Why Established Companies Are Embracing an Amazon-Like Culture Con Ed was founded in 1823, but it's making sure it can compete with newer companies born in the digital age.

By Susan Ganeshan

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


In today's fast paced, highly connected world, consumers are accustomed to hailing a cab with the tap of a finger, or receiving goods delivered to their door with the press of a button. As a result, we are putting new pressure on older, dare-I-say "legacy" companies to keep up with newer brands that have prioritized and redefined the customer experience from day one.

Related: How Startups and Legacy Companies Can Both Cash In on Market Trends

While you don't have to be the next Amazon, Zappos or Airbnb, you do have to deliver on customer expectations. And in today's world, that requires providing intuitive and frictionless customer experiences.

That may seem simple in theory, but in practice it requires a complete overhaul of company culture. The brands that are on the cutting edge of customer service live and breathe customer service. Theirs is more than a business model, it's a full consumer-centric culture.

If you haven't already, then, you should adopt that culture. It's time.

Here's what you can learn from those businesses, both new and old, that are redefining company culture in order to provide best-in-breed experiences that keep up with shifting expectations.

Create a culture of 'customer.'

How do you take a 100-plus-year-old company and influence its culture to become customer-centric? The task may seem daunting, but it's not unlike the shift in focus to re-engineering for profit in the 1980s, or the zeroing-in on revenues and soaring stock prices in the 2000s. There have been a number of shifts in business dynamics over the years and the transition toward a customer-centric culture is one that's here to stay.

Start by ensuring your employees know their role in customer experience and encouraging them to go above and beyond. Build your culture around customers by empowering employees with the information and tools they need to serve customers -- share metrics, trends and feedback. Put share-of-voice data in charts and back up that data with true stories, then empower your employees to act and react.

One of the largest energy companies in the U.K., E.On, uses data to bring customer experience to life. Every strategic move it makes is backed by a story of how that service impacted a customer. Then that story is supported by data on the number of customers who shared that same experience. This method allows employees to better understand customer experiences and the impact of their work -- inspiring a culture of caring and commitment.

Related: Customer Care Is Your Best Marketing Strategy

Meanwhile, a top bank in Montreal encourages employees to prioritize customer experience through an initiative called 1,000 Acts of Kindness. This project challenges and rewards employees for delighting customers with service that reflect the company's commitment to quality customer experiences. Since instituting 1,000 Acts of Kindness, and several other company-wide customer service initiatives, the bank's personal-relationship net promoter score (NPS) is up 43 percent and small-business relationship NPS is up 25 percent.

Let customers decide your future.

In order to meet customer needs, you have to know what makes them tick. The good news is, your customers are more forthcoming with this information than ever before. Introspection about this data allows you to shape your business accordingly, so that you can delight those customers and adjust your strategy as consumer needs and wants change.

Take Amazon, for example. Amazon is widely recognized for its ability to predict what customers might want to put into their virtual shopping carts next. Algorithms and customer analytics drive business, but it doesn't stop there. Amazon's CEO, Jeff Bezos, states that, "The customer-centric way is at this point a defining element of our culture."

In other words, it's a strategy that has shaped important company decisions. For example, Amazon carefully monitors customer sentiment for Kindle -- keeping an eye on products, services and offers by analyzing voice-of-customer data to inform product improvements, packaging updates and even the content used to support customer self-service.

Similarly, GE Healthcare listens to doctors, nurses and patients, to drive its engineering road map for the medical devices it's continually improving. Most notably, this strategy has made it possible for GE Healthcare to improve the accuracy of its MRI machine by dissecting doctors' usage notes.

Adjust methods of communication by audience.

Last, but not least, at the heart of every customer-centric culture is communication. Customers expect constant communication, but they want it through the channel they prefer. It's the 21st century -- snail mail may still suit some of your customers, but it won't work for everyone.

According to a 2015 TSAI study, millennials strongly prefer self-services and social support over direct connection with your business, while baby boomers still prefer direct email and calls, and Gen X members take varying approaches depending on their current situations.

That's why public utility company Con Edison recently partnered with Opower to better assess residential energy use and improve communications with customers through digital channels. It's a move that allows this company, founded in 1823, to stay on the cutting edge and compete with new companies born in the digital era.

These days, every company has its own unique culture. From ping pong in the break room to trivia nights on Tuesdays, each business environment has its own vibe, and that's a great thing.

Related: Technology Trends That Will Radically Change The Face Of Customer Care

Still, no matter what your own culture looks like on the outside, it should be grounded in care and compassion for your customers. That's a big secret to success.

Wavy Line
Susan Ganeshan

CMO of Clarabridge

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