How a Customer-Centric Culture Improves the Employee Experience and Elevates CX
This week’s guest is Annette Franz, founder and CEO of CX Journey. She has 30 years of experience—on both the client and vendor sides—helping companies understand their employees and customers to drive retention, satisfaction, engagement, and the overall customer experience. She is a credentialed CCXP who has authored two books on CX as well as numerous articles in industry publications and she is regularly invited to speak at conferences and private events.
On this episode, we delve into Annette’s four key steps to improve the customer experience from the inside-out, looking at the interplay between culture, leadership, employees, and customers.
Customer Experience Strategy From the Start
Growing up on a farm in Ohio, Annette always dreamed of becoming a veterinarian. While the science of chemistry rerouted her from that endeavor, she did find a lot of chemistry in creating great customer and employee experiences. She left Ohio for sunny southern California and found a job doing market research at J.D. Power putting her math and writing skills to good use.
Since that time, she has been focused on customer experience strategy work on both the corporate brand side and the private agency side. Her work has ranged from customer understanding to culture and employee experience. As a certified customer experience professional (CCXP), she has seen the CX profession evolve over the past three decades and has gained deep insights on how to improve the customer experience.
The 4 Steps to Improve CX From the Inside-Out
Drawing on her years of strategic experience in the industry, Annette has identified four key pillars to improve CX from the inside-out. She takes an in-depth look at these and other strategies in her two books, “Built to Win” and “Customer Understanding,” and shares them with us here.
Annette’s four-step strategy begins with the heart of the organization: the culture. She finds that by looking at what’s happening on the inside with employees (while taking into account the voice of the customer), an organization can fix what’s happening on the outside with customers.
Prioritizing culture means prioritizing how you do things. Annette says culture equals core values plus behaviors. This means defining, socializing, and operationalizing core values (including customer-driven ones). In labeling the values and defining appropriate behaviors associated with each one, a customer-centric culture will flow through the DNA of the organization and yield profound improvements and a great customer experience.
- Leadership Commitment and Alignment
This customer-centric culture hinges on your organizational leadership’s commitment to design and deliberately cultivate the culture. This commitment must extend beyond the CEO and a few leaders in various departments. It has to involve the entire leadership team. All leaders across departments must be aligned on what it means to be customer-centric and how the organization is going to deliver on that in order to ensure a unified customer-centric transformation.
This commitment must be evident in measurable ways. Leaders need to provide the resources needed (time, financial, capital, and human) to do the work that’s needed to create and maintain a customer-centric culture.
Indeed, a customer-centric culture is a collaborative one in which everyone is working together towards the common goal of creating a great experience for customers.
- Employee Experience
For all of this to happen, employees must come first. Without employees to design, build, sell, service, and deliver the products, an organization has nothing. The employee experience drives the customer experience.
Knowing this, it’s important to define what the employee experience should be. This includes soft characteristics like building employee relationships through a leadership team that cares about the people, open and transparent communication, career planning, and knowledge that their work impacts the business and the customers. It also involves hard characteristics like the tools, processes, policies, workspace, workplace, and everything else that is needed to service the customers in the ways in which they deserve to be served.
- Customer Understanding
The final step of Annette’s strategy focuses on the voice of the customer. A customer-centric culture must include the voice of the customer, but how do you use that voice internally to drive employee and customer success?
Annette says this means looking at customer feedback, data, and personas internally to ensure employees are informed and educated about who the customer is and the experiences they desire. Using customer journey mapping, service blueprinting, and other initiatives to guide the values of the customer-centric culture and inform employee coaching can drive higher levels of engagement and help brands ultimately deliver a great customer experience.
The 10 Foundational Principles of a Customer-Centric Organization
In her book “Built to Win,” Annette discusses the 10 foundational principles of a customer-centric organization. The first three she shared here comprise the first three in her book: culture, leadership commitment and alignment, and employee experience.
The other foundational principles include additional ways to inspire people to think about what a customer-centric organization really looks like and entails. This means truly being people first; putting people before product, people before profits, and people before metrics.
In contrast to the inside-out approach of her four-step process to improve CX, her foundational principles incorporate outside-in thinking and doing—always including the customer perspective, knowing who they are and what their expectations are. This perspective can boost customer satisfaction and, subsequently, customer retention levels.
She also looks at governance—the structure, committees, and governing model. This foundational principle of a customer-centric organization guides how to break down silos to create cross-functional teams working towards the common goal of improving the customer experience.
Her culminating principle is the platinum rule: treating others the way they want to be treated. She said this approach sums up what outside-in thinking and doing is all about in a customer-centric organization and builds customer loyalty.
Customer Experience Strategy Today
Looking at customer experience strategy today in the context of its evolution over the past 30 years, Annette notes that it’s more challenging today than ever before. Before the pandemic, many organizations were repurposing CX staff. Once the pandemic began, however, they shifted to work towards understanding the customer and their motivations. This evolved into a focus on the employee and the employee experience.
Today, Annette hears more and more stories about bad employee experiences, but companies that prioritized a customer-centric culture aren’t facing that challenge. In contrast, their customer-centric outlook and empathy have guided them through hard times.
What Annette Does for Fun
Annette loves being outdoors and working out, whether on the water or in the woods. She enjoys paddle boarding, biking, mountain biking, and many of the other outdoor experiences that southern California has to offer.