Here are the six steps to a customer-centric culture

Known around the world for its resilience, the United Arab Emirates has emerged from the pandemic with renewed vigor. Fitch Solutions has forecast real GDP growth for the country at 4.6% in 2022, a considerable increase from 3.4% in 2021. And as life returns to one of the world’s fastest growing economies rich in the world, we can expect its constituent companies to fight hard for the hearts and minds of customers.

The story of customer loyalty is one of many characters. Throughout the pandemic, buyers in the UAE have seen efforts to capture, retain and monetize their attention. In the restaurant sector alone, brands like Good Basket, Barakat Fresh and Kibsons have competed through discounts, introductory offers and loyalty programs. Other innovators have reinvented their entire business model. Emirates Catering set up Foodcraft, an online business that delivered recipe kits and ready-to-cook meals, to ensure company staff could be retained.

Studies show that employees in customer-centric organizations tend to be more satisfied with their jobs and perform better – which is good news, because employees are the foundation of customer-centric cultures, even if their role is not customer oriented. Every employee needs to understand the customer – who they are, what they want, and what their most common issues are. Here are six proven steps to building a corporate culture that always puts the customer first.

Measure your current customer orientation
Employee engagement surveys are a proven way to get detailed insights into what works and what doesn’t. At the end of the survey, you should know the extent of employee knowledge about how they contribute to the customer experience. You need to know if managers consider the customer when making decisions. And you should have employee feedback on how they think the company treats customers.

Create a vision
Once you have the results of the assessment, senior managers can now sift through the findings and identify opportunities to improve the customer experience. It is essential that the C-suite is willing to move from an internal focus on operations and processes to a customer-centric strategy – a McKinsey survey highlights that putting the customer first, along with improvements in operations and technology can have a positive impact on customer and employee satisfaction and the end result.

Communicate the vision
Cultures are embedded in the DNA of the company, at the leadership, team and individual level. Beyond its people, an organization’s culture is embedded in its processes and even in its technology. There’s a lot to change, so start with the people involved in annual planning and business strategy. Budget priorities should align with CX needs, and strategic goals should be reinforced by measuring customer interaction results. HR should use these metrics as the basis for KPIs.

teach empathy
Employees need to be exposed to the customer experience, so they become aware of the pain points in the journey. Organizations need to invite customers to team and company events to tell their stories and keep employees focused. Customer experience information should be shared with all employees, either face-to-face in meetings or through online dashboards and reports. Employees should have access to physical and virtual training spaces, and non-customer-facing employees should shadow sales and support teams to see the process in action.

Reinforce the message
A strategic internal communication plan is essential to maintain customer focus. Continue to share information and post success stories. Executives and managers at all levels should never stop talking about CX and the customer-centric mindset. They should never act as if the transition is complete and the destination is reached. The new culture should be a continuous journey in which customer-centric metrics are continuously updated and shared. The goals and progress of the original vision should also be discussed regularly. CX metrics goals and results should be treated the same as revenue and profit. Part of ongoing communication should be celebrating the employees who have been most successful in capturing the vision and executing it. Formal recognition programs should both highlight their behaviors and leverage them to train other employees. Their stories can also be shared externally to recruit others trained in customer orientation.

Hire employees with a customer-centric mindset
Now that today’s workforce is customer-focused, it’s time to look deeper. The success that the improved customer experience will bring will drive growth, which requires an expansion of the workforce to ensure that customer centricity can continue. HR needs to look for out-of-the-box, customer-centric candidates. This will lead to less learning curve when the winning part is integrated. As with current employees, the role is irrelevant. All candidates must be shortlisted based on their empathy and CX credentials.

And repeat…
Building new cultures takes time and effort. But with CX, it’s worth it. Gains, however, can diminish if an organization relaxes and thinks the job is done and the culture is embedded. Constant work is required to ensure that the customer-centric mindset does not crumble. Don’t let exorbitant net promoter scores make you overconfident. Be vigilant and repeat the mantra over and over: “customer first”.

Mark Ackerman is Regional Vice President – Middle East and Africa at ServiceNow

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