Many leaders try to change their corporate culture to be more customer-centric. In a recent poll of 57 CMOs, we asked the top five questions that are most urgent to bring success to the marketing department in 2022. Three of the top four answers require leaders to operationalize their customer experience (CX) data, values, and processes into their company’s culture and employees’ daily jobs:
- How can bring the voice of the customer to cross-functional business decisions (e.g., new product development, innovation)?
- How can we ensure that brand and CX strategy are reflected in business operations?
- How do we build a consistent brand experience across audiences and channels?
Changing culture is always a challenge. Efforts to create customer-centric change are undermined when leaders don’t implement both explicit and implicit expectations and rewards.
Explicit Customer-Centric Culture Change
Explicit expectations and rewards are the ones leaders communicate clearly and directly. Often, for example, leaders will share and promote the organization’s new CX values. Another explicit action many leaders use is to develop training programs to help employees understand CX processes and expectations. These efforts make clear the vision the leader has for the organization and its employees.
These are a good start, but one of the explicit changes leaders often fail to make is to consider the way employees are recognized and rewarded. There’s an adage that employees do what they are paid to do, not what their bosses tell them to do. Simply put, setting new customer-centric expectations for employees while changing nothing of how they’re compensated or recognized undermines the effort. For example, training call-center employees to be more empathetic with customers often brings little change if those employees continue to be rewarded more for efficiency (call handle time, call volume) than customer-centric impact (the improved satisfaction, greater trust, and reduced effort that customer-centric care can deliver.)
There has long been a debate in CX circles about the value and wisdom of compensating employees for CX outcomes. Explicitly tying bonuses or financial rewards to employee customer-centric performance requires care to mitigate challenges (such as ensuring employees cannot manipulate the results and making CX KPIs fair and accurate to each employee’s job.) But, even if your organization doesn’t tie direct financial rewards to employee CX contributions, there are still important ways to measure and reward employee performance in explicit ways. These include altering performance appraisals to consider examples of customer-centric behavior or creating recognition programs where employees can nominate each other for demonstrating customer-centric commitment.
Implicit Customer-Centric Culture Change
Often, leaders lean on explicit communications and rewards to create customer-centric change while being unaware of the implicit ways they may disincentivize customer-centric behaviors. If leaders aren’t cautious, they can send mixed signals, demanding customer-centric changes in straightforward ways while implying different values via their day-to-day decisions and actions.
If you wish to influence a customer-centric revolution in your firm or team, you must consider:
- Have you listened to what gets in employees’ ways as they strive to achieve your explicit customer-centric goals? Asking employees to be more customer-centric without considering your organization’s processes, policies, systems, and rules that prevent employees from providing a great CX is one way to disincentive customer-centric change. Another is to ignore sources of unnecessary employee effort that can lead to poor customer experience. In a recent Gartner study, we found that 66% of employees agree with the statement, “The easier it is for me to do my job, the easier it is to provide customers with an excellent experience.”
- Do you make all or most of your decisions based on short-term ROI? It won’t matter how much you exhort employees to deliver better experiences if your actions convey you care more about immediate financial outcomes such as increased sales or reduced costs. Consider how you evaluate, prioritize and approve ideas and projects. Do your criteria match your customer-centric goals? Or does your evaluation process penalize customer-centric ideas designed to provide what customers want, need, and expect while rewarding proposals that deliver company-centric financial gains?
- How do you speak about your business results? If you prioritize and focus only on financial outcomes and not customer impact, you implicitly convey to employees that is what you value. When I was at USAA, I once had a senior leader admonish me for providing a project update that began with the financial ROI before discussing the positive impact on the customer. “Lead with how we improved our member’s lives and relationships with USAA, then communicate how it impacted our top and bottom lines,” he told me. That statement says a lot about what he valued and, perhaps, explains a lot about what makes USAA so different, earning some of the highest NPS scores in its category.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “What you are stands over you the while, and thunders so that I cannot hear what you say to the contrary.” Over the years, that thought has been shortened into a pithy statement also attributed to Emerson: “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.”
The point he makes is that we don’t convey who we are and what we value with our explicit words but our implicit actions. For leaders, that means customer-centric culture change depends on what you do, not just what you say. The ways you implicitly encourage or dampen customer-centric behaviors can do more to affect your organizational culture than all the explicit expectations you communicate.