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Recently, I sat down with a fellow entrepreneur to talk about his business. I asked what experiences I could share that would help him. He answered almost immediately: “I am struggling with getting my team to focus less on themselves and more on our customers and their needs.”
Specifically, he shared that many of his team’s meetings have nothing to do with the customer but instead are centered around the company, its people or policies. For example, deciding whether to create a nap room or provide pet maternity leave. Because he is in a creative field and we live in feel-good Portland, Oregon, my guess is that he has a bit of a headwind trying to guide his team to think less about employee perks and more about serving their customers.
I do have experience to share about fostering a customer-centric mindset.
I am a year and a half into building my third company. Over time, the companies my team and I build have evolved to become more and more customer-centric — and are experiencing greater and greater success largely because of that. This third company has the highest customer satisfaction ratings we have ever received.
We produced these results using three methods that promote a customer-centric mindset. The combination of the three essentially hard-codes the customer as the priority.
1. Create customer-oriented core values
When I looked at my friend’s five core values, none even remotely involved the customer. They all focused on the types of people working there and their behavior mindsets mainly toward each other.
Two of our four core values are around customer service (“We Care” and “We Inspire 5-Star Reviews”). Customers see these show up in different ways, which helps us stand out compared to other companies. At team meetings, we often recognize examples of these two values, and all team members are rated on how they represent these values during their annual performance review.
It is a leader’s responsibility to ensure that the customer’s viewpoint is part of your core values discussion.
When we started the company, we held off-site meetings so the team could brainstorm our core values. While it is common practice during this exercise to identify what the best team members have in common and pick those as core values, it is also critical to consider the top three deliverables that customers value most and that make the company stand out from competitors. Then, identify specific, action-oriented core values that can deliver at the level required to achieve the vision and growth you outlined.
Though reworking core values can be very difficult, a values redux where as many as half of them focus on the customer or the types of characteristics that serve your customer best is key to enhancing company performance. Because core values function as your company’s DNA, this hardwires customer-oriented behaviors.
2. Walk in the customer’s shoes
What processes or experiences would help team members understand your customer’s unique journey and therefore improve it? New team members have a fresh perspective that can provide value to your company. It’s up to you to leverage that.
We require new team members to blind-shop competitors — just like a new customer would. They complete a questionnaire about each competitor. During their orientation, I ask them to compare what they saw and experienced at our store versus competitors’ stores.
This not only enables them to experience being a customer of our product but also empowers them to use what they learned to help sell to our customers, having literally walked in their shoes.
3. Tie compensation to customer satisfaction
Another powerful way to inspire customer-centricity is to encourage it through compensation. There are many different compensation structures to achieve this.
In our company, front-line team members are compensated in a number of ways. About 20% of their ongoing monetary compensation comes from a bonus pool tied to customer satisfaction. Their bonus percentage is calculated from the number of five-star reviews received and the percentage of promoters from our customer service survey.
Additionally, these satisfaction measures, combined with their annual review core values ratings, are utilized to determine their annual company profit-sharing allocation. There is no substitute for the power of this direct connection to happy customers. The happier our customers are, the more money front-line team members make.
Balance the seesaw
When you created your company, did you do it solely to make employees happy? Probably not. More likely, you saw a need or problem and wanted to solve it to improve your customers’ lives.
That said, a great work environment and strong company culture are important, too. After all, superior customer satisfaction can’t be delivered unless your employees are happy — the two concepts are not mutually exclusive.
The connection between employee happiness and customer satisfaction is like a seesaw, requiring a delicate balance that each business leader must achieve on their own terms. As you calibrate where the weight will sit, remember that without happy customers, the company won’t survive very long.
A customer-centric perspective is key to long-term success, which enables the opportunity for ongoing employee satisfaction. When you empower employees to connect those two concepts through core values, walking in the customer’s shoes and compensation tied to customer satisfaction, you’ve implemented a trifecta of winning strategies that should hard-code your company to find its ideal equilibrium and thrive for decades.