Being Customer Centric Has Nothing To Do With Your Customers — Here’s Where You Should Start.

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Many companies struggle to understand what it means to be a customer-centric organization. While a somewhat amorphous concept, the most common definition is “to put the customer at the center of everything you do.” This idea is frequently translated into new policies, procedures and processes, all intended to establish a more customer-centered operation. However, many of these efforts will fail.

In fact, according to McKinsey, around 70% of all customer-centric change initiatives don’t succeed, not because of unclear directives but a lack of bottom-up support. Leaders continually overlook the power of culture and its gravitational pull to fight change.

A customer-centric culture cannot occur simply through consensus or mandate, especially if it starts solely to increase top-line sales and earnings per share — these are merely outcomes of an inherent behavioral shift. Behaviors cannot change without all employees, management, executives and board members aligned on why a customer-centric culture is good business.

A successful customer-centric behavioral change strategy begins with understanding your change context — the pattern of influencing factors that shape how change is perceived and adopted within the company. Though change contexts vary widely across organizations, leaders can benefit from recognizing their unique context, from which more tailored strategies can be constructed.

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For instance, Company A might identify its organizational change context as strong in tactical execution but weak in strategic thinking, with one specific team—information technology—being the most historically resistant to change. In addition, it might determine that the sales team will likely be early adopters and strongly influence other departments.

Once the changing context is defined, leaders must identify its positive and negative aspects, where roadblocks and advantages may occur for customer-centric change adoption. This includes identifying behaviors, catalysts and inhibitors of customer-centric change.

Behaviors are actions and conduct that would support or derail your customer-centric end state. Catalysts positively influence those behaviors, ranging from incentives to processes to make it easier for employees to perform customer-centric activities more effectively. Inhibitors include those elements which create resistance to change, whether social, operational, or cultural.

Behaviors aligned with customer-centric objectives may include customer service team members staying on the phone to ensure a customer issue is resolved rather than attempting to meet call time metrics or an individual employee sending hand-written thank you cards to their assigned customers. Catalysts could include customer decision-making autonomy for individual departments or flexibility in customer satisfaction expenditures. Inhibitors might range from a rigid organizational structure, narrow compensation philosophy, or caustic leadership on key teams.

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After these cultural influences have been fully mapped, leaders can create tailored interventions to shift mindsets, eliminate inhibitors, reinforce aligned behaviors and leverage change agents to introduce and model new ones. These interventions should be articulated as part of a change philosophy that fits the organizational change context. Depending on the context, interventions can include common elements such as organizational structure re-architecture or the implementation of new systems and tools to streamline customer interactions.

In this situation, Company A could create a set of behavioral and mindset interventions, including amplifying beneficial behaviors by publicly highlighting employees who demonstrate desired behaviors, recognizing teams throughout the organization that create new ideas aligned with the customer-centric vision, and reshape the company’s social network to link distinct individuals and groups around mutually beneficial goals or ideas.

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Once leaders have expanded their view of possible change, they can better conceive and utilize more varied interventions. This can be supported through cross-industry research to identify relevant precedents and creative interventions rather than solely relying on personal experience.

Until new behaviors and mindsets are rooted in the organization’s social norms, they are subject to degradation. Interventions increase employees’ interest and ability to accept and enact customer-centric change.

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