Customer-Centric Culture

Last week I attended a conference on Enhancing Government Customer service, and it was so interesting to hear from various departments and suppliers about their challenges and ideas for transforming service. It was a universal goal – whether empowering customers through self-service, or shifting organisational attitudes, everyone was focused on putting the customer at the heart of everything.

Last week I attended a conference on Enhancing Government Customer service, and it was interesting to hear from various departments and suppliers about their challenges and ideas for transforming service. It was a universal goal – whether empowering customers through self-service, or shifting organisational attitudes, everyone was focused on putting the customer at the heart of everything.

I found it heart-warming to hear spokespeople from businesses with “captive” customer bases talking about this shift. The inner cynic in us all probably expect that if we don’t have a choice of provider, the provider doesn’t care about us – whether that’s an essential service, a government agency, or the last resort vendor of a product we need. We expect there to be an attitude of, “where else are you going to go”…and that’s not where the organisations want to be at all.

That’s not to say that this is how it’s always been – and one of the consistent queries coming up was around how to make the change from an employee engagement perspective.

I had the opportunity to share a story with the attendees, and it addressed precisely this point; the key lesson that could help others make the great leap from a compliance-based framework to a truly customer centric culture. It made for interesting conversation, so I thought I’d share it here too.

As an outsourcer, we have a potentially complex perspective on the whole “Customer centricity” movement – our customers are both our clients and their end customers. Different areas of our business have to focus on these different customer groups, and with about 20 active clients at any one time each with entirely different customer needs – the whole notion of keeping the customer at the centre of everything can seem remarkably complex when you’re juggling these different perspectives – but with the right culture, it doesn’t have to be.

How do you define customer centricity for your organisation?

When you’re defining your customer centric approach, it’s first important to scope what that actually MEANS for you. Give yourself a few minutes to think through these questions:

  • What is your business – are you a government department, or a sole trader, or a division of a multinational? Are you planning just for your direct area of control, or the business as a whole?
  • Why should the customer be at the centre of everything you do?
  • Why are we talking about this – is it something driven by you, or have you received a target to deliver on?
  • What are your key drivers? What outcomes are you looking for?
  • What are the business objectives that sit behind this focus?
  • Is cost/budget an issue? If it is – what ROI do you need to see to justify the extra spend?
  • Can you answer each of these questions with real clarity?
  • And now – can you explain each of them confidently to your workforce at all levels?

They’re pretty fundamental questions. We spend a lot of time talking to our customers about this, because understanding WHY you want to deliver something is critical. As an outsource partner, our role is to create a direct link between these answers and the outcomes we deliver to the end customer.

This is fundamental to our culture.

We look at customer centricity as a mindset – it means that every person makes decisions with the customer in their head and heart.

  • How does this decision impact the individual customer?
  • What I say next – how does that matter?
  • The process I follow afterward – how will that impact them?
  • Giving them all the info – how will that change their experience today, in a week, etc?

Underpinning this mindset are so many decisions – how does the customer WANT to talk to me – if they want to talk at all? Do they want to chat with me because they’re already on line and they’re busy?

What service does the customer expect – how fast should we answer their calls, or should we offer to call them back? Should we proactively offer them advice on how to make their lives easier or reduce their spend?

Getting the channels right is an important step but behind all of this is the organisational culture that supports the outcome. You can make a decision to change your processes at the corporate level, but it’s actually your frontline team that you’re asking to affect the change.

So how do you get their buy in?

The “WHY” When was the last time you took seven hours of calls or managed three concurrent chats for hours on end, answering the same question time after time? Did you find yourself flagging or losing interest? The energy required to care on every contact about every customer is astronomical, so keeping your team motivated, energised and engaged is crucial. Overlooking getting “buy in” from your team culturally can undermine a process change to customer centricity – but if your team are on board, they can become part of its continuing evolution. Think back to those questions: if you can’t explain these answers to your frontline team (or anyone in the business) – WHY would they make the change? A change that costs more, takes them longer, is harder or more draining for them…WHY would they do it? Particularly in a contact centre environment where the team are balancing the length of their conversations with their compliance processes and their conversion targets and taking their breaks on time – why would they all of a sudden want to go that extra mile? The WHY is more important than the HOW, because the culture enables the process.

What’s in it for me?

This attitude comes very naturally to us, because we’ve operated under an Open Book Management since the day we opened our doors. The three key elements of this philosophy all mirror this need for a “why”:

  • Know and teach people the rules
  • Follow the action and keep score
  • Provide a stake in the outcome.

That very first point – teaching the rules – is the fundamental “why” process. We educate people on the relationship between them, our business, our clients, their customers and our shareholders – and how there’s a symbiotic relationship between us all.

Our team know that delivering an exceptional customer experience on this phone call means loyal customers or growth for our clients, which means stronger relationships with our business, enhancing our shareholder’s confidence and return – and ultimately, increasing job security for them. That’s important – but there’s more to it.

How do you stop people being focused on what their experience is like, and focus on what the customer experience is like? How does that become the heart of everything we do?

Once our team know that there are customer centric measures in place (NPS, customer sat, first call resolution – whichever measure suits), we make sure it’s reflected in their KPIs. While there has to be a commercial balance with other metrics that help our business thrive, it’s imperative that the frontline KPIs marry up with the client level KPIs. If you have a quality target at the individual level, based on a scorecard that’s compliance and script focused – then that is extremely unlikely to deliver the company level NPS results you want. Help that team focus on the goals you want to deliver – once they know why it’s important, don’t distract them with irrelevant KPIs.

Finally, give them a stake in the outcome. Link your reward structure to those critical KPIs.

The final thought I shared in the conference was around revisiting requirements. Knowing what your customer wants right now is great – but that expectation will change, especially as technology changes or your demographic or products change – so too will your customer expectations. Your frontline team will be the first to hear about it, so make sure you’ve got a mechanism in place for them to let you know.

Our top tips

So let me distill that into four key tips that empower a customer centric culture:

  • Have absolute clarity across all levels of the organisation on why the customer should be at the heart of everything you do.
  • Build pride and a “what’s in it for me” for all of your people at every level of the organisation so they become passionate about the customer.
  • Ask your people on the frontline how we can improve things for the customer – they hear this feedback direct from your customer every day, so let them be your eyes and ears.
  • Everyone in the organisation needs to find a way to listen to the customer; the best results we see are where senior stakeholders – right up to CEO – take the time to sit and listen to calls – that way changes happen fast.

It all sounds so simple, but so often we see services that are measuring and managing quality compliance frameworks at the agent level, but trying to deliver an NPS result at the corporate level.

Making the move to customer centricity doesn’t have to be hard.

Your frontline team are passionate, intelligent, powerful people.

There are dozens, or hundreds, or thousands of them. Tell them what change you want to make – and ask them how they think it can be done. Give them the info, give them the challenge, give them a reason to strive for it. Let them help you make the move to customer centricity.

About The Author

Rik Johnson
Rik heads up Stellar’s Intelligent Automation business, where she and her team of digital optimists are building and nurturing bots that bring out the best in people.

Rik has previously worked in product management, solution development, project management and commercial relationship management, and has over 16 years’ operational experience. She’s inherently curious, optimistic and enthusiastic, and brings this energy to each new product or problem she encounters.

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