• April 26, 2023
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

Required Reading: Follow This Blueprint to Build Company and Customer Experiences

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In his 11th book, House of the Customer, Greg Kihlström, principal and chief strategist at GK5A, furnishes a blueprint for building a customer-first, employee-driven company that aligns people, processes, and platforms. In this interview with Kihlström, CRM editor Leonard Klie uncovers how building a customer- and employee-focused company is like constructing a house.

CRM: What does it mean to be customer-first and employee-driven? Can companies really focus on both the employee and the customer?

Kihlström: At first the two can seem contradictory. However, with the right leadership support and incentives, the two can work together and reinforce one another.

First, it takes leaders who understand that actions speak louder than words. Leaders need to set the vision, support their teams, and prioritize customer- and employee-centric initiatives Then, employees need to reset their job expectations and roles around serving customers. Improved customer experience has to be directly relevant to employees so it becomes a motivator as they strive to succeed.

How are employee and customer experiences connected?

Have you ever been to a restaurant that was short-staffed and struggled to keep up with customer demand? Employees were stressed, and you as the customer ended up feeling the repercussions.

Or consider a software engineer tasked with bringing a new product feature to customers. If he’s not engaged with his work and is just “phoning it in,” the customer will feel this when she tries to use that product.

Improvements in the customer experience can become a reward to employees whose role is now directly tied to customer outcomes. In this way, employees feel more purpose because what they do is directly tied to a core goal.

You say companies need to balance business value, customer needs, and long-term agility. How do they do that?

Companies often look at these three things as incompatible, but a relatively simple reframing can make a big difference and allow them to work together.

First, making customer experience a top priority tied to key performance indicators has been instrumental in establishing companies as leaders in their industries. Thus, improvements in customer experience create greater business value.

Second, because of this relationship between business value and customer experience, customer needs are paramount. This doesn’t mean customers and their needs are the only consideration, but customer lifetime value should influence key decisions.

Finally, category leaders understand that customer expectations, employee needs, competitors and disruptors, and the world at large are constantly changing, and staying nimble while listening to signals of change keeps them ahead of competitors. This isn’t a one-time transformation that helps them catch up; it’s a commitment to agility with teams that are continually motivated to improve.

You offer seven elements for building a customer-first, employee-driven enterprise. What are they?

Using the house metaphor has made it easier to look at the elements both as a whole and individually. The seven elements are the following:

  1. Roof (processes and systems), which provides cover for all the work performed and delivered to customers.
  2. Wall 1 (business objectives), which provides context for the business value that needs to be created and the value the company provides to customers.
  3. Pillar 1 (understanding the customer), the platforms that collect and manage customer data, with the understanding that stewardship of this important information is a responsibility.
  4. Pillar 2 (serving the customer), the platforms that provide content, offers, and experiences to customers across multiple channels and throughout their life cycles.
  5. Pillar 3 (listening to the customer), the platforms that measure and analyze what customers do and how they respond to experiences.
  6. Wall 2 (business outcomes), where business goals are measured to ensure they are being achieved.
  7. Foundation (an agile, customer-centric culture), in which teams that serve customers support all of the above, approach growth with agility, and improve with each new learning.

What other advice can you give companies looking to create this kind of mind-set?

The best way to achieve customer-centric, employee-driven transformation is to do it incrementally, with a phased approach and measurable objectives to guide continuous improvement along the way.

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