How to develop a customer centric culture

Developing a customer-centric culture that drives your business decisions is no longer an option—it’s a must. In today’s marketplace, the value of a good customer experience to your business’ bottom line could not be clearer. 

Research by Forrester Consulting shows that businesses which invest in customer experience—experience-driven businesses, or EBD’s—see a 1.7x increase in their year-over-year revenue growth, and a 2.3x increase in the lifetime value of their customers.

A good customer experience creates loyalty, positive word of mouth, employee satisfaction, and a host of other intangible benefits that translate into material profits.

With such an indisputable return on investment, every business should be focused on creating a standout customer experience. But while the target is clear, the steps to get there are less so.

Whether you are a small business or an international corporation, developing a customer-centric culture requires buy-in at every level. Here are five important components to developing a customer-centric culture within your own business.

Leadership sets the example for culture change.

A businessman leads a meeting on company culture. He points at a screen displaying customer data as charts and spreadsheets.

A true cultural shift can’t take root in a company without the enthusiastic support of leadership. Setting explicit values, priorities, and incentives is important, but these efforts are undermined if employees don’t see their leaders making decisions that line up with these policies.

Enshrine customer experience in your company values.

Your business’ company values are a statement of your priorities. They tell your employees, as well as your customers, how you plan to make decisions. By making an excellent customer experience one of these values, you signal to everyone your intention to keep it foremost in your company strategy.

Set goals that reflect customer-centric priorities.

Once you’ve decided that the customer experience is a priority, your goal-setting process should reflect it. Determine level-appropriate strategic objectives for leadership, management, and individual contributors, and make sure that they align with your customer experience values.

Encourage buy-in with data.

Plenty of research and specific business examples confirm the importance of focusing on customer experience. For members of your organization who might be on the fence about a new approach, hard facts can help to demonstrate the value.

Invest in developing customer-centric strategy.

A change in company culture takes time and effort. New business processes may not be the lowest cost, fastest, or simplest. However, it’s important to be consistent in living out your stated values. The returns are well-documented, and worth the extra effort.

Prioritize customer-centric culture when hiring.

It’s important to bolster your customer-centric values by emphasizing them in the hiring process. Seek out candidates who share your focus on the customer experience and are already committed to prioritizing it in their decision-making. 

In addition, developing a customer-centric culture involves recognizing that every department and function has an impact on customer experience—even those that aren’t directly customer-facing.

Although it is internal, human resources is a service function. The hiring and onboarding process can provide valuable insights into your company’s approach to the customer experience.

Emphasize your customer-centric values early in the process.

Develop interview questions that encourage candidates to demonstrate their approach to the customer experience. Raise these questions early in the interview process. When discussing your organization, don’t hesitate to highlight your company values and gauge candidates’ alignment.

Solicit culture feedback from newly hired employees.

Check in with your new hires and ask specific questions about their experience of the hiring process. This will help you understand whether customer-centric values are being embraced in internal organizational structures, and where you can strengthen them. 

Make a customer-centric culture everyone’s responsibility.

A company culture focused on the customer experience can only succeed with the participation of every level of the organization. This includes even the internal functions that don’t typically interact with the customer.

Every role in a company contributes in some way to the customer experience, directly or indirectly. Creating the culture you want will depend on employees’ ability to see the connection their actions have to your customer-experience outcomes. 

Operationalize compassion for customers’ experiences.

The Harvard Business Review cites a PwC statistic that only 38% of U.S. consumers feel that corporate employees understand their needs. However, they also cite the example of Slack, a company that has built customer empathy into their processes. 

Slack encourages employees to do research, create personas, and develop storyboards for future interactions to better understand customer needs and prepare robust responses.

In addition, Slack also doesn’t permit its service representatives to cut and paste responses, which requires them to react individually to customer concerns.

Make customer insights widely available.

Too often, access to information on customer sentiment is limited to marketing and sales teams. It’s difficult for other business functions to see their impact on the customer experience without exposure to this data.

Understanding customer personas, needs, and value helps every role in the organization to understand how their activities intersect with customer experience. And, seeing improved customer sentiment as a result of their actions is motivation to keep going.

Create opportunities for direct interaction with customers.

Returning to the Slack example, the company regularly exposes its employees to actual customer interactions and encourages them to gather information on customer needs from the interactions they view.

In another example, Adobe set up listening stations where employees could hear real service calls. Depending on the industry, employees might also shadow or meet with customers. These kinds of connections humanize customer needs and introduce an immediacy that some functions might not otherwise experience.

Create concrete, measurable customer-centric goals.

A businessman touches a graphic labeled GOALS. Other words in hexagons surround it: Success, Measurable, Realistic, Specific, Achievable, Timely, Result, Deadline

High-level, aspirational thinking is important when creating a vision for a customer-centric culture. But when it comes to execution, goals need to be achievable, and should be specific to each department within the organization. This requires gathering data, planning ahead, and measuring the results.

Collect and interpret customer data to develop a strategy.

Use your customer insights and customer needs assessment tools to understand how your customers currently experience your product. This will help you to identify what’s working, and where your opportunities for improvement are.

Develop a roadmap for every department.

Translate the insights from your customer research into specific functional goals. Be sure to specify how you will track accomplishments against these goals.

Incentivize achievement.

Create the right kind of incentives for employees to engage with new processes and goals. Some companies choose to tie compensation or bonuses to customer experience outcomes, creating a “skin in the game” approach to motivate employees. But for your business, gamification, recognition with awards, or another approach entirely may be more appropriate.

Keep the process going.

Customer insights are not a one-and-done task. You should continue to assess your company’s customer experience performance, so that you can validate your strategy. That way, when necessary, you can shift your resources away from efforts that only result in slight improvements, and focus on activities with the most value to your customers.

Communicate with your customers.

Consumers today want a personalized experience. They value feeling heard and having their interests represented with their favorite brands. The internet in general, and social media in particular, has created an environment where consumers can find out a great deal of information about how companies treat their customers. 

By the same token, companies can also learn a lot about their customers, and are able to communicate more directly with them than ever. In this setting, accountability and responsiveness have become crucial skills for developing a customer-centric culture.

Solicit customer feedback.

What better way is there to improve the customer experience than to ask customers directly? Create opportunities for customers to provide you with feedback through direct responses on social media, surveys and focus groups, or even a long-term customer advisory panel.

Stay in tune with customer sentiment in real time and foster brand loyalty by having conversations with individual consumers.

Engage in customer research.

Huge amounts of customer data are available to companies. Use this information to fine-tune your customer personas, conduct customer needs assessments, and look for new marketing and product development opportunities. 

Close the loop with customers.

Don’t leave a customer hanging in customer service limbo. Your service model should emphasize following up on feedback or requests, positive or negative. Responsiveness reinforces with customers that you value their input, and that you see and understand their concerns. 

Simply acknowledging your customers’ needs is an immediate customer experience win for your brand. If you can sustain the conversation, you create an opening to deliver a transformative service experience.

Developing a customer-centric culture takes effort, but it pays off.

A customer-centric culture places the customer experience at the heart of every business decision you make. It’s a strategy shift that will have ripples across your entire organization, as every department realigns their priorities accordingly.

Developing this kind of company culture isn’t a quick change—it requires you to make a sustained commitment to new values and processes. And while that culture change takes time, in the end, this kind of focus on the customer works.

Customer-centric businesses see increased profits, happier customers, and more fulfilled employees. The customers of these kinds of businesses are also more likely to come back, and to advocate for the brand. That both increases the lifetime value of individual customers, and sets up a solid foundation for your brand’s future growth.

Developing a customer-centric culture isn’t just the right thing for your customers—it’s the right move for your business, too.

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Megan Wells
Megan Wells
Megan is a content writer and strategist who loves to dig into the ways technology is changing consumers' relationships with brands.

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