Gestalt: Cultivating a customer-first culture for success
by Leeya Hendricks (@LeeyaHendricks) Customer-centricity is a long-standing goal and claim of organisations across the board. Many understand that it is first and foremost a cultural issue, and they value the central role of employees in achieving it. Yet few have truly mastered it. They proclaim the customer king but fail to create the culture that make their customers feel valued at every touchpoint and, in the process, fall further and further behind competitors that have solved the problem.
So, what are the blockages keeping organisations from actually manifesting customer-centricity, not merely strategising about it? Conversely, what are the success factors of those that have attained it?
Strategic navel-gazing vs cultural context
Problems frequently arise when organisations are too entangled in strategy and not enough in fostering the appropriate culture to support the implementation of its strategies. That is to say, culture is given lip service in vision and mission statements but, when it comes to employee behaviour — the very expression of an organisation’s cultural identity — the values and principles it wants to promote are given short shrift.
As a result, strategy can’t be implemented successfully, and such organisations should start thinking about getting everyone singing off the same hymn sheet and working towards the same customer-centric goals.
Where failure in execution starts
A few examples illustrate how closely the successful fulfilment of organisational strategy hinges on culture, and how important it is to inculcate organisational values and behaviours into all employees from the start.
Take project implementation: If the various task owners in a large project are allowed to pull off in different directions because KPIs aren’t mapped to customer-focused objectives, the project goals can’t possibly be realised.
Or data: We may have more customer data now than ever before but, without the shared inclination to want to understand the data and use it to best customer-supporting effect, it can’t inform the organisation’s goals or its attainment of them.
How it flows
So how may a customer-focused strategy successfully be infused into culture?
The only way for culture to flow through the organisation is for the board and executive to drive home the values and principles that made the organisation a force to be reckoned with in the first place.
This must start at recruitment, continue with induction and be repeated often afterwards, to keep creating and refining the organisational DNA that will determine its success. When this succeeds, adherents are made, who become the strategy’s best exemplars and advocates.
But even before your first employee is recruited, the board’s mindset has to be right. It’s a great responsibility. Employees are aspirational and emulate the top team’s behaviours. And if that’s the case, they may as well be shown the desired behaviours!
To this end, leading organisations develop leadership behaviours and employee competencies which embody their brand values and are linked to customer needs. Exhibiting those behaviours and competencies right at the top and cultivating them lower down ensure the organisation and its employees live and breathe customer-centricity.
Boards and executive teams further regularly assess whether their behaviours align with the organisation’s original customer-first brand vision. This, in turn, is encouraged across the organisation to ensure the continuing development of a truly customer-oriented culture.
Listen and do
With or without a customer-centric culture, many companies take the opportunity to listen to their customers by carrying out customer-satisfaction surveys. They have few qualms about approving a budget for these, as it allows them to assess the organisation’s performance along key customer touchpoints, but many then balk at investing more time and money on improvements, citing a “lack of resources”.
This can’t be a cynical ploy to pull the wool over shareholders’ eyes — at least not one with much survivability. Instead it often points to a misalignment between the company’s desire to be customer-focused and a culture that is lacking in the behaviours and competencies that support this.
In bridging the gap between listening to customers’ desires and delivering on those desires lies enormous opportunity. More focus should fall on functional strategies and capabilities within marketing and customer care to remediate an excessive focus on strategy and theory, and to start co-creating a customer-first culture for success.
Leeya Hendricks (@LeeyaHendricks) is a designated chartered marketer, global marketing strategist, digital driver and a Women in Tech leader. She holds a BA degree in fine arts, a BA honours degree in brand marketing management and is currently completing her MBA. She is now director of customer first marketing at ORACLE UKI, responsible for driving customer success through customer advocacy, and building strategic partnerships focused on emerging technology and the changed customers’ buying behaviour. Leeya contributes the monthly column “Gestalt”, about putting customer first for sustainable business success, to Marklives.
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