps in their beliefs and behaviors and determine how effective they are at operationalizing customer centricity as a unifying strategy for growth. Executives should shed light on areas where their organization may be falling short, such as in their vision, strategy, execution and communication. Often times, engaging in this exercise points out a fundamental flaw: Many executives profess their belief in a customer-centric philosophy, but their actions don’t reflect their intentions.
In completing this process with clients, I’ve noticed that, while organizations are trying to build environments and invigorate employees through customer-centric behaviors, they share common hurdles, including:
- Poor communication channels between levels of the organization — from the C-suite to the frontline, and vice versa
- Confusion over how to affect positive customer experiences and a lack of empowerment of employees to make impactful, customer-centered decisions
- Functional silos that prevent employees from servicing or fully understanding customers because they’re exposed to limited information
Reorienting an entire company to position the customer as its North Star is no easy task. Management guru Peter Drucker sagely said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” which means firms that overlook culture have little chance of enduring success, even if they have a great strategy in place. Being customer-centric is similar — a customer-centered vision is not enough. Leaders should walk the talk of customer centricity by creating an environment in which all employees are empowered to create value for the customer.
When and how employees act on behalf of their customers is shaped by the invisible hand of culture. To facilitate this culture, start with aligning organizational priorities, communications, workstreams and reward systems to reinforce the importance of long-term customer relationships. Cultural transformation begins taking shape when decisions to create reciprocal wins between the company and the customer are both intuitive and celebrated.
Moving The Needle
So, now that we understand the challenge at hand, the question becomes how to operationalize customer centricity. Leaders can address the hurdles of poor communication, confusion, functional silos and employee empowerment in a number of ways:
- Establish and evangelize a common vision. Customer centricity begins when leadership agrees upon and commits to a vision that puts the customer at the center of decision making. All too often, leadership communicates that vision once or twice and expects employees to follow suit. As is common with external communication campaigns, employees need to be exposed to the vision multiple times and in a way that is meaningful and relevant to them, such as at the kick-off of internal initiatives and across company materials. Only then can they advocate for the vision in a way that feels purposeful and authentic to customers.
- Empower your people as your brand promise. A great customer experience is preceded by a great employee experience. And, while you may invest in marketing and communication campaigns, there is no better representation of your brand than your frontline employees. Ensure employees can articulate how they create value for the customer and empower those who embrace your company’s customer-centric vision to go the extra mile with customers. Ensure all employees are not only aware of the customer journey but understand how and where they can most impact the brand promise. Further evangelize and bring the vision to life by developing narratives around bright spots where they are moving the needle.
- Incentivize and reward behaviors along the way: Recognize and celebrate key milestones along the journey to further instill the right behaviors while motivating employees to do the right thing by the customer. Tie key performance metrics to behaviors that fulfill on delivering great experiences to further instill the mindsets necessary to foster a customer-centric culture.
Closing the gap between wanting to be customer-centric and acting in a more customer-centric way won’t simply come from gathering more consumer input or analyzing customer experience and transactional data. To truly differentiate, high-performing organizations can transform customer centricity from a buzz word into a strategy and hold the entire organization accountable for impacting more positive, reciprocal relationships with customers. It’s vital for leaders to remember that behaviors are visible, unlike hidden beliefs. Leading organizations will overcome the obstacles in their way and keep both beliefs and behaviors working harmoniously together.
As published in Forbes.