When I think about customer-centric cultures, companies like Zappos, Southwest, and Ritz-Carlton come to mind. Herb Kelleher, former CEO of Southwest Airlines, knows a thing or two about culture, and he defines it as: “… what people do when no one is looking.” There are a ton of examples of how people-centric (both employee and customer) his organization is. I love that concept and definition. But how do people know what to do? How do other organizations achieve a similar culture?
Southwest is a great company to aspire to be like, but just know that you will never be able to replicate its culture or anyone else’s. Why? Because a culture is unique to the organization; it’s like your fingerprint – one of a kind and unique to you. How, then, do you go about establishing the culture you desire within your organization?
I’ve posed two great questions above: how do people know what to do, and how do you get the customer-centric culture you desire? I know I’m answering questions with questions, but bear with me. Let’s dive in and identify FIVE KEY questions you must address in order to achieve the right culture within your organization.
1. What’s your purpose?
Your purpose is your why. It is the reason you’re doing what you’re doing. It is your guiding light. Everything you do, from hiring to designing your customer experience, will be aligned with this purpose. Make sure that your purpose is clear, succinct, focused, and communicated. Everyone in the organization needs to understand who you are and then live and breathe it every day. Remember that customers buy from – and feel commitment to – brands with which they align, and if you lose your focus and try to be everything to everyone, you’ll flounder; you’ll lose your footing and your following. And then the business falters and fails.
2. What are your core values?
Your core values are those things that you believe are important to you and to the business. They are your standards or norms. They are your beliefs that guide you in identifying what is right and wrong, both internally for your employees and externally for customers. Like your purpose, values must be aligned with, and integrated into, everything you do. They drive behavior and decisions; when in doubt, you must always ask: Is this the right thing to do? Does it fit with our values?
3. Are you hiring the right people?
Hiring the right people is extremely important to achieving a customer-centric culture. What does “right people” mean? I can best summarize it as: those people who are aligned with values and your purpose; they are passionate about what you do and about what they will be doing for you. They may not have all the skills needed for the role, but they have the heart to do the job and be a good cultural fit. Why do this? Because the right people will be more focused on what they do and on the success of the business, want the business to succeed, and will do anything to ensure it does.
4. What is leadership’s role?
Even though, technically, culture is a grass-roots effort driven by employees, leadership still has a key role in ensuring the culture stays on the right track. Leadership must model the desired behaviors, support and reinforce the right behaviors, be transparent and trustworthy, communicate, and quite simply, care about the employees.
5. Are you listening to customers?
Last but certainly not least, you must answer this question. It is at the heart of a customer-centric culture. Customer-centricity means that the customer is at the center of every decision, but this type of decision making and culture cannot be achieved without not only listening to customers but also acting on their feedback and including that voice in every corner of the business.
Summary: Culture is the set of values and norms that guide how the business operates, i.e., how your people think and act, day in and day out. A customer-centric culture is one in which the customer’s perspective and viewpoint is ingrained into the company DNA, is at the center of every action, decision, conversation, process, strategy, etc. The best customer-centric cultures are built at a grassroots level; they are the most sustainable because your employees are the ones responsible for creating them, own the outcomes, and understand the implications of any missteps. Yes, there must be support and guidance from the top, but when the troops are rallied around this cause, great things will happen.