Sharpening Customer Focus

Jan 24, 2019

By: AMA Staff

What’s the key to creating a customer-focused organization? Here’s one of the answers from the trenches of a high-performance company: “A culture of accountability makes a good organization great and a great organization unstoppable.”

That nugget of wisdom is part of The Institute for Corporate Productivity’s new major study on customer focus, conducted in partnership with the American Management Association. We found that accountability that starts at the top is critical to customer focus. Sixty-seven percent of respondents from high- market-performing companies that are good at focusing on customers say their organizations hold at least one corporate officer responsible for the customer experience. By contrast, a tiny 3% of lower-market-performing firms that are poor in this area hold an officer accountable.

Companies that excel in overall performance do something else about customer focus differently, too. They make sure that a commitment to customer service doesn’t stop with senior leaders—or even with customer-facing employees. Leaders of top-notch firms create customer-focused cultures that suffuse their organizations, reaching from sales professionals with daily customer contact to production-line employees who may never have a conversation with a consumer but whose efforts are just as vital to company success. Nearly seven out of 10 high-performing organizations say they work to build such a power culture. Lower performers? Fewer than half.

“Alignment of the corporate mission, vision, and goals with customer satisfaction” is viewed as a critical practice, according to one study participant from a high-performing company. “Bringing these concepts to the employee level and creating secondary visions that align their actions with the overall vision has increased [our] focus on exceeding customer expectations.”

Four out of five respondents from high-performing companies say that financial growth is the key driving force behind their focus on customers. 

The research has shown that market focus—which revolves around a focus on customers—is one of the five core attributes of high market performance. So it makes sense that a corporate culture centered on customers is likely to yield positive bottom-line results. But how does an organization seeking better performance bring about that kind of culture shift?

Along with accountability, communication and training are among the most vital components in culture-building approaches, the study found. “We are more actively sharing competitive data with lower levels of the organization,” one business leader revealed. In addition, the company is “instilling a culture of innovation and customer obsession to drive behavior focused on the customer.”

Multiple respondents from high-performing companies described their firms’ educational efforts. Customer-focused training “is part of our onboarding and new employee orientation,” said one. Another cited “continuous training on customer care practices” and a third explained, “We run training on a different customer service topic every month.”

Companies that achieve high levels of performance in today’s volatile marketplace demonstrate not only a dedication to customer service but also a commitment to anticipating customer needs and being proactive in meeting those needs. This type of forward-thinking mindset is one of the hallmarks of a culture that is truly customer focused.

The Institute's Four-Part Recommendation:

  1. Include accountability for customer service and satisfaction in performance reviews for managers and employees alike. Forty percent of i4cp respondents say they hold their entire executive teams responsible for customer focus. Reinforce accountability by aligning rewards and recognition with customer-focus goals.
  2. Build a powerful corporate culture that supports an organization-wide commitment to customer service. One study participant explains how: “We developed a new, customer-focused mission statement and had a bottom-up planning session to gain buy-in and establish critical success factors and SMART objectives. We will align our HR, organizational, management and communication practices to these objectives.”
  3. Retool internal communications to ensure support for a customer-focused culture. Share customer stories, feedback and insights with all employees. Involve senior leaders in modeling customer-focused behavior and in communicating the company’s customer-centric values and mission.
  4. Make customer-service training an ongoing commitment. Begin during employee onboarding and follow through with more training on a continuing basis. One company participating in the study demonstrates how to make the process enjoyable by offering a “Lunch ’n Learn Customer Appreciation Program.”

About the Author(s)  

American Management Association is a world leader in professional development, advancing the skills of individuals to drive business success. AMA’s approach to improving performance combines experiential learning—“learning through doing”—with opportunities for ongoing professional growth at every step of one’s career journey. AMA supports the goals of individuals and organizations through a complete range of products and services, including seminars, Webcasts and podcasts, conferences, corporate and government solutions, business books and research.