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Employees look at leaders’ behaviour much more than they value their words. Communication and leadership decisions are essential.
Employees look at leaders’ behaviour much more than they value their words. Communication and leadership decisions are essential.

How do you get your employees excited about helping customers?

As a business owner, actions speak louder than words. STEVEN VAN BELLEGHEM discusses the importance of making your business customer-centric.

Too many managers and business owners underestimate the impact of small decisions and choices in getting people excited about a new strategy or product.

If you want to excite people about a customer-centric culture, focus your message on that. Everything else – especially if it’s about financial statistics and revenue – is noise and creates the impression that you do not believe it is as important as you pretend.

The sad truth is that most businesses are a ‘Diamond in the Rough’ – the title of my new book about customer culture – regarding customer service.

These businesses have good intentions and desires; however, the real action and results need to materialise.

I believe the main reason for this inaction is that employees do not believe their managers are sincere.

In my book, I describe the different factors you need to make clear to all stakeholders if you want to build a customer culture.

If you are serious about that, here are some valuable questions you need to ask yourself first:

What ‘vibe’ does your business exude?

Is your profile in the market positive or negative? If you were to be interviewed by the media, would you complain or announce an innovation?

"These businesses have good intentions and desires; however, the real action and results need to materialise."

The media portrays some businesses as complainers. This is a missed opportunity.

A ‘bright diamond’ has a positive media profile.

If you want people to become enthusiastic about your business, you must first and foremost exude enthusiasm and positivity.

What sort of social influence does your company have?

In the past, businesses were mainly concerned with their problems.

Sometimes, a business may have acted to help their industry, but that was all.

Today, many businesses influence social issues. How far does your influence extend?

And how do you use that influence to make a positive contribution?

What credibility does your message have with your employees?

As described above, internal credibility is crucial in achieving a customer-centric company.

Employees look at leaders’ behaviour much more than they value their words. Communication and leadership decisions are essential.

With that said, ask yourself this: Do your employees believe in your customer-focused ambitions?

Create a customer-focused business

A customer-centric culture is the ‘true north’ of every successful business.

I won’t sugarcoat it; building a culture that always puts the customer first is not easy.

It takes dedication, leadership, trust, generative listening, continuous improvement and – that’s the good news – celebration.

With that said, it can be done - so here are my tips for building a customer-focused business.

No matter how advanced, technology will only get you so far in the race for a strong relationship with your customers.

Leadership: Businesses with a thriving customer-centric culture – from Apple and Amazon to Starbucks and Glossier – stand out for two reasons.

These businesses have a strong customer vision and leaders who show that they will always put the customer first with their decisions and actions.

You can have the prettiest slogans on your walls or the most inspiring slides, but if your employees see that you put efficiency, productivity, and revenue before the customers’ needs, that will drive your culture.

This will foster a work culture that is ruthless, competitive and oriented towards cost reduction.

Leaders should treat their employees like they want them to treat the customer.

This means treating employees with respect, honesty, openness, and fairness and always being prepared to help.

Listen: It’s not simply showing employees how things should be done; it’s also about listening to them.

Your staff is much closer to the customer than management. Employees know how customers behave, what they want and what they think about your products and services.

Elon Musk once described this phenomenon perfectly.

Despite some erratic behaviour these days at Twitter, he used to be well known for seeking constructive criticism. When his electric vehicles (Tesla) were being developed, he spoke for a long time with the automobile engineers.

Instead of asking these engineers what was positive about the design, he wanted them to tell him what was wrong because this feedback would open the door to improvement.

I’m not describing listening in a general sense.

Many business leaders listen to others to confirm their views, which is unhelpful.

It needs to be a specific, value-creating type of listening, what German author Otto Scharmer calls ‘generative listening’.

Generative listening is about seeing possibilities rather than the status quo, an essential skill for leaders in fast-moving and uncertain times.

It’s about listening with the intent of changing the future for the better.

A psychologically safe environment is the prerequisite for this type of listening. Employees need to feel safe before sharing constructive criticism with their leaders.

Trust: Marc Benioff of Salesforce believes that “trust is at the core of everything a business does”.

You need to build trust with your employees for them to work efficiently. You need to deliver trust with your stakeholders who want to see your business succeed. And you must build trust with your customers for them to choose your business over competitors.

I would add that you don’t just need to trust employees for them to work efficiently.

You need to trust them to make better, faster, and more emphatic decisions for the customer without losing time by asking one of their supervisors.

As I said above, staff often know more about the customer than you, so trust them to do the right thing.

That trust needs to be felt in every corner of the business to work.

If you think that you need surveillance and employee monitoring software – apparently used by eight out of 10 of the biggest employers in the US – to keep an eye on employees working at home, then they will also not believe you if you say you trust them to make the best decision for the customer.

Celebrate: If employees make mistakes, do not penalise them. Look for opportunities to learn and improve from that.

Above all, celebrate every time an employee can make a customer happy.

If customer service could put a smile on a once very frustrated and angry customer, that’s worth celebrating.

If a fashion retailer called five different stores to find someone’s favourite dress, or if someone spent 35 minutes on the phone helping an elderly lady install a banking app, reward that publicly!

If your employees help a young couple find the perfect engagement ring, that’s something worth bringing to everyone’s attention.

Don’t just tell the employees that they have done well in private; tell everyone and show them that this is precisely what everyone should be doing.

What you celebrate and reward is what you stimulate, and you do want to encourage high-quality customer service.

• Celebrate: Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella once said, “Don’t be a know-it-all, be a learn-it-all”.

When Microsoft became the world’s most valuable company – by the measure of market capitalisation – in the late 1990s, their complacency led to significant problems.

“People would walk around our campus thinking we are God’s gift to mankind,” he explained.

And, unfortunately, whether in ancient Greece or modern Silicon Valley, there’s only one thing that has brought companies, societies, civilisations down, which is hubris.”

Always celebrate your wins and help your team stay humble about your success, especially in the current economic environment where the next disruption is just waiting around the corner.

Always remember that creating a customer-centric culture is an ongoing process, too. You’ll need to continuously measure your progress, gather feedback, and make changes as required.

Changes will be needed when customer behaviour evolves yet again. So always encourage your employees to suggest ways to improve the customer experience and work together on their suggestions.




Steven Van Belleghem

Steven Van Belleghem provides coaching, workshops and advice about social media and conversation management. Learn More:

SAMS Group Australia

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