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Customer-centric leadership – what does it mean?

In an increasingly competitive world where customer needs and expectations are continuously evolving, the concept of “customer-centric leadership” has become a cornerstone for driving successful businesses. Being customer-centric is not just a trendy phrase; it involves a deeper understanding of and alignment with customer needs, desires, and experiences. So, what does it mean to be a customer-centric leader? It means viewing the world through the customer’s eyes, making decisions that enhance their experiences, and never forgetting that customers ultimately define our success. This paradigm shift in leadership benefits not only the organization but also fosters lasting and meaningful relationships with customers. This blog post will explore the essence of customer-centric leadership and key factors that form the basis of a successful customer-focused organization.

The customer-centric leader clarifies individual contributions to the customer experience

In today’s competitive landscape, it is crucial for companies to ensure that every employee contributes to how customers perceive the organization’s products or services. The key here is to explain the context of each employee’s purpose, demonstrating how their work directly affects the customer experience and bridges the gap between customer expectations and actual delivery. Many employees are eager to impact the customer experience meaningfully, and it is vital that they understand how their work achieves this. Each employee’s contribution is crucial for the overall customer experience, directly or indirectly affecting it. Leaders play a central role in clarifying this relationship and demonstrating how everyone contributes to the whole, inspiring employees to actively improve the customer experience, resulting in a more customer-centered organizational culture.

The customer-centric leader stays on top of customer insights

A customer-centric leader, tuned into the customer voice, not only shares customer opinions but also communicates insights internally. In many companies, customer data often remains unused, and here a customer-centric leader with a sense of urgency plays a pivotal role, especially when faced with negative reviews and customer dissatisfaction. By effectively communicating customer insights, a customer-centric leader helps the entire organization understand and adapt to customer needs and preferences. This communication is crucial for engaging the whole team to act on customer insights and implement actions quickly. In this way, a customer-centric leader acts as a bridge between the customer’s world and the organization, ensuring insights translate into actionable measures. This dedication to understanding and acting on customer insights goes hand-in-hand with fostering a culture of continuous improvement and customer focus. By integrating feedback and customer insights into the company’s strategies, a strong connection is forged between the organization and its customers.

The customer-centric leader highly values employees’ insights about customers

For successful CX work, it is imperative to systematically understand our customers. Often, it is our employees, including customer service staff, salespeople, and customer project managers, who are closest to the customers and possess valuable insights. Therefore, it is crucial to create space to gather their insights and use them as essential input in developing and adapting our offerings. A customer-centric leader also encourages their team to share customer needs and opinions, as this is crucial for gaining a deeper understanding of our customers.

It is of great importance to reflect on how we currently handle feedback from our teams. Do we have a clear process for receiving and managing customer feedback? Do our employees feel that their efforts and opinions have real value and are taken seriously? Too often, feedback on our products or services is met with complicated processes and insufficient feedback. By simplifying the feedback process and clearly communicating back to our employees how their efforts have impacted the customer experience, we can increase their motivation to continue contributing.

The customer-centric leader drives development based on the customer journey

A customer journey is the total experience that a customer has with an organization, from the first encounter or interest in a product or service, through the entire process, including sales, delivery, customer service, and possibly complaints. A customer journey is always seen from the customer’s perspective. The touchpoints of the customer journey, i.e., the various occasions when a customer comes into direct or indirect contact with the organization, product, service, or brand, constitute the customer journey and are key to influencing the customer experience. It includes all touchpoints where the customer interacts with the organization, such as marketing, website visits, customer service, and after-sales service.

An organization cannot choose to have a customer journey. Customers, patients, or members have an experience journey through an organization’s touchpoints, whether one chooses to work on mapping the journey or not. Often, the customer experience is more or less random rather than designed and thought out by an organization.

Customer journey mapping is a form of visual storytelling about the customer’s experience. One of the primary goals of mapping the customer journey is to establish a common internal understanding of the customer’s experience. This facilitates the process of creating a unified experience that involves different parts of the organization. Creating a map of the customer journey is not about displaying the organization’s internal processes and how a customer travels through them. It involves putting oneself in the customer’s situation and letting this guide how the journey is shaped. The customer journey serves as a guide for actions that the organization should take within its work to improve the experience and clarifies responsibility for all touchpoints in the customer journey.

Remember: Customers do not care about the organization’s internal structures. By working with customer journey mapping, one can more effectively handle less satisfactory customer experiences that require collaboration between different departments. It also facilitates working towards common goals and a clear vision of the customer experience we want to deliver.

The customer-centric leader makes decisions based on the customer experience

For the customer-centric leader, the customer’s experience is of the highest priority. All decisions and actions within the organization are assessed based on how they will affect the customer’s experience. Instead of focusing solely on internal processes, profitability, and efficiency, a customer-centric leader always places the customer at the center of strategic decisions. This focus creates a customer-centric culture within the organization.

With a constant awareness of the customer’s perspective, a customer-centric leader is dedicated to understanding and improving the customer experience in every interaction. They take the time to listen to customers’ needs and opinions, conduct continuous evaluations, and regularly measure the customer experience. No matter how complex or challenging some decisions may be, they are always evaluated with the question: “How will this decision affect our customers? Will it increase their satisfaction or decrease it?”

Through this persistent awareness, the customer-centric leader creates a culture where the customer’s needs and wishes guide all decisions and actions. This fundamental principle drives the organization towards long-term success and customer loyalty. The customer is not only the focus when convenient; the customer experience is always the highest priority.

The customer-centric leader understands the link between EX & CX

Employee experience (EX) involves what employees experience in their touchpoints with, for example, managers, colleagues, corporate culture, and the work environment. These factors influence employees’ attitudes and behaviors at work, which in turn can affect the customer’s experience. By actively designing and providing employees with positive experiences, companies can thus improve their customers’ experiences. Employees are the embodiment of the company’s brand, so if they feel motivated, appreciated, and supported, they radiate a positive attitude towards customers.

The employee experience starts from the first contact, which could be a job ad on Linkedin or a visit to the company’s website, and continues throughout the entire employment process, including induction and onboarding, and even after the employment period as alumni. Just as with customers, it is not only the first contact that is crucial, but the relationship that is built over time is also important.

The employee experience is particularly relevant now as a generational shift occurs within the entire Swedish workforce. The new generation, often called generation Y or millennials, has completely different demands and expectations of their employers. They require greater freedom, flexibility in the workplace and schedule, and increased transparency between hierarchical levels, and they often have a shorter average employment duration per employer.

To improve the employee experience, it is important for the employer to understand what is important to the employees and what expectations they have of their workplace. This may require the employer to conduct surveys with employees to find out their views and needs.

But how does EX affect CX?

A positive employee experience can lead to increased productivity, engagement, and loyalty among employees. This can positively affect the customer experience, as engaged employees are more likely to deliver high-quality goods and services.

Similarly, a positive customer experience can lead to increased employee satisfaction by creating a positive work environment and strengthening corporate culture. When customers are satisfied with products, they tend to have a positive attitude towards the company and its employees. This can increase employees’ motivation and engagement, as they experience that their work is appreciated and makes a difference for the customers. In summary, the employee experience can positively affect CX and vice versa. Both factors are important for a company to achieve success and sustainability in the long term. Here are some concrete examples of how the employee experience affects CX work:

  • Engaged employees lead to better customer interactions. If employees are engaged and enjoy their jobs, they are more likely to provide good service to customers. Engaged employees are more inclined to focus on the customer, be responsive to their needs, and provide good advice and recommendations.
  • Reduced staff turnover. A positive employee experience can lead to employees being more loyal to the company and staying longer, which can enable them to develop better customer knowledge and understanding of the company’s products.
  • Employees are ambassadors for the company. Employees are often the first touchpoints that customers have with the company. If employees are proud to work at the company and enjoy their jobs, it is more likely that they will speak positively about the company to customers.
  • Employees’ skills affect the customer experience. If employees have the right skills and knowledge to provide a good customer experience, customers will feel more satisfied and loyal. Therefore, it is important for the company to invest in employees’ education and development to ensure they have the skills required to provide high-quality customer service.
  • Employees’ well-being affects the customer experience. Employees who are stressed or dissatisfied at work may have difficulty providing a good customer experience. Therefore, it is important for the company to create a healthy work environment and ensure that employees have a good work-life balance to reduce stress.

In conclusion, customer-centric leadership involves a deep understanding of and adaptation to customers’ needs and desires. It is about seeing the world through the customer’s eyes, making decisions that enhance their experience, and never forgetting that customers are key to the organization’s success.

By embracing these principles and acting as a customer-centric leader, organizations can create meaningful and lasting relationships with their customers and strengthen their position in an increasingly competitive world. Customer-centric leadership is not just a trend; it is the foundation for long-term success and customer loyalty.

About me: Helen Rigamonti – CX speaker, author, and educator

Helen Rigamonti has extensive experience leading customer-centric teams and has driven several major projects to enhance the customer experience in B2B, particularly within the SaaS tech sector. Helén possesses a long and solid background in leadership and organizational development in both smaller and larger operations, with over 25 years of experience in leadership roles and numerous assignments to lead customer-centric change. Currently, Helén works as an educator, interim manager, and speaker, focusing on helping organizations improve their customer experience while simultaneously creating purpose-driven teams that thrive. She is the course leader and a member of the management team for several Customer Experience Management courses at various business schools. She is also a founding member of the European Customer Experience Organization. Helen is the author of the book “Customer Experience Management in Swedish – The Art of Delivering the Right Experience.”