Customer experience - create a leadership ethos not an agenda

Change Associates' recent research into the drive by many organisations to achieve the holy grail of a customer centric culture, Optimising the Customer Experience - the changing role of customers, employees and leaders, identified 5 key challenges facing organisations. From case study research and conversations with industry leaders and experts, including our network of associates, we were able to draw out 10 ways in which organisations could address these challenges.

It was clear early on in the research that any shift in focus that an organisation wanted to take towards customer centricity had to stem from its leadership. Organisations that already exhibit this culture had achieved this because of their leadership ethos and an understanding of the shared values between customers and employees.

Board buy-in, from ownership of the business case for investment in the customer experience, linking senior management compensation, to customer service performance, is the foundation for success. The harsh reality is that too few boards own the ultimate responsibility for the customer service agenda.

For some organisations, especially those in which the CEO has become the most important customer, this shift requires a complete inversion of the operating model and perhaps a new organisational structure. This asks a lot of leaders: an openness to restructuring and a new mindset in which the customer experience is prioritised over profit or product.

"Customer centricity really has to come from the top. At Avis, the global president talks the language of the front-line staff. He really understands it. If he goes to a location, he talks as easily to the staff and customers as anyone. He can demonstrate all the basic things that are important: clean car, systems, etc. It's not just about the big metrics."
Lesley Viner, Customer Excellence Director, Avis Budget Group

Raymond Ackerman, former leader of South African retail giant Pick n Pay, who has written the foreword to the report, always expected everyone in his team to experience direct contact with consumers, as his former HR Director Nicholas Bicket explained:

"Raymond took customer calls himself. Every leader in the organisation had to have worked for one year in the stores to experience the customer experience. Everyone. Head Office was called the 'support office' to stress that their work was to support the stores to serve the customers better. Store staff were not allowed to park their cars near the store. That's where customers needed to park.

If someone wanted a new chair - Raymond contextualised it. "How many pints of milk would need to be sold to pay for that?" Everything was framed in terms of the customer.
Nicholas Bicket, former HR Director, Pick n Pay

If this is something you or your organisation are tackling at the moment then you can find out more about how others solved challenges in the full report, part of our Octagon series of research papers:

Optimising the Customer Experience - the changing role of customers, employees and leaders