Chapter 8: Leading a Customer Centric Strategy

Chapter 8 Learning Outcomes

After reading this chapter, you should be able to do the following:

  1. List three characteristics of a strong customer service vision.
  2. State three questions you can ask employees to determine if they are engaged with the company’s customer service vision.
  3. Describe three habits of a customer-centric leader.
  4. Describe how to empower employees to deliver excellent customer service.
  5. List three sources for establishing quality standards.
  6. Discuss why it is important for contact centers to use the right metrics when measuring customer service quality.
  7. Describe three things a leader can do to make customer experience a company priority.

Build a Customer-Centric Structure and Culture

“The uniquely cross-functional nature of effective customer-experience efforts puts a premium on smart governance. Adequately addressing the challenge requires a dedicated effort on three levels. First, a customer-centric leadership structure must ultimately report to the chief executive and should be designed to stimulate cross-department activity and collaboration. Second, leaders must commit to demonstrating behaviors and serving as role models to deliver customer-experience goals to frontline workers and refine and reinforce those goals over the long term. Finally, it is necessary to put in place the correct metrics and incentives that are critical for aligning typically siloed units/departments into effective cross-functional teams.”[1]

Hands holding sign that says "We are here to do better"
Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels

Contact center leaders cited poor cross-departmental collaboration and lack of understanding and respect for the center as two of the top three challenges they’re currently dealing with (the No. 1 challenge being agent attrition).[2]

Research conducted by customer service provider Arvato revealed that businesses tend to rate the customer experience their company delivers higher than consumers do.[3]

Despite the attention to customer experience that is widely stated in corporate missions, visions, and values, actions speak louder than vision statements. When it comes to resources and budget, CEOs tend to prioritize technology over people or process. Even when company leaders recognize that customer service could be better, they often will look to the latest technology to provide the solution without delving deeper into customers’ true wants and needs, or gathering insights from frontline staff.[4]

Leaders have a huge impact on building a customer-centric culture. The leader must be customer obsessed and share those values and goals with the company employees.  Does the leader walk the talk? Does the leader put customers first?  Are products, services, and processes created with customer needs and wants shaping results? If the company is focused on short-term results or is investing in areas that do not improve the customer experience, employees will pick up on this and leaders will get behaviours from employees that are not customer focused.  Leaders who want to deliver exceptional customer experiences need to invest in employee incentives that will steer performance toward exceptional service.

Watch “A Customer-Centric Culture Needs a Leader” YouTube video below to learn why leadership is so important to creating a customer-centric culture.[5] Transcript for “A Customer-Centric Culture Needs a Customer-Centric Leader” Video [PDF–New Tab]. Closed captioning is available on YouTube.

Make Customer Experience a Priority

Leaders in customer experience pursue a range of approaches to overcome the complexities of making the customer experience a priority. Several elements form the core of their successful efforts. They include the following:[6]

  1. Set up a dedicated team for customer experience. This allows a company to maintain a continuous focus on customer experience across segments, brands, geographies, and functional areas.
  2. Establish C-suite engagement. Given the cross-functional collaboration required, the CEO must make the customer experience an active priority.
  3. Fit the customer-experience team into the organizational fabric. If not, customer experience transformation efforts may drown in a sea of organizational confusion.

“Disney makes use of a simple leadership framework that links the delivery of business results to customer satisfaction and measures that satisfaction via two key indicators: “propensity to return” to a Disney experience and “propensity to recommend.” Disney’s framing also stipulates that the way to satisfy customers is through engaged employees. For Disney’s business leaders, the logic is clear: their task is to develop excellent employees, who in turn help to create satisfied customers, leading to business results.”[7]

Apply Leadership Principles

To create a customer-centric organization, leaders apply the following principles:

  1. Model specific behaviours.  Managers must walk the walk.  Customer centricity is taught to agents and should be supported in the company vision, mission, and values as well as modelled by management.
  2. Foster understanding and commitment among employees and managers. Making a connection between improved customer satisfaction and bottom-line financial results will help all employees understand the importance of exemplary customer service.
  3. Develop capabilities and skills. Train agents in customer-centric behaviours, but also train management so they are able to coach and support the team.  Hire for fit.
  4. Reinforce behaviours through formal mechanisms. Financial incentives can help, but nonfinancial recognition schemes are more powerful.

Watch “The 8 Habits of Customer-Centric Leaders” YouTube video to learn what customer-centric leaders do.[8] Transcript for “The 8 Habits of Customer-Centric Leaders” Video [PDF–New Tab]. Closed captioning is available on YouTube.

Create a Customer Service Vision

Companies with strong service cultures take the time to clearly define what outstanding service means to them.  They do this in their mission and vision statements, in their employee training, in their advertising, and in the behaviour of their managers and leaders. They ensure their products, services, and processes are designed with consumer wants and needs in mind. Being means that every department in the company understands that the customer comes first and everything they do is to obtain, retain, and build relationships with customers.

A is a shared definition of outstanding service that gets all employees working in the same direction. A strong customer service vision has three characteristics:[9]

  1. It’s simple and easy to understand. A vision should not be too complicated or too long; it should bring clarity so all employees can understand it and act accordingly.
  2. It’s focused on customers. Focusing on profit or expanding market share may be the end goal, but customer-centric companies achieve those goals by focusing on their customers.
  3. It reflects who the company is now, and who the company aspires to be in the future. It should be grounded in reality so the vision feels authentic to employees. It’s about what is working for the company now and what the company will build upon in the future.

Example vision statements:

Hand holding sign that says "Where customers matter"
Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels

Amazon – “To be Earth’s most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”[10]

Disney – “To make people happy.”[11]

IKEA – “To create a better everyday life for the many people.”[12]

Loreal – “To provide the best in cosmetics innovation to women and men around the world with respect for their diversity.”[13]

Microsoft – “To help people throughout the world realize their full potential.”[14]

Starbucks – “To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.”[15]

Zappos – “To provide the best customer service possible. Deliver ‘WOW’ through service.”[16]

Engage Employees with the Customer Service Vision

Employees need to know that organizational success is defined by the customer service vision. Engaged employees help fulfill the vision with the customers they serve. There are three questions you can ask employees to evaluate employee engagement in a customer-centric organization. [17]

  1. What is the customer service vision? Employees need to know it and where it is.  It may be in a book, online, written on a poster, or in some other location.
  2. What does the customer service vision mean? Employees should more than just memorize it, they should be able to explain it in their own words.
  3. How do you personally contribute? Employees should be able to describe how their individual role contributes to fulfilling the vision.

The customer service vision should be formally announced or introduced by the CEO or a high-ranking manager.  Companies must hire for the right fit; hire candidates who agree with or have personal goals aligned with the company vision. Training should then be provided to employees to help them understand how their role aligns with the company’s customer service vision. Ensure employees receive some one-to-one coaching from their immediate supervisor as needed. The goal is to verify that employees can answer all three of the above questions consistently. Finally, empower employees to enable them to provide excellent customer service and care and be sure that company leaders are demonstrating their belief in the vision through their everyday behaviors, discussions, and decisions they make.

Empower Employees to Deliver the Customer Service Vision

means giving employees the authority, the right technology, systems, and the freedom to go the extra mile to make customers happy. This requires thorough training of customer service teams to enable employees to identify and act on the opportunities to enhance the quality of support. Giving employees ownership for their own work will not only boost motivation but also increase service quality, team productivity, and quick decision-making.”[18]

Empowerment doesn’t mean allowing employees to do whatever they want. It means enabling them to deliver service that’s consistent with the customer service vision. Empowered employees need resources to serve their customers, the best-known procedures for serving consistently and efficiently, and the appropriate level of authority to handle unusual or unexpected situations.[19]

Empower employees in the following ways:

  • Educate the frontline call center agents on branding, culture, and values so they deliver service that is consistent with these values.
  • Provide agents with a 360-degree view of customers so they can make data-driven decisions.
  • Equip agents with the right tools so they can resolve issues at the first point of contact.
  • Cultivate innovation by encouraging autonomy and creative problem-solving.
  • Make agents integral members of the organization so they are proud to provide amazing service.[20]

Watch the “Customer Experience: Empower Employees with Decisions” YouTube video below to learn more about employee empowerment.[21] Transcript for “Customer Experience: Empower Employees with Decisions” Video [PDF–New Tab]. Closed captioning is available on YouTube.

Set SMART Goals Aligned with the Customer Service Vision

Set goals that are SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic (Relevant), and Time-bound. Goals for agents should be clear and attainable. Goals for the contact center should be realistic.  All goals should be time-bound and performance measured.

If agents are rewarded, for example, for the number of calls they complete each day, then employees may rush to finish a call to take another one.  This may reduce customer satisfaction and may leave some customers without their problems resolved. That would be an example of setting a bad goal. If time is measured on each call and an expectation or limit is set, then some agents might transfer the call or end the call before the customer issue is resolved, leaving the customer with a poor image of the company’s customer service. Again, an example of a bad goal.  Good goals rely on intrinsic or internal motivation while bad goals rely on extrinsic motivation like incentives.

“Many organizations use a number of metrics to evaluate customer service and overall performance. These metrics might include customer satisfaction, productivity, or even revenue. Goals can be an important signal to employees about what to focus on and how to prioritize their work. The danger is some goals can push employees away from the customer service vision rather than towards it.”[22]
There is a tendency in the contact center industry to focus on the efficiency of an operation, rather than looking at the effectiveness of individual interactions. This is not the best approach, rather than focusing on average call handling time (AHT) it may be better to focus agents on first contact resolution (FCR) instead.[23]

An IVR can help streamline interactions by getting customers through to the right agent the first time they call. But if the IVR is not configured effectively it can result in an endless stream of frustrated customers connecting to your agents.[24]

If your agents are not happy or satisfied this will come across to your customers. Happy employees = happy customers. Get every day off to a great start by getting the basics right. Comfy desk chairs, clean toilet facilities, and tasty food in the cafeteria can all help to keep a smile on everyone’s faces. No agent will be giving their best if they are trying to balance on a broken chair, having just had a bag of chips for lunch![25]

Create Quality Standards

refer to the performance that customers can expect from the company. It encompasses various factors, like speed, accuracy, transparency, accessibility, empowerment, efficiency, and friendliness of the staff.[26]
There are many benefits to improving quality and customer service, including a positive impact on customer loyalty, revenues, profitability, word of mouth, and employee engagement to name just a few.  What constitutes good, bad, and exceptional customer service must be defined by what customers expect. is simply the attributes of a product or service. are for the requirements, specifications, guidelines, or characteristics established for customer service. They should reflect and provide guidance on what needs to happen, and what we want to apply or replicate across all customer interactions.  There are three sources for establishing quality standards:[27]
  1. Customer expectations. These are always changing so companies must continually innovate. Meeting customer expectations is a combination of people, processes, and technologies.
  2. The organization’s mission, vision, and values. Quality standards should support or align with these.
  3. Stakeholders such as government, suppliers, employees, shareholders, industry associations, community (and customers, but customers are in a category of their own).

“Customers frequently rank consistency as a primary driver of good customer service. To monitor the quality and consistency of your team’s replies, consider implementing quality assurance or conversation reviews. Providing ongoing feedback through reviews can ensure that your entire team is delivering excellent customer service.”[28]

Sometimes there is resistance to creating quality standards as some managers feel these standards are too rigid and unnecessary.  The best way to combat resistance is to demonstrate what quality is and the costs when quality is lacking.

 Use Metrics that Matter

“Enhancing your call center’s customer centricity would be next to impossible without data. In order to make decisions that will positively impact your customers, your call center agents, managers and executives must be referencing real-time and historical data. Enhance customer-centricity by doing the following.[29]

  • Utilizing call center software that provides comprehensive metrics.
  • Empowering agents with real-time and historical data so they can make informed decisions that enhance the customer experience.
  • Analyzing KPIs and making decisions based on these metrics.
  • Creating a culture of continuous data-driven improvement.
  • Ensuring that metrics are aligned to the customer lifecycle and key touchpoints (e.g., Customer Lifetime Value, Net Promoter Score, etc.).
  • Connecting agent feedback and performance evaluations to metrics.

Historically, contact centers focused more on quantitative metrics such as Average Handling Time (AHT) and Calls per Hour. However, modern contact centers recognize the importance of measuring customer experience and agent behavior more than quantitative metrics. Adopting a customer-centric approach to contact center management does not imply that there should be no productivity-based measures in place. Instead, it means that service centers should emphasize more on improving customer satisfaction than relying on increasing the number of calls.”[30]

Watch the “How to Reduce AHT in a Call Center” YouTube video below to learn more about reducing average handling time in a call center.[31] Transcript for “How to Reduce AHT in a Call Center” Video [PDF–New Tab]. Closed captioning is available on YouTube.

Of course, every company should measure performance in alignment with quality standards, and much of this is done through metrics and using technology.  There are other ways to assess the quality of service interactions, some of which include: observation, role-play, coaching sessions, recorded interactions, customer input, and mystery shoppers who use services and provide reports.

When measuring the degree to which quality standards are being met it is important to consider the scoring system as it should directly reflect your quality standards and behaviours you want to encourage. A flawed system may, in practice, under-emphasize critical behaviors and over-emphasize non-essential skills. You’ll need to test and modify accordingly.[32]

Key Takeaways

  1. A customer-centric leadership structure must ultimately report to the chief executive and should be designed to stimulate cross-silo activity and collaboration. Leaders must commit to demonstrating behaviors and serving as role models to deliver customer-experience goals to frontline workers and refine and reinforce those goals over the long term. Finally, it is necessary to put in place the correct metrics and incentives that are critical for aligning typically siloed units into effective cross-functional teams.
  2. Leaders in customer experience pursue a range of approaches to overcome such complexity of making the customer experience a priority. Several elements form the core of their successful efforts. They include the following: Set up a dedicated team for customer experience, establish C-suite engagement, and fit the customer-experience team into the organizational fabric. 
  3. To create a customer-centric organization leaders apply the following principles: Model specific behaviours, foster understanding and commitment among employees and managers, develop capabilities and skills, and reinforce behaviours through formal mechanisms. 
  4. Being customer centric means that every department in the company understands that the customer comes first and everything they do is to obtain, retain, and build relationships with customers.
  5. A customer service vision is a shared definition of outstanding service that gets all employees working in the same direction. A strong customer service vision has three characteristics: It’s simple and easy to understand, it’s focused on customers, it reflects who the company is now, and who the company aspires to be in the future.
  6. There are three questions you can ask employees to evaluate employee engagement in a customer-centric organization: What is the customer service vision? What does the customer service vision mean? How do you personally contribute?
  7. Employee empowerment means giving employees the authority, the right technology, systems, and the freedom to go the extra mile to make customers happy.
  8. Customer service standards refer to the performance that customers can expect from the company. It encompasses various factors, like speed, accuracy, transparency, accessibility, empowerment, efficiency, and friendliness of the staff. There are three sources for establishing quality standards: Customer expectations, the organization’s mission, vision, and values, and stakeholders such as government, suppliers, employees, shareholders, industry associations, and the community.
  9. Previously, contact centers focused more on quantitative metrics such as Average Handling Time (AHT) and Calls per Hour. However, modern service centers recognize the importance of measuring customer experience and agent behavior more than quantitative metrics.

End-of-Chapter Exercises

  1. Contact Center Goals. Search the Internet for examples of good and bad goals for a customer service contact center. Take a few notes then share your findings with your classmates and professor.
  2. Customer Service Standards. Review the list of 7 Commonly Used Customer Service Standards. Which standard do you feel is the most important?  Why?  Discuss with your classmates and professor.
  3. Cross-Departmental Service. Why is it important for quality customer care/service to be a cross-functional objective? Provide an example of serving a customer where cross-departmental input may be needed. Discuss with your classmates and professor.
  4. Reinforce Employee Behaviour. Search the Internet for ways to reinforce employee behaviour beyond financial incentives.  Would these strategies work for every employee?  Why or why not?  Discuss your findings with your classmates and professor.
  5. Model Behaviour. Search the Internet for ways in which managers can model customer-centric behaviours. Make a list and share it with your classmates and professor.
  6. Leadership Quiz. Take a leadership quiz to determine your leadership style.
  7. Customer Service Quiz. Take a quiz to evaluate how well your team delivers customer service.

 

Self-Check Exercise – Leading a Customer Centric Strategy

 

Additional Resources

  1. 15 Steps to Becoming the Best Team Leader in the Call Center Industry, YouTube Video
  2. Contact Center Trends for 2021, YouTube Video
  3. How Many Agents Do You Need? YouTube Video
  4. How Companies Can Achieve True Customer Centricity, YouTube Video
  5. An Introduction to Customer Centricity at Google, YouTube Video
  6. Customer Centric Culture Change, YouTube Video
  7. Beyond the Trends: Developing a Customer-Centric Retail Mindset in B2C & B2B
  8. Service Metrics for Customer Service, LinkedIn Learning
  9. Leading a Customer Centric Culture, LinkedIn Learning
  10. Customer Service Leadership, LinkedIn Learning

References

(Note: This reference list was produced using the auto-footnote and media citation features of Pressbooks; therefore, the in-text citations are not displayed in APA style).


  1. Bhattachariee, D., Müller, L., Roggenhofer, S. (2016, March 11). Leading and governing the customer centric organization. https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/operations/our-insights/leading-and-governing-the-customer-centric-organization#
  2. Hash, S. (2018, August). Leading customer centric change. https://www.contactcenterpipeline.com/Article/leading-customer-centric-change
  3. Hash, S. (2018, August). Leading customer-centric change. https://www.contactcenterpipeline.com/Article/leading-customer-centric-change
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  5. Customers That Stick. (2020, January 7). A customer-centric culture needs a leader. [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zwTih30Qr2
  6. Bhattachariee, D., Müller, L., Roggenhofer, S. (2016, March). Leading and governing the customer-centric organization.  https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/McKinsey/Business%20Functions/Operations/Our%20Insights/Leading%20and%20governing%20the%20customer%20centric%20organization/Leading%20and%20governing%20the%20customer%20centric%20organization.pdf
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  11. Brex. (2020, August 28). 22 vision statement examples to help you write your own. [Blog]. https://www.brex.com/blog/vision-statement-examples/
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  17. Toister, J. (2018, August 29). Leading a customer-centric culture. [Video]. LinkedIn Learning. https://www.linkedin.com/learning/leading-a-customer-centric-culture-2018/guide-employees-with-a-vision?u=2167290
  18. Patel, S. (2021, June 23). How to empower your team to deliver great customer service success. [Blog]. Revechat. https://www.revechat.com/blog/empower-customer-service-team/
  19. Toister, J. (2018, August 29). Leading a customer-centric culture. [Video]. LinkedIn Learning. https://www.linkedin.com/learning/leading-a-customer-centric-culture-2018/guide-employees-with-a-vision?u=2167290
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  32. Cleveland, B. (2016, December 12). Quality standards in customer service. [Video]. LinkedIn Learning. https://www.linkedin.com/learning/quality-standards-in-customer-service-2016/defining-quality-in-customer-service?contextUrn=urn%3Ali%3AlearningCollection%3A6569259166630768640&u=2167290

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