Marketing & Customer Experience Hub

Pay it forward – how to become customer centric

Customer centric is a catch-phrase often thrown around by businesses, but what does it really entail? Businesses talk about being customer focussed, building customer charters that are deeply embedded in the company’s mission statement.

These statements are more often than not though, no more than words. So what does it really take to go beyond just words, to being great?

Restaurant customer experience

What is great customer service?

Good customer service is the price of entry for many businesses. Customer service necessarily relies on front-line staff.

It amazes me the number of businesses that forget that their best advocates are their staff. Those staff members have made a choice to work with the company to accomplish its mission. Whether that mission is to “make the world a fitter place”, “make shipping faster” or “create the tastiest burgers in town”, all of these goals are customer-orientated, and share a common theme – companies want their customers to experience ‘greatness’.

Yet this ‘greatness’ eludes so many businesses out there, remaining an enigma to many. So what is it, and how do you do it? My view is that ‘greatness’ starts close to home. Businesses are only able to move from being ‘good’ to ‘great’ when that experience starts within the organisation itself.

The value of your staff

Word of mouth is one of the oldest and most powerful selling tools, and authenticity goes a long way. How staff members are treated on a daily basis has a huge influence on the way staff advocate for the business to its customers.

Foundational building blocks are created every time front-line staff interact with customers. A happier staff member will always be much more willing and able to deliver on the company’s mission. Business leaders who fail to recognise that their staff are one of their key customer groups, are pedalling backwards, stifling their business by not delivering on ‘greatness’.

As the adage goes ‘charity begins at home’.

Like any customer group, staff members also want to experience ‘greatness’. One must see the world from their eyes and identify where their expectations can be exceeded.That means really understanding the wants and needs of employees, as opposed to what management believes is ‘valuable’.

While the above might seem intuitive, value is often perceived differently. Really understanding what is valuable to the employee is what ultimately matters. And what is really ‘valuable’ might surprise businesses.

Value perception and staff meals

Spending a number of years managing restaurants, a clear example of the ‘value perception’ problem can be demonstrated with my experience with staff meals.

It is common within the industry for restaurants to provide rostered staff with a meal, either prior to their shift, during, or after. In my time in the industry, there were three ways businesses dealt with staff meals, they either charged their staff full price, provided a discount, or, they didn’t charge at all.

Those which charged full price achieved very little, other than creating employees completely indifferent about the restaurant they were working for. The employees from those restaurants would leave the establishment, get cheaper takeout and gripe about work in their breaks. Owners of those restaurants lost an opportunity to have their staff understand and sell, an authentic restaurant experience.

Those that charged at a discount did so with the mentality of “surely this is a great deal and staff would see the value in this, they’re trying fantastic food at half price”. Funnily enough, this created staff members who were even unhappier than the first group. Food margins within the industry are known, even at a 50% discount, this was well over cost. These employees were left with a bad taste in their mouths (excuse the pun) – they felt that the owner was simply trying to squeeze money out of them.

Again, these restauranteurs failed to recognise that by failing to deliver on their mission statements to their own staff, they were simply creating staff who not only could not sell the authentic experience, but in fact had already had a bad experience in the business – the motivation to provide good service simply was not there (forget about upselling or cross selling)!

Selling an experience with authenticity

The restaurants that were at the top of their game were the ones that gave their staff the same experience they wanted their customers to have.  They made their staff feel valued and delivered on the experience.

Not only were staff meals on the house, they were prepared to a standard that the chef would have been happy delivering to a customer (costs being taken into account). These restaurants understood that treating staff like their customers, would result in front line staff who could not just sell the experience, but do so with authenticity as they had EXPERIENCED it.

They were able to give a true third party referral, be genuine, but most importantly, they wanted to do it – like any other customer who had had a good experience, they wanted to share it. The rest – the upselling, cross-selling – occurred as though by magic.

I truly believe that leading by example is what it takes to be great. Business leaders need to practise what they preach, delivering on their mission statements in their own backyards.

Being “customer centric” means exactly that, being focussed on all customers, including employees. Give your staff a reason to ‘pay it forward’ – in doing so, they will move your business from ‘good’ to ‘great’.

Align your perception of ‘value’ with that of your staff, and deliver on those aspects. Trust that if you do this, your staff will ‘pay it forward’ by delivering the experience to your customers.

Give it a go – the ‘ripple effect’ might just astound you.

Miwah Van - Founder of Unvorsum: Customer Strategy Consulting About Miwah Van - Founder of Unvorsum: Customer Strategy Consulting
Miwah Van is the founder of Unvorsum a new boutique consulting firm that helps companies unite customers and strategy. In her former roles as Head of Strategy & Business Development for Fitness First and as a management consultant with McKinsey & Company she witnessed companies struggling to align strategy across the entire organisation while ensuring customers and staff are actively connected. Unvorsum aims to help companies make strategy executable and performance measurable while gaining alignment with all stakeholders.

2 comments

  1. Tony Davis Reply

    Great article Miwah. Begs the question, are employees the number 1 customer for a business?

    • Chris Lowther Reply

      Good article. Reminds me of a banking client in the UK in the very early days of CRM. Even back then, this bank had the awareness to think in terms of ‘ERM’ – Employee Relationship Management – as a foundation of successful CRM. Independent research shows them consistently in the top 10 for customer advocacy across all others in their category every year.

      And to Tony’s question: Yes.

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