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How to create a customer centric culture

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In today’s changing competitive environment, customer centricity is not aspirational – it’s essential. Achieving a genuinely customer centred organisation isn’t easy, but with the right strategic approach, tools and support, any business can get there, regardless of their size.

Personalisation and mobilisation are just two of the global megatrends identified recently by the CSIRO as impacting every organisation over the next decade. These two trends will drive fundamental changes in behaviour, tipping the scales for customers to be even more discerning, educated and demanding than they are today. We predict organisations will experience even greater challenges in the quest to build brand loyalty and sustainable customer relationships.

In such a dynamic marketplace, customer centric businesses will thrive. While others struggle, they will retain and grow customers by delivering on-target solutions that satisfy their customers’ expectations every time.

What does customer centricity mean?

Put simply, creating a customer centric culture is all about understanding your brand value and delivering it consistently to customers. This does not mean doing everything customers want. It means focusing on what they value most, in line with your overall business strategy and brand promise. For example, the most important thing for a budget airline customer is price. While passengers might like extra leg room, they don’t want it at the expense of low airfares.

Many elements make up the customer centricity journey, and every business is at a different stage. So to start, you must define what being customer centric means for your business and investigate how well you are meeting your customers’ expectations. It is often found there is a large gap between the two.

It is a fact that many businesses believe they are delighting customers when their culture and systems are designed to disappoint them. In a global survey by the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council, 56 percent of companies described themselves as customer centric. Only 12 percent of their customers agreed. It is therefore necessary for small to medium businesses to focus on customer experience to help close the gap.
How-to create a customer centric culture

1. Have a clear, customer-centred vision

Redesigning your organisation to put customers at the centre of every business decision can be challenging, especially for big businesses that are product-focused, highly diversified or change-resistant. This is where small businesses have the upper hand; they can be agile and adaptable to changing customer expectations.

Businesses have often tried and failed. Some have addressed the issue from a cultural standpoint; others have revised their strategy and execution. Both approaches have flaws: they either lack the essential customer perspective or they neglect the people element. Some organisations fail to understand that to build a customer centric company, you don’t work from the inside out, you work from the outside in. In other words, your starting point shouldn’t be your business strategy, or your processes, or even your people – it should be your customers.

2. Know your customers needs and expectations

Any small business can follow a holistic, multi-disciplinary approach by first mapping your customer’s journey. Only then can you work with your people to align your whole business with the goal of improving customer experience.

3. Clearly communicate the importance of customer centric behaviour to every employee

Whilst every approach to customer centricity must include a robust review of your strategy, operating model, technologies, processes, and policies, the key to true success will be your people. A business must go beyond the strategy and process elements that many organisations focus on – it must also work across several important human capital levers. These include organisational change management, leadership and mind-set solutions, and customer-focused development programs, reward systems and internal communications. By the end of implementing this strategy, every individual must understand the role they play in delivering your customer service vision and the behaviours they need to model.

4. Make every business decision in alignment with the vision

A customer service approach should be dynamic, interactive and ROI driven. It must also be challenging and sometimes uncomfortable. Customer expectations should be met at every interaction with a consistency of service delivery and experience. In return, the outcome is a more customer centric organisation, with a measurable and sustainable improvement in customer satisfaction, employee engagement and sales results.

Case study: Putting customers first leads to increased revenues

An Australian member services organisation recently embarked on a project to improve the service experience of their customer base. The business worked to devise, pilot and implement a comprehensive customer centricity framework for their call centre. Just eight months into the program, the first pilot business reports identifies that customer satisfaction has improved significantly and sales are more than $2M above target.

The solution was weighted around how customer needs were likely to change over the coming decade; the subsequent impact on the business; and how they could meet these challenges. The organisation was vulnerable to increased competition, yet research identified several growth opportunities. The most notable of these were: to get to know their customers better, increase brand awareness and standardise the customer experience across its diverse business.

The business knew where it wanted to go, but needed help to get there. Firstly, the company engaged an external party to immerse themselves in their service culture from both sides – customers and front line staff. Off the back of this research, they then implemented a multi-dimensional solution encompassing: strategy, culture, core behaviours, leadership capabilities, processes, support tools, and metrics. This solution was cleverly branded in order to generate awareness, excitement and engagement within the business.

A key element was mind-set shifts and lasting behaviour change. While recent acquisitions had introduced new products and services to their portfolio, they had led to inconsistencies in service levels and values. A new, whole-of-organisation customer experience vision and a core set of skills had to be identified upfront. As part of the initiative, a series of interactive behavioural transformation programs were devised and delivered to ensure each program was tailored to the needs of everyone in the organisation.

The solution was initially piloted and a comprehensive ROI study was used before, during and after the program to measure the outcomes. The key results from the sales centre eight months into the program included: sales revenue targets exceeded by $2.4M, 110 percent increase in up-sell and cross-sell transactions and  customer service KPIs exceeded by 4.6 percent. All key metrics are continuing to trend upwards, indicating that they are sustainable.

Checklist for a customer centric organisation:

· Map customer journey and lifecycle

· Refine operating model  to enable customer centricity

· Align technologies and processes to support and drive customer engagement

· Engage executives and leaders

· Focus development around target areas and behaviour change

· Integrate disparate business unit cultures

· Transform culture top to bottom

· Measure change using key metrics

· Incorporate customer feedback into processes and behaviours

– Vanessa Gavan is the managing director of Maximus International. For over 15 years, Gavan has consulted to a range of leading Australian and international organisation to enhance business strategies, improve executive leadership capability, redesign organisation structures and deliver operational performance solutions. Maximus is celebrating its 10th birthday this year, and Gavan and her team are on the journey to become the first consultancy in the market to fundamentally integrate the total spectrum of people, leadership and culture solutions into core business strategy and transformation.

  • http://www.directionstech.com.au April Neylan

    Interesting article, thanks! I always enjoy reading this blog.

  • http://blog.marcbinkley.ca/ Marc Binkley

    Vanessa, this is great. I’ve recently been digging into what differentiates brands from one another and salespeople from the herd. The conclusion that I’ve come to is that the many organizations focus on themselves first before customers.

    We need sales! We need to move product! We need to increase our market share! are all common war chants in the halls of these organizations. Organizations often think that since they’ve got a supply of widgets, they can create market demand for their products This supply and demand model is backwards.

    The demand isn’t determined by the organization with the widgets, it’s determined by the customers in the marketplace. If the company is able to put the customer’s needs at the center of their business strategy, they’ll be able to understand what the market demand is, then create products to supply it.

    To create a customer-centric model requires a shift in thinking. The shift starts with leaders who must create a culture of open dialogue. By definition, dialogue means both speaking and listening skills are required. It also means that brands need to understand that customers are powerful business partners and should be treated as such rather than as targets.

    Thanks, again – you’ve really got the tiny wheels in my brain turning 🙂

    Marc

  • http://http//www.lumieresolutions.com Deepa Soman

    Thanks Vanessa. Congratulations on Maximus’ 10th anniversary. Found your article very succinct and useful. The relevance of customer centricity only grows with the two megatrends of personalisation and mobilisation. Lumiere is a research and consulting company I set up 16 years ago. We enable organisations big and small to become customer centric.

  • http://www.collegiatetimes.com/stories/20621/rec-sports-party-in-pink-zumba-event-raises-money-for-relay-for-life Lautner

    Hello There. I discovered your blog using msn. That is an extremely well written article.

  • http://www.macinnismarketing.com.au Dan MacInnis

    You wouldn’t think it was that hard to step into your customer shoes and think like them. As Peter Fader points out in his book on customer centricity, at least those customers that are ideal for your product or service. Unfortunately for most businesses, it is a hard task. They are based on a product strategy and so the shift in strategy has huge implications. For a small nimble business it is the real opportunity for a competitive advantage.