Customer-centric culture...either give in or fall. 8 steps to getting started.
When it comes to business success, let's face it, the customer is always right. I know we get tired of this statement but the truth is, it still stands. Customers are the reason why we're in business in the first place, whether it's B2B or B2C, they get to decide if your business thrives or dies. So how do we ensure we remain aligned to our vision, enjoy what we do whilst still remaining true to the needs of our customer base?
The Answer is Culture.
Culture by definition are the collective agreements your employees hold that drive their thinking, their decisions, their actions and ultimately your business outcomes. These collective agreements include beliefs, processes and values, and play the largest role in channeling business success to it's desired destination. Few companies understand the importance of this and wonder why changing strategies, changing suppliers or changing product models isn't enough to shift the upward direction of the business. It comes down to your people.
“Corporate culture is the only sustainable competitive advantage that is completely within the control of the entrepreneur.” - David Cummings, Co-Founder, Pardot
Let Go of Old Beliefs.
There seems to be a shared popular conviction that corporate culture is either not important and can be driven purely by the Human Resource department or that culture is an uncontrollable dynamic. Both of these thoughts are incorrect. A company culture is very much controllable and must be driven by every employee in the business. How your people think and feel will ultimately drive how your business steers into the future, how it is experienced by customers and how much respect it will be given by all stakeholders.
Let's focus on customer experience for the sake of this article's objective. Seeing that customers are ultimately the ticket-buyers to your business success, how do you ensure that your company's culture is shaped to support them, respect them and include them? The biggest mistake most organisations make is to assume what their customer's needs are, model services and products around what works for the business and then exclude the end user from ever providing feedback in order for strategy to remain agile.
“Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first.” - Simon Sinek, Start with Why
Build the Right Offering.
If you're serious about building an offering that truly serves the end user then these 8 steps are great starting points to get you going. These are not overnight fixes, in fact most need to be phased in strategically and with conscious consideration for both your employees and customers. One small mistake and you can derail the purpose of the transformation completely. It's best to get an outside, objective support who can remain uninvolved in company politics and remain a gatekeeper to the ultimate vision.
8 Steps to Getting Started:
1. Open innovation: include customers in strategic brainstorming
Make time on a consistent basis to include your customers in a strategic brainstorm. It can be a fun, dynamic and effective session held by an external or internal facilitator to unpack their challenges, give product-growth ideas and test product usability. Ensure you invite a mix of loyal and non-loyal customers, e.g. users who have used the product once and never returned as well as ongoing users of your product.
2. Hire staff who embody similar characteristics as your target market
There tends to be a wide gap between generations, cultures, genders and tastes. Avoid daily assumption by hiring staff who embody similar needs and desires as your target market. For example, don't expect to successfully sell a product to a young African market aged 18-35 if 80% of your employees are older, caucasian and set in their generational mindset. Hiring the relevant people creates a customer-centric culture organically with employees who naturally embody empathy for their end user.
3. Field trips for employees to experience the lives of their target market
My first experience of this was as Head of Branding and Marketing for a large South African Entertainment company, who had set-up a field trip to Alex (a township in Johannesburg that houses thousands of low-income residents). The objective was to observe and experience what their daily lives might look like. It was eye-opening to say the least! Upon speaking with a few individuals we concluded that our target market was set too low and we would have crashed our product before it even started. Save millions on your budget by choosing the right target market and organising regular field trips to explore and discover.
4. Head up a cause that is relevant and close to the hearts of your customer
Based on research that we did in 2016 across various consumer brackets to obtain insight as to what makes a brand successful to an average consumer, the one main outtake was wanting a brand that cares. Not just a philanthropic cause but to see a brand becoming involved in the community's culture, needs and everyday life. What lies at the heart of your consumer? What's most important for them? What is their greatest daily challenge? Discover this and head up support to ease their lives in some way. Make sure you involve all staff members in this cause or project if possible, as this will stimulate empathy and customer-focused behaviour.
5. Create quick, efficient and empowering feedback loops with your customers
The more responsive your engagement is with customers, the better. It creates so many benefits that I'd need an entirely new article just to unpack these! To give you an idea though, it provides a free and effective way to gain insight into your market's needs, it shows your brand as caring, it offers an ideal lead generation tool and allows your employees, who previously might have been stuck behind a desk writing assumptive strategies, to engage with customers . Get all your staff involved by sending out weekly or monthly feedback dashboards and make sure the communication tone your business uses with the customer is always professional, quick and helpful.
6. Hire a Customer Experience Manager
This is not something to play with. It is one of the most important roles any business can have, along with an Innovation Officer and Operations Manager. A Customer Experience Manager should have experience in UX, Design Thinking and ideally a customer-facing background. Their primary role is to focus on what the customer needs and how the customer will ultimately experience the brand and product. This person would ideally be involved in every point of the supply chain, from market research, strategy development, product development, interface design, market testing, launch and all business operations to ensure every decision is focused on customer satisfaction. His/her main objective is to eradicate every possible effort required by the end user to have a joyful experience with your brand.
7. Replace Ego with Eco mindsets
Products do not belong to the executive or employee building it, or marketing it. Products belong to the customer. This means that a business culture MUST embody a collaborative and eco-friendly mindset. I have seen the slow downward demise of too many wonderful new products due to an ego wanting things to go their way, for the sake of reputation or power. What's good for the business isn't always good for the customer, but what is good for the customer is always good for the business. Stay clear of power-hungry people who come with years of impressive experience. Always ask 'what’s the best decision for long-term sustainable growth?'.
8. Keep your product/service incomplete and agile
Living in an outcomes based society with heavy target-driven cultures, it is seldom seen to have a product or service remain open-ended. Why is this necessary? It allows for quick amendments, consistent experimentation and ongoing enthusiasm to make that product work in the marketplace. It keeps the product relevant in a world where the norm is to set aside a 'complete' project to focus on new ones. Research shows that customers would rather have less choice in choosing products, but more freedom in how they can experience that one product.
"Failing fast is an important component of cultivating the agility needed for a project along with continually rebalancing your innovation portfolio" - Lynne Doughtie
I did warn you. This will take time.
Each of these steps are imperative to kick-starting a new corporate culture, one where employees feel closer to their end users and where customers feel included in business decisions that ultimately influence their favourite product or service experience. Start with one at a time, and grow from there. What I can promise you is this; Your business sales will shift upward and you'll remain competitive within a corporate industry mindset that is still very much self-involved and arrogant.
Who is Simone Berger? Founder of Univation, Simone Berger spent 15 years within the Entertainment Industry. She headed up or supported the marketing for well known brands such as SABC1, FOX, Dreamworks, Cell C Black and Kwesé. Her passion was to connect viewers to their most-loved shows.
Utilising the seven-step formula of storytelling, Simone supports brands, across all industries, to cut through the noise, capture the attention of their customers and increase sales with ease.
She's passionate about giving value, and always open to a coffee or chat. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call +27 84 7778870.