“You are either customer focused from top to bottom or you’re not customer focused at all.”
These wise words from George Cox, a former boss, have stayed with me because they highlight a challenge companies face in winning the battle for customers: how do you get everyone in the company to understand the need for and deliver a winning customer experience each and every day?
The short answer is you have to build it into the culture of your company. Culture, the unwritten rules that guide how things are done, is complex: the result of many things that organisations do. It is a truism that you can’t change culture by changing culture. As an emergent property, culture can only be influenced by changing other things. Culture change is too big a subject to cover in a single blog, so I will focus on three ways company executives can leverage feedback to support culture change.
Culture is shaped significantly by what employees see senior managers paying attention to. They assume that if it is worthy of senior management time it must be important. As another CEO I worked with said “organisations are shadows of their leaders.” Employees are very good at assessing the sincerity and real importance of the words coming from senior managers. They make this assessment based on the gap between words and deeds: as Henry David Thoreaux so aptly said “I cannot hear your words for the action that thunders above your head.”
To breed a customer first culture senior managers must say and do the right things. Yes, they must include feedback and the customer’s perspective in their communications but this is not enough. They must also place feedback and other customer measures on their scorecards and business reviews and subject them to the same emphasis and rigorous enquiry as revenue and profit. They must challenge people about their performance and plans for improving the customer experience and support these plans where they show a benefit for the customer and the company.
What gets rewarded gets moved. Making feedback-based measures part of everyone’s reward package emphasises its importance. Whilst care is needed in building reward programmes, particularly in preventing people manipulating the number, a well-thought out reward system not only communicates importance, it encourages improvement. Reward is not just about money. Recognition, particularly from senior managers, of employees that go the extra mile for customers reinforces the value and importance the company places on customer focus. This does not need a formal or bureaucratic scheme; often the most effective recognition is publicly given praise from a manager or colleague. Unfortunately thee is a greater propensity to criticise than to praise.
If people are to change what they do based on customer feedback, it has to be visible and relevant. Many companies are good at sharing headline results for their company, business unit and team. These headline numbers are important: they are another reinforcement that customer views matter. Unless feedback is an integral part of the data that people use in their everyday work it will never be anything other than a weak influencer.
For me, visibility is being able to see a customer’s feedback whilst doing their job. This might be seeing a summary of feedback whilst they are dealing with an enquiry on the phone (as shown in the screenshot below), or (for B2B suppliers) the aggregate results for all contacts in an account whilst planning an account review.
This ‘in your face’ visibility causes people to think about their interactions with customers, adapting them to reflect customer’s emotions and concerns. In the words of a Clicktools customer, visibility of feedback “..helped us create an overall cultural shift when it comes to customer experience.”
I do not suggest that these three things alone will make you a customer focused company but I do know they will make a useful contribution.
PS The picture below is my favourite example of how difficult it can be to ignore visible customer feedback!