6 C’s Of Customer-Centric DNA

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It’s impossible to talk about customer experience excellence without discussing corporate culture. Firms can’t sustain customer experience success unless it becomes embedded within their core operating fabric. According to leadership guru Arthur F. Carmazzi:

The ability to do more than expected does not come from influencing others to do something they are not committed to, but rather to nurture a culture that motivates and even excites individuals to do what is required for the benefit of all.

Culture is an important, yet all too often under-appreciated, aspect of corporate performance. That’s why “Invest in culture as a corporate asset” is one of my six new management imperatives.  

When it comes to great customer experience, organizations must develop a culture that I call customer-centric DNA, which is defined as:

A strong, shared set of beliefs that guides how customers are treated.

My research uncovered the following six components of customer-centric DNA:

  1. Clear beliefs. The only way for an organization to operate consistently is if everyone understands what’s important. High performing organizations don’t leave this to chance; they create clear descriptions of their core values. But these aren’t just posters or slogans; they’re used as guideposts for hiring, firing, and promoting employees.
  2. Constant communications. When a company goes through a major transformation, which is true for most firms in the midst of a customer experience journey, it’s important for employees to continuously hear what’s going on. Leading firms develop explicit internal communications plans to make sure that employees are kept up to date on the priorities and progress of these efforts. 
  3. Collective celebrations. Organizations celebrate when individuals or groups outperform metrics for sales growth or profitability. In customer-centric cultures, companies generate the same excitement around customer experience success. These firms create customer experience metrics and use public acknowledgements and incentives to reward employees for exceeding those goals. (See law #5 of customer experience: Employees do what is measured, incented, and celebrated).
  4. Compelling stories. The author Philip Pullman was quoted as saying “‘Thou shalt not’ is soon forgotten, but ‘Once upon a time’ lasts forever.” Stories play a powerful key role in shaping the culture of any firm. Companies use stories to tell how founders or employees have helped customers, demonstrating customer-centric behaviors that are valued by the organization.
  5. Commitment to employees. There’s no way to deliver great customer experience if employees aren’t on board. But you can’t just “expect” employees to do what’s right. Companies need to help employees better serve customers with investments in training and enabling tools. Leading companies also provide incentives and perks that create highly-desirable work environments. (See law #4 of customer experience: Unengaged employees don’t create engaged customers).
  6. Consistent trade-offs. Employees respond to what execs do more than to what they say. So guess what happens when execs proclaim that customer experience is important but continue to reward other behavior. Nothing. The true commitment to customer experience shows up when executives have to make trade-offs. (See law #6 of customer experience: You can’t fake it).

I’ll explore each of these 6 C’s of Customer-Centric DNA in later posts.

The bottom line: Don’t underestimate the power of customer-centric DNA.

About Bruce Temkin
I am a customer experience transformist, helping large organizations improve business results by changing how they deal with customers. As part of this focus, I examine strategy, marketing, interaction design, customer service, and leadership practices. I am also a fanatical student of business, so this blog provides an outlet for sharing insights from my ongoing educational journey. Simply put, I am passionate about spotting emerging best practices and helping companies master them. And, as many people know, I love to speak about these topics in almost any forum. My “title” is Managing Partner of the Temkin Group, a customer experience research and consulting firm that helps organizations become more customer-centric. Our goal is simple: accelerate the path to delighting customers. I am also the co-founder and chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA.org), a non-profit organization dedicated to the success of CX professionals.

15 Responses to 6 C’s Of Customer-Centric DNA

  1. Great post Bruce, I couldn’t agree with you more, culture drives performance and even more important is a culture that is focused on creating and delivering value for their customers. We have spent the past 2 years developing some research tools in this area to help organizations measure their culture and link it to bottom line performance. There are multiple levels of culture but ultimately the most important is the behaviors, many organizations claim to have certain values but do they really live them and deliver on them? Many do not. For example most companies claim to be customer focused but they act internally/profit only focused…..

    • Bruce Temkin says:

      Chris: It sounds like you (and your firm) are bought into the importance of culture. I’m actually in the middle of research in how to make companies more customer-centric. Would you be willing to talk to me about your work with clients?

  2. Love the 6 C’s, Bruce. In our work helping companies define and deliver a brand-differentiating customer experience, we’ve seen the importance of embedding the same set of defining brand values in the employee experience. Alignment seems most attainable for startups and newer companies where a shared passion drives founders and attracts friends and like-minded folks in the first rounds of hiring.

    The challenge seems to be greater for larger companies, particularly those with multiple brands. It can be tricky to balance the need for shared values and esprit de corps with laser focus on the needs of individual brands, customers and P&Ls. Boundaries and divisions arise between “us” and “them,” and platitudes about all being one team or having common high-level values often just reinforce those divisions.

    What are your thoughts about how to get this C right in a large, multi-brand setting?

  3. Bruce would love to connect and discuss more with you offline. Let’s connect via linkedin

  4. Excellent stuff. It’s nice to see something ‘concrete’ about culture which is often viewed by many business people as a bit ‘touchy feely’ or ‘soft’. I actually think it’s the ‘hardest’ bit to manage. I like to describe culture as ‘the way we do things around here’.
    I feel you’re right Bruce to put forward the notion of core values to help drive and support a customer driven culture. I think where this works really well is when these values are developed into ‘preferred behaviours’ which reinforces what is acceptable and not.
    Also completely concur with law 3 about the rewards and incentives. One of the questions I like to ask the clients I work with who tell me they have a culture of customer care in their business is ‘If someone does go the ‘extra mile’ for customers what do they get?’ The answer unfortunately for those individuals is that they simply get more work!

    • Bruce Temkin says:

      Andy, Brynn, Chris, and Liliana: Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It’s amazing to see how many execs don’t understand that their employees do exacty what could be predicted given the enviornment.

  5. Andy I like your rewards example, rewards for me are part of culture, you can encourage certain behaviors, have leadership model them but it also requires tangible actions that reinforce and align the culture. To add to you definition of culture its also “about what people do when no one is looking” – rewarding the right behaviors becomes critical when you are dealing with remote teams around the world.

  6. Brynn T Palmer says:

    I was delighted to see the notion of “compelling stories” included. Too often in an attempt to put their brand on an oganization, new leaders dismiss the past and those employees associated with it’s story. What a loss.

  7. Liliana Daminato says:

    I love this posting and completely agree–thanks for confirming the path we are on. My philosophy in moving forward Customer Experience is that you need to build everything around the employees so that they are fully enabled to deliver an amazing experience for the customer. This means totally aligning metrics, rewards, systems, processes, learning and coaching, standards and company values. Each one enables the other so that a seamless interaction for the customer is possible.

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  12. Ketshs says:

    i like the topic, this is because i am doing my final year in IS and Computer science and i have come to realise that things i learn in varsity are at some extend not being applied just as same as they are being insteeled in my mind. but if what is being preached for me can be applied in the real world it will bring a lot of understanding to the technology adopted by some companies which is not being used to full effect. currently i am doing consulting in IS, getting to learn about the seven C’s and other tools.

    • Bruce-From an employee standpoint, I am 100% on board with your words of wisdom! Customer-centricity sounds similar to what I learned from TQM but an updated 2.0 version whereby leadership and quality must start at the top; groups meet and brainstorm; everyone is subject to continuous education, growth and reward; measurements and benchmarks are in place so you know where you started so you know when you’ve excelled; and best of all-it really is about the customer experience from their point of view. This was the best thing that ever happened to me. It defines who I am as an employee. My success story is that I’ve always worked with Top Producers as their operational and administrative support because of my dedication to quality and service. Knowing there are more companies willing to embrace this transformation shows innovation and progress and it could be the difference between a struggling company and the successful company which is who I hope to be fortunate enough to work with.
      Thanks for your insight. I added your link to my LinkedIn page.

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