3 Ways to Build a Customer-Centric Company Culture
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Company culture is one of the hot-button issues in C-suites today, and for good reason. Providing an exceptional customer experience is directly dependent on culture. Success relies on employees to make judgment calls and creatively apply their understanding of customer needs far beyond what any rulebook could cover. Traditional customer service training and best practices will get you started, but, beyond those, you need to build and model a top-down culture of customer service.
The essence of building a strong customer service culture is simple and straightforward, as long as you don’t distract yourself with superficialities — the mountain bikes and ping-pong tables, the beer taps in the breakroom, the endless jargon about “de-siloing” and the like. It is, in fact, relatively easy to understand and to get a start on implementing. It just takes interest, a drive to succeed, and a little of what’s (ironically) called common sense.
Here are three steps leaders can take toward establishing and sustaining a culture of customer service:
1. Define your culture’s purpose in a sentence or two.
Write a sentence or two that defines the purpose of your business and describes the type of behaviors you expect from every associate, manager and executive in your organization — and make sure they understand it. The definition of purpose should be direct, clear and free from the "consultant-ese" and jargon. As an example, one of the most powerful definitions of purpose that I know of is the one that guides the Mayo Clinic:
The needs of the patient come first.
Mayo’s statement is exceptionally brief (seven words), uses language that is easy to understand (the only word longer than one syllable is the central word, “patient”), and is clear in the expectations it lays out for everyone who works there.
2. Set down a short list of principles that are fundamental to your desired culture.
These are principles that will guide you every day and that fit with your definition of purpose but take it farther into the nitty-gritty of how you want your culture to look and feel like through everyday interactions. Limit yourself to no more than 10 or 12 essential principles, which are bedrock beliefs that you aspire to live up to every day. Some examples could include:
• We are in the business of 100% customer retention. If you ever feel you are on the brink of losing a customer, do everything you can personally, or call in assistance from others in the organization, to salvage the situation.
• We can never win an argument with a customer. Even if we “win,” our company still loses. In other words, we are getting paid to not argue with customers, to not “win,” to not “prove something.” We win through our paychecks, not our debating prowess.
• We work every day, every hour, at keeping our attitude fresh. Even if, for us, this is the 80th order today, the experience is the only one for that customer, and it needs to be as fresh for them as it was for our first customer on the first day we were open.
3. Let your cultural expectations drive your work at every possible junction.
Let people you're recruiting and new hires know what matters most in the culture you're striving to create. This is essential, yet often overlooked: Recruiting, hiring and onboarding so often get bogged down in forms to fill out and other mundane details that the new or potential employee never hears what the company they’re joining, or will potentially join, is all about.
• Start hiring employees for their psychological potential to serve customers, not just for their experience and technical skills.
• Make your company culture clear from day one and integrate it into every new employees onboarding process.
• Reflect your talent management approach throughout an employee’s tenure.
Likewise, once they’ve settled in as part of your company, make sure your talent management approach is aligned with your cultural goals. Applaud employees at every juncture for their pro-customer behavior and meet with them on a regular schedule to gather their input on how your customer-centric culture could be made even stronger.
This also means building rituals to reinforce your cultural expectations. One powerful ritual that works in many types of organizations is what I call a daily "customer service minute." (In spite of its name, it will likely require five minutes.) Hold your customer service minute at the beginning of each workday or at the beginning of each shift if you run more than one shift a day. Each customer service minute should be devoted to a single aspect of providing great service. This typically includes sharing examples that illustrate that single service principle as well as some time spent going over helpful techniques, pitfalls encountered and challenges to overcome that relate to that principle.
Building and maintaining a true culture of customer service will always be an ongoing pursuit, but if you succeed, you will reap the rewards. Just remember that it does require ongoing vigilance: checking in with employees, managers and HR leaders to ensure you haven’t veered off course. If you have, course correction is the order of the day.