Customer centricity has become an important talking point for Fortune 500 leaders. Phrases like “customer first,” “customer driven,” and “customer-obsessed” are used to describe the new corporate vision. It makes sense: Customers should be the central focus for any company. After all, they’re the reason the company exists.
But like any truly transformative change, success requires a clear vision, exceptional strategy, and relentless execution. While many companies would like to create a customer-centric culture, the challenges of undertaking a global transformation often prevent organizations from taking the first step.
I currently work with a customer success software company and have spent over a decade in transformation and sales leadership. I believe the following are some of the common obstacles that many companies face:
* Creating a strong customer-first vision is challenging if companies lack a collaborative customer-first culture and leadership that aligns goals directly to customer value. This means customer-facing teams are often too focused on metrics rather than a holistic approach to the customer experience.
* A good strategy requires good data, but many companies have disparate data sources across internal departmental silos, too much data, or a lack of data altogether. Without the right data, teams can miss opportunities to proactively engage with customers, solve problems early and delight customers with an incredible experience.
* Real-time execution requires the entire company to move in unison. Breakdowns can occur in the process when customer-facing teams are not aligned and communicating across the entire customer life cycle.
While I listed a few, many more obstacles can exist in a large corporation that prevent companies from undertaking a customer-centric transformation. Successful leaders know, however, that they must take action or risk being outpaced by the competition.
Ultimately, the value to the company and to their customers of moving to a customer-centric model will usually far outweigh the initial challenges. Here are a few ideas to help leaders get started:
1. Write down and reinforce your vision for customer centricity.
Mapping the customer life cycle across all customer segments first can be helpful for identifying challenges and opportunities as you’re making the transition. Consider how the company will align with and execute the vision as well as what the additional benefits to your profitability, employees and shareholders should be. To truly achieve this, you’ll need continuous reinforcement, so your vision of customer centricity should be a focal point for internal and external communications. One way to get teams excited about the vision is to host company-wide forums where employees can share their stories about how customer centricity is fueling success in the business. Highlighting these real-world examples regularly can be a powerful reminder of the company vision and reinforce the success team members have achieved through relentless execution.
2. Create a role that is accountable for all things customer.
In larger organizations, this person’s title is often the “chief customer officer” (CCO). This leader should be an expert in transformation and understand how to work cross-functionally to execute a customer-first vision. Often customer-facing post-sales teams like customer success, customer experience and customer operations teams will report to this role.
3. Communicate the mission clearly.
Make sure each of your departmental leaders understands how they and their teams will benefit from the initiative, how they will translate the vision to their respective teams, how they will partner with the CCO’s team and how you’ll measure their success.
4. Smash any silos that prevent the vision from being realized.
Often data is cited as an insurmountable obstacle, but I believe integrating data is possible for almost any company. Relevant customer data should span the customer journey and may exist currently in many different sources, like the CRM, marketing engagement platform, ticketing system, product usage analytics platform or across other proprietary systems. Integrating this customer information in as close to real-time as possible can give your team a clearer understanding of which customers may need attention and where opportunities may exist for expansion.
I believe that one of the biggest challenges with any transformation is organizational resistance to change. As Bryan Walker and Sarah A. Soule noted in the Harvard Business Review (paywall), “Culture change can’t be achieved through top-down mandate. It lives in the collective hearts and habits of people and their shared perception of “how things are done around here.” Someone with authority can demand compliance, but they can’t dictate optimism, trust, conviction or creativity. This means that your leadership team should be committed to selling the benefits of the change and should work to achieve continuous iterative improvement over time as each employee buys into the vision.
To help your leadership team understand what success means to your organization, the CCO should initially establish baseline metrics that reflect the current state of the business and then set clear benchmarks for achievement. The CCO should craft an execution plan that will align each team around their specific achievement goals and provide reports and analyses so leaders can course correct as needed.
In my experience, the most effective process is agile and iterative, meaning that you should begin with a clear plan for success but expect that as your team learns and matures, the metrics will need to change. Businesses aren’t static; markets, customers, and people change, so be prepared to change with them.
5. Know that true customer centricity requires the entire company’s participation, not just that of the customer-facing teams.
It’s important to align all teams and all compensation to reward teams for achieving customer-first results. In addition, publicly rewarding employees who are early adopters through recognition awards can inspire success, build confidence and reinforce the vision. Employee roundtables, town hall meetings and customized employee surveys can help leaders better understand employee perspectives, identify obstacles that teams face, and adjust the strategy as needed to enable greater adoption.
I believe customers and their success should be the central focus for every organization. A vision for customer centricity and relentless dedication to its results can improve revenues, enable collaborative innovation, increase employee happiness and drive greater overall customer satisfaction. Don’t let organizational obstacles prevent you from getting started: Take the first step.
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