Steps (2)

Where do you see yourself in two years’ time? And what’s more, where do you see your company? You may think you’re doing fine, but we have some worrying news. Our latest report, ‘Two Years’ Warning: The Customer Centricity Crisis’, reveals that three quarters of business leaders believe their company won’t survive beyond the next two years unless they put more focus on their customers. Yet nearly half admit that they have “more important business issues to focus on”.

This clearly isn’t good enough. Senior decision makers understand the importance of creating a customer centric culture, but talking about it is only the first step; they must now realise that customer centricity is today’s key battleground – and get ready to fight on every front.

Working against the clock

In a world where customer choices can make or break organisations, it’s crucial that employees put them at the centre of the business agenda. As a business grows, it can feel increasingly difficult to maintain this focus. Only by creating a culture in which every employee feels empowered to put the customer first – which means looking at every aspect of the operation to ensure it drives the right ways of working and behaviours which will enhance the customer experience ­­– can businesses get it right.

When it comes to the focus of an organisation’s Board, 54% named the customer as the biggest topic of conversation. Good. But we found just 3% spend the most time discussing employees – even though it’s those individuals who play the vital role in the interactions with customers. A third of leaders also admit that they don’t trust their teams to do the right thing by customers – how can employees really thrive when faced with this lack of faith?

The age old problem

With employees at the coalface, it’s time for leaders to recognise that employees know as much, if not more, about the wants and needs of customers than those at the top. However, we found senior managers are far more likely to be asked to share their insights (86%) than their junior colleagues (56%) who are often dealing with customers every day. In fact, fewer than half (43%) are confident they wouldn’t be reprimanded if they contradicted policy to make a decision in a customer’s interest.

We know that the key holders to success are those employees who feel ownership and understand the journey the company is on. As it stands, too many employees are not being involved in decision-making and are not fully enabled to put customers first and foremost.

Six steps at a time

While it should be the responsibility of every employee to help embed customer centricity, it is up to leaders to set the agenda and implement these crucial changes – and quickly. Confusion around an organisation’s raison d'être and ambition for the future can negatively affect the morale, performance and behaviour of employees, creating an introspective organisation. Developing a consistent, positive and aligned message is vital for a future-looking business.

In order to execute this necessary change, there are six key steps you might want to explore in your own organisation:

  1. Craft a clear and emotionally compelling business story with the customer at its heart. Employees must know where the business wants to go if they are to help it achieve these goals. The business story needs to be defined, articulated, written down, and told across the business. This way, every employee understands what ‘focusing on the customer’ really means for the company, and the part they can play.
  2. Ensure leaders are championing the journey. Whilst middle managers are crucial to embedding customer centricity, change cannot happen without inspiring figureheads who personify the values of the company. What leaders think, say and do creates an underlying story in every organisation – and that story influences how employees act and behave each and every day.
  3. Identify and share emotionally moving stories that demonstrate the real consequences of the business’ actions on customers. It can be difficult for employees to directly link their everyday working practices to the end user. Real stories told in a compelling way help employees to understand how their every action has an impact.
  4. Inspire and empower employees to act. By understanding what a ‘good’ customer experience really looks like and entails, they’ll be able to recognise this and work it into their own behaviours. Identify ‘role model’ employees or champions to set the tone for the rest of the company, positioning them as the heroes of the business’ story – with clear paths for all employees to follow suit.
  5. Plan for, create and celebrate belief-building stories of success that demonstrate how customer-centric behaviours drive the business forward. Without concrete evidence of genuine change as it happens, it can sometimes appear to employees that it’s just not possible to change. Highlight and celebrate quick wins, progress and examples of best practice as often as you can.
  6. Listen to the stories of what’s stopping the workforce from reaching their customer-centric goals, and share experiences of how other colleagues have overcome these obstacles. Rather than letting business processes become hurdles to a great customer experience, adapt or build the skills, structures and systems that empower employees to overcome these challenges – together.
With both giants and disrupters jostling for market share, we can’t expect customers to stay loyal to one brand without good reason. In a competitive and saturated marketplace, employees are the key differentiators that drive competitive advantage. It’s up to you to enable them to act, break down the barriers holding you back, and create change now. There’s no time like the present.

By Alison Esse, co-founder and director of culture change consultancy The Storytellers