Culture is the character and set of unwritten rules that infuse the behavior of teams, departments, and the organization as a whole. To achieve and maintain customer obsession, businesses need to adopt a customer-centric culture that aligns with values and drivers that place customers at the center. Without a customer-focused culture serving as the foundation of your strategy, customer obsession becomes nothing more than a lofty ideal, disconnected from the realities of everyday operations.
Company culture has the power to fuel profound innovation, boost employee engagement, and build long-lasting relationships with customers — that is, if it’s cultivated with a customer-centric focus. This requires a purpose-built strategy that is operationalized in a way that inspires behavior change and supports the ongoing pursuit of customer-obsessed transformation in the organization.
It starts with the leaders.
Customer-obsessed leadership is crucial to developing a team of high-performing employees who embody a customer-first mindset. Leaders inspire employees, role-model essential behaviors, and infuse the energy required to create and sustain customer obsession over the long term. From frontline managers up to the C-suite, all layers of leadership play a role in shaping the overall culture of an organization. The C-level leaders set the strategy and define the values, and HR leaders build the systems that support the values-driven leadership model. But it’s up to line managers to bring the vision of customer obsession to life for their employees and reinforce the building of a customer-centric culture.
For many, however, this leadership alignment is missing. Leadership development programs remain largely disconnected from organizational values and goals, resulting in a patchwork system of programs implemented without direct alignment across the organization or to the customer. According to the Center for Creative Leadership, 60% of managers say that they never received any training when transitioning into their first leadership role. The lack of leadership skills and knowledge among these managers has significant implications for achieving customer obsession. If they are not armed with the right training and resources to guide and support their team, they will exhibit ineffective, unproductive behaviors that lead to confusion, low levels of engagement, and a misaligned culture.
Here are four steps to power customer-obsessed leadership.
Positioning your leaders for success in leading a customer-obsessed team is essential, but it doesn’t have to be overly complicated. It does, however, require an investment in their growth and a commitment to providing ongoing training and support that align with customer obsession. Here are four ways you can support your leadership team:
- Define your customer-obsessed culture.
Define a set of leadership values that align directly with your organizational values, and create rituals around them. Codify these values into a set of statements, with examples of what successful leadership behaviors look like.
- Invest in leadership development at all levels.
Work with your learning and development team or an outside partner to develop aligned, customized programs for all leadership levels. Consider a comprehensive approach that blends a range of ongoing learning components, including expert-led classroom training, peer coaching, just-in-time e-learning, and ongoing coaching.
- Leverage technology.
Streamline processes and support the growth of your leaders with technology. For example, goal management systems can help track ongoing conversations about progress, while recognition tools offer insight into how employees are interacting with colleagues and customers. You might even adopt a learning technology solution that provides continuous development opportunities.
- Recognize, reward, and publicize examples of customer-obsessed leadership.
Highlight what customer-obsessed leadership looks like in your organization by recognizing exemplary leaders who embody it. By showcasing real-life examples, you provide a compelling blueprint of the desired behaviors for all leaders within your organization to inspire widespread action while acknowledging those who have already embraced and enacted these behaviors.
Educate and encourage your employees.
Building a customer-centric culture requires not only a well-resourced and aligned leadership team but also the active participation and embodiment of a customer-obsessed mindset by all employees. Forrester’s State of Customer Obsession Survey, 2023, revealed that 100% of customer-obsessed companies prioritize teaching employees how to play their part. This statistic underscores the importance of educating employees about their role in driving the business forward with a customer-first approach.
To initiate this transformation within your organization, first introduce the concept of customer obsession in a clear and tangible way that resonates. Explain why it’s important and articulate the crucial role that every employee plays in achieving it — whether they are customer-facing or not. From there, provide personalized coaching that aligns with each individual’s goals and focuses on key behaviors that reinforce the customer-centric mindset. Create opportunities for employees to apply their newfound knowledge to ensure practical and tangible progress. This approach not only accelerates their growth in alignment with customer obsession but also cultivates a culture of continuous learning and improvement within your organization.
Consider establishing a recognition and reward program that is intricately tied to your business’s commitment to customer obsession. In doing so, you create a culture where employees are acknowledged for consistently demonstrating the right behaviors in their daily work, thereby maintaining enthusiasm.
Future-fit your team and reinforce often.
Customer-obsessed organizations exist in a continuously fluid state of adaptation. Operationalizing change is all about getting people to change their behavior and conditioning them to adapt to new changes that emerge. To accomplish this, embrace a future fit approach that focuses on three essential elements: adaptability, agility in thinking, and readiness to take action. Keep in mind that these elements aren’t static things that individuals either have or don’t have — they’re capabilities that can be intentionally improved. In advance of significant change, leaders need to assess and invest in the future fitness of each member of the team to ensure that they are change-ready.
From the C-suite and down through every level of the organization, your employees need consistent reinforcement to maintain a culture grounded in customer obsession. Amid a deluge of emails and other communications, cutting through the noise can be a challenge. Use an intentional, multimodal communications strategy that blends technology and human interactions to deliver clear messages that reinforce customer obsession. Consistency is key.
No two cultures are alike.
While building a customer-obsessed culture is universally crucial across all organizations, each business must align its culture with its own expression of customer obsession to foster specific behavior changes. One size does not fit all when it comes to creating a customer-obsessed culture. You need to understand your own unique values, the values of your customers, your competitive landscape, and a variety of other operating constraints that are specific to your business and your employees.
Culture transformation is a continuous process that cannot be achieved through a single effort. It evolves over time and relies on various interconnected components that must work in harmony to create a unified and seamless whole. This transformation necessitates the alignment of leadership values, employee behaviors, organizational processes, and the overarching company strategy. By ensuring that these elements are not only in sync but also mutually reinforcing, a robust and enduring culture can be cultivated. This cohesive culture will drive the desired outcomes and foster sustained success for a customer-obsessed organization.
As market dynamics continue to shift and customers around the world become increasingly empowered, customer obsession has become a key to sustained growth. For more on how to build a customer-obsessed culture, check out:
Forrester can help you build a customer-centric culture.
Customer obsession is an easy concept to get behind but can be difficult to put into action. At Forrester, customer obsession is at the core of everything we do. We can help you achieve customer obsession to fuel sustained growth.
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