Everyone who touches a customer needs to be a steward of the brand and seek opportunities to deliver value and create revenue. Everyone else in the organisation ultimately supports people who interact with customers - back office and technical staff therefore have frontline employees as their internal customers. Customer service is the new sales model in a world where social media gives every consumer the ability to instantly damage or build a supplier's brand. Unhappy customers tell everyone who will listen and they can do real damage to your brand. Your website, other digital points of presence and social media strategies must be used to empower staff to engage customers and stakeholders in meaningful conversations, not just to project your sales and marketing messages.
Rather than restricting staff in their internet and social media activities, consider thoughtfully implementing programs that educate and empower staff to be transparent and responsive to customers through any channel. Be clear with your employees that with freedom comes responsibility and accountability. Also be transparent and communicate openly to staff and customers that when mistakes are made you always seek to rectify the problem to the complete satisfaction of the customer.
To ensure productivity and control, provide tools to staff such as Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems with embedded social media feeds delivering a 'single source of the truth' about customers. Implement 'web to lead' systems so that when a customer interacts with your website you have a system to capture their interest or complaint. Especially reward staff who listen in social channels and convert unhappy customers into advocates - every complaint or negative Tweet about your brand is a sales opportunity! Reward staff who refer new business regardless of whether they work in the sales department. Most importantly, acknowledge staff who go above and beyond their job description or market expectations in delivering exceptional customer service.
Vision, mission and values statements are meaningless without validation through the actions and behaviours of employees. Personal attitudes and values must be aligned with the corporate ethos and connected with emotion. To achieve this consider your vision, mission and values statements and then write something new: 'Here at our company we believe ...' Then define how these beliefs should manifest in the attitudes and actions of you and the team. Make it real with examples and acknowledge those who exemplify the culture and values. Consider the effectiveness of Richard Branson who personifies the Virgin brand. It can be argued that Richard Branson is the Virgin brand and he ensures that every Virgin business obsessively hires based on cultural fit. This is because they know they can train skills but it is very difficult to alter attitudes and values.
Conversely, look at the disaster of Enron where the appalling values within the leadership drove recklessness and greed that spread like a cancer to eventually destroy the corporation and harm hundreds of thousands of lives. Enron's caustic culture was their biggest commercial risk and it festered behind a paper-thin facade of clichéd mission, vision and values statements.
The leader is the culture and poor hiring, especially within senior ranks, introduces significant brand and business risk. Corporate and individual reputations take years to build and can be lost in an instant through the misbehaviour of an individual. Because the foundation of positive culture is values, authentic leaders are committed to a solid moral framework regardless of whether anyone is watching. Anthony Howard is a thought leader on moral leadership and his white paper, It's Time For Moral Leadership, is a must read for exploring this in greater depth.
The reality is that there will always be a gap between aspiration and execution but without striving to become better we do not grow. Look deeply at the value you bring customers and markets to identify the higher purpose of what you do. How do you impact individual lives and society? In what way are you a force for good in the world? Instilling a foundation of positive values and beliefs for making a difference is tremendously powerful in harnessing human energy to build your enterprise and brand.
As a leader, first strive to be a good human being who places customers and staff ahead of your own needs. Be a force for good and, rather than criticise, encourage and seek solutions. Be energetic and passionate about the success of your team and customers. Be accountable and driven to achieve results.
In summary: Define what you believe about yourself and your organisation concerning the value you offer your customers, markets, investors and employees. Then document how these beliefs should emotionally impact behaviours at every level. Begin with yourself and become obsessively focused with customer success and bring your entire team on the journey of change so that every individual can personally own the right values and embody the culture. The leader's actions need to be the culture. Constantly ask yourself: How are my actions evidencing the culture we claim to have? Be the change you seek in your organisation and carefully recruit only those who share your customer centric values. Empower and liberate the team to represent the brand and trust them to step up and do the right thing.
These are the key ingredients for creating a positive customer-centric culture:
- Focus on your higher purpose relevant to customers when defining your culture and create emotional connections for all staff.
- Use a mirror, not a manual, to transform your organisation by living the values to transfer the culture.
- Carefully hire only those who are culturally aligned and have proven themselves to possess the necessary attitudes and values.
- Empower and liberate all staff to embody the culture and represent the brand. Trust the team to step up and reward and recognise those who create customer magic.
Tony Hughes is ranked as the #1 influencer on professional selling in Asia-Pacific and is a keynote speaker and best selling author. This article was originally published in LinkedIn where you can also follow Tony's award winning blog. Also visit Tony's keynote speaker website at www.TonyHughes.com.au or his sales methodology website at http://www.rsvpselling.com/.
Main image photo by Flickr: Nick Webb
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