A few years ago, I was in Madrid giving a talk on customer experience strategies when one of the CMOs raised his hand and asked: "We all talk about the need to be customer-centric, but can you tell me -- what exactly does that mean?".
I remember instinctively thinking of the mantra drilled into a consumer in the United States: "The customer is always right". Indeed, that definition would not have been enough when you think about the industry I was addressing (it was a banking conference), and the various cultural experiences and expectations that were my audience's realities.
So here is a definition I've crafted to describe what a company needs to metabolize to truly be customer-centric:
It is the total organizational alignment
to understanding the customer,
developing solutions to meet their needs.
It uses the customer to define
every end-to-end aspect of your business model
and build a long term relationship.
It's a lengthy definition so I want to use this particular blog post to first present my overarching definition and then discuss each element in subsequent blog posts. Let's focus first on "total organizational alignment".
I have worked in and been headhunted for roles in companies whose ambition is to be customer-centric. But to truly be effective in transformation, the organization MUST align to support that goal. To give you an example of what I mean, below I've included a newsletter from the credit union in San Francisco with whom I bank.
They created an SVP of Member Experience whose chief mission is to improve the overall customer experience. I was particularly impressed by this example because not only does it show the credit union’s commitment to customer experience, the person in this role begins the relationship by openly addressing their customers, inviting her key constituents to dialogue directly with her, and providing her email address! Now I realize, this is harder to execute when your company has a customer base in the millions. However, the point of this example is:
1) this financial institution has aligned its organization and created a position solely responsible for customer experience;
2) the person in this role has written an open letter inviting customers to a 1x1 dialogue with her
Now, before you start calling your headhunters and posting this position, begin with the end in mind. It's not enough to create a position. You need to think about:
- who this position will report to (to be truly effective, it should be within the c-suite)
- what P&L responsibilities this person will have
- how the remaining members of your executive committee will carry tangible goals to support this person
- what resources you will allocate to him/her (both in terms of budget and manpower)
- what success looks like for your company
- and so much more!
Two positions I've recently been asked about essentially functioned as SVPs of call centers. While this channel is on the front line of customers, it's simply not enough to have a Chief Customer Officer in charge of call centers. I repeat: begin with the end in mind. Then create the environment that will empower and enable this role to achieve that.
How have you aligned your organization to date to truly put the customer first?