Customer centricity gets spoken about a lot, don’t believe me? Tune in to any corporate briefing and you’d invariably find executives speak highly and passionately about customer focus, customer experience, and how they find ‘excellent service delivery’ to be central to their business strategy. Take a brief moment and do your own brief research first, resume going through this article after that.

You back? 

Thank you, know that you are very welcome here!

Tell me, did you not find the observation that I made about organisations uttering ‘customer centricity’ valid? Let’s take this experiment a little further to validate the claims made by these corporations. This research doesn’t have to be extensive or exhaustive. Just take a mental note of the brands that you searched, earlier. You’re most likely to find that these brands, which appear so similar in their assertions on the need to build a customer-centric organisation, seem vastly different, disjointed, and staggered all over the place, in reality, don’t they?

Why might that be, you may ask?

If I may borrow from the seminal book on customer service,”Outside In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of your Business”, written by the tremendously talented duo, Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine- No department or single individual does anything intentionally to inconvenience the customer but it is the collective effect of the unconnected, unintegrated and ununderstood actions that cause customers to sometimes get exposed to sub-optimal versions of the organisation. (** I’ve paraphrased from memory, this is not an exact quote from the book)

Organisations, nowadays are increasingly becoming complex, encompassing and encapsulating all manners of diversities and differences to cater to a wide range of and ever-evolving customer needs and desires. In an unforgiving hyper-competitive market organisations are forced to blindly chase their growth targets with maniacal focus and in doing so, in more cases than not, customer-centricity becomes the first casualty. Successful organisations are those that do not let aspiration of growth interfere with their commitment to delivering stellar customer satisfaction, look at Amazon, Apple, Zappos, Hyatt etc.

There is merit in understanding what are the elements that separate these spectacular successes from the forgettable failures. Or in other words, how does one weave customer obsession into the very fabric of their organisation? What are those building blocks that leaders should lay, own and put a lot of effort and focus into preserving? Having spent a lifetime in the customer services industry, I can tell you that – there is as much science in getting customer experience right as there is art in it. I like to think of building customer obsession, as a two-part process. 

  1. Disciplines that go into making an excellent customer experience machine.

  2. Tacts to building pervasive customer obsession.

# 1: Disciplines

Outstanding customer service departments must focus on organising their efforts around the below three aspects of its set up, with precision and passion.  

  • Mechanics of service: It is about getting the arithmetic of the department right. 

    • Demand estimation (forecasting): What is the expected volume of service, use historical trends from either your own organization or from your competitors to create a demand chart/flow.

  • Staffing: Taking into account the time needed to handle each class of transaction that customers reach the corporation for, combined with service level aspirations (95/5). Derive from them the kind of support hour that will be required to be made available and therefore how many support staff must be onboarded and of what skillset.

  • Tech stack: Omnichannel/CRM/Social Media stack and physical infrastructure that needs to be augmented to make the support desk functional.

  • Training: Support staff without a proficient understanding of the products and the services that they are to support, will not be able to deliver an excellent customer experience. Hence, intelligent knowledge management systems and practices will need to be developed and operationalized.

  • Quality management: You need to be able to measure if the intended level of service is actually being delivered, and there comes the quality management practices and systems. Shortfall identified by the quality function becomes the input for the training function. 

  • Purpose of the department: This is about getting the philosophy of the department right.

    • Service philosophy: What is the kind of service that the organisation aspires to deliver, it is this question that needs answering. Is there a specific service model of their own that the organisation is pursuing or do they wish to get inspired by another successful service model? From the clarity of service philosophy, emerges details of the kind of capital and OPEX investment that is required to be made in order to enable delivery.

  • Service design: Service design is laying bricks to make the agreed service philosophy come about. It involves ascertaining the process, the platform, the technology and the people that will have to be brought together to realise the service aspiration. 

  • Long-term objective: The measure of success must be determined in advance so that teams can work backwards from it. You could look at the metric that you like, NPS, CSAT, Churn, Repeat Buy, Life-time value of a customer etc. Choose the metric that compliments your overall business strategy well and then optimise your service design for it.

  • Usefulness: On a scale of 1 to 5, how useful would you want your service to be? Customer effort is the metric here. Simply put, how easy or hard is it for the customer to transact with you.

  • Operational efficiency: Benchmark level performance.

    • What will you measure? : Operational excellence is key to success. Input metric measurement is being spoken about here. How many people are needed, how long will they take to work on something, how can the time be shortened etc? Process re-engineering routine will have to be adopted to make sure that the delivery mechanism improves continually. 

  • Define target and tolerance: How good is good enough for you? Set targets for every measurable metric that you can think of, define control limits. So that process can be optimised to operate within it. Remember, lesser the variation, tighter the control, and better the experience. 

  • Reward and penalty: Score-card approach is a good way to approach it. Organizations need to define clearly what level of performance they consider reward worthy and the levels at which they think it right to impose a penalty. 

  • Consequence management: Details approach and process documentation to handle exceptions, on every aspect of the service operation. 

# 2: Building blocks of customer obsession: In this section, we will try to explore the science of building a customer-obsessed culture by talking about its 6 building blocks.

  • Customer effort Index: We briefly touched upon it in the earlier segments too. The point that is being made here is that various departments come together to make customer experience happen, therefore, it is important to work with stakeholders to reduce customer effort. The idea is to make availing service or using the product so simple, so seamless and so straightforward and so intuitive that the customer doesn’t have to think before using the service.

  • Anticipating customer need: Careful study of the customer data to preempt customer needs and then work towards meeting them. Latent, unfulfilled needs of the customers are being spoken about here. If we can devise a way to find out what is it that the customers would want next, we can make the thing available even before the customer needs it.

  • Customer feedback: Device the framework for collecting customer feedback, they are the most valuable piece of information that a brand can hope to lay its hands on. Study them intently to take cues on the process and product refinement. Use customer feedback to understand the need Vis-a-vie the capacity of the product and service to meet the customer better.

  • Creating “WOW”: Creating breathtaking and memorable experiences for the customers should be the only goal of the organisation. Make sure that this expectation is understood and people responsible to create these experiences are empowered with resources to do so.

  • A set-up that exceeds expectations: What is great today, will be good tomorrow and just about ordinary the day after, to keep ahead in the race, the organisation needs to keep raising the bar of service. Devise newer methods to meet the customers where they are and to deliver them whatever it is that they expect from you.

  • Let the customer know that they are your number one priority: #1 responsibility of the leaders in an organisation is to make sure that customers remain at the front and centre of every decision, every consideration, and every plan that is ever made. Bring the focus of every organisational process back to the customer, evaluate everything from the point of view of the customer and you will get there.

Remember, there are a billion known approaches to success in business, not taking good care of your customers, is not one of them.

Go out there and create memorable experiences!

Good luck!

By lavkush