Chris and I recently published a report describing how to build risk and compliance principles into your company’s corporate culture. As we worked to finalize, edit, and publish the report, a flurry of new corporate scandals emerged, all related to this topic.
Here are just a few of them:
Wal-Mart executives accused of trying to hush up bribery cases in Mexico (article here).
A whistleblower accuses Infosys of engaging in a systematic practice of visa fraud (article here).
A former Goldman Sachs employee writes an op-ed for the New York Times blasting the company’s ethics (article here).
JP Morgan suffers a $2 billion trading loss due to “poorly monitored” trades (article here).
Michael Porter famously wrote that companies differentiate themselves by performing a unique set of activities from their competitors' or by performing the same activities differently.
Here are some numbers: 86% of companies say customer experience is a top strategic priority for 2011; 76% seek to differentiate based on customer experience; 46% have a companywide program for improving customer experience currently in place and another 30% are actively considering it; and 52% have a voice of the customer program in place with close to 30% more actively considering it.
With the majority of companies focused on improving customer experience, how can a company expect to differentiate on it? Because there remains a tremendous amount of lip service and intellectual dishonesty about what it takes. Let me give a few examples:
Friendly agents game the numbers. Although not able to answer the two questions that I had, a super-friendly phone agent at a major telecommunications firm ended the conversation by asking: “We aim to not only meet your expectations but to exceed them. Have I done that today?” From the tone of the agent’s voice and the question asked, it’s clear that someone at the company is thinking about customer experience. However, the gaming of the question indicates that the company’s culture has a long way to go to actually improve the experience beyond the superficialities.
Building a customer-centric culture is occupying the minds and activities of a lot of companies that I’m talking with lately. This is great, because culture is the difference between going through the motions of a script and internalizing a set of values that dictate actions beyond the script.
Let me give an example: I recently was on the phone with an incredibly chipper call center rep at a telecommunications company. He didn’t answer either of the two questions that I had, yet remained friendly throughout the call. As the call ended, he said: “We aim not just to meet your expectations, but exceed them. Have I done that for you today?” Not only was the question a setup that will skew results, but the asking of the question made it clear that the company hadn’t succeeded in infusing customer-centric DNA into at least this person. A more customer-centric response is what you typically get from Vanguard or Fidelity: “I’m sorry that I can’t answer your questions. Let me find someone who can. Would you like to hold or can I call you back?”
Don’t get me wrong: Company intentions are important. Before I get into the culture part, I always step back with clients and ask "what kind of culture?"Don Norman's story about Southwest Airlines, in which the company refused to give customers reserved seats, food, and baggage transfers is a great example. The company's primary value proposition to customers is low prices (along with on-time service that's fun). That sets the stage for the kind of culture the company sets out to create. It's not customer-centric at all costs. It's focused on what’s valuable to customers.
It’s hard to find a firm that says: 1) We don’t care about customers, and 2) we don’t care about being good corporate citizens. That said, it’s astounding to see companies on a daily basis act in ways that show complete disregard for customers and their general well-being. For anyone within companies who cares about brand, this ought to sound alarm bells, particularly as customers become more empowered with global platforms to let others know about their dissatisfaction and as they have increasing ability to take their business elsewhere.
Two relatively new executives within companies are spending their days trying to get company actions aligned with marketing messages: the chief customer officer (or more often a VP of customer experience) and the chief sustainability officer (or more often a VP of sustainability). There is a great opportunity for these two executives to form an alliance that could strengthen both. Why?