The importance of customer culture for marketing success
Tony Hsieh from the US online shoe retailer Zappos said “Your Culture is Your Brand”. This statement embraces what is becoming increasingly important in defining a brand’s DNA, where the leadership vision and behaviours of the organisation are dedicated to delivering customer value. This is a critical success factor to sustained growth. Customer culture is where the organisation is focused and aligned on the strategic brand vision and delivering the brand promise for the customer.
Leaders need the whole value chain to be focused on the strategic priorities, to be motivated and agile enough to deliver great customer experiences every day.
These leaders who are accessible to their employees and articulate a compelling brand vision, create an effective platform from which to drive strategy and deliver great customer outcomes.
Organisational barriers that successful leaders must overcome
Day to day commercial reality can block what might be seen as the ‘softer side’ of doing business. Sue McDonald, Marketing and Communications Director Serco Global Services Australia says ‘‘Many large organisations are dealing with short term pressures; changing culture can feel too big, particularly when it needs to be effective across international geographies”.
At the same time, many employees feel they don’t have anything to do with the customer. David Bradley Senior Manager Marketing at CGU says; “The greater the distance from the customer, the bigger the challenge in getting discretionary effort for the customer”.
For CEOs, personal connection with employees and customers becomes bigger and more complex as the organization grows. “Lack of culture focus can occur at the top of the organization, growth forces this’”states Valerie Beeck General Manager, Marketing and Development of Independence Australia. Peter Zafiris, National Sales and Marketing Manager of Bluescope Steel agrees “Change is always constant, but many CEOs are in the position of saying ‘give me the voice of this organization and tell me what to do’ ”.
Chris Khor CEO of Chorus Executive, supports this notion that size can hinder the achievement of the right culture. “There has been a trend where great talent is actively seeking roles in to smaller organisations. There are a number of reasons including; greater access to leadership and decision makers, ability to make a greater impact on the business, strategy and culture, increased agility and flexibility and often a more defined company culture especially when the founder is still actively involved in the business”
How leaders can create a culture for customer
A priority is that a customer philosophy has to be owned and initiated by the leaders. This sentiment is echoed by Peter Zafiris. ‘Leaders as well as teams have to spend time in front of the customer’. “The brand promise must be demonstrated and articulated by leaders”. Zafiris adds; “Leaders must deliver on the brand values through appropriate and visible behaviours. Culture matters most when change happens.”
Chris Gilbert, Vice President, Director of Sales and Marketing IMG Australia talks about the small but effective things leaders can do to engage. “Things like creating opportunities for staff to book time slots to communicate directly with the CEO. It’s so effective and symbolic when CEO’s make themselves available to the entire organization in a one on one setting”.
Skev Ioannou Marketing Leader in Social Business and Collaboration Solutions at IBM advocates leaders facilitating staff discussions on a range of topics – these can be set up and supported by blogs and webcasts. This creates an avenue for staff to have input on new ideas, develop existing ones, with leaders measured on the outcomes. Skev says “Being part of these internal forums gives ideas internal credibility”. Staff engagement happens when employees can engage each other and with their leaders.
Chris Khor believes that leaders in business should be judged on hard measures such as business outcomes but also soft measures such as leadership
skills. “Measures may include 360 feedback measures, employee engagement and development, and KPIs that also focus on employee promotion, and employee skills enhancement, rather than just business outcomes”.
Organisations need to be agile for customer. By being clear on the brand vision and effectively engaging all staff to be passionate customer champions, the organisation is much more likely to deliver sustained and positive customer experiences. The following model illustrates the flow of the brand and customer promise through clarity of vision, focus for customer, and engaged staff.
Summary. Six key principles for leaders:
Although the barriers to achieving a lasting customer culture are not easily or quickly overcome, many companies such as Zappos are reaping the benefit of creating the customer culture for their brand. The principles around visible leadership, staff empowerment and clarity of brand are key to delivering lasting customer focus in the organization.
Articles for further reading:
‘It’s time to rethink the employee engagement issue’ Forbes.com. http://www.forbes.com
‘Ushering in the new era for customer experience’. Thunderhead.com. http://www.thunderhead.com
An excerpt from the book, Uncommon Service: How to Win by Putting Customers at the Core of Your
Business, by Francis Frei and Anne Morriss http://www.inc.com/inc-advisor/zappos-managing-people- uncommon-service.html
Upgrade Your Company's Customer Service Culture Through Positive Peer Pressure. http://www.forbes.com