Your culture = your brand: Five steps to become customer-obsessed

Strategy Your culture = your brand: Five steps to become customer-obsessed

It’s hard to believe that it’s been four years since the “Age of the Customer” became part of our daily business vocabulary, describing the vital importance of the empowered customer. However, with all the focus on customer experience (CX) these days, it’s amazing how often companies are falling short on the one foundational element that matters the most—their culture.

It can feel overwhelming to think about how to drive a culture of customer-obsession across every business unit within a large organization. Where do you even start? One radical example at Zappos (among many) of ensuring a good culture fit is offering new employees $2,000 to resign after the first week of training.[i] That tactic probably won't work for too many companies, so let’s look at some other options.

In our work helping clients drive their teams to think more “outside in,” we’ve found several meaningful actions that can help empower employees and jump-start a customer-focused culture. Here are our top five favorites that you can implement immediately.

1. Establish an executive-level CX steering committee

Changing your corporate culture is not easy, and the ship—no matter how large—can only be turned if leadership is on the same page about the importance of customer obsession. All aspects of your company and all employees play a part in the experience you offer your customers. Your company’s leadership needs to set the example of spending time on and expecting outcomes from this crucial topic.

“Insist the steering committee be comprised of senior executives,” writes Forrester analyst, Sam Stern, “These senior leaders can either align the entire organization behind your CX vision, or doom it to obscurity with their indifference.”[ii]

Without highly visible support and accountability from the top, the individual initiatives in divisions or silos will never gain the kind of traction they need to make real change. After the steering committee agrees to and socializes a shared vision of the desired customer experience, the executives should work with their teams to form action plans and road maps to make the vision a reality.

2. Do more than just listen – talk with your customers

Almost every company these days gathers customer feedback via several sources, usually through some combination of formal CSAT surveys, call centers, digital experience feedback from surveys or incoming email, and/or customer service calls.

There is value to be gained, though, in classic one-on-one conversation with a customer, in addition to quantitative survey data and qualitative, free form text boxes. Interviews and ethnographic research bring richness in detail and deep understanding of intent that are hard to get via other methods of research and feedback.

The global brand LEGO® attributes much of its financial success in recent years to the ongoing methods by which they gather customer insight. “My team spends all our time traveling around the world, talking to kids and their families, and participating in their daily lives,” says Anne Flemmert Jensen, senior director, global insights, early innovation and trends, at LEGO Group. [iii]

Ideally, a customer advisory panel develops into an ongoing relationship with a regular cadence of communication. These panel members are ideal candidates to engage with in the co-creation of new experiences, products and services.

3. Display customer insights to foster empathy and an emotional connection

Personas and customer journey maps are table stakes these days, but they're nearly worthless if they aren't socialized in your company. All your employees need to see your customers as real live human beings. In lieu of having actual customers sit in your office every day (can you imagine!) the next best thing is to bring customer artifacts into your physical environment. Or at least into the purview of your employees.

Immersive persona-focused space at Everence

Some companies hang large format posters of their personas or real customers in the cafeteria. Others devote physical space to customer-focused activities and artifacts. Examples include interviews and research, customer-focused hackathons and kiosks including audio and video of real customers in their journey with the brand.

Everence, a financial services company in Indiana, is in the process of devoting physical space to each of their customer personas. The plan is to outfit “Maria’s” room or space with artifacts, furniture, artwork and ideas that are representative of the kinds of items that might surround a real-life “Maria.” Think of it as a large-scale persona “mood board” – an immersive experience for all Everence employees to visit.

If physical space is at a premium, digital tools can bring your customers’ experiences to life. Prezi is a presentation tool that can communicate a customer's experience in a more interactive and compelling way than a traditional linear slideshow. Prezi recently sponsored a scientific experiment to research: Does a presentation’s medium affect its message? (Yes, this study was sponsored in part by Prezi, however it strictly adheres to the scientific method, and it’s a really interesting read.) Imagine the difference in impact between telling a colleague “our customers interact with us way too much about money and payments” and having them experience an interactive year-long timeline that visualizes and tallies all the financial touch points, accompanied with audio recordings from real, frustrated, customers who are calling in for clarity on confusing billing topics.

4. Focus on digital; not “millennials”

Since the term “millennial” was coined, its definition has evolved from “someone who reached young adulthood in the early part of this century” into a broader definition that can give marketers the impression that the only people who use digital devices in all aspects of their lives are the members of this generation.

Another term worth discussing is "Generation C" which was defined by digital analyst Brian Solis in 2012 as the “Connected Consumer.” In the article, Move over, Millennials: 5 things you need to know about Generation C, [iv] Ryan Holmes, CEO at Hootsuite suggests that Generation C is not an age group, it’s a mindset.

“Generation C lives on digital media. Television, print, radio... it's all an afterthought, if that. They move seamlessly from laptop to tablet to smartphone, connected every waking minute, often on multiple platforms. More important than what devices Gen C are using, however, is how they're using them: as tools for participation, not passive consumption.”

“But all too often, we ascribe these traits just to Millennials. The Gen C concept is useful because it does away with these arbitrary age brackets… The digital transformation--and all the cultural changes that have accompanied this upswing in connectivity--has cut across traditional demographics.”

By all means, there are life events that are unique to the demographic as it relates to age, so don’t throw your millennial persona in the trash. Just make sure that when you’re talking about digitally-led audiences, you’re not confusing that with an out-of-date, age-driven stereotype.

5. Design informal and frequent ways to engage all your employees

In an industry that is highly regulated, financial services organizations can be a bit change-averse. Not so with our partners at Everence, who, two years ago, took the first steps toward thinking outside-in, becoming customer-obsessed, and leading their evolution with a digital strategy.

Kicking off a series of initiatives to foster innovation and engagement, Everence sent out an employee survey to have a benchmark to measure against down the line. They then started several new/adapted programs to reinforce engagement across the company, including more informal ways for employees to opt in and participate:

  • Company-wide education on customer experience, digital experience, personas, journeymaps, etc – through a series of lunch and learns, their Innovation group has presented artifacts, initiatives, terms, and process, so that the whole company is using the same vocabulary and they understand the context around the work that’s being done.
  • Inclusive workshops around customer topics – all employees were invited to participate in the first persona brainstorm earlier this year. After refreshing their memories on the Maria persona, employees were asked open-ended questions to get them thinking about Maria. The variety and specificity of answers are a testament to the creativity of the individuals and the true humanizing of the Maria persona that occurred in their minds.
An activity at Everence that encourages employee engagement
  • Asynchronous brainstorming on all kinds of customer-focused topics. Everence now invites company-wide, real-world and digital participation in answering questions and building off others’ responses. Armed with Post-Its and a pens employees can ask questions on a wall in the cafeteria and other employees are invited to add their ideas. Employees in the field aren’t left out, either; they can participate by using a great digital whiteboarding tool called “Boardthing.”
  • Encouraging desired behavior with acknowledgement – Everence corporate values set the standards in service to their customers, and the Innovation team launched a program by which any employee can acknowledge a colleague for personifying one of the five CX-focused values. The employee that was witnessed “living the value” is then acknowledged along with his/her supervisor.
  • Encouraging innovation – Everence is in the process of revamping a program that solicits ideas from all employees. The ideas can be about any topic – tools, process, product specifications, customer experience – any aspect of the business. The one key is that the submission needs to be clear in how the idea relates to Everence areas of focus to improve the business. The Innovation team seriously vets all ideas, weighing impact and effort, to potentially place the idea on the roadmap of greenlit initiatives.

Regardless of the specifics of any program designed to encourage participation, the key to the Innovation team realizing engagement is the commitment to ongoing communication, reinforcement of the values and goals and follow-up whenever any individual goes out of their way to be involved.

There you have it. Five ways you can get started today in evolving your company’s culture to be more centered around your customers. Let us know what works at your company – as well as what kind of barriers you have in being customer-obsessed in the comments below.

[i] “Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh explains why 18% of employees quit during the company's radical management experiment” http://www.businessinsider.com/zappos-ceo-tony-hsieh-on-holacracy-transition-2016-1

[ii] “Executive Steering Committees: Critical For CX Transformation Success” authored by Sam Stern, and published by Forrester Research on March 1, 2017. https://www.forrester.com/report/Executive+Steering+Committees+Critical+For+CX+Transformation+Success/-/E-RES113448

[iii] “Companies That Thrive During Tough Times Share These Traits” http://www.cmo.com/features/articles/2017/6/20/companies-that-thrive-in-todays-tough-times-share-3-traits.html#gs.Vo1ez4k

[iv] “Move Over, Millennials: 5 Things You Need to Know About Generation C” https://www.inc.com/ryan-holmes/move-over-millennials-5-things-you-need-to-know-about-generation-c.html

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