Customer experience is the final frontier for game-changing market differentiation.
Products, services, and pricing can be easily replicated; extraordinary customer experiences cannot. Every company should focus on fostering the customer-centric culture required to make both its internal and external customers raving fans of its brand. Investing in this effort results in a hard-to-replicate competitive advantage that can make a tremendous difference in your company’s bottom line.
Over the course of my career, I’ve helped a wide variety of companies instill a customer-centric culture throughout their organizations. Going through such a transformational process is not an easy feat, but surprisingly the story is always the same, no matter the industry or country: Four key areas of focus always bubble to the surface, and every company should use them as filters to determine their current level of customer experience prowess–for both the internal and external customer:
I can’t stress enough that making an honest assessment of your leadership is most important, because not doing so can be disastrous.
Here are some actual examples I have witnessed of poor leadership in action:
- The CEO who did not practice or support praising outstanding employee performance because he believed “their weekly paycheck is recognition enough”
- The customer service manager whose idea of customer service-innovation was “when I want my employee’s opinion on how to improve things, I’ll give it to them”
- The global head of HR who actually treated call-center employees as nothing more than “resources,” rather than highly valued contributors to the company’s success.
It should come as no surprise that customer satisfaction for these companies was essentially nonexistent, particularly because of these leaders and those that mimicked them.
So, begin the assessment process by answering these questions about your organization’s leadership:
- Do you have the right leaders in the right roles? (Remember: leaders lead, inspire, and engage their teams; managers just manage the status quo.)
- Do your leaders attract, hire, retain, and promote top talent?
- Do they personify your desired culture and model your desired behaviors every day?
- Does clear and meaningful communication flow freely from them and to them?
- Do they genuinely care for their employees and recognize them when appropriate?
- Do they foster an environment conducive to creativity, innovation, and empowerment?
- Do they make themselves visible and meet with their employees on a regular basis?
- If a leader consistently fails to exemplify the right behaviors do you ask them to find their happiness elsewhere in order to preserve your desired culture?
- Would you remove a leader who delivers great business results once you confirm they are toxic to your culture?
Your company’s ability to consistently deliver extraordinary customer experiences begins with leadership and the culture your leaders instill. If you answered any of the questions above with “no,” then you have some work to do.
Step two in the process is to assess employee engagement. Employee engagement can make or break your company’s long-term success. To do this, ask the following questions:
- Are your employees genuinely engaged and empowered, are they trained properly and coached by their leaders on a regular basis?
- Do they feel appreciated and do they perform at their best every day because they have to or because they truly want to?
- Do you they promote your brand to others and encourage people to come work there?
Step three is to survey your customers to gain insight into your company’s strengths and weaknesses. Ask:
- Do your customers feel valued?
- Are your customers loyal? If so, why?
- Do your customers promote your brand?
The last step in the process is to take a close look at your company’s bottom line. Important, yes, but not the most critical in the customer service spectrum:
- How are your revenues and profits generated?
- Are you acquiring new customers?
- Are you losing existing customers and/or employees? If so, why?
- Do your current customers come back? If so, how often?
Simply put, if you have the right leaders in place, you will have plenty of highly engaged and inspired employees who are consistently delivering extraordinary customer experience because they want to, not because they are forced to, which leads to loyal customers and brand promoters and inevitably results in strong business outcomes.
This process is not easy and it will require an investment of time and resources, but the rewards–such as a distinct competitive edge and an improved bottom line, are well worth the effort.
—Darryl Speach is chief customer officer at Greystone, a private financial services and investment group. He has served as lead consultant for the Disney Institute / McKinsey & Company co-branded joint venture, VP of Innovation / Customer Insights at New York Life Insurance, and VP at BI Worldwide Consulting where he advised Fortune 100 companies on employee engagement and customer loyalty strategies.