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Designing a Customer-Centric Culture – Interview with Annette Franz

business leaders planning a customer centric culture

Need a business case for a customer-centric culture? “Pause for a moment and imagine your business with no customers.”

This parting thought closes Annette Franz’s new book, Built to Win. “It’s all for the customer.” she writes, “Everything you do. Everything you create. Every process. Every product or service.”

But most companies don’t act that way. Ever seen customer needs take a back seat to product roadmap commitments, process compliance, or quarterly financial targets? This negligence is the product of a thousand small decisions made throughout the organization. It’s a culture problem.

Built to Win illuminates ten principles for building an organization where everyone puts the customer at the center of everything they do. This “customer first” mindset doesn’t happen by accident. Annette inspires leaders to think differently about culture and customer-centricity by putting people first.

Annette Franz, CCXP, is an internationally recognized customer experience thought leader, coach, keynote speaker, and author. With thirty years in the customer experience profession, Annette is the founder of CX Journey Inc., a customer experience consultancy with a mission of helping companies put the “customer” in customer experience by building the right foundation, doing the work to understand employees and customers, identifying what pain points and problems they are trying to solve for, and then turning that information into an experience that drives value, satisfaction, engagement, and retention.

Annette is a true leader in the customer experience (CX) industry, and one of my role models in my career journey. I was delighted to interview Annette about Built to Win, her own customer experiences, and her advice for leaders who want to build a customer-centric culture in their own organizations.

You’ve already written the book on Customer Understanding. What’s different about Built to Win?

Annette: Great question. Customer Understanding is different in a couple of ways. First, it focuses on only one of the ten foundational principles that I write about in Built to Win. (Hmmm, does that mean I’ve got nine more books in the works? LOL.) Second, it’s more tactical; it’s more of a how-to. And third, that means it’s written for a different audience, i.e., the doers in the organization. 

I wrote Built to Win to inspire leaders to think differently about what it means to be customer-centric. I don’t believe most people really understand what that means. It’s not something one person or one department or one message is. It’s what the entire company is and does. Customer-centricity flows through the DNA of the business; it must be organization-wide. 

Both books close with powerful open letters to CEOs. Since your first book, what changes to the business landscape are forcing the issue of customer-centricity for CEOs?

Annette: I wrote the first book in 2019 – so, pre-pandemic. As I noted in that first letter, the biggest buzzword customer experience professionals have to endure is ROI. But why should they prove the ROI of focusing on customers and improving the experience when customers are the reason you are in business?!

Customer expectations were already high back then, but wow, the pandemic sure changed that. It drove executives crazy! What’s going on? What are customers doing? Why are they hoarding toilet paper? What are their needs and expectations? There was this huge realization that customers drive the business – and suddenly executives needed more insights to understand them and the problems they are trying to solve. This was a good thing. But will it continue?

Now, there’s this new realization: that employees and the employee experience drive the customer experience. OK, not everyone has gotten on that bandwagon yet, but definitely with a shortage of staff, companies are realizing that (a) they need employees, and (b) there is a connection, that employees are critical to the customer experience – when you don’t have enough employees to do the work, to serve customers, the customer experience suffers.

I’ve just addressed two of the ten foundational principles: customer understanding has become more critical, and putting employees more first is a new realization. With those come a couple of other principles: people before products, before metrics, and before profits.

In other words, I believe we may be turning the page on who gets it when it comes to putting people first. At least, that’s my hope! 

What’s a great customer experience you’ve had recently? What made it great?

Annette: Sadly, I could probably talk about more bad experiences right now, but let’s stay positive and focus on great experiences. I’ve been talking a lot lately about my experience with Target. It’s not perfect – it’s faltered a bit lately with some updates they made to their site, but I started using their Drive Up service last year because I needed to get an hour or so back in my life by not aimlessly wandering in the store and looking at everything when I did my grocery shopping! It’s great because it’s easy, convenient, and seamless across channels. It’s great because they remember me, for the most part. 

But, they always ask me to input my birth date if I buy alcohol, so that’s a fail. Once I enter it, I shouldn’t ever have to do that again. And they used to (before the website update) show me products that I purchased before. So if I searched for bagels, the bagel brand that I bought last week or in the past would be at the top of the search as “previously purchased.” That’s gone. Now I have to go digging for it. These things won’t cause me to stop purchasing, but they’re just little nits that – if I found a better option/experience elsewhere later – might cause me to switch.

You are a quote collector! Your books and blogs are full of thoughtful quotes. How do you find them and organize them? Is there a specific quote that’s been on your mind this week?

Annette: I love adding the quotes to my writing because it really just puts a stamp on what I’m trying to say. The quotes I look for are the ones that are a succinct way of wrapping up my message in one or two sentences – oftentimes by someone well known or authoritative. I first write the blog (or the chapter) and then go look for quotes that solidify the message. 

There’s a Socrates quote that I heard years ago that has been on my mind this week: 

The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new.

– Socrates

Do you respond to surveys? Why or why not?

Annette: The best answer I can give you is, “It depends.” If I have time, I’ll answer surveys. If I cared enough to share feedback, I’ll complete a survey. But if I start a survey and it’s long, forget it; I won’t do it. 

What advice would you give someone in middle management who reads your book and wants to bring the ten principles into their organization and create a customer-centric culture from within?

Annette: First and foremost, as with anything you want to do within the organization, you’ve got to build the business case. You’ve got to explain what it is, why it’s important, and how it impacts employees, customers, and the business overall. Share examples of brands that are doing it well – there are a few in the book.

You’ve also got to teach and educate executives as to what a customer-centric culture is, what it entails, and why it’s important to put the customer at the heart of all the business does. (Make sure you are knowledgeable and well-educated on what it takes, too.)

Hopefully you’ve got someone who heads up “talent and culture” in your organization. Partner with them. They know the importance of a solid and healthy culture; work with them to ensure solid and healthy equals customer-centric.

Share the last chapter of the book, the Open Letter to CEOs with your CEO and other executives to help make the point. Better yet, give them a copy of the book.

More about Annette Franz and Built to Win

Learn more about Annette at annettefranz.com. Her new book, Built to Win – Designing a Customer-Centric Culture that Drives Value for Your Business, was released on March 22, 2022.

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