The ‘Secret Ingredient’ to Creating a Customer-Centric Organisation

GUEST BLOG FROM PETER WHITELAW, AUSTRALIAN BUSINESS CONSULTANT AND CO-AUTHOR OF “Customer at the Heart”

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Customer At The Heart
 

What is the most important ingredient for creating a customer-centric organisation?

Since John O’Connor and I embarked upon writing the book Customer at the Heart more than a year ago, I have had the opportunity to meet many people interested in customer centricity. I have also delivered several presentations to small and large business groups on the topic. I probably shouldn’t be surprised, but people often asked me the above question. It indicates that people are curious and keen to embark upon the journey towards customer centricity.

My simple answer: Passionate Leadership is the secret ingredient.

All of the senior executives we interviewed for our book demonstrate this trait. We selected them for this reason – to share their passion. However, over many years of assisting organisations to change and become more customer-centric, I have encountered a spectrum of leaders. I’ll tell a couple of stories, but first I need to explain why Passionate Leadership for customers is so important.

The first premise is that leaders are ultimately accountable for the performance of the organisations. The second is that without happy customers, the organisation won’t exist for very long. The logic is simple. Leaders and their organisations don’t survive unless their customers are happy.

Business Barriers

Unfortunately, a lot of ‘stuff’ can get in the way of that simple equation. Organisations are continuously evolving and changing as the environment changes. This constant movement creates uncertainty and to counter this we develop rules, policies procedures, role descriptions and other bureaucratic tools to maintain control. Much of this inhibits creativity, innovation and sensitivity to the needs of customers.

Culture

Then there’s ‘culture’, commonly described as ‘the way we do things around here’. Much of the current culture is derived from the history of the organisation. The people on board the longest see it as a safe haven and permeate it through to newer members of the team. You can really see the entrenched cultures when you merge two organisations. The problem with entrenched culture is that it’s intransigent. We know people resist change because it’s scary – even when it’s bleeding obvious that we have to change to succeed.

Passionate Leadership

Passionate leaders know all this. They’ve usually been there before and they see that their real role is to make change happen. That means challenging the status quo and being prepared to break a few things and rebuild them. They start with the equation ‘happy customers = business performance’ and begin to influence their people into putting customers’ needs into every decision. Alongside that, they challenge their people to question why they do the things they do, unless they ultimately assist the customer. Passionate leaders are risk takers.

How to make it happen?

How do leaders do it? They talk constantly about customers and to customers. They visit customers and they ask and they listen. They seek regular information on the quality of customer relationships.

Next, they act on what they learn. They know they can’t change culture overnight, but they can put in train a series of initiatives – all intended to respond to customers’ needs.

By taking this stance and embarking on the journey towards customer centricity, they begin to influence their people. Some will enthusiastically join in, some will remain passive and some will be obstinate resisters. Gradually the culture will shift – even if it means shedding some of the resisters.

Passionate leaders reinforce the momentum by celebrating successes. Their people become collaborators and contributors to change and they grow into their new identities.
 
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Case Studies

Last year I met with a passionate leader who has been working assiduously with his leadership team and his people on a 5-year transformation to not only adapt the business to a world of disruptive competition, but also to change the internal culture. He’s been doing this ‘brick-by-brick’ so that the company is now clearly differentiated from competitors because of its superior customer service and depth of relationships.

A couple of years ago I endeavoured to assist an organisation in a very competitive industry where profit margins are thin. Their CEO gave lip service to customer centricity to the extent of branding the business as ‘customer-focused’ while doing little else. The corporate priority was to automate as much of the front-line services as possible, and to shed staff. When I interviewed some of its key customers it was obvious that there was a growing problem. One comment I recall was: “next they’ll be offshoring their customer service”. That CEO has since moved on.

I recently met with a relatively new leadership team who are commencing their customer centricity journey. They have many challenges ahead – a legacy of broken promises, little in-depth insight into their customers, staff who are keen but nervous about the future. However, the new CEO will succeed because he has boundless enthusiasm for customer centricity and he has a leadership team who share his vision and the passion. Their first step is to reach out to customers and listen.

The Secret Ingredient

Passionate Leadership is the secret ingredient to building a customer-centric organisation. It’s not the only ingredient. Customer centricity also requires innovation, commitment, time and persistence. It’s also obvious that it will not succeed unless that secret ingredient – ‘passionate leadership’ – is fully activated.

 

Peter Whitelaw is an Australian consultant providing customer relationship assessments, customer centricity guidance and change management services. Peter has a background in engineering, sales and general management with Hewlett Packard, Tektronix and Optus Communications. For 11 years he was CEO of project and change management training and consulting company Rational Management, training thousands of managers across the world. In recent years he has been lead consultant on several change management and customer centricity projects for both commercial and government organisations.

Deep-Insight takes to the High Seas

NEW CLIENTS ANNOUNCEMENT

We are delighted to announce two new clients at Deep-Insight. Both have a strong maritime feel.

Survitec


Survitec is a global leader in survival and safety solutions to the marine, defence, aviation and offshore markets.  It has over 3,000 employees worldwide, covering 8 manufacturing facilities, 15 offshore support centres and over 70 owned service stations. Survitec also has a network of over 500 third party service stations and distributors.

Across its 160-year history, Survitec Group has remained at the forefront of innovation, design and application engineering. It is the trusted name when it comes to critical safety and survival solutions. The new management team has made a commitment to focus the company around its customers.

In a recent interview for SAFETY4SEA, Survitec’s newly-appointed Managing Director for its Marine Division, Baba Devani explains how the world’s leading safety and survival partner is restructuring to become more customer-centric.

Port of Newcastle


Port of Newcastle is the largest port on the East Coast of Australia. As a global trade gateway for more than 220 years, the Port of Newcastle delivers safe, sustainable and efficient logistics solutions for its customers. It is also the largest coal exporting port in the world.

Port of Newcastle’s customers include coal producers in the Hunter Valley, non-coal traders including fuels, alumina, wheat, mineral concentrates and fertiliser manufacturers, as well as some of the world’s largest shipping lines.

The Port of Newcastle is at an early stage of development of a customer-centricity programme. Deep-Insight is delighted to be helping CEO Craig Carmody and his management team on that journey.

Does your Net Promoter Score (NPS) matter?

DOES YOUR NET PROMOTER SCORE (NPS) REALLY MATTER? To answer this it is important to really understand what we asking our customers when we use NPS

Recently, after a perfectly OK meal in a restaurant, someone asked me this question: Would I recommend the restaurant to friends or family? Without hesitation, I said ‘N0’. Queue shock and gasps. The meal was ok, the service was fine, the atmosphere was nice. How could I be so mean?

I didn’t think I was being mean. It was all fine but a recommendation from me is a reflection on me, it is saying something about me and my standards – for food of all things. I certainly wouldn’t recommend a food experience that was a bit, well, “meh

In the professional B2B world the stakes are a lot higher. Social Media – yes that includes LinkedIn – has created a whole business out of self-promotion. Recommending or promoting someone else’s business is an easy way to do this with little effort. It is the ultimate win/win. A recommendation from a customer is the most effective sales tool you can have and in turn, the recommend-er gets to add value to their brand. But this delicate equilibrium can only exist if your customers trust that recommending your business, and your company’s hard work, will reflect well on them.

So, how do you find out if your customers trust you enough to recommend you? Enter Net Promoter Score or NPS. A clever, albeit obvious, idea –ask them!

And we have been asking, NPS is everywhere and we are obsessed. It can influence the whole mood of an organisation. But can you confidently say that that all of your promoters really are recommending your company? Not until you answer at least the following questions:

Are your Senior Leaders driving a culture of valuing the feedback, not the score?

We are often asked: ‘Do you measure NPS? Head Office needs us to provide an NPS number’.

One does not need a doctorate in psychology to know that if there is motivation, implied gain or actual gain, to reach a target number, then that will drive certain behaviors to reach that number. A commitment to consistently gathering the data with integrity needs to come from the leadership team, visibly and regularly. Helping our clients get this engagement from their leadership team is the first thing we do in any CX project, see how we do it here.

Is your organisation measuring it with integrity, or are you chasing a number?

Teams are often trained to find clever ways of making sure that NPS moves in the right direction. A new and improved NPS score is then announced and celebrated. NPS is very useful but only if the culture and approach for gathering it ensure that it is done with the intention of really understand the customer. It’s crucial that organisations do not distract by chasing and competing for a number. This is about the customer after all.

Is Transactional NPS concealing the truth?

Yes, in the last 5 minutes I had a great experience with your customer service team member. But will I recommend your business just based on this? No, of course not. But I will answer 10 because I am a nice person and I don’t want the individual who just really helped me to suffer. This use of NPS is manipulative and gives you absolutely no insight into your customers’ intentions for recommending you.

So, does your NPS score matter?

Does it reflect if your customers are actually recommending you in the marketplace, or has your organisation become better at understanding how and when to gather the responses in order to ensure a score is achieved?

Only when you can answer that should anyone care what the score is.

 
Does NPS Work for B2B Companies
 

* Net Promoter® and NPS® are registered trademarks and Net Promoter SystemSM and Net Promoter ScoreSM are trademarks of Bain & Company, Satmetrix Systems and Fred Reichheld