Building a Customer First Culture: Three Things You Must Do

on January 28, 2018

Research shows that consumers make 70% of their purchases based on how they’re treated. And – scarily for you – they’re more than twice as likely to share stories (and video!) of a bad experience than they are a good one. So, let’s be real. Every interaction with a customer or prospective customer is an opportunity to succeed or fail… to create a brand fan or an absolute nightmare. With endless options for products and services, instant access to information, and the power to share their opinions more widely than ever, the customer is almighty. The best companies embrace this new breed of buyer –supporting them with free shipping both ways, 24/7 live customer service, or crowdsourced product input to ensure the voice of the customer is being heard. But what else are these leaders doing to win the hearts and minds of consumers? What can we learn from their initiative, enterprising nature, and ultimately, their focus on creating customers for life?

“Customer-first culture” means something different to every organization based on priorities and differentiators. The key is to clearly define what YOUR version of being “customer first” looks like and then adjust or create processes, operations, culture, and behaviors that bring that to life. Leaders, managers and front line employees all have role in building this kind of culture and achieving the results it promises but it’s your job to prepare them for success. Here’s some hard-won insight on how to do it across all levels of your organization.

1. Define the customer-first culture and set everyone up to live it with gusto!

What do customer centricity and loyalty mean to you? Take a close look at what’s happening in the marketplace and in your business. What do customers want? How are you delivering? Is your front-line prepared and equipped to make the customer-focused decisions that will achieve your goals? Do you have the processes and thinking in place to set everyone up for success? Here are some things to consider doing now:

  • Identify what things are standing in the way of creating and living a customer-first culture – do they vary by store, hotel, or region?
  • Eliminate the silos between stores, online/.com presences, and contact centers, enabling everyone to deliver a consistent customer experience
  • Put words to what your desired culture looks and acts like – be specific about how you’ll work together to deliver a great customer experience
  • Develop a “story” with big-picture visuals – this helps the whole organization understand the brand promise and see what the optimal customer experience looks like and how they play a role in making it happen
  • Invest in developing manager and front line employee skills and knowledge so they have what they need to deliver on your customer-first culture
  • Show the different functions in the organization how to work together to make operational, process, or behavior changes that prioritize the customer
  • Share what’s working, be transparent about the challenges, and reinforce best practices for moving forward

2. Managers need to act like owners

Inspiring your managers to act as owners empowers them to make good decisions that support the strategic customer-first priorities of your business. Do you understand what the best managers do to engage their teams and drive results? Help your managers be successful by investing in what motivates them and allows them to build leadership capabilities. Here are a few things you should be helping your managers with as you evolve toward a greater customer-first existence:

  • Managers need to know their role. These people are the key link between senior leaders and the front line and they need to understand just how important that position is in the grand scheme of things.
  • They must know and embrace the customer-focused strategy as it relates to your brand. Your company is unique for myriad reasons and that makes the way you treat customers unique.
  • Managers are the ones who can convey how your specific customer experience vision and goals works to your front line, who are the actual delivery people for that make it happen.
  • As the previous point touches on, mangers connect their teams to the strategy and drive results. But don’t assume they know how to do that. Engage them, coach them, open a dialogue about how to act like you – like an owner. And give them examples of what works so they have a model to emulate, practice, and fine-tune.
  • Develop guides for fostering ongoing conversations about the journey to becoming a customer-first organization
  • Drive ownership of the team’s results with tools like Customer Experience Scoreboards
  • Always be open to feedback so managers can provide insight on what’s working, what’s not and how you can continue improving on the customer experience you deliver

3. Individual contributors need to create authentic customer experiences

Does your front line understand your brand promise? Do they behave in a way that supports your customer-first culture? Everyone’s got to be connected to the strategy – knowing how they can personally make a difference every time they interact with a customer, no matter their title, shift, or location. Consistency is key. As new initiatives (sales, promotions, product rollouts, changes in how customers are greeted) are handed to the front line, leaders need to help them prioritize where they should focus their efforts. Here’s how your employees can deliver an authentic experience that embodies your idea of a customer-first culture:

  • Make sure every individual contributor has the skills and knowledge needed to deliver on the vision
  • Engage employees in the company’s big-picture approach to customer experience, helping them understand their roles with visual tools like drawings, maps, and videos
  • Build employees’ sales and service skills, including point of sale, merchandising, and others that apply to your organization
  • Ensure they have easy references and tools for doing their jobs well
  • Set clear service standards and guide employees about how to make tradeoffs and decisions in the moment
  • Prepare them to anticipate customer needs so they can exceed expectations

You know the old adage all too well… you only get one chance to make a great first impression. This is never truer than when it comes to your customers’ experiences with your business. Creating a customer-first culture that everyone in the organization can embrace and live makes all the difference in how your brand is perceived and applauded. When you engage employees at every level, providing the big-picture vision and helping them recognize the behaviors, processes, and operations that will enable them to execute that vision, you’ll be best positioned to win.

What does YOUR customer-first culture look like?

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