Unlocking Customer Centricity Within, Is Easier Done Than Said

By V Viswanand, Senior Director & COO at Max Life Insurance Co. Ltd

The gurus of change management say that for behavioral change, a proven method is to list down actions and behaviors along with their favorite four-blocker model of what you will START DOING, DO MORE OF, STOP DOING and DO LESS OF. You would probably agree that the likelihood of rapid adoption of change improves if one has fewer things to START DOING that you’ve never done before, and perhaps it might be a bit easier to just STOP DOING things that you have been doing? Essentially, if we had lesser things to do in order to bring about new ways thinking and behavior, the challenge of change management might be easier, right?

In my experiments with making a reasonably large organization customer centric, this singular, powerful truth is my biggest lesson learned: Less is more. Stop doing things that pull away from your employees and customer-facing staff from delivering delightful experiences to your customers, be it through bricks or clicks.

Gathering inspiration from this learning, if one tries to draw up a list of things that come in the way of providing excellent experiences, one may ask, “What are those Company ‘Measures if Success’ that is not fully aligned to your customer’s interest?” or “How is your CEO and Management team remunerated, what is the weight of customer-centric parameters in the CEO’s annual bonus?” What are those KPIs that place your middle managers (who are purported to be the weakest link in any change management program) between the ‘devil and the deep blue sea’? Draw up this list, debate within and strike them out, one by one. You will almost immediately see the green shoots of customer centricity blossom. I have experienced this uplifting wave of change by merely removing a few obstacles that come in the way of your frontline.

In order to guide and shape this wave, you will certainly be tempted to launch a bunch of initiatives, now that the ‘iron is hot’! However, it is best to avoid launching customer-centric initiatives in one massive ‘big bang’ - an approach that Boards love, but the field hates! Instead try a more patient, phased approach, two or at most three initiatives each year. Go slow to go far. Working on one element of culture and making it stick will give you more bang for the buck; for instance, getting your leaders to consistently role model desired behaviour - this is a core culture transformation initiative; similarly, changing your company’s new candidate interview checklist while recruiting - insert questions to probe for demonstrated customer-centric behaviour. You could quietly install a chair upholstered in your company’s corporate colors in every important meeting room and call it the ‘Customer Chair’ - you would soon start noticing new conversations around what would the imaginary customer sitting in that chair have to say about the decision the management team just took?

The second lesson I learned is the power of asking for feedback. Whatever be the type of company, one element that is simple to drive mindset change, yet powerful, is feedback. It is not said in vain that feedback is the breakfast of champions. Imagine the power of feedback on “how customer-centric a company you are”, from various stakeholders. The frameworks of Business Excellence would name several stakeholders. Chose them wisely. They could be your employees, distributors, customers, key vendors and even your shareholders, regulators (that is, if you have one) and the public at large. You will be surprised how open these stakeholders are in providing feedback and even a ‘score’ on a five-point likely scale along with reasons why they rate you so (and what your company needs to do to get a top box score next time!). Ask and thou shall receive. However, chose them wisely. Less is more. If you are authentic and genuine in your inquiry and will loop back every year with your stakeholders, I guarantee you rich feedback will come your way, that will get your CEO to sit up and think hard!

My third learning in driving customer-centric transformation is this: Leverage & celebrate the known, shy away from the unknown. After trying varying (and famously unsuccessful!) approaches, I realized what worked best was to leverage the core strengths of the organization. The core values could be Excellence or Caring or even Teamwork. Whichever is the tallest, towering strength of your company, rest the ladder of customer centricity on it... and you will stand a good chance of going very high! Even the Buddha’s teachings are unequivocal in stating that the human mind responds more readily to positive suggestions than negative ones. A company’s core values are always positive, certainly more inspiring to employees than KPI gatings and consequence management for “deviant behavior”. Remember to recognize and celebrate those who demonstrate exemplary behavior above and beyond the call of duty. Nothing motivates a field executive more than seeing her/ his picture on a coffee table book in the lobby across all branches of the company! Gurus of Service Excellence will exhort you to start with this on your journey of customer centricity.

On the other hand, if an organi­sation is very measurement-oriented in their core business, coupled with a copious dose of governance, you would require a different approach. You might do well to begin by meas­uring the unmeasurable to make the invisible visible, such as customer satisfaction scores at a process/ sub-department level, net promoter scores at a transactional and relation­ship level, number of field/ market/ client visits by CXOs per month and number of improvements imple­mented. If your management team is highly numerate, then throw in trends, comparators and pan indus­try/ global benchmarks against each of these parameters... and watch customer centricity blossom from the top!

To summarise my experi­ments in driving customer centric­ity and the lessons learnt, I would recommend a “less is more” ap­proach, start by removing obsta­cles that deter your employees from delivering excellent customer experiences; feed your organisa­tion on rich feedback; “leverage your towering strengths” by going with your grain – be it ‘bottom up’ through celebration & recognition or ‘top-down’ by making the invis­ible visible. Armed with this, I hope you find your very own secret sauce to unlock customer centricity within your organisation. You know your company better than any outsider. You will come across voluminous books and elaborate frameworks, but you know it in your heart that none of this might work in your situ­ation. That’s why unlocking custom­er centricity within is easier done, than said.

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