The Gist

  • Empowerment. Address underlying infrastructure and employee experience.
  • Active listening. Implement continual employee listening and closed-loop feedback.
  • Organizational support. Remove barriers and create connections.

At many organizations, what truly drives customer-centricity is misunderstood. According to Gartner research, 64% of customer-facing employees say that “unnecessary effort” prevents them from delivering a higher-quality experience for customers. This could include anything an employee does on a regular basis that feels to them to be overly complex or repetitive — in a way that negatively impacts their ability to create the best possible experience for customers.

But driving customer-centricity isn’t just about getting employees to care more — in fact, the majority of employees already do. Customer-centricity is also about enabling employees with the right capabilities.

Organizations cannot achieve the goal of being a customer-centric company by only investing in customer-facing technology, content and interactions. They must also include the underlying infrastructure behind the CX, and that very much includes the employee experience (EX) too.

The solution isn’t to be “customer-first and employee-second” but to be customer-first, employee-also.

To transform your culture accordingly, follow five key steps:

1. Identify Whether the Employee Journey Can Support Your CX Vision

Many executive leaders recognize that the daily experience of employees and the quality of experiences delivered to customers are related. However, the majority still build their vision without ensuring that the employees who are responsible for delivering against that ambition are supported.

This leads to over half of employees not believing their company is enabling them to deliver a good customer experience.

Just as understanding the customer journey is a necessity for a good CX, so is understanding how the EX can support that journey. To accomplish this, answer the fundamental question: What are they doing, thinking, feeling as they try to deliver in these critical moments of the customer experience? It is important to balance the organization’s focus on understanding the needs of your customers and ensure that:

  • Your employees have what they need to deliver on the CX vision
  • Your employees know what successful CX means to your organization and within the context of their role

Related Article: Is Your Culture Creating a Great Customer Experience?

2. Practice Continual Employee Listening

The ideal customer journey is contingent on the business capabilities that support every customer touchpoint. Leaders at high-performing CX companies demonstrate personal accountability and interest in learning whether these touchpoints are operating as intended for customers and employees.

Doing this shows that leadership is committed to setting up employees for success. In turn, that commitment will translate to your employees doing the same for customers. Indeed, according to Gartner research, the top three manager behaviors that strongly correlate with employees' motivation to provide a good customer experience mention the customer only once, and instead focus on supporting employees to do their best work. 

These findings highlight the importance of practicing active listening and offering feedback outlets, bringing us to step number three.

Related Article: How to Build a Thriving Company Culture

3. Enable a Culture of Active Listening and Closed-Loop Feedback

To find out more from your employees about sources of unnecessary effort in their work environment, consider asking: “What is stopping you?” or “What is getting in your way?” The goal of active listening is to understand the intent behind what employees are voicing and is characterized by showing empathy, patience and objectivity.

Successful organizations will also implement a system of closed-loop feedback to ensure that the individuals providing the feedback feel they have been heard. It is critical to share the specific actions taken based on an employee’s feedback, or any issue resolution that’s being planned or is in progress.

Learning Opportunities

Although implementing every idea from employees is not necessary, it is most critical for your leadership team to demonstrate the commitment to set up employees for success by sharing progress reports along the way. Ultimately, this responsiveness builds credibility with employees that their feedback is valuable and useful in driving change and improving CX.

4. Remove Barriers Across the Organization

Closing the loop on employee feedback helps to operationalize accountability, but organizations looking to transform culture should factor in the “value of visibility.” As employees help companies identify specific examples of unnecessary employee effort in their operations, executive leaders must support functional leaders and managers in removing those barriers and holding them accountable for doing so.

Companies that acknowledge internal pain points and recognize the employees who solve them encourage employees to share feedback by demonstrating the company will do the work to address their issues. Leaders who identify, escalate and remove employee barriers to CX improvement should be championed and acknowledged as a part of CX rewards and recognition programs or in other visible, companywide forums.

5. Create Connections Using Behavioral Guideposts

Defining a CX vision or customer-centered values can be challenging, but it’s only the beginning.

In fact, a study run by MIT Sloan among 562 large U.S. companies to assess how well companies live up to their stated values, found zero correlation between what companies say they value and what they do.

The problem is that most values are statements that have great intentions, but the values do not provide clear direction or meaning for how employees can and do contribute through their own daily work.

These guiding principles should empower employees to apply their own judgment to act and solve problems in a customer-centric way, rather than be thrust upon employees as top-down rules. This is imperative in fostering an environment that supports a true cultural shift toward customer-centricity and one which feels collaborative.

When building a customer-centric culture, EX has too often been ignored or undervalued. Take the average call center, for example: It might struggle to bring customer-centricity to life because there is more emphasis put on the vision for customer-centricity than how to enable employees to deliver on that promise, such as providing them with a good UX. For example, how many times have you been on the line with a customer service representative who had to access multiple screens just to pull up the same information you’ve already shared?

A high-performing call center, on the other hand, is led by those who are thinking about the employees that support it first and then make sure the technologies and insights they provide break down barriers rather than create more of them.

By focusing on the employee’s journey alongside that of the customer, organizations can build a truly customer-centric culture.

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