I’m often asked for the secret to a company or brand delivering amazing customer service, and it isn’t about how nice people are, how easy the company is to do business with or how people are hired and trained. While those are all important — actually, extremely important — they come in behind what I consider to be the most important part of customer service, and that’s the culture.

Some of you may be thinking, “The culture? I already knew that. That’s not really a secret.” You’re right. It’s not a secret, but I’m surprised by the number of companies that struggle with this. To me, this is the foundation of a customer-focused organization, and it’s how we start many of our customer service workshops. 

So, I’d like to share my Six Simple Steps to Creating a Customer-Focused Culture. I use the word simple, but it’s important to realize that simple does not mean easy. Simple is in the simplicity of the concept. Execution is another story. Depending on the size of your organization, whether you’re local or global, B2B or B2C, there’s potential complexity that makes these simple steps more difficult to get through.

I was once speaking to 50 high-level executives of high-profile companies. One of these executives said, “You keep saying six simple steps. How long will it take to implement these ideas in my company?” 

I answered with the question, “How many people are in your company?” The answer was 35,000 globally, and I responded, “About four to six years.”

A small business can do this in a month. For larger businesses, it can take years. But, the process works, regardless of size or industry. So, with that, let’s dive into these six steps.

1. Define the Vision

I refer to the customer service and CX vision as a mantra. We work with our clients to develop a short phrase or one-sentence vision that is easily remembered and repeatable. Some say that this is already in their corporate vision or mission statement. That’s fine, but we suggest creating a similar but separate statement.

Consider what the Ritz-Carlton has done with its motto. It’s just nine words long: We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen. The first day you show up to work you learn this and never forget it.

And then there is Ace Hardware, which refers to itself as The Helpful Hardware Place. Those four words are its brand promise as well as the north star that drives it toward being the most helpful and convenient retailer on the planet. All Ace Hardware associates are trained to deliver on those four words.

A healthcare organization came up with a simple “purpose statement” that is also nine words: People serving people like those we love the most. This is their purpose and vision for what they want their customers (patients and family members) to experience. It’s obvious that in a hospital environment they would want employees who display enthusiasm and care, and this nine-word sentence perfectly defines how they want their people to perform. 

2. Communicate the Vision

Once the vision has been created, it must be communicated in such a way that it is front-and-center all the time. It can be painted on walls, in email signatures, printed on pens and notepads, etc. The point is that employees see it all the time.

It’s not a theme of the month or the year. This is permanent — or at least for a very long time. Once the vision has been created and everyone understands it, it’s time to move to step No. 3.

3. Train to the Vision

This is where “the rubber meets the road.” The vision means nothing unless employees are properly trained to deliver on it. And it’s more than just an onboarding process or a one-time introduction for current employees. Training isn’t something you did, it’s something you do. Once an employee goes through initial training, there must be ongoing reinforcement with constant reminders. The goal is to keep customer service and experience front of mind.

And one other important point: customer service and CX training are for everyone, not just for employees who deal with customers. People who operate behind the scenes must also be trained in the vision. Of course, depending on their roles and responsibilities, they may be trained differently than a customer support agent or a salesperson, but the point is that they are still trained to fit into the customer-focused culture the leadership is trying to create.

4. Model the Vision

Leadership, management and supervisors must model the behavior they expect employees to exhibit. You can’t yell at employees and in the next sentence tell them to be nice to customers and one another. It’s incongruent behavior.

Learning Opportunities

It’s really quite simple. Treat your employees the way you want your customers to be treated, if not even better. This sets the tone on the inside of the organization that will be felt on the outside by the customers.

5. Defend the Vision

I once asked the CEO of a large company what his most important job was. He didn’t have to think of the response. He said, “I defend the culture.” He went on to explain that he helped create a reputation for his marketplace that was all about the customer experience.

If he saw a person, a department or a region going out of alignment, he would do what he could to bring them back in. Similar to step No. 4 (Model the Vision), this is the responsibility of everyone in any type of leadership, management or supervisory role. 

6. Celebrate When It Works

This is the fun one. Once everyone is in alignment and you’re seeing success with your customer service and experience initiatives, let everyone know it’s working.

This isn’t new software or technology that’s been put in place to create a better experience. Typically, it’s people who are driving the customer experience. So, when they are successful, give them some accolades, have a little celebration, share some stories and let people know you appreciate them for their good work.

Final Thoughts

There you have it, six simple (but not always easy) steps to create the customer-focused culture. No skipping any of these! They are all important. Step one will take some time. Once you have the vision — also known as a mantra — with some hard work and planning, the rest will start to fall into place.