Conventional approaches to building a customer-centric culture involve topics like putting the customer first. While all of this is indeed important, customer-centric culture will not be sustainable without the commitment and conviction of the people who design, build, implement and serve every day. Regardless of industry or market segment, building a world-class culture based on shared values, inclusion, compassion and lateral service must come before any customer-centric focus in order to drive real success.
Much has been written about the importance of culture in business environments, but great cultures where employees love to come to work and advocate for a brand are elusive. Building a customer-centric culture requires relentless discipline and commitment to the health of a tribe of people and must be consistently upheld in decision making in an enduring fashion. Great companies that lead in this area share some common principles that drive a culture-first approach to being customer-centric:
- Hire For Culture First: Vocational skills can be taught and refined over time. Attitude, selflessness, compassion, positive outlook, work ethic and heart for serving others are essential to create a powerful foundation for CX, and those cannot be taught. Today, there are many tools and approaches that allow companies to adopt a model of cultural fit during the hiring process, and great companies are deploying these solutions as part of their global approach to hiring and talent management.
- Build Emotional Connections To The Brand: Employees that are strongly connected to your company through a set of positive emotional experiences will express that positive experience to others. The employee experience should be treated as an emotionally engaging journey that starts from the hiring process, onboarding to anniversary celebrations, community service commitments, recognition programs and every aspect of the employee’s journey.
- Implement Lateral Service, Empowerment And First-Party Resolution: These three important principles stand out as non-negotiable foundations that all brands should consider embracing if they want to create a meaningful and sustainable customer-centric culture: Lateral Service is the idea that any employee should be willing to step up and help another employee complete a task or a job at any time regardless of role or level. Empowerment is a core feature of creating a culture of trust and service. This operating principle means that each employee, regardless of level, is authorized and empowered to resolve, delight or serve customers using the financial and human resources of the company without prior approval. First-Party Resolution focuses on ensuring that when a customer expresses a need or a concern to an employee, that employee resolves it without passing it to another person. Studies show that first-party resolution has a tremendous positive impact on satisfaction scores and brand loyalty.
Creating an exceptional culture that creates a cohesive organization may take time and long-term commitment, but the payoff to any brand or company is felt through the Customer Experience. Culture can be operationalized and executed by focusing on a set of strong principles and then implementing them with consistency and conviction. The payoff comes through the brand loyalty and long-term relationships with customers, lower turnover with employees and market differentiation in a largely transactional world. All of these translate to financial results because great culture is great business.
Antonia Hock is the Global Head of The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center a consulting and advisory firm helping organizations create exceptional employee and customer experience since 1999. She has extensive experience leading high impact business units and driving transformation in customer experience, high performing culture and employee engagement. The hallmarks of her personal brand also include inspirational leadership, innovative strategy development, disciplined P&L management, and exceptional results. Hock was named to 2019 Luxury Daily's top 25 women to watch list, which annually honors select women executives who show the potential to make a difference in the luxury business in the year ahead. Her passion for highly differentiated customer experiences grounded in employee excellence has created exceptional brand loyalty across segments and industries.