Last updated April 9, 2021
“The way a customer sees your business is a direct reflection of your internal culture,” says Ken Schmidt, former Director of Communication Strategy for Harley Davidson. Think about that for a minute… What message is your company culture communicating to your customers? Does it reflect a clear prioritization of them?
Developing a customer-centric or even customer-obsessed culture is key to truly understanding and serving your customers. Here’s how to build this type of culture in your own organization.
What is company culture?
First things first, what exactly does “company culture” mean, and what are the benefits of a strong culture and drawbacks of a deficient one?
Company culture refers to the behaviors and attitudes of an organization and its employees. Culture is observable in the way people interact with each other and customers, what values they deem important, what types of decisions they make, and the kind of expectations and goals they have. Company culture can be deliberately created, or simply a result of decisions made over time.
Companies that have strong and vibrant company cultures foster an environment where employees feel nurtured, empowered, engaged, and inspired. Strong company cultures acknowledge and reward individuals in the group for creative and innovative successes, while leveraging failures as learning opportunities. Seeds of criticism and reprimand can’t take root in these types of ecosystems, providing room for creativity, collaboration, and innovation.
On the other hand, organizations with deficient company cultures are filled with employees that are often fearful, inefficient, disloyal, and lacking motivation. These organizations are generally mired down with heavy burdens of policies, procedures, and protocols that stifle initiative and negatively impact the customer experience. Consumers interacting with culture-deficient companies, unsurprisingly, tend to differentiate on tangible factors such as price, forcing those businesses into a race to the bottom to acquire sales.
What does it mean to have a customer-centric culture?
Many traditional companies tend to work from the “inside-out.” They strategize from behind closed doors without customer input, then broadcast their “new and improved” products and services to customers with the hope of uptake and success.
Companies with a customer-centric or client-centric culture, on the other hand — those that are true customer experience leaders — design products, services, and processes from the “outside-in.” This means they engage or even collaborate with customers first, then take that heightened understanding of customer wants, goals, challenges, and pain points back to product/service/process development. And these companies are wildly more successful because they keep customer needs in the crosshairs of every business decision – the essence of a customer-centric culture.
How can I work to develop a customer-centric culture?
It starts at the top: only customer-obsessed leaders can create customer-centric companies. There are many examples of these types of customer-focused leaders: Walt Disney, Howard Schulz of Starbucks, Tony Hsieh of Zappos, Horst Schulze of Ritz Carlton, and countless others. While each of these leaders run (or ran) very different businesses, they all share an unwavering understanding that their customer is their most important business asset.
5 tips to create a customer-centric culture
Some common beliefs and practices shared by many customer-obsessed leaders include the following five principles. If you’re looking to infuse more customer-centricity into your own culture, take these to heart.
- Focus on your company’s “why” — not just your “what”: Acquiring more leads, increasing sales, getting higher ratings, those are all your end goals (the “what”), but at the forefront of every decision made and action taken should be the reason for doing it: customer satisfaction and loyalty.
- Hire, train, reward, and promote customer-focused employees and managers: Making positive examples out of individuals going above and beyond shows the organization that caring about customers is valued and will take them far in the company.
- Empower front line employees to take care of customers… and then trust them to do what’s right: A customer-centric company always does what’s in the best interest of their customers. This means giving employees autonomy to make decisions that put customers first, not reprimanding or punishing them for going against company policy.
- Provide real-time feedback to all employees: Employees should receive customer feedback immediately following an interaction and have access to reviews and ratings. This not only motivates them to continue providing excellent service but understand where they’re missing the mark to make improvements.
- Share and celebrate customer success stories openly and often: Customer-centric companies celebrate customers everyday. Sharing positive stories helps instill excitement for the joy the organization brings to people, which in turn inspires employees to keep striving for higher levels of customer satisfaction.
How does customer-centricity apply to building homes?
Let’s discuss customer-centric culture in the context of the homebuilding industry. When it comes to choosing a home builder, today’s home buyers have an overwhelming amount of choice. Often, differentiating between several high-quality builders is complicated, as features and benefits from builder to builder are barely distinguishable to the average home buyer.
To combat this, leading home builders are leveraging emotional connections to transcend features and benefits and engage home buyers. People don’t do business with products: they do business with people. Forming positive emotional connections with customers is essential to standing out and becoming the clear choice. These emotional connections begin within the organization as an internal “culture of caring”, which is then extended outwards to customers. That internal caring is the foundation needed to build a strong customer community filled with brand evangelists.
“Culture of caring”: building industry examples
A strong, customer-focused “culture of caring” is one that can be trusted by both employee and customer. A site supervisor that acts in the best interest of a customer when faced with an issue that could jeopardize the customer experience doesn’t fear being reprimanded in a strong culture of caring. A warranty service representative that spends a bit more time or money to create a customer “win” during a tough service call is excited to share the story in a strong culture of caring. These actions may not strictly adhere to “company policy,” but if they fulfill the “customer promise,” by maintaining the expectations of a strong, internal customer-centric culture.
When it comes down to it, competitors can copy a product or replicate a technology but no competitor can ever duplicate your culture. Your culture is distinct and provides you with the opportunity to leave your own unique fingerprint on the customer experience. And that is the ultimate value differentiator in today’s competitive homebuilding industry.