“You have to hire right, train right, manage right and always work at creating a customer focused culture.” – Shep Hyken
Adopting a culture focused on customers is no longer a passing fad or only a nice to do – it is what will gain a leading competitive advantage for any company, irrespective of size. With increasing competition and companies offering similar products and pricing – these no longer count as significant differentiators or unique features. Top class customer service leading to memorable customer experiences is what makes a company stand head and shoulder above its competitors. A company that has a culture focused on customers will be the one that would trounce it’s ‘opponents’, gain customer loyalty, and be a preferred employer by top industry talent. It is a concept that would take a company to the top and keep it there for a long time.
The culture of a company is not easily defined and it is tough to create and maintain. What is even harder is to change a culture that maybe ingrained in all that work in the company. It is not something that can be affected overnight and neither can a company force it on the employees, without actually making the effort to explain why a certain culture would be beneficial. In order to build a culture focused on customers (or any culture for that matter), the company’s leaders must show by example the meaning, and benefits of it by treating the employees in the way they expect them to behave with external customers. The customer service teams must remain aware of the culture and actively display it to the customers and all they connect with as representatives of the company.
In order to instil and sustain a culture focused on customers – the mission, vision, and values of a company must be aligned to this culture. The values of the company should reflect the commitment of the company to take customer feedback seriously. They must also work to involve employees in building a culture focused on customers by encouraging them to display such behaviour and reinforce the behaviour through recognition and rewards. The words used to describe the values of a company, would then be meaningful rather than empty words used only for effect. Both – customers and employees – would be able to see the company’s commitment towards building a culture where customers (internal and external) are respected and valued.
There is absolutely no doubt that there is a direct connection between the internal ‘atmosphere’ and strength of a company with the manner in which, customers are treated. Happy employees and a culture focused on customers will most certainly lead to customer loyalty, increased profitability, and sustainable success for a company. Employees that live the promise of the company by maintaining a culture focused on customers will be more productive, effective, and would be willing to do their best to retain customers through top class service. There a number of companies and brands that serve as beacons for others because not only did they make powerful promises, they exceeded them each time with every customer. By listening to their customers, through their employees, they have formed strong cultures and gained a formidable reputation that seem impervious to the harshest market conditions. They created and sustain a culture focused on customers and have kept their values aligned with this culture.
As mentioned earlier in this article, and previously too, the establishment and success of the company’s culture rests heavily with the top brass of the company. Employees fashion their behaviour and outlook based on the demeanour of the top line and are prone to mirroring whatever their leaders do. Hence, in order to create a culture focused on customers, the behaviour of the leaders must be consistent with the desired values and culture. They cannot expect employees to exhibit behaviours contrary to their own – companies that do have conflicting expectations would most certainly be unable to create a culture that breeds feelings of top class service to customers. When leadership behaviour and employee competencies are aligned, it would be much easier for a company to align itself to the needs of customers and establish a culture that keeps these needs and expectations at the centre of everything.
How would the company and its leaders know whether they are gaining success in building a culture focused on customers? The answers lie in listening to employees since they are the ones that deal directly with customers, daily and hear the insights, suggestions, and feedback that customers provide either purposefully or inadvertently. The knowledge that employees gain about customers through these exchanges, makes them an invaluable resource for understanding customers well and therefore being able to put together service standards and products that would be an instant hit with customers. This in turn helps employees to better customer experiences every time. As customer perceive a rise in service levels and product quality, they tend to believe that the company practices a culture focused on them, leading to repeat business and enhanced loyalty.
For a company to sustain a culture focused on customers, its overall strategy must be aligned with it. The company’s business budget must include a portion that would be dedicated to gaining customer feedback and then using the feedback to improve and sustain customer-focused processes. Without resources, a company would not be equipped to affect service improvements and would not be able to change its culture to focus on the customers and their needs. It is not because companies do not want to improve, but the lack of alignment between wanting to listen to customers and the infrastructure to support the changes, leads companies to fail in creating a culture focused on customers. Without seamless implementation, a company’s vision to focus on customers would be mere words and would ultimately lead to the failure to establish a culture where customers are made to feel important and valued.
With so many new technologies, any company could easily equip itself to build and sustain a culture of customer focus. The latest CRM systems allow companies to collect, collate, analyse and store customer information in a centralized location, easily accessible to all those within the company who would need to access this information regularly. The ease of operating these systems allows information to be updated instantly, such that every experience and interaction a customer may have had with the company would be available. This would save the time and effort for a customer since they would not need to repeat their queries or go over their ‘history’ with the company. For the employees using the system, it makes them more efficient and they would be able to personalize the interaction each time with customers. Easy, efficient, speedy, and personalized service and experiences are exactly what any customer wants when they connect with a company and the more often a company can do that, the easier it would be retain customers and attract new ones.
Building any culture takes a lot of time and sustained effort. To establish a culture focused on customers is even tougher since its success would depend on the employees and unless they feel strongly positive and warm towards their company, such a culture would be impossible to establish. The leaders must highlight the benefits of a culture focused on customers – how it ties in with the success of the company and of everyone working in it. It is hard, but not impossible.