During my years of consulting, I have met three different groups of leaders. The first group does not appear to put much trust in its team or people. This group feels the team is inadequate and incompetent. The perception is that there is no hope in the team and therefore no conscious effort is put in trying to engage or inspire the team. The second group appears to be in denial about its team and its performance. The leaders in this group believe their team is second to none. There would be nothing wrong with this stance if it was true and not an exaggeration. Similar to the first group, the leaders do not invest much in their teams in terms of training and development. If they do any development and empowering, it is the bare minimum. Finally, the third group has a balanced and honest view of its team members. These leaders acknowledge the teams’ strengths, but also understand the team has room to improve. Leaders in this group recognize that, though their teams are good, they need to invest in training and developing, empower and truly engage them for business success.
The last group of managers appreciates that there is a correlation between the effective management of people and customers. They believe a well-trained, empowered and engaged team will manage customers effectively, which leads to profitability. This is true of a customer focused organization.
Most organizations that are not customer centric or customer focused tend not to be people focused. The result is loss of good employees to competition. In the last article, we discussed the importance of acquiring the “right customers” for the purposes of customer centricity. Similarly, this article advocates for organizations to acquire (upfront) the “right people” who are engaged, committed and highly skilled to achieve customer centricity. Customer centricity transformation cannot happen if people’s behavior perception, attitudes and beliefs are not aligned with customer focus.
Hiring the Right People – HR Becomes a Strategic Role
As previously indicated, it starts with acquiring the “right” staff members. The role that HR plays in creating a customer centric organization is significant. Customer centricity requires organizations to acquire talent with key customer focus skills above other skills. This means HR needs to shift focus from an inward looking to an outward looking company. The ultimate objective is to align with customer management when hiring and mentoring talent. This also implies that HR must move beyond creating a culture of simply keeping staff members happy and meeting their expectations. The customer needs to be treated as a major stakeholder in the workforce strategy, policy and technology, besides the workplace culture. It’s important for HR professionals to understand the customer brand and align it to the employer brand. This will connect staff members to the company’s growth story and improve their performance. In summary: The Chief Human Resources Officer must take a strategic approach to work, and not necessarily an administrative or supportive role only.
Training and Empowering Teams
It then becomes important that all team members are trained and empowered with the right skills and competences. Training initiatives will include training for job-specific functions, general customer management and other soft skills to enhance team performance and productivity. Training and development initiatives should be on-going for continuous improvement and true customer focus transformation.
The empowerment of key individuals and teams to take on responsibilities such as working across silos and making the necessary adjustments to integrate all departments becomes important. For example, customer-facing groups who work across departments could be empowered and other departments should work in cooperation. Disney World offers a classic example of this strategy. Its frontline team members have ownership of the customer experience design, and delivery.
Employee Engagement and Commitment
It is the leadership’s responsible to make sure that the working environment is conducive and keeps staff members engaged, interested and committed. When team members are highly engaged and committed, employee satisfaction, loyalty and productivity increase; subsequently improving business performance. A commitment to deploying a variety of methods to engage team members becomes essential in a customer centric business model.
Creating a Customer Centric Culture
Furthermore, a customer centric culture needs to be embedded in the organization and all staff. Subsequently, the entire organization needs to think of the customer as a valuable customer. This requires focus, investments and understanding. An organization must define the customer culture and the corporate culture. Teams must be educated and should be aware of what the culture is and its importance. I highlight some of the points an organization could facilitate to create a customer culture:
- Clear beliefs and values
- Persistent and effective communication via different channels
- Celebrating and recognizing achievements
- Commitment to staff members and keeping them engaged
Inclusion of External Partners
In most cases, organizations focus on engaging their internal team members only; however, customer centricity requires something much more. It calls for an organization to engage external parties such as partners, suppliers and other communities of interest. For example the procurement and management of suppliers should consist of the same level of attention to values, culture and behavior as afforded to staff members. Discovery Health in South Africa is a good example of an organization that is inclusive in this regard.
More could be said on this topic. The most important aspect here is for leadership to understand the role their teams play in creating a customer centric culture. This culture cannot be achieved without an exceptionally engaged and empowered team. Leadership needs to create that environment to facilitate the change.
Join me again in the next article as we continue to explore more ways of becoming customer centric.