Friday, August 23, 2013

Journey to a Customer-Focused Culture

Image courtesy of Jamie Dobson Photography
Are you in the process of shifting the thinking within your organization to create a customer-focused culture but don't know where to start? Help is on the way.

Yesterday, I shared a guest post by Jeff Toister. One day earlier, I attended a Sales Leadership Alliance meeting in Irvine, CA, where Jeff spoke to the attendees about the journey to a customer-focused culture. This topic clicks with me for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the title of my blog! And as a reader, you'll want to hear more from Jeff after this.

It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end. - Ernest Hemingway

In his presentation, Jeff focused on the first three steps in the journey to a customer-focused culture, and hence, to outstanding service.

Step 1: Define Your Destination
How does that saying go? If you don't know where you're going, how will you know when you get there? Or, if you don't know where you're going, you'll end up somewhere else? Either way, you need to establish and communicate a clear definition of your customer-focused culture so that employees know what is expected of them and know how they will contribute. The definition must: (1) be simple and easy to understand, (2) describe the type of service we want to deliver for our customers, and (3) consider both present and future states (how we look today and what we aspire to be in the future).

Define what the destination will look like for your organization; don't copy or imitate what others are doing. Jeff cited the example of a retailer that claimed they were "the Nordstrom of patio furniture." Huh?

To execute: provide clear direction, define outstanding service, link behaviors by telling stories and providing real-life examples, and discuss frequently. I like this point that Jeff made: The things you talk about a lot are deemed important to employees, and employees realize the things you don't talk about are not that important. Consider that for a second. I'm guessing it probably speaks volumes to many of you.

A customer focus and great customer service cannot be a flavor of the month; it's an ongoing, day-in day-out commitment. It's a journey.

Step 2: Establish Mile Markers
Plain and simple, we need to know that we're headed in the right direction. What gets measured gets managed. What gets measured gets done. It gets done because you're tracking progress and, again, you know if you're going the right way. The scorecard, the metrics - those are mile markers, not the destination.

If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading. -Lao Tzu

So establish some goals aligned with achieving your destination and measure and manage against those goals. Don't just write them down and forget about them; don't just communicate them once and never again. They must be visible and talked about regularly.

Jeff mentioned that good goals do three things:
  1. They focus attention on the desired behaviors rather than diverting attention from the big picture.
  2. They promote teamwork rather than individual outcomes.
  3. They motivate intrinsically rather than relying on external rewards to drive performance.
Step 3: Win the Moments of Truth
Before you can win the moments of truth, you must first identify them. Once identified, measure performance at those moments and fix any obstacles that keep your employees from delivering the experience expected by your customers. In addition, ensure that any decisions, processes, etc. about these moments align with the company's definition of great service.

For more details, check out Service Failure. Jeff filled it with great real-life examples, many from his own experiences (good and bad) throughout his own career in customer service and training.

I believe the fundamental mission for every customer service leader is to help employees serve customers at the highest level. You start by identifying and removing  the obstacles that stand in your employees' way. -Jeff Toister


  1. Annette,

    I'm afraid I am having a slow moment...

    I totally get steps 1 and 2 destination and mile markers, what I am struggling with is the moments of truth and how they link.

    Are they at the destination? Or are they the mile markers or am I overthinking it?


    1. James -

      Winning the moments of truth refers to the many decision points we face on our journey. Do we make the right choice and stay on track or do we get off course?

      An example might be hiring. You've won a moment of truth if you hire someone with the right skills and attitude who loves serving customers they way you want them to be served. You've lost the moment if you hire someone who isn't a great fit.

      I hope that helps!

  2. Great article, Annette. I related very much to Jeff's quote that, "The things you talk about a lot are deemed important to employees, and employees realize the things you don't talk about are not that important." In the day-to-day, it's far too easy to simply overlook the truth behind this powerful statement, but the statement itself is incredibly true. Taking Jeff's approach is a very quick way to establish company culture, values, and priorities - but caution must be exercised on a daily basis that what is being subconsciously reinforced is what should be reinforced. It almost reminds me of being a parent, in a way - where your children will mimic your behaviors, both good and bad.

    1. Thanks, John-Paul. I am very much in alignment with you; that's a quote that cannot be repeated enough. Hmmm. The things you talk about a lot...

      And your last sentence reminds me of my most-recent post about the Broken Windows Theory. Ironically, James Lawther made the same comment about the similarities to having children.

      Annette :-)

    2. This discussion inspired a follow-up post on my own blog!

    3. Awesome, Jeff. It's a solid statement and sage advice. I used it in a webinar the other day.

      Great follow-up post.

      Annette :-)

  3. You got a definitely helpful blog I’ve been right here reading for about an hour. I’m a newbie and your accomplishment is quite a lot an inspiration for me.