The Art of Customer Centric Companies

According to IBM , while 80% of companies believe they deliver superior customer service, only 8% of customers say that’s true. Why is it there such a large difference between what we think we are doing and what our customers perceive?

Many managers frustratingly blame it on the frontline workers. They are lazy, unmotivated, incompetent. They might be, but then why do some companies totally nail it while others totally fail it? This isn’t a matter of luck; instead the companies that succeed are those that give the right incentives to their teams, those that implement a customer-centric culture. The dedication of your frontline employees can be radically improved by implementing the right processes, we’ll show you how.

The Return of Customer Service

In a previous post post we explained how customer service has gained in importance:

1. Social media has increased the impact of any good and bad service experience by tenfold. Customers are very likely to share their purchasing experience, so be prepared to be exposed.

2. The same media have turned everyone that interacts with your company into a PR agent, from every low level employee to your own customers. That’s why everyone in your company should be prepared to represent your brand.

3. Transactional selling is dead. The winning businesses are the ones that build meaningful relationships with their clients.

Twitter search query 'great service'
Twitter search query 'terrible service'

In a competitive market it takes more than a good product or low prices to attract and retain customers. Take the example from Volkswagen China . Volkswagen recognizes that the key to success in Asia is to deliver exquisite unique features to associate with their main product (sell cars and maintenance service) and that’s why you can book all your service requests online and, while you are waiting for your car to be prepared, you can relax at their cinema, have a massage, chat or even work at the dedicated offices at their garage headquarters.

Watch Fast & Furious while your car is being repaired at the back

Another great example of what a customer-centric company is capable of is the story of the longtime Lego fan Luka Apps, a kid who had saved up all his Christmas money to buy himself a Ninjago (Lego Ninja) by the name of Jay XZ. Tragedy struck however when Luka lost his Jay XZ. In tears Luka wrote a letter to Lego, explaining what had happened and asking for a replacement which he promised he would take extra care of. Lego’s Service Representative answered with the following letter, which went viral soon after and which showcases the fruits of a truly customer-centric culture in all its glory:

Luka, I told Sensei Wu that losing your Jay minifigure was purely an accident and that you would never ever ever let it happen ever again. He told me to tell you, "Luka, your father seems like a very wise man. You must always protect your Ninjago minifigures like the dragons protect the Weapons of Spinjitzu!" Sensei Wu also told me it was okay if I sent you a new Jay and told me it would be okay if I included something extra for you, because anyone that saves up their Christmas money to buy the Ultrasonic Raider must be a really big Ninjago fan. So, I hope you enjoy your Jay minifigure with all his weapons. You will actually have the only Jay minifigure that combines 3 different Jays into one! I am also going to send you a bad guy for him to fight! Just remember, what Sensei Wu said: keep your minifigures protected like the Weapons of Spinjitzu! And of course, always listen to your dad.

The whole ninja lego gang back together

Luka's father was quick to share the story. Soon it was viral over the web, offering great and close-to-free publicity for Lego.

The tweet of Luka's father after Lego's heroic deed

The Building Blocks of Customer Centric Cultures

So how can you create a company culture that produces as motivated, customer-centric, and creative employees as Lego's? There are 3 elements in which customer centric companies like Lego do things differently: Communication, Incentives, and Empowerment.

Tony Robbins is a famous motivational coach who has been around the world helping people and teams to get back on track. From his TED Talk “Why do we do what we do” we took and adapted some of his ideas to the goal of changing your company’s culture and engaging your team during the process.

1. Communication

Employees might not be as lazy as they seem. While few companies forget to inform their workers about their job descriptions, there are only a couple of companies that pay the same attention to sharing the company’s vision, purpose and values. With only the ‘what’ and nothing of the ‘why’, the meaning and consequences of the jobs will remain incomplete to those who fulfill them. Employees will carry out nothing more than the lower boundaries of their job descriptions, or even below that when they lose motivation for their seemingly meaningless job.

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Compare that with an employee who ‘gets’ the bigger idea, who knows your company’s strategy, position, and reason why the company does what it does, how it does it. This is an employee that can cope with uncertainty. He doesn’t need to read up in the manual, instead he can come up with creative solutions to the problems at hand. Those who’ve been in customer service know that this is what customers value most. A creative solution shows that you care, a procedure that is followed step-by-step might as well be done be a machine.

A good example of this principle is Disney’s approach to every one of its employees. In order to communicate the “guestology culture” – the “art of knowing and understanding guests” to all their employees, Disney makes every last one of its employees memorize 4 major strategic words: Safety, Courtesy, Show, Efficiency. These simple and memorable words serve as guidelines for employees to cope with any uncertain situation.

Almost just as important, an employee who ‘gets it’ can explain customers why things are done in a certain way. What is more frustrating than a “Sorry M’am, I don’t make the rules”, or a “Just following procedures...” explanation? A logical explanation of why procedures are as they are, on the other hand, leads to understanding and patience.

To communicate your vision, strategy, and values to your team you could furthermore share specific goals, trends, “Where-will-the-company-be-in-10-years" sheets, and the importance of their contribution to make this happen.

2. Incentives

Your team might not be receiving the right incentives to actually maximize customer satisfaction. One of the golden rules of motivating people into changing behaviors is through recognition of their great work. As Shep Hyken tells us (, employees love to be appreciated and respected and thus celebrating success is a must-do.

Before handing out incentives, make sure they are congruent with your customer-centric values and ask yourself whether the assessment criteria are in-line with the “place customer first” vision, or whether performance is still only measured by standard numerical metrics?

Incentives to your team might come in many different ways, from providing great career experiences to momentary praises. In most cases, a heartfelt verbal "thank you" will provide your employees with a motivation boost and an incentive to repeat the positive behavior.

It’s very important to make your rewards or mentions public so that the person receives the full social appreciation and can serve as an example for the rest. On the other hand, beware of shaming. As Dr. Ivan Joseph ( indicates, it’s always better to praise good behavior than to punish the bad.

“Recognizing and rewarding employees can be a remarkably powerful part of any manager’s toolbox. Take time to do it the right way, and you’ll be rewarded in kind” - Peter Economy

3. Empowerment

The final piece of the customer-centric puzzle is Empowerment. Empowered employees have the freedom to make their own decisions, allowing them to respond faster to your customer demands and giving them the ability to ensure for themselves that the customer is satisfied no matter what.

Many companies that fulfill the Communications and Incentives parts might still be failing in Empowerment, making a customer-centric culture unattainable. If an employee knows a creative solution to a problem, has an incentive to do so, but is not allowed to make decisions without asking the boss, it will lead to delays and frustrated customers.

Opposite to non-empowered teams, empowered teams are able to become more flexible when dealing with uncertainty, freeing managers from bureaucratic tasks and making your customers happier.

The same example of Disney shows how the 3 parts work together. Every employee learns the four memorable words that are linked to the company's strategic vision of customer service. However there’s more to these words than just information. For everyday challenges, employees should base their individual decisions on this four-words. As an example see: Safety comes first at any time so, if you are facing a dilemma you should always do all you can to make sure you and every guest is safe, and this might come before being courteous. Communication facilitates empowerment.

On the other hand, empowerment only works when your Communication and Incentive systems are in order. Employees need to understand what and how they should perform and feel motivated in doing so. Empowered employees with the wrong ideas about your company and following faulty incentives can turn into disastrous liabilities for your company.

Patience, my young Padawan…

The process of culture change is not something you can change from one day to the other. This should be a solid long-envisioned process of communication and team-building activities.

“Customer-centric organizations focus on the value of a customer engagement cycle that relies on great customer experience as an engine that drives retention and positive word of mouth” - Kevin Ertell

Keep in mind that your customer-centric happy employees will, in the end, be more productive than ever as they’ll see your company goals as their own and soon they’ll aim at always improve their actions.