5 Simple Steps to a Customer-Focused Culture

Last Updated May 28, 2010 5:13 AM EDT

Creating a real customer-centric culture is recognised as critical factor for success. But what does that actually mean? My definition of culture is the way we do things around here â€"- I know it's simple, but that's how I like it.

Creating and shaping the culture that you want can be a complex and drawn out process, but as the Chinese philosopher Lau-Tzu said: "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step".

So here are 5 simple steps you can take to help you understand, develop and drive the way we do things around here:

  1. Stand in your own queues. Ring up your own business, stand in your reception, visit your showroom, sales outlet or distribution depot or simply check out your own website. How good are your people at dealing with customer enquiries or requests? What works and what doesn't? Consider a mystery shopper exercise â€" Not necessarily a sophisticated agency thing, but maybe ask a customer or friend to check you out. Or, just do it yourself. Ringing up your own business and asking for yourself can often be an enlightening experience.
  2. Throw out the rule book. In your business exists a book. It's a book of rules, regulations and procedures that people quote from verbatim and use daily. You'll never find it. It's invisible, but somehow it lives, breathes and influences behaviours in your business. Some of the rules are good, many are limiting. Your challenge is to discover its negative contents, and throw them out. Examples include 'We can't--' 'We must--' and 'I'm not allowed--' Ask your people about it -â€" many will quote it word for word. Your challenge is to eliminate the negative rules and promote and reinforce the positive ones.
  3. Go against the system. All your systems and processes do one of two things for your customer experience â€"- they add to, reinforce and support it or they hinder or detract from it. Find out what your systems and processes do by getting on the frontline, asking your customer-facing people what they think, need, want to create better customer experiences. They'll have ideas -â€" your challenge is to establish processes to tap in to those ideas. Saying your door is always open does not count as a process by the way.
  4. Champion your customer champions. Spot people doing things well. Go out of your way to find out the individuals in your business that really make an impact on your customers. Do you know who and where they are? Identify them and work out what they do, how they do it, what they say and how they say it. Replicate it. Get others to learn from them -- Encourage and reward them to share their experience and knowledge.
  5. Be a role model. It's not what you say, it's what you do. Get out there, go walkabout, talk to, and listen to, your customers and pass the feedback into the business, engage with your frontline people â€"- why not sit on reception for an hour, help with a delivery team for a day, work behind a counter and find out what it's really like to deal with customers. You'll learn what's really happening, and crucially, you'll be seen to be learning.
I'm not suggesting that doing these five simple things will improve your customer experience overnight, but you've got to start somewhere. Remember, winners take action, not notes.

If you'd like to hear about these approaches being adopted in the real world, then listen to my interview with Director Of Customer Experience at Axa Insurance, Paul Meehan â€"- some great examples and real practical and pragmatic ideas for action that you could develop to improve the customer focused culture in your business.

(Pic: Ivan Walsh cc2.0)