Building a customer-centric culture: is it really as easy as 7 steps?

Posted by Stephen Hall on Jan 4, 2016 8:30:00 AM
Stephen Hall


A popular Forbes magazine article enticingly promises the 7 Secrets of Building a Customer Centric Culture, as part of the Little Black Book of Billionaire Secrets series. Who could resist?

In brief, the secrets are (including some paraphrasing):

  1. Articulate your central philosophy in just a few meaningful words
  2. Elaborate on your central philosophy with a brief list of core values
  3. Reinforce your commitment to these values continually
  4. Express these values visually so they are constantly reinforced
  5. Make your philosophy the focus of staff orientation
  6. Train, support, hire and, if necessary, use discipline to enforce what’s important to you
  7. Engage with the wider world to build a greater sense of purpose

There’s a lot to like about this list. There’s the focus on having clarity of organisational philosophy and values, and then communicating them clearly and reinforcing them regularly. There’s also the consistent use of these values to underpin the organisation’s staff attraction, development and performance management functions. Finally, there’s a recognition of the need for the organisation to derive a greater sense of purpose through outward focus and engagement.

However, if you did all these things successfully - and nothing else - would you achieve a customer centric culture? Almost certainly not. You would be more likely to create a workforce with a bad case of cognitive dissonance, as they try to reconcile the organisation’s new customer centricity mission with the obstacles, delays and diversions inherent in its old organisational structure, governance, processes, metrics and systems.

Beyond just getting and keeping everyone on the same page, a consistent feature of customer experience leader organisations is the empowerment of their front-line staff to make direct decisions about, and take responsibility for, the quality of the customers’ experience. Let’s take a look at what might be involved in doing this effectively.

Taking the first steps to becoming Customer Centric? Learn more about 'Getting Started with Design Thinking' and why it's considered to be the leading strategy to create highly customer centric solutions.

In our experience, empowered frontline staff can only bring the culture of customer centricity to life if they have:

The right skills

Staff will typically need up-skilling or cross-skilling through training

The right processes, permissions and incentives

Staff need well understood business processes that:

  • Are focused on customer value
  • Give them the flexibility to make decisions at the time of the customer touch point
  • Have effective feedback loops from the frontline back into the organisation, for continuous improvement

Recognising the central role of intelligent failure in innovation, staff need permission to iteratively fail and learn. Staff also need to be rewarded and recognised for behaviours that deliver customer value.

The right data

Frontline decisions by staff should be underpinned by customer centric values, but wherever possible should also be driven by evidence. Increasingly, this is in the form of actionable analysis of data, provided at the right time in the right place.

The right systems

Staff need supporting systems which are accessible, easy to use and, ideally, present an integrated view of the customer.


To support the work of empowered staff, we suggest that organisations adopting customer centricity need to have in place:

Design thinking approach

Customer experience centric organisations design physical and digital services, from the customer point of view, as fully integrated experiences. This is the Design Thinking process. Increasingly, these are being co-designed by business and technology experts with customers themselves.

Enhanced capability

In transition to more customer centricity in culture, organisations need to consider changes to the overall skills mix. As well as up-skilling or cross-skilling of existing staff such as in customer service or relationship building, entirely new skill sets may need to be brought in through hiring or acquisition

New structure and governance

As customer-facing staff are more empowered, so the organisation structure may need to adjust. Success metrics may change from internally focused measures to customer experience metrics such as Net Promoter Score (NPS) or Customer Effort Score (CES).

Streamlined business processes

Old business processes are likely to be insufficiently customer centric, or just too complex, rigid or slow to support a more dynamic workforce.

Coordinated channels

Customer-facing information across all channels (such as online, social, call centre and physical) needs to be coordinated so that information encountered by customers is consistent regardless of the channel they choose

Quality data and
integrated systems

Data needs to be high quality and actively managed, with agreed single sources of truth in organisational data assets. Intelligence derived from data needs to be used as evidence to support agile decision making. Systems need to be flexible and interoperable.

In many industries these days, having Design Thinking and customer centricity in your culture is no longer optional - to stay still is to fall behind.

For the Design Thinking process including a customer centric culture to be effective and sustainable, however, organisations are finding that the journey is long, the challenges are substantial, but the rewards are great.

Free Customer Centric Benchmarking Tool

Topics: Design Thinking and Customer Experience