Become a strong customer-centric organisation

Kodwo Manuel

…identify the key change levers and work on them diligently

The story is told of an airline CEO who offered his seat to a passenger who did not have an original booking but needed to travel to attend to her daughter who had a condition that required close monitoring. She was told she couldn’t travel, but as she argued out her case the situation suddenly changed and she was allowed on the flight. Unknown to her, the CEO of the airline was travelling on that journey and kindly offered his seat to the lady. When she did find out later on how she managed to board a fully-booked flight she fell in love with the airline and its staff.

She wrote a glowing tribute to the CEO on her Facebook wall and paid tribute to the airline for the kind service in her time of need. These were her words: “You did all that for me, just an average middle-aged woman ……. but more importantly, it was all of your employees that day who did so much helping me to get home”.  The story went viral and continues to inspire customers and employees alike at the airline.  Everyone likes to tell great stories about personal experiences with a brand. These outstanding encounters produce memories which are shared by both customers and employees and are used as case studies to inspire others.

The lesson here is that true rock-star customer experience companies do not necessarily rely on a magic-wand for success. They tend to focus on several disciplines which feed into one another. Being able to identify these aspects of organisational importance will ultimately lead you to discover the ‘Holy Grail’ of Customer Experience (CX) and set you apart as a customer-centric organisation with a keen eye on the needs of your customer. Four things you need to focus on among others to help you achieve this goal are: culture, structure, people and communication.


Management guru Peter Drucker epitomised the importance of organisational culture when he declared: “Culture eats Strategy for breakfast”. The organisation’s culture is usually defined by the owners, and it outlives them. Organisations with a strong culture are known to have founders whose influence drove them to ‘dizzying’ heights of success, and have kept it going. John Kotter shares in his conversation on culture the eighth step that anchors change in the organisational culture.

Organisational culture determines what is important and what is not important in any environment. If you join an organisation you must align with the culture of that organisation; failing to do so will lead to your resignation, or perhaps (more severely) your dismissal. Organisations have different cultural traits; while some are risk-takers (e.g., tech firms) others are rather more conservative (e.g., banks).  The key thing is that t companies lead with their strength and their culture defines how they go about their business.

From the CX perspective, a company must demonstrate cultural traits which are more toward customer-centrism. Being customer-centric means having the attitude of paying attention to the needs of your customer. This is an aspect of culture that demonstrates the organisation’s focus as one that listens and responds to its customer’s needs, as opposed to the one that claims they understand their customers yet are more focused on ‘navel-gazing’ and hardly listen to them – instead, they focus on building strong internal mechanisms which to them represent the customer’s needs. A customer-centric entity will not leave the customer’s issues only to front-liners.

Conversations about the customer will travel up to the boardroom, the entire organisation becomes brand ambassadors, innovators, and problem-solvers. The company must systemically map the diverse stakeholders behind each customer to access granular information on the customer with a view to harnessing this knowledge and using the opportunity to improve customer experience.

Show us a company focused on customers and understands the brand promise: know that such a company will reap the benefits in terms of conquest, retention, lower servicing costs, and higher profitability. The caveat here is that culture is one of the most difficult facets to influence in a meaningful way. Good intentions are not enough; it requires senior management for CX initiatives to be successful with all employees proactively engaged, empowered, trained and supported to deliver on the customer’s needs, wants, and expectations.


A poorly-oriented organisational structure will lead to functions and process issues that leave the CX feeling disconnected or disjointed. Customers engaging with such a structure will feel like they are dealing with different organisations. The silo-mentality is not helpful, as one finds oneself being passed on from one function or department (or personnel) to another with no solution in sight. This can be very frustrating for the customer and could potentially lead them to ‘vote with their feet’. The old organisational demarcations by function (department), market or geography, project initiative, or product line associated with the ‘old world’ thinking-frame have quickly lost their relevance in our ‘new world’, where the pace of change outstrips the rate of learning.

Today’s approach has the customer as the centre of our planning focus, whereby we adopt a journey approach to structuring the organisation and a leader at the senior level with real power who is responsible for CX. Admittedly, the journey approach may seem hard to implement as you have to navigate several departments responsible for different parts of the journey.

However, the good news is that when functional roles are lined up over the journey it influences a strong focus on the customer. We can probably learn this first-hand from global companies wherein customer needs are dealt with and knowledge shared cross-functionally (and across borders) to facilitate a strong culture of customer intimacy. Take McDonald’s for example; as a fast-food franchise when you go to the West not much provision is made for seating as the understanding is that you ‘buy and go’ (or gobble-up quickly). In Asia, this found a different expression as mothers are happy to share moments with colleagues in McDonald’s and help their kids complete their homework; and so the eating places there offer more comfortable seating for family and friends.


How many times have you engaged with a front-line staff who is clearly frustrated (and genuinely so) about the faulty computer system or flawed process they have to deal with to serve you. Sadly, they take the brunt of all the criticism while their high-paying executives chill out with no sense of urgency to resolve the challenges their front-liners face.  In their frustration, they fail to see the opportunities available to them as they pour out their negative sentiments on the poor customer. Mostly, you will hear them say (nonchalantly), “Charlie, it’s the big people oh; they don’t mind us when we complain about these flaws, so – how for do?”   Let’s turn this on its head: we can see from this that, mostly, it is not the employees’ fault when things are amiss; it tends to be a consequence of a lack of proper training, proper selection, motivation, resources, discretion and proper policy.

Instances like this will reveal, for example, that the employee has not received proper training on the system; therefore, the frustrations expressed are a consequence of a lack of proficiency in using the tool to serve the customer. Many organisations see training as a ‘nice to have’ notion; however, evidence suggests that without proper training this aspect of service or delivery becomes a weak link.

Additionally, in assigning roles due regard must be given to the individual’s suitability for that role. It is critical that on selecting front-liners a careful analysis of disposition and knowledge, skills and abilities are considered as fundamental to regular HR practice. Should these gaps be identified, if the individual concerned demonstrates potential these must urgently be addressed in training and coaching to produce the right fit for the front-line role. Attention must be paid to resourcing your front-liners through proper resource-planning to make life easy for them.

Furthermore, be very considerate of their needs by finding ways to creatively enable them to proactively play their role. Firstly, look beyond their paycheck – as this is rarely the determinant of a highly motivated team – by focusing on such things as rewards and recognition (employee of the month awards, etc.). Second, give some level of autonomy to them (cautiously); ensure that employees who wield discretionary power use it in a measured way, with a clear understanding of the boundaries so as not to undermine your CX efforts.

A well-resourced team must ensure that the recruitment and selection process remains a gateway for bringing in the right cultural fit and customer-focused people. Training should transcend ‘hard skills and include such ‘soft skills’ as conflict resolution and customer handling – this results in a well-resourced team in terms of knowledge, information and technology to enable them perform optimally; and recognition and rewards for excellent performance and adherence to customer-focused initiatives ensure continuity of effort.


How an organisation communicates internally and with customers is critical to developing strong customer-centric competency. A consistent and organised communication system is admittedly a big challenge for large organisations. This calls for having the right organisational structure to facilitate effective employee and customer communication. Have a centralised area for coordinating communication with owners, and also with prospects, to improve clarity and efficiency of communication.

According to Dave Fish (Curiosity CX), a few things you could consider doing are: first, develop a comprehensive internal and external CX communication plan. Whether you’re talking to your employees, your customers or the general public, you need that constant two-way flow of information to be consistent in your communication and keep the momentum going. A survey carried out recently by Lucidpress – a content development company, revealed that revenues increased by a third when the brand was presented consistently across both internal and external communications.

Secondly, initiate outbound communication on updates and areas of assistance. When possible, customise messaging to the appropriate segment or persona. When the messaging addresses specific customer needs, the personalised experience is consummated; thus, the customer as an advocate ultimately becomes a matter of course. Thirdly, ensure that you are closing the loop on customer requests and inquiries, including all customer feedback mechanisms. Your customers want to know that they have been heard and you are doing something about their ideas and concerns, at both the individual and enterprise levels. Fourthly, explore and implement ‘full-duplex’ communication, such as chat help or AI-assisted (Artificial Intelligence) chat. Finally, ensure that communication channels and interaction channels are consistent in-process and relevant content (i.e., omnichannel).

By extension, you will need to consider such additional levers as a process – note that psychologically your customers crave certainty, therefore having well-structured processes and systems to serve customers in ways that are consistent with their expectations is ideal and must factor in your planning. If I pull up at a KFC drive-through, I expect a certain sequence of events to happen; when they do, I am happy. Additionally, in product planning, it pays to factor-in efforts at defining and attempting to solve real customer problems through the gathering of market intelligence and customer feedback, and a focus on the experience being delivered to feed that back into your product development process.

Heinz, the German food manufacturing company, conducted two years of research specifically interviewing quick-serve customers in focus groups. The research revealed that two-thirds of consumers preferred dipping to squeezing packets in the restaurant, a valuable insight for the product manufacturing process. Finally, do not hesitate to use a variety of tools to improve the CX. Your tools will reflect organisational preparedness. Investing in and deploying the right tools and training for your employees to use is increasingly essential to improving customer experience.


The Writer is a Management Consultant. He can be reached on 059 175 7205, [email protected],



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