In a world of unlimited choice, making a great product is no longer enough. What sets you apart from other businesses in the same space? When a customer is able to do a quick online search and find hundreds of competitors, why should they choose your company?

Building a customer-centric culture is now more critical than ever before. Word of mouth marketing has always hinged on providing an exceptional customer experience. If your company isn’t considering the customer as a critical component, then how can you hope to make the right choices?  Choices that will drive the customer experience that leads to impassioned word of mouth recommendations?

Customer-centric cultures don’t happen on accident. So how can you get started in building one at your company?

#1: Get Management on Board

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If this is you, great! Step one… done! Establishing a customer-centric culture early is the best way to ensure that it serves as the foundation for your business.

However, if you’re like most people and not at the upper echelon of your company’s org chart, then this is where you need to start. Simply put, if your upper management doesn’t support moving to a customer-centric culture, then you’re already dead in the water. Cultural change is hard, and requires backing from the highest levels of the company to truly succeed.

That doesn’t mean you can’t start your efforts elsewhere in the company. In fact, building examples of why it is important, and how you intend to put it into practice can go a long way towards getting management on board. Do your research, implement what you can, measure, and then present the case back into your management team. Remember: While you understand why it’s important without explanation, that may not be the case for everyone. Be prepared to explain why this is beneficial to the company, and to defend your reasoning with real research and data.

Questions to Consider:

  • How will a customer centric culture benefit the company?
  • How have other companies built a customer-centric company culture? (Ex. Zappos)
  • What costs or complications will be incurred in moving to this model?
  • What are the core values and/or business objectives supported by this move?
  • How much support do you need from other divisions / teams / individuals?
  • What does your ideal company culture look like? What makes it great?

…And plenty more! Understand that what you’re doing is a monumental effort, and be prepared for it to take time. If you’re able to win over the top-level management team, your efforts are far more likely to succeed. With their backing and input, you stand a chance at fundamentally changing your company culture for the better!

#2: Put it in Writing

For those of you that still use pencils

What is this? Some sort of strange analog keyboard?

So you have buy-off from management on moving towards a customer centric culture: Awesome!

The next step is to put it in writing. Being able to distill into a mission statement and values can go a long way towards communicating the tenets to the rest of the company. Both should be easy to understand, and written in plain terminology. You want everyone in your company to get what you’re trying to do with the least amount of confusion.

In the case of Amazon, their mission statement is:  “To be Earth’s most customer-centric company where people can find and discover anything they want to buy online.” (Source)

A slightly wordier version for retailer Nordstrom: “In store or online, wherever new opportunities arise, Nordstrom works relentlessly to give customers the most compelling shopping experience possible. The one constant? John W. Nordstrom’s founding philosophy: offer the customer the best possible service, selection, quality and value.” (Source)

For Zappos: “To provide the best customer service possible.”

Or as Zappos founder Tony Hsieh put it:

“Zappos is a customer service company that just happens to sell shoes.” -Tony Hsieh (Source)

In all instances, the connection back to the customer is clearly stated as a fundamental part of the mission.

Keep it simple, directly reference the customer experience, and support with your list of values. While not all your values need to reference the customer, just make sure that none of them undermine your mission statement. i.e. If you’re building a customer-centric business, having ‘Profitability above all else’  as one of your core values is going to lead to some conflicted decision making.

Some example values:

#3: Present to the Company

You’ve got your mission statement and values up on the company intranet, so you’re done, right? NOPE.

The next step is to present these back into the company. This can take the form of a few GIANT meetings, or a series of smaller meetings. It all depends on your company size and availability. The goal of this is to present your new direction back into the larger team. This allows you to present why this important, address any concerns, and inspire employees to feel empowered by the new vision.

This should involve top-level management as much as possible. As stated in #1, your efforts are far more likely to succeed with their support. It’s one thing to introduce a great new idea, and another to introduce a great idea that already has direct support from the top.

#4: Hiring & Training

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All hiring efforts should keep in mind the core values of the company. Have an amazing developer that speaks poorly of, or disregards the customer experience? Don’t hire them! It’s easier to upskill an employee with less experience than it is to attempt to fundamentally change a more experienced candidate’s values.

I strongly suggest having everyone that enters your company spend a week with your customer support and/or community management teams. This means every employee, regardless of division, discipline, or level of experience.

Why?

  • Internal Relationships: As a customer-centric business, the people who interact with your customers on a day-to-day basis are absolutely critical to your future success. By building relationships between every new employee and this team(s), you have established a foundation of trust and respect.
  • Build Empathy: It’s easy to get into the trap of thinking of ‘the customer’ as a vague concept, rather than a complex group of individuals with real needs, frustrations, and insight. Spending a week interacting with real customers is a fast track to building a foundation of empathy and respect.
  • Backup: Having every employee versed in customer support and community management means that you now have a bigger experience pool to draw from should anything go awry, or require emergency support. Every employee should feel empowered to help your customers (even if you have subject matter experts to provide expert advice and guidance)

If possible, you’ll want to run existing employees through this same process. This includes any additional training you might build to support the customer-centric move. This can be a slow roll out. You should take it seriously and have a plan for addressing any concerns, questions, or unexpected hiccups along the way.

Note: You may end up losing existing employees due to this change. Not everyone is going to share the same focus or values, and that’s okay! If you’re committed to moving to this model, then it’s better to have those employees move on to new companies.

#5: Practice Customer-Centric Thinking Every Day

It is easy to say ‘we are a customer-centric’ business. It’s harder to put that into practice every day. Have a decision to make where would be just sooooo much easier if you were to cut corners at the expense of the customer? If you do, you’ve just sent a message back into the larger team and undermined your efforts. If you’re not reinforcing and staying true to the core values, why on earth should the rest of your business?

If you want to succeed at building a customer-centric business, start by empowering your employees. They should feel welcome to question decisions, and suggest alternate solutions. Doing what’s best for the customer can mean more work, looking at things in a new way, and challenging the way that things have been done in the past. The mission statement and values are just a guideline, the true change comes when your team enthusiastically embraces and celebrates those of their own volition!

With every decision, consider the customer:

  • Are you staying true to the values you set forth? If not, why?
  • What other way can you approach this same problem which results in a win for the customer?
  • Who can you talk to that might have more insight into how to approach the problem?

#6: Celebrate the Results!

Release the balloons!

You put in all that work, why wouldn’t you celebrate it when you see the results?

Part of building a customer-centric culture should absolutely be the celebration of its successes!

At it’s core, a customer-centric culture is about people. The individuals who love your work, love working for you, and help build a better company one day at a time. Make sure you celebrate their contributions, and the success stories that come from their efforts. Feeling valued is fundamental to your success with both customers and employees. Celebrate, share the love, and show that you value your customers and the efforts of your employees!

Additional Resources:

Questions, comments, the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow? Drop me a line in the comments, or @boopsocial!

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  1. This is seriously the best article I’ve read about how to make your customer the most important player in the game of business. Very well done. You should submit this to Forbes, INC and Entrepreneur magazines.

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