In most B2B companies corporate culture develops organically; this is a mistake. Company culture should be intentionally created. If you aren’t intentional and purposeful in building your company culture, you risk high employee turnover, unhappy customers, and a failing business. Culture is important and there’s no reason to leave it to chance.
Here are the key things you should focus on as you work towards building a customer-centric culture:
Company leadership is the strongest driver of a company’s culture
Company leadership sets the tone for an organization’s culture. Their ideas, principles, management style, and decision making process form the foundation of their company’s culture. Their actions are what bring the company’s cultural principles to life. When upper management puts customers first and makes a habit of staying involved with customers on a regular basis then the rest of the organization tends to follow suit.
The best leaders codify their company’s culture by writing down their principles and sharing those principles with their team, as well as their customers and shareholders. Regularly highlight your company’s principles in internal communications and marketing content; your company and its employees will be forced to uphold these principles because they’ll be held accountable to them by your customers and their peers. In addition, have your leadership team conduct “customer satisfaction meetings” on a weekly basis, whether over the phone or in person. By interacting with customers regularly, your company leadership will be able to stay in touch with the issues customers are facing and working to resolve them, which will help your leadership team make strategic decisions that will benefit customers. Also, this practice demonstrates to your employees and to your customer community just how important customers are.
Front-line managers drive company culture through their interactions with and explanations to their direct reports
Culture is formed through interactions and explanations. Front-line managers dramatically influence the behavior of their direct reports through their interactions with their team and by explaining their reasoning behind their decisions. This includes how a front-line manager conducts themself in the office, what they focus on during one-on-one meetings, how they respond to various situations, and how they make decisions all affect an organization’s culture.
An effective front-line manager is someone who explains their decision making process to their direct reports so their direct reports can take a similar approach in making their own decisions, especially on behalf of the customers. For example, if a front-line manager articulates “this is my decision, though I also considered the following options; however, this is why I selected this option versus those options,” their direct reports will understand how they should approach a problem. If you want to intentionally create your company culture, it’s more important to have the team understand and embody how and why decisions are made versus what the actual decision is.
Front-line managers who involve direct reports in decision making, who ask for feedback and suggestions, and who empower their team to make their own decisions will see their direct reports acting the same way when interacting or thinking about customers. They’ll involve customers in their decision making process, directly or indirectly, and put them at the forefront of their minds when considering various solutions.
Hire people with a customer-centric mindset
Your employees are the ones that are executing your vision and mission. They’re the people you spend the most time with; most likely, you’ll spend more time with your employees than with your own family. Your employees are the people interacting with your customers. They’re your company’s brand and are your most effective form of marketing. “Word of mouth marketing” is the single most powerful form of marketing you can do, which is why it’s so important for you to hire people that will have a positive impact on your culture and your brand. You can accomplish this by hiring like-minded individuals that simply want to be their best and always give their best effort. The hard part is finding these people and sussing this out during the interview process.
If you can, hire your top candidates as independent contractors for a week, to work on a project that they’d do in their role if hired. Pay them for the work they do and evaluate it. When evaluating their work, assess everything from how they present the work to how they defend their decisions. We realize this recommendation isn’t plausible for most companies so, as an alternative, we suggest having your top candidates complete tasks they will have to perform in their new role as part of their interview process. For example, if you have an opening for a Product Marketing Manager that will be responsible for developing your messaging and positioning for one of your new products, have them build a product launch deck. Then ask them to present the deck to you as if you’re the sales team. Finally, leave time for questions so that you can ask for their reasoning behind the messaging and positioning that they used.
Publish a “culture book”
Employee handbooks tend to be dull and boring. But, they don’t have to be and they shouldn’t be because they’re incredibly important to your organization. An employee handbook is where your leadership team can articulate their operating principles and the principles they’d like their front-line managers and employees to uphold. It’s where your team can share how they put your customers first when making decisions.
As suggested by “How to Create A Handbook Employees Actually Read,” separate the traditional employee handbook into two books: an employee handbook and a “culture book.” An employee handbook should be written and maintained by HR and your company’s legal team. The employee handbook will include all of the more boring legal procedures and policies.
On the other hand, a company’s “culture book” will include your company’s vision, mission statement, values, and beliefs. Your “culture book” should be maintained by your employees, it should be easy to read, it should include illustrations, and, most importantly, quotes and stories from real employees about your company culture. The stories should be focused on customer interactions and how and why employees made the decisions they did to support your company’s customers. Keep in mind that an effective “culture book” is a tool new and tenured employees can reference when they’re trying to get something done, but aren’t sure how to.
Create a mission statement that impacts your customers
Most companies have a mission statement, but they often collect dust on a “digital shelf” and, once shared, are forgotten. A quality mission statement is one that puts the customer first and directly impacts the daily lives of a company’s employees. A quality mission statement is well-known by a company’s employees and customers. If your customers know your mission statement, they can help hold you accountable to it. Post your mission statement on your corporate website under the “about us” section. You can even include part of your mission statement in your company tagline. Also, post your mission statement around your office in the form of art so it’s always present and on the minds of your employees.
To make your mission statement more applicable, ask every team within your organization to create their own mission statement. That way, everyone in the organization has guiding principles to follow that are specific to their job function and which impact their lives on a daily basis.
Onboard your employees like you onboard your customers
First impressions matter and a formalized onboarding program is your company’s opportunity to make a great first impression on your new employees. Treat your new hires like you would a new customer. In doing so, you set the tone for your company’s culture and illustrate just how important your customers are to your company.
During your formal onboarding program, share your mission statement and share customer success stories with new employees. Stories are memorable and are a powerful way to deliver a message – a customer-centric message. Consider establishing a mentor program so a more tenured employee can show a new employee the intricacies of working at your company to not only help them adjust more quickly, but to help them understand your company culture so they can uphold your company’s principles right from the start.
Customer support should be the responsibility of everyone
Everyone in your company needs to be responsible for customer support. That way, they’ll know first-hand what challenges your customers are facing and will want to minimize those issues by making decisions in their “normal day jobs” that will benefit your customers.
When we say everyone should be responsible for customer support we mean everyone – even finance. Have every employee take a turn manning your company’s 1-800 number, chat, and/or email on a recurring basis. This will force your employees to keep your customers in mind during every decision and action they take. Most importantly, don’t simply listen to your customers. Seek to understand them and then work with your customers to develop sustainable solutions to their issues and pain points.
Measure and reward behavior in addition to desired outcomes
We believe in the power of metrics when it comes to creating a desired culture, but just because something can be measured doesn’t mean it’s important and should be measured. When developing accountability metrics for your employees, think about how these metrics will impact the interactions your company will have with customers.
Metrics that reward customer-centric behavior as opposed to metrics that are strictly results-focused will encourage your employees to put your customers first without having to worry whether the decision they just made will affect their paycheck negatively. If you reward the behavior you’re looking for, the desired results will naturally occur.
When building an incentive program, think about how that program will influence the interactions your employees have with your customers. For example, if you reward your support team based on the number of support tickets they close, then you’re likely incentivizing the wrong behavior, which is speed. However, if you reward your support team based on satisfaction of the customer relative to the resolution provided by your support team, then you’re incentivizing high quality customer interactions. Incentive programs should be created for every department within your organization, however, the reward doesn’t always have to be monetary.
Be a customer
Customers are the lifeblood of all companies – that’s a given. However, as organizations grow in size, leadership tends to lose touch with their customers. They become caught up in the day-to-day operations and strategy of their business and often forget why their company was established in the first place. To avoid losing touch with your customers, its important for company leadership to always be a customer of your company. If they’re not willing to be a customer of your company what does that say about the experience and value you are providing your customers?
All functional leaders should become a customer and experience the entire customer journey during their first year. They should experience a sales cycle, they should experience what the customer onboarding process is like, they should interact with the service and should go through a renewal process. To accomplish this, assign a sales rep to your leadership team and ask sales to treat them like a prospect. This can be thought of as a long “role play” where sales tries various tactics to get in front of their “prospect”, in this case, a member of the company’s leadership team. Once the sale is complete, assign an account manager to your leadership team and have them conduct a “kick-off call,” quarterly business reviews, as well as taking them through the renewal process. Again, have your account manager team treat each interaction like one long “role play.” Sign your leadership team up for marketing emails so they can get a sense of what the company is sharing with their prospects and customers.
By having a deep understanding of what the customer experience is like, your leadership team will be able to make better decisions on behalf of your customers and will be more effective leaders.
Cultural strategy meetings > business strategy meetings
Has your company ever had a meeting focused solely on company culture? Has your company ever conducted a “culture audit?” If you’re like most B2B companies, the answer is probably “no.” Company culture directly impacts the perception of a company’s brand in the marketplace and it directly impacts how customers are thought of and treated by your company’s employees.
Companies with happy employees are more likely to have happy customers. By conducting an annual “culture audit” and by having regular (quarterly, bi-annual or annual) culture strategy meetings, your company is more likely to be successful. Culture strategy meetings help organizations be more intentional about the culture they’re creating and cultivating. Culture strategy meetings don’t have to be separate from your pre-existing strategy meeting, but they should definitely be added to your current strategy meeting agenda. All functional heads should be a part of this portion of your strategy meetings so they can offer their team’s perspective on culture and so they can disseminate and communicate to their front-line managers the major cultural takeaways from these meetings.