Corporate culture, as any business textbook will tell you, is tricky to define, and trickier still to change. Culture can neither be simply imposed on a business nor created by flicking a switch. The following steps can help put your business on the path toward a customer-focused culture.
1) Cement your customer relationships: To build your business around customers you need to understand them, so create a regular dialogue. Don't send an annual survey to see if they're satisfied with your products, contact center or delivery performance. Talk to them regularly at key points in your relationship with them -- when they've made a purchase, called your contact center or canceled an order. If you arm yourself with the tools to better understand your customers, you will be better able to act in their best interests.
2) Involve the crew: You can't impose a change in culture by sending an email saying "We are now a customer-focused organization." Well, you can try, but the result will be eye-rolling and mockery, not a newly customer-focused culture. Your employees possess great insight into your customer base and how you treat them. Tap this knowledge base to better understand employee views. Don't limit your outreach to customer-facing staff. A customer-focused culture is not just about providing better customer service at the front line, it is about infusing all your actions as a business with a sense of how the customer is affected by those actions (or lack of them).
3) Rebuild your processes: Evangelizing is just one step in developing a new corporate culture. To engage employees you must make changes and demonstrate what you're doing. When customers and employees tell you that you could do something better, take action. And tell them you've taken action. By asking for feedback, you're setting up a level of expectation that you need to meet, otherwise the process is destined to fail.
4) Check your measurements: Whatever metrics you use to measure success in your business, a handful of them will already be customer-focused. Customer satisfaction, complaint levels and first call resolution are all commonly used to monitor the way in which companies handle their customers. But your customer and employee feedback may uncover more intelligent ways to understand customer relationships. Learn how your customers gauge your performance, rather than the other way round. For example, they may be less interested in how long your call center takes to answer the phone, and more keen to know that the person they speak to can really help them. If the metric matters to your customer, it matters to you.
5) Share responsibility and construct a common goal: Involvement and engagement build and solidify corporate culture. When employees can identify and resolve failures, they contribute to that culture and help it to become entrenched. Just as change must be demonstrated, employees must be empowered to take action where necessary in order to be part of building the culture.
Changing a corporate culture cannot, and should not be an immediate process, and neither can it be a half-hearted one. Businesses that truly dedicate themselves to building a customer-focused culture are stronger competitively -- and provide better places to work.