Building Customer Centric Organisations

This article was written for the Marketing Transformation Leadership Forum on Building Customer Centric Organisations.

The article draws on my experience as CMO of Hilton, Stakis and ScotRail to offer practical insight into what it takes to change customer experience and to drive added commercial value:

Making the case for change

Nothing changes without board level commitment and unity – and no board shifts direction without a compelling, properly researched and financially viable business case.   This kind of business case can take time to develop and is often kick started by a catalyst such as a change in ownership or management, a new competitive threat or perhaps a significant shift in the economy.  Whatever the reason for change, a robust business case is likely to be constructed around 6 core pillars:

1)      Compelling evidence of an external threat to continued commercial well being

2)      Proven cost of dissatisfaction and customer attrition requiring urgent remedial action

3)      New insight into emerging customer needs that will create competitive advantage

4)      Quantified commercial value of changing specific components of the customer journey.

5)      A properly costed investment case, spanning at least 3 years and linked to core business goals

6)      A Change Plan, setting out critical steps and explaining the impact on each part of the company.

It’s important to understand that developing and winning support for a major change plan can take time.   Individual concerns and business needs of key board member need to be understood and addressed to achieve unity.  Similarly, considerable work with colleagues from all functions is required to thoroughly assess costs and operational implications.

Key learning:

  • Top level support means taking time up front to prepare a thorough, credible business case
  • Marketing may lead but engaging all functions early is vital – and sometimes uncomfortable!
  • New thinking requires new customer insight, preferably something competitors don’t know

Organising for Change

There’s an expression “the first sign of madness is doing the same thing but expecting different results”.  In my experience, strengthening the customer experience is a powerful way to influence customer choice and therefore drive profitability.  However, this invariably means many if not most people in the organisation changing their behaviour in some way, from directors to front line team members.  To maintain focus and momentum some or all of the following need to be in place:

1.       Board meeting agendas changed to reflect the focus on customer experience performance

2.       Cross functional steering groups, chaired by the CMO to manage the change process

3.       In international organisations senior , regionally based teams charged with guiding change

4.       Rigorous prioritisation to focus all functions on a limited number of planned projects each year

Key Learning

  • Changing the experience invariably means finding better ways to organise and operate
  • Doing too much means doing nothing:  Prioritisation is a painful but vital process

Winning hearts and minds – developing a shared vision

Encouraging and enabling team members to change their behaviour takes time, investment and focus.  Team members need to understand what has to change, agree that change is necessary and possess the skills to be able to change.   To achieve this invariably means working on several fronts, arm in arm with other functions:

1.       Leadership: Visible changes to senior management behaviour demonstrate the new focus

2. Shared Vision – common language: A jargon-free and memorable language is vital to describe the desired customer experience, reinforce in all internal communication.  For example, ‘Hilton Moments’ became a company wide shorthand for exceptional customer service delivery.

3. Involvement: It’s powerful to draw together teams from across the company and from suppliers, partners and customers to help design the new experience.

4. Engagement: regularity and frequency is key when it comes to winning hearts and minds. In one company I used bi-annual, half day workshops to explain the brand strategy and how this related to the customer experience. Team members brainstormed how to bring the experience to life in their teams.

5. Recognition: Catch people doing the right thing and say well done!  We used weekly celebrations in all hotels to recognise team and individual excellence in delivering the new brand experience.  These culminated in an annual Brand Awards competition and ceremony.

Key Learning

  • Visible leadership from a unified senior team is crucial.  People look for consistency between what’s said in the plan or at the launch conference and what actually happens afterwards (e.g. how budgets are set; what actions win approval; where managers focus their time).
  • Finding a way to describe the customer experience that everyone understands is vital.  Imagery plays a key role, especially across language boundaries.
  • Involving and engaging stakeholders is expensive and takes time but without it, little changes

Building organisational fitness

It soon becomes apparent that evolving the customer experience depends on developing the talent base of an organisation at all levels.  Close cooperation between marketing and learning & development teams ensures training activity is channelled toward delivering the desired service experience.  Specifically this  can include:

1)      It’s powerful to streamline and enhanced fragmented training activity under one centrally coordinated theme with consistent objectives, content and support material.

2)      A company wide, e-learning facility can provide certified, interactive courses to all team members – available in properly equipped areas where people can study and share ideas.

3)      A shift from judging training performance by inputs (e.g. number of courses delivered) to outputs (e.g. mystery shopper results, customer satisfaction and team member retention).

Key Learning

  • A critical first step to changing the customer experience is accurately assessing the gap between what the organisation CAN DO and what it NEEDS TO BE ABLE TO DO.
  • Closing the gap takes time and investment and required cross functional cooperation between marketing, operations, HR, finance and, where technical solutions are required, IT.

Converting brand strategy to customer experience

My experience at Hilton, Stakis and ScotRail illustrated the importance of ‘hard-wiring’ the relationship between

(A) Brand strategy (what makes the brand different, relevant and preferred to customers and therefore how it drives choice & commercial value) and

(B) Brand or customer experience (the consistency and quality of what customers experience and how this reinforces or undermines their purchase decision and potential long term value).

Action in 5 core areas is key to transforming the customer experience over time:

1)      Preparing a detailed, research-based model of the service journey for each customer segment

2)      Understanding which components of the journey most strongly influence choice & satisfaction  and prioritising investment and development to achieve visible change in these areas

3) Preparing detailed service standards to define how each part of the journey should be delivered

4)      Defining the key performance indicators and achieving internationally consistent measurement

5) Changing top-down reward and remuneration to reflect performance against these priorities

Key Learning

  • Achieving sustained change in the ‘outputs’ of operational performance means hard-wiring the ‘inputs’ (customer journey/service standards/investment / measurement / remuneration).
  • Once again, while marketing may take the lead in instigating this change, it cannot be achieved in isolation.  A collegiate approach spanning all core functions is essential and this must flow from the top of the organisation.

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