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Guest Times: Culture will eat strategy for breakfast every single day!

Praveen Nijhara, Senior Executive Director, Kantar IMRB writes how important is customer centricity strategies for any organisation and mentions a few pointers that companies can follow to ensure it

Praveen Nijhara

One of the many interesting aspects of the work we do is to interact with senior managers in discussions, which revolve around customer centricity strategies. What makes it even more exciting is that this interaction is with a variety of companies across multiple sectors. As part of this, we are witness to some constructive discussions around measures to be taken to reduce issues faced by customers. Strategies are made and current processes are re-analysed to understand where things are going wrong. Action plans are set in motion clearly highlighting what needs to be done to fix the problem, along with timelines and responsibilities. In many cases we have a frequent, almost monthly interaction with some organisations. The purpose of these meetings is to monitor progress on action plans and many clients invite us to their internal discussions and ‘customer centricity’ monitoring meetings.

Meetings are fruitful to evaluate progress. Corrective measures are also taken to change action plans if hindrances are experienced as teams go along in their quest to resolve customer problems. While in some cases, positive results are seen in feedback given by customers when measured after a period of time, in many others things don’t change. Customers seem to voice the same issues time and again and their angst only increases as time goes by.

So what goes wrong? Are the action plans not thought through? Or are they not appropriately implemented? Why are some companies, despite having customer listening posts, not able to improve relationships with customers?

While there may be a few reasons for this, there is one critical factor that most companies are unable to recognise. And that is the culture of the organisation. Culture is defined as “the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society”. This is a ‘feeling’, an intangible aspect. It cannot be quantified but only experienced. This, in my opinion and from the knowledge of having interacted with so many organisations, is one of the biggest hindrances to ensuring top-class customer advocacy. This is the reasons why most strategies fail. Let me explain with an example.

Imagine an organisation, let’s say a bank, formulates a customer centricity strategy that each time a customer walks into a branch, he should be immediately attended to. So, training around this is imparted to all frontline employees. A few weeks later, a new executive joins one of the branches. While he is trained on requirements of his role, he is also sensitised on attending to a customer’s need immediately.

On Day 1 of his job in the branch, a customer walks in asking to speak to somebody regarding a problem he is facing with his debit card. This new recruit seats the customer in the lobby area and promptly walks to the bank officer concerned, requesting him to cater to the customer’s need. The officer is busy with something else and tells the executive that he is busy, will speak to the customer shortly and that the executive should proceed with his own work. What message do you think the executive will take out of this interaction? He will see that while he has been trained to meet customers without any delay, the others in the branch are not as obsessed about it. Obviously, he will not show the same enthusiasm to meet the customer’s need the next time another customer walks into the branch. What then, happened? Did the strategy of customer centricity as laid down by the bank succeed? Obviously not. That’s because the culture of the bank wasn’t in sync with the ‘Customer Comes First’ strategy. To become customer centric, you need to have the culture and the ‘feeling’ to support the strategy. Culture will eat strategy for breakfast every single day!

Here are a few things that companies must do to ensure the culture is built around customer centricity.

  1. Clearly enunciate the central philosophy and key expectations and break this down into key values that drive customer centricity.
  2. Display these in words and actions repeatedly and continuously so that the consistent message of ‘customer comes first’ gets percolated to every level within the organisation.
  3. Ensure KPIs of every department are linked to customer centricity. This includes back-end departments or those which are not customer facing. True customer centricity implies everybody in the organisation is working towards making the experience of the customer fantastic.
  4. Publically acknowledge positive behaviours that align to the central philosophy and values laid down that directly impact customer centricity.

Customer Centricity is a mindset, not a process. Processes are built for good customer delivery. But these can be easily replicated by competitors. It is the softer elements that make an organisation customer centric. For example, the degree of empathy shown to a patient is what differentiates a hospital / doctor from another. This is a mindset, which takes time to change through consistent efforts by the organisation. If this is not changed, strategy will always fail. Culture will eat strategy for breakfast every single day!

(Praveen Nijhara has over 22 years of experience with core expertise in market research, customer experience (CX), customer loyalty & satisfaction. Armed with significant experience of providing strategic consulting to large organisations across sectors, Nijhara has been instrumental in setting up customer experience and customer listening posts for a number of clients. He has played a key role in establishing Kantar IMRB’s Stakeholder loyalty business as a dominant market leader in India.)

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of and we do not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)

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