Who Makes a Company Customer-Focused?

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As the customer experience profession matures, one thing has become clear: CX professionals can’t have a strong impact unless the surrounding culture is supportive. And creating such a culture is difficult.

In a forthcoming study by Walker, CX professionals listed “developing a customer-centric culture” as the most effective way to meet customers’ changing needs. Fewer than half, however, stated that customer focus has a significant influence on their company’s culture. In other words, CX professionals believe a culture focused on customers can make a big difference, but they don’t feel their colleagues are catching on.

So, who makes a company customer-focused?

There are two common answers. The first is reflected in the familiar saying “It starts at the top,” which implies that C-level executives must set the tone. The second answer is the inevitable “It’s everyone’s responsibility!” While neither of these answers is incorrect per se, both are pretty shallow. And they provide very little direction for CX professionals who are looking for ways to shift the culture toward one more supportive of customer-focused initiatives.

Let’s consider three broad groups that have a significant influence on corporate culture—and how CX pros can work with each.

• C-level executives. Company leaders don’t need much persuading—they know customers are important. In fact, many of them spend quite a bit of time with some of their top accounts and they will stress the importance of customers in company and department meetings. And yet the majority of employees need more than a pep talk to prompt a change in their behavior.

CX professionals can be an excellent resource for these leaders, providing customer intelligence and insightful recommendations to go beyond just talking about customers to laying out specific actions and initiatives. CX professionals should aspire to have “trusted adviser” status with company leaders to guide them in directing specific customer initiatives that will enhance the experience and advance the company.

• Customer-facing employees. These employees are the face of the company. They include sales professionals, account managers, customer service professionals, and others who regularly interact with customers and have a good handle on their needs and wants. But members of this group can frequently rely too much on their own impressions and “gut feel” and may ignore third-party input.

CX professionals should encourage two-way communication with this important group. First, they need to listen to the valuable insights customer-facing employees can provide based on their day-to-day interactions. Second, CX professionals can provide objective insight to complement their colleagues’ daily experiences. If the intelligence they receive is simple and highly relevant, customer-facing employees have the necessary information to improve their performance and enrich their customers’ experiences.

• Middle managers. Perhaps the most difficult group to influence are the employees who lead departments and functional areas. These are the people who spend much of their time developing ways to help their group work smarter, faster, and better. So you can imagine their getting a bit defensive when CX professionals tell them that customers have given them bad ratings or are disgruntled with their particular function.

No matter how hard middle managers work, customer perceptions matter. So CX professionals can’t simply dump problems on middle managers. Instead, they need to partner with them so that they are providing the right customer intelligence to measure progress and work together not only to fix problems but also to design new experiences that meet and exceed customer expectations.

Focusing on these three groups provides a good foundation for building a customer-focused culture. In short, CX pros can be a catalyst simply by following these directives:

• provide support and guidance to C-level executives;

• listen to customer-facing employees and supply them with relevant intelligence; and

• team up with middle managers to ensure their efforts are consistent with customer perceptions.

One more move to consider: Form an alliance with HR. Their experience working with groups across the organization can be a great support for everything CX pros are trying to accomplish.

While creating a more customer-focused culture is not the responsibility alone of CX professionals, a culture that does not prioritize the customer can prevent them from having the desired impact. They must take on at least some of the responsibility; in many cases, they must take the lead in creating this cultural shift.

Patrick Gibbons is a principal at Walker, a leading customer experience consulting firm. He can be reached at pgibbons@walkerinfo.com.

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