Leading the Way to a Customer-Centric Culture

by Beth Hart, University of Dayton IT

Cybersecurity, automation, artificial intelligence. If you pick your favorite technology publication or queue your go to podcast, it is not difficult to deduce the current and forecasted IT trends. Understanding and embracing each of these topics is without a doubt important to maintaining, growing, enhancing, and protecting your organization. IT leaders cannot be adverse to challenging current practices and scrutinizing their operations for potential risk. The benefit of investing in new technologies is well-documented and publicized, but few sources address a critical aspect of implementing these new technologies – customer impact. Whether you are B2B, B2C, education, non-profit, government, or corporate; you have a customer.

Amidst the business strategy, project plans, meetings, and development, have you made it a priority to hear from your customer base how the new product or process will affect their current operations? If not, you may have missed a crucial opportunity to collaborate with your customers and create a plan that not only suits your needs but in a manner that instills trust with your customers that you have their best interests in mind. Do your customers understand why changes are being made and the intended return on investment? Return on investment can be particularly tricky to explain to customers when it is not a feature enhancement they get to take advantage of but an intangible risk mitigation that protects the customer from not experiencing an unpleasant breach that could be detrimental to an individual or the company itself.

Some of the most effective IT leaders strive to complement their technical, cutting-edge visionary skills with interpersonal, relationship building skills. Continuing to develop, reflect on and apply these skills can be a driving factor to successful customer relations and an organizational culture that prides itself as customer-centric. When you think about your organization, do you feel confident that you are exemplifying what it means to be customer-centric? In a fast-paced world of complex problems and technology, it might seem elementary to go back to the basics; but just as technology changes quickly so can interpersonal strategies to optimize customer relations and manage customer expectations.

Are you implementing products or services for your customer or with your customer? Keeping the customer or key stakeholders involved at all steps of the process can ensure that you are on track to deliver value. Partner with your customers to determine other stakeholders that might be affected, either intentionally or unintentionally, by your product or service. Product or service design needs to be human centered.

What has worked in the past may not be working now. Never assume that just because you have not heard from your customers that they are satisfied. Scheduling formal feedback sessions paired with the occasional brief, impromptu phone call or e-mail can show that you are committed to maintaining a long-term relationship. When attending these meetings approach them with the attitude that this is the customer’s show. Listen without the intent to respond and show empathy to their concerns. Verbal feedback is important but also consider experiencing how an end customer is actually using the product or service.

Know what delivery medium, how often, and what information is important to your customer. Regularly check in on communication strategy during your recurring meetings to get feedback on how you are doing and have an agreed upon plan to communicate changes. It is easier to make small incremental changes to how you communicate rather than a large shift or reinvention in communication strategy.

No matter how many times you have heard these strategies, how are you keeping your organization focused on creating a customer-centric culture? Be intentional in your actions to create this environment. Are you clearly defining your organization’s values and mission regularly? Do you create cross functional teams, placing a customer advocate at the table? Are exemplary examples of customer service being rewarded? Does your organization have opinion leaders that can help educate others on the value of customer-centric behavior? Creating a customer-centric culture is a journey not a destination and is a team effort. It takes leadership at all levels, focused on a common goal, committed to the relentless pursuit of enhancing customer experience to create and sustain a customer-centric culture.

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