In the age of the customer, companies must transform their cultures from product-centric to customer-centric. But that is easier said than done. Customer centricity requires all employees to understand who their customers are, how customers perceive their interactions with the company, and the roles employees play in delivering the overall experience. Customer experience (CX) rooms — immersive, interactive spaces that help employees better understand customers — have emerged as a powerful new tool for bringing customers and their journeys to life for workforces. Done well, CX rooms inspire empathy and understanding among employees and help build customer-centric cultures.
Firms create CX rooms to help employees understand the current customer experience their company delivers and to better understand the intended experience the company wants to deliver. The CX room that Ingrid Lindberg, chief customer experience officer at Prime Therapeutics, created at a previous employer demonstrated how complicated it was for customers to know which of the company's many phone numbers they should call or which of the firm's many websites they should visit.
My latest report, 5 Steps To Create And Sustain Customer-Centric Culture, is now live on Forrester.com. The report answers the question I hear most often from clients: What are the steps in the process to actually transform organizational culture to be customer-centric? We interviewed companies that have successfully completed this transformation, and companies that are in the midst of that process right now. We learned that there are five steps companies must take to create and sustain customer-centric culture:
Step 1: Secure Executive Support (No, Really). We do not want to sugarcoat this step. Customer experience professionals who don't already have commitment from their executives need to either get it or give up their hopes of transforming their organization's culture. Every successful transformation we studied began with a customer experience epiphany by a CEO or COO. If that realization hasn’t happened yet, CX pros can help create the spark of inspiration with executives. For example, Brad Smith, the Chief Customer Officer at Sage North America, established a program where executives sign up to spend time in the call center or join sales teams on customer visits. And he created a new leadership routine of bringing customer stories to their monthly meetings. His goal was to get senior leaders to see the importance of customer focus.
Many companies tie rewards to a rise in either Net Promoter Scores (NPS) or customer satisfaction scores. Unfortunately, that's exactly the kind of mistake that leads employees and partners to game the system. Porsche discovered that its stellar NPS was the result of dealers offering freebies to customers in exchange for higher scores. Similarly, when it noticed that satisfaction scores and comments didn't match, music retailer Guitar Center had to retool its rewards and recognition system to prevent store associates from massaging customer survey results.
My report describes the process for ensuring your rewards and recognition reinforce customer-centricity, rather than tempting employees to game the system. To avoid common pitfalls, companies must:
Communicate the importance of customer-centricity. Effective communications programs share updates with employees about initiatives to reinforce customer focus and highlight the importance of customer experience to the organization. As part of their customer-centric communication programs, companies should connect senior leaders with frontline employees and ensure that all corporate communications reinforce customer focus.
Companies like Avis Budget Group and E-Trade focus on changing the tone and content of all corporate communications.
General Motors (GM) assigned leaders the task of explaining the new customer focus to their respective departments. Involving senior leaders in this way reinforced to all employees that customer centricity was now an organizational imperative.
Earlier this year, I spoke with Kathleen Cattrall, interim chief experience officer at VCA Animal Hospitals about the company’s customer experience transformation efforts. VCA is a publicly traded company (fittingly, its NASDAQ ticker symbol is WOOF) that owns and operates more than 600 pet hospitals in the US and Canada. Its work to create more customer-centric hiring processes features in my latest report, "How To Hire And Onboard Customer-Centric Employees."
Kathleen and her colleague Aaron Frazier were gracious enough to answer a few more questions about their progress in building a more customer-centric culture and what they’ve learned about creating great pet-owner experiences. Here are some of their insights.
Q. How did VCA know it needed to improve customer experience? Was there a “burning platform,” or did someone senior at the organization decide it was time to make a change?
A. Art Antin, co-founder and COO, was the real visionary here. VCA was approaching its 25th anniversary, and Art was frustrated with clients visiting less frequently. Our customer retention rate was lower than VCA wanted to see. Complaints were escalating, and they all pointed to a poor customer experience. Art said, “We’ve spent 25 years becoming the leader in veterinary health services. We’ve accomplished more than any other company in that regard. We need to focus the next 25 months on improving our customers’ experiences with us.”
In my new report, "How To Hire And Onboard Customer-Centric Employees," I describe how companies can transform their hiring processes to ensure new employees are customer-centric. CX professionals must partner with their HR department and hiring manager colleagues to change the way they screen, interview and onboard new employees. The report describes specific ways to make each step in the hiring process more customer-centric. For example:
Get customer-centric applicants into the hiring funnel. A customer-centric hiring process starts by attracting the right kind of applicants and filtering out the wrong kind. The careers section of a website provides an opportunity for companies to tell applicants what they value in employees. For example, The Container Store's website describes the company's commitment to putting employees first and draws a clear distinction from other companies that focus on shareholders first. Contrast that first impression with the careers landing page on Bed Bath & Beyond's site, where the opening sentence talks about stock performance and its expansion.
Last month, I delivered a webinar about digital CX teams in the post-PC era. I described the importance of having a clear strategy for the digital customer experience and how it should align with the overall customer experience vision in nondigital touchpoints. I shared examples of how companies hire and train essential in-house skills like journey mapping and storytelling to avoid overreliance on partners. And I talked about how companies should take an ecosystem approach to organizing their digital resources. There were some great questions posed during the call, and I wanted to answer them here.
Q. What is the typical team structure of a post-PC CX team?
A. There is no one standard model for digital CX teams — we see a variety of different structures. Some teams, like the one at Target, are quite large and encompass many disciplines and skills. Others, like the team at Express Scripts, are smaller and focus more on the high-level vision and orchestration of projects.
What is consistent across teams is that they build strong connections with key stakeholders throughout the company. Teams actively foster collaboration and skills development both within the team and with key partners inside and outside of their organizations. Many teams provide career paths for individual contributors and mentors for junior team members by promoting strong performers to manage subteams within the larger digital CX team.
Simultaneously: using two devices at the same time to “multitask for efficiency.” Despite overwhelming evidence that humans cannot really split their attention among multiple tasks, 82% of global consumers believe that multiscreening makes them more efficient, and they act on that belief.
Q: What are the measurements or the questions being asked to gauge employee engagement?
A: Virtually all companies measure employee engagement today. I would encourage everyone to take a look at their existing employee engagement survey to see what questions are being asked in their organizations. Here are some examples of the broad categories typically covered in employee engagement surveys:
Employee Net Promoter Score (NPS), loyalty, and satisfaction.
Support and competence of direct managers.
Confidence in the company’s vision and mission.
Belief that company is customer-focused.
Clear communication and collaborative work environment.
Growth and career opportunities.
Empowerment and flexibility, including autonomy and work-life balance.