In the last 20+ years, we have done several consulting assignments to help organizations become more customer-centric. In these two decades, we have met various types of leaders. There are some leaders who are truly customer-centric and they put the customer in the front and centre of their strategy, decisions, and actions. They are in the true sense, Customer-Centric Leaders. Similarly, we have interacted with leaders who don’t have a customer-centric DNA.
What differentiates a Customer-Centric Leader? Here are some of the things we have observed:
- A genuine belief that the customer is the purpose of their business and without focus on creating loyalty and advocacy sustained growth will be a pipe dream. They know that getting a customer is just the beginning of the process, the real effort is to keep the customers.
- Authentic and unwavering intent and actions to build a culture that is equipped and enabled to also keep the customer front and center of all actions, decisions, and processes. In fact, knowing that their role is not to drive and sustain sales but is to build and sustain the culture that keeps customers for life.
- Generating customer empathy: Customer-centric leader can establish robust systems to constantly empathize with changing needs of their customers. These leaders have a customer-centric mindset themselves but also invest in establishing systems and procedures so that their organization always has “ear to the ground”. For example, in one organization we found that the CEO and the entire leadership team had a mandate to speak with at least 5 customers every month. The leadership team used to engage in open minded discovery conversations with the customers and connect once a month to exchange notes, insights and ideas.
- Defining “who is our customer”: In large organizations, an undesirable distance gets created between the leadership and the customer. This can lead to a very fuzzy definition of the customer. This fuzzy definition then further translates into failed new product launches and initiatives. Customer-centric Leaders take the needed effort to define who is the customer group for the organization. They study data to understand which customer group transacts with them, how often do they transact, and their underlying needs. They are able to apply the right levels of demographic data to define their customer sharply.
- Benchmarking with the best companies: One of the traps non-customer-centric leaders fall into is benchmarking with their competition. These leaders frequently review how are their customer engagement scores with other peers in the industry. This leads to acceptance of mediocrity as the bar is set low. Truly customer-centric leaders realize that in customer experience the organization does not compete only with its competitors. In customer experience, the organization competes with any company the services the same customer. These leaders set benchmarks around being the most customer-centric company and study new age best practices more frequently
- Defining “how are we unique”: Strategy is about answering one key question- “How will we be unique”?. Customer-centric leaders use this framework to define how their brand is unique and define how their customer experience will be unique and different in the market. They are able to articulate this uniqueness so that everyone in the organization is able to understand and deliver it
- Driving key metrics: Several organizations use metrics to define and monitor customer experience. Customer-centric leaders realize that “all metrics are not equal”. Therefore, they are able to take 2-3 key metrics and drive a robust governance system around them. For example, in one organization we realized that the CEO and the leadership team built a robust way for driving NPS. In this organization, not only was NPS measured monthly but a strong governance system was put into place to review customer feedback, take corrective actions and track whether actions were increasing NPS scores. In one year, this organization was able to increase its NPS scores dramatically.
- Humility: We found customer-centric leaders to be humble while accepting feedback. Their reaction to feedback and complaints was not that or arrogant rejection but that of listening to gain understanding. This attitude when displayed by the leader develops a strong organizational behavior of “accepting complaints as gifts” and seeking to understand feedback. Humility also ensures that leaders to successful organizations realize that their continued success largely depends on their ability to meet customer needs
- Setting adaptive challenges on customer experience: Customer-centric leaders are constantly setting adaptive challenges around for their organization. For example, with one of the organizations we worked with, we noted that the CEO had sent an adaptive challenge on “reduce reasons for the customer to call us”. This adaptative challenge made the organization proactively study customer reasons for calling and leverage technology to make their products and services better. This increased customer convenience!
Take any one practice and make it work
Customer centricity is not a complicated journey. It is a journey about being focused. As a leader, you don’t need to start by focusing on all of the seven practices above. Take any one practice and start there. Any one of these practices will ensure that balance 6 follows!