How to create a customer-centric culture

Ben Goodey
Ben Goodey
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If you’re reading this, you likely already get it: The customer's experience is critical to business success.

However, time and again decisions are made in organisations that just seem...short-termist.

Happy customers are more loyal, have a higher lifetime value and bring their friends along, too, through referrals. 

So...yes, it's great that you’ve cut some costs or made a quick revenue boost. But, you’re annoying all our customers, so what’s the real cost?

In this week’s Support Insights article, I'm gonna give the five best tips we've heard for making sure this kinda thing doesn't keep happening. 

These tips come from multiple podcast episodes and conversations I've had over the last couple of years. In particular, it's worth listening suggest to a recent episode with Emma Sopadjieva, who has headed up CX departments at ServiceNow, Medallia and Eventbrite.

The episode, combined with the below tips will, I hope, give you new tactics for influencing your entire company to view the world with customer-tinted glasses.

Let's start with a definition:

What is a customer-centric culture?

A customer-centric culture is one where strategy and decision-making are made through the lens of customer experience. 

Customer-centric companies believe that serving the customer (providing the best possible experience) will serve the company, too.

Companies that act with this belief must hold up the customer lens during decision-making, asking the question, “will this decision have a negative impact on customer experience?” throughout every stage of a new project.

There are often times where the decision to be customer-centric is difficult. 

An example we see too often? Making it laborious to find your ‘contact us’ button. 

In the short term, the reduction in contact volume is a tempting pull factor. However, in reality, this practice leaves your customers unhappy, frustrated, and more likely to ditch you for a competitor.

It's lose-lose.

With the right corporate governance, insights, and empathy, you can encourage every department across your business to avoid making decisions like these. 

Now, let’s take a look at how:

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Building a customer-centric culture

Before we explain each point, here are the top 5 tips in a more digestible infographic format.

How to build a customer-centric culture

1. Facilitate customer interactions

The more employees listen and interact with customers the better. 

Naturally, customer interactions help your team to build empathy for them, making sure the customer is top of mind during decision-making.

A number of companies facilitate customer interactions well, so let’s take a look at some examples:

At Pret A Manger

Pret A Manger, the UK’s leading sandwich chain, makes every new employee work for a week in-store during onboarding.

Ed Deason, Global Head of Customer Experience at Pret told us in an interview:

"It was incredible to see our baristas at work. By the time the customer got to the checkout, their drink had already been made. Our baristas have a phenomenal memory for their favourite orders. It is an incredible customer experience.”

At Airbnb

Harvard Business Review noted in a recent article that Airbnb facilitates interactions with both hosts and guests:

“Airbnb considers hosts, the people who rent out their homes, to be customers, so it facilitates employee-host interactions by requiring employees to stay in Airbnb rentals whenever they travel for business. The company also asks employees to let hosts stay with them when they attend meetings at the Airbnb offices.”

While many businesses (e.g. in the B2B space) don't have the same opportunities as Pret and Airbnb to put employees in front of customers, you can get similar results by improving the accessibility of your customer service or sales calls.

One technique I've seen deployed multiple times (Adobe does this, for example) is to set up a dedicated desktop in the office that hosts a live stream of customer support phone calls.

You can encourage every employee to make it part of monthly practice to sit for 30 minutes and listen to the issues customers are having.

Another example comes from Heidi El Hawary, Head of User Support at Trivago, told us recently that one of her goals is to set up a revolving door into customer support, enabling executives to come and listen to calls on a more regular basis.

2. Democratise customer insights

'Democratisation' is a bit of a buzzword in the CX world now. But all it means is that customer insights should be easy to access for everyone in the business.

Part of creating a customer-centric culture is enablement: employees should be enabled to easily put the customer first. 

Most teams don’t have time, resources or the skillset to run a new survey themselves, meaning it's generally difficult to underpin decisions with customer insights.

So what's the answer?

The first stage? Taking the insights and analytics done by other departments and making sure every team has access and is aware they exist.

Stage two? Is to leverage technology to uncover real-time insights from support, surveys and review data, and to centralise in one easily accessible platform. With centralised insights, individuals can query the data in the way they need and make even more customer-centric decisions.

Emma Sopadjieva noted in our podcast interview that during her time at Eventbrite they leveraged text and sentiment analytics to uncover and create access to real-time insights from customer support conversations:

“We utilized [customer service] data to make decisions as well. And it is critical to success as well, so you need to be able to tap into that data, to have the right analytics functionality.
A lot of our support data is verbatim. So, do you have a text and a sentiment analysis tool that can surface that data in real-time? 
I think in order to make any decision and to really impact change it can not wait. Back in the day, it was all of those offline analyses that take a quarter or two to produce. And then the experience has already moved on. Like we should've made those decisions like two, three months ago." 

Using a text and sentiment analytics tool (ideally one like SentiSum, where logins are unlimited—couldn't resist) is a great way to make fresh (real-time) insights readily available company-wide.

3. Create KPI alignment with customer outcomes

Every team has their own set of KPIs that guides strategic decision-making.

Generally, those KPIs are everything. And that makes sense.

If your performance is measured by hitting certain targets then you’re likely to be unwilling to start new projects that don’t help you hit them.

However, there are two ways you can leverage this little piece of information to help build a customer-centric culture:

Align CX metrics with key KPIs of other departments 

To get the customer’s voice heard, sometimes you just need to align customer needs with the strategic goals of the department about to launch a new project.

“The way you influence other leaders is to really understand the business metrics they care about and to figure out how CX can drive and improve those. The way you influence is aligning.”—Emma Sopadjiev, Head of CX Analytics at ServiceNow

How does this translate for customer service leaders? One example comes Heidi El Hawary, Head of Support at Trivago. Heidi started by understanding the priorities of multiple other departmental leaders at Trivago, and purposefully fed them quantitative insights on what customers love and hate—sharing those that would help make their project better.

Before long, those department leaders were coming to her asking for customer insights for new projects they were running.

You change everyone’s KPIs so they reflect the importance of CX

Without a significant degree of influence (see point 5) this can obviously be hard to achieve. However, one major root cause of poor CX is that it's rare to see CX metrics included as part of performance metrics. 

One company doing this well is Revolut, one of the fastest-growing fintech startups in the world. 

At Revolut, product managers are, in part, responsible for customer support tickets. The success of a new feature release is measured based on the ticket volume it creates or reduces. 

This kind of structure is cleverly designed because it taps into a real-time feedback source (customer service) to track the impact of product changes on customers.

The result? The customer is carefully considered.

4. Categorically prove the ROI of customer-centricity

Money speaks. So whether it’s retention, acquisition or profit margin, one way to get CX taken seriously is to prove it’ll create a healthy return on investment.

“One thing I don’t see enough companies or CX teams do is showing the ROI of CX investments. First of all, why should we care about CX and how can we prove that with our own data. That is difficult to prove, you need to use customer experience data and marry it with operational and financial data and show [the link.]”

Emma walks us through an example of doing this with NPS survey results.

“You have rich data on who’s a promoter, who’s a passive and who’s a detractor. [You have to work out] how you can take that data and marry it with operational data in a model that shows that promoters spend more, less costly to serve, refer more via word of mouth, and their revenue grows faster.”

If you know the drivers of negative NPS scores, you can then build a business case around tackling each one.

This works in exactly the same way for CSAT scores

If you prove that customers with higher CSAT scores buy more and stay as a customer for longer, you can fight for investment projects that improve CSAT.

5. Build CX into your corporate structure

As we mentioned in point three, building a customer-centric culture is easier if you wield lots of authority. 

“For customer experience to be successful, it needs to be placed where decisions are being made. If it’s a product-based company, CX should be in product. If decisions are being made at the strategy level, CX should be there.”—Emma Sopadjiev, Head of CX Analytics at ServiceNow

I think you can often tell a lot about a company’s CX by its corporate structure. 

In a recent interview with the Gousto Head of Customer Service, I saw this in action. Gousto is structured in ‘tribes’—every team exists within one of three larger functions.

The customer service department at Gousto sits within the "Growth" tribe. To me, that's a clear acknowledgement of how important customer service is to a healthy, growing company.


That concludes this week’s Support Insights article. For those of you who would like to follow along, I’m writing an article like this each week around a subject found in our podcast or a community conversation. You can subscribe to stay updated via the support insights homepage.

If you're a big fan of this subject, I also really recommend listening to our podcast interview with the head of customer service at Buzzbike. She designed a customer-obsessed culture from the ground up at a brand new startup, and her unique methods are well worth taking note of.

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