Companies are grappling to maintain their traditional sources of competitive advantage in the age of the customer a world where empowered consumers, commoditized products, and intense competition stretch organizational capabilities to their limits. Enter the customer-obsessed CMO who can transcend the operational status quo and lead a companywide journey to establish new sources of competitive advantage. In my presentation at Forrester’s Outside In: A  Forum For Customer Experience Professionals EMEA  in London next week (November 6th to 7th), I will be explaining how CMOs can positively change the corporate culture around customer obsession. I will also be leading the track “Why We Need To Build A Customer-Obsessed Corporate Culture,” which takes a closer look at the challenges involved.

In preparation for the event, I caught up with one of our industry speakers from this track, Veronique Tordoff, UK market customer experience leader, Philips Electronics, to talk about how Philips Electronics is dealing with these challenges. Check out a preview of Veronique’s session in the below Q&A, or join me in London to hear the full story.

LP: In your view, what are some of the main challenges faced when trying to deliver a consistent customer experience worldwide?

VT: There are many! Getting everybody’s engagement, being mindful of different cultures, and executing with discipline are the first three coming to mind . . .

Getting a genuine engagement from employees shouldn’t be difficult as long as you clarify the bigger picture. Everybody wants to appear at their best  that’s human nature  but we all need to understand why. Also employees should be confident that what they do extra for their customers will be paying off eventually . . . paying off for the company and paying off for them as an employee!

Being a worldwide company gives you advantages in terms of brand or economy of scale, but it also gives you some homework to do! You need to ensure that the company’s mission and vision are resonating in all the different cultures around the world. Remarkable customer experience doesn’t mean the same in Japan and in The Netherlands! This has to be translated at local level into what it means within the country’s culture, taking into account other companies, nature of business relationships, power of the brand, history of the company in the country, etc.

Finally discipline is, I am afraid, another element needed to ensure consistent experience is delivered to your customers. Again here, employees are more likely to comply with the internal processes if they understand the bigger picture. Part of my role is actually to identify processes that are not followed consistently to assess if it could in fact be because they need to be adapted.

LP: What are some of the steps that Philips Electronics has undertaken to improve its customer experience?

VT: Our companywide transformation program Accelerate! launched last year and one central element of it is customer centricity. There have been several changes to our internal organization to enable this centricity to happen, especially by making the communication line between global product divisions and country organizations more effective, resulting in an increased local relevance.

Another important element of the setup is our worldwide network of change agents, the market customer experience leaders. I am one of them, and dedicated to a country organization, we are working across our sectors, with B2B and B2C customers, to ensure that the customer feedback we receive on a daily basis is acted upon as much as possible, and in a timely manner. We also make sure the company is learning and improving its processes based on customer feedback.

LP: Could you give us an example of how culture impacts customer experience for your company?

VT: The best example I can give here is from the time I was working in Japan for Philips. One of our customer feedback survey was a close-loop methodology, so basically our account managers were prenotifying their customers that they would receive a call for the survey asking them if they would participate. The response rate is typically around 40% to 50% in Europe with this kind of survey. In Japan, we reached 100%! In the Japanese culture, if somebody (here the customer) gives her word that she is going to do something for you, then she does it without fail! This then creates an unprecedented pressure for you as a company to act on the feedback!!! Therefore having employees with a genuinely customer-centric behavior is really key for your success in this country.

LP: What did you find that organizations overlook when thinking about culture and customer experience?

VT: I think large organizations tend to forget sometimes that the brand promise is delivered to their customers by all their employees, in the way they behave, the way they deliver their work . . . I often find that companies define their culture at global corporate level without taking enough into account the way to cascade it down through the organization in a way that stays meaningful for their employees. That’s the reason why I think having a group of champions in the local organizations in the different countries is the best way to make sure somebody proof-checks and translates this corporate culture. You just need to be careful not to have a separate function in charge of customer experience, which could create a disconnect with the rest of the business teams.

Hear more from Veronique Tordoff at Forrester’s Outside In: A Forum For Customer Experience Professionals EMEA in London, November 6th to 7th. Or join us in Los Angeles, November 14th to 15th, at our Outside In: A Forum For Customer Experience Professionals for more insight into the role of the CMO in leading the customer-obsessed revolution.