Employees are the lifeblood of a customer-obsessed enterprise. No matter how advanced a company's technology, how big its data, or how trendy it’s marketing, businesses today simply cannot succeed without employees who devote themselves to customers. However, many companies struggle to build a customer-obsessed workforce because they:

  • Hire for skills and experience. Siloed hiring managers focus primarily on job candidates' technical skills and experience and seek little input from applicants' potential colleagues. Knowing how well candidates can code, lift boxes, or write marketing copy is important. However, skillset alone doesn't tell employers if applicants are willing and able to use their skills and cooperate with their coworkers in customer-obsessed ways.
  • Have weak training programs. Most training programs consist of long and dry classroom, online, and coaching sessions rather than short and engaging sound bites that employees can access when they need to. Even worse, training focuses solely on employees' job responsibilities, businesses processes, and operation of technical systems — topics that rarely help employees become more customer-obsessed.
  • Fail to recognize and reward customer obsession. Our data shows that although 42% of companies claim that excellent customer treatment is one of their core values, only one-third of companies actually hold employees accountable and tie employees' incentives to customer experience (CX) metrics.

To understand how leading companies overcome these hurdles, my colleague Claire Schooley and I interviewed customer-obsessed organizations and reviewed our extensive best practices research. The fruit of our labor is a report that I’m really proud of: Talent Management For The Customer-Obsessed Organization. In our report we detail 15 practices that are vital for enterprises that want to hire, train, and retain customer-obsessed employees. In sum, we found that these companies:

  • Hire mindsets over skill sets. Leading businesses know that teaching employees new skills is much easier than changing their attitudes. Dennis Alvord, executive director of BusinessUSA, put it bluntly: "Customer obsession isn't something that you can train. You have to hire for it." That's why these organizations evaluate applicants' customer obsession during the hiring process, often with the help of innovative technologies, and gather input on applicants from all stakeholders. These firms also ensure that they can replicate hiring success by learning from managers who build the most customer-obsessed teams.
  • Invest in continuous customer empathy training. Training at top firms reinforces employees' dedication to customer obsession and hones the skills that they need to translate that dedication into practice. These companies start by taking time to train new recruits well before setting them loose and infuse customers' perspective into every subsequent development opportunity. They emphasize good judgment more than rules, so employees understand how to help customers and have the freedom to do it. Customer-obsessed companies also use a range of techniques, from multimedia learning tools to on-the-job training and cross-functional education, to ensure that employees have practical training at their fingertips and understand the big picture, too.
  • Nurture an environment in which customer-obsessed employees can thrive. To retain their most customer-obsessed employees, top firms go far beyond gimmicks like massages and free meals. These businesses give employees the resources that they need to be customer-obsessed and recognize and reward them for their success. What's more, leading businesses show employees that they value them as people, too. As a result, customer-obsessed businesses have lower-than-average turnover. And when an employee chooses to leave, these companies take the time to really understand why so that they can correct the problem for the future.