How Customer Obsession Creates Accountability for Change

It’s well-known that organizational change is difficult — in fact, 70% of change efforts fail, but awareness hasn’t improved the odds of success. Companies continue to struggle with choosing the right projects, sequencing and integrating change initiatives, and establishing accountability mechanisms to measure results. In my work as an analyst at Altimeter, which specializes in technology research and strategy, I’ve found that the exceptional companies making strides with everything from digital transformation to employee engagement to diversity and inclusion have one thing in common: They are customer-obsessed.

Most companies claim to be customer-focused these days, to the point where the concept has lost much of its power. But when customers are truly at the center of your business, change proceeds from the organizing principle: What’s best for them? And front-line employees, managers, and executives who obsess over improving the customer experience are far likelier than appointed change agents to sustain initiatives when their purpose is to make that job easier. After all, who better to hold you accountable for meeting audacious transformation goals than your customers? If you don’t meet their needs, they will simply go elsewhere.

In this article, we’ll look at several organizations that are at the forefront of linking change efforts to customer experience.

Digital Transformation

According to our research at Altimeter, “evolving customer behaviors and preferences” was the top driver of digital transformation efforts in 65% of organizations surveyed in 2017. Yet only 35% invest in understanding the customer journey and using it to define their transformation agenda.

In customer-obsessed organizations, on the other hand, transformation begins with a clear idea of how change will enhance the customer experience rather than an abstract sense of the need to digitize analog transactions.

Comcast is a case in point. Delivering internet and video services is a complex business. Having grown through various acquisitions, the company found itself with a series of technical support systems that didn’t talk to one another, limiting its ability to provide the seamless digital solutions that customers have come to expect from providers. To address customers’ growing frustrations and achieve the quality of service the company envisioned, it would have to change the way decisions were made — and put its customers first.

Comcast’s customer obsession started with deployment of the Net Promoter Score (NPS) throughout the organization. Connecting business outcomes with customer satisfaction, it became the metric of choice for tracking and incentivizing everything from call-center interactions to employee engagement. Chief customer experience officer Charlie Herrin explains, “We love our customers, but we didn’t always use their feedback as a factor in our business decision-making. The Net Promoter system is one way we have been able to cut through to the issues causing customers pain and to build scalable solutions to address them.”

With NPS in place, Comcast began shifting transactions to digital channels to make them simpler for customers. The company assessed the percentage of a task’s components taking place completely on digital platforms and paired that with the task’s NPS to measure progress.

One example of how this worked comes from a common customer challenge that we can all relate to: moving. Through the stress of relocating, customers understandably want to remain connected to entertainment and the internet. Moving service from one home to another usually involved multiple phone calls and logistical wrangling. To streamline the steps, Comcast shifted the process from offline to online. A customer can now enter move dates and locations up front so that the transfer can be handled automatically. An SMS-based service then sends updates to the customer via text, including confirmation that the service is up and running at the new location.

This process, paired with simple self-installation kits, has dramatically improved the customer experience, leading to a 40-point increase in NPS. Armed with compelling data like this, and accountability metrics that connect customer outcomes to digital initiatives, Comcast is confidently investing in moving change efforts forward.

Employee Engagement

According to Gallup, 85% of global employees are not engaged at work. In contrast, IBM found that 80% of employees surveyed across 45 countries and territories felt engaged when their work was consistent with the core values and mission of their organization. And the Society for Human Resource Management recently reported that 70% of employees ranked being empowered to take action at work to solve problems as an important element of their engagement. Customer obsession could be the missing link. When an organization revolves around its customers and its employees’ goals are tied to customer experience metrics, engagement increases as people rally around the shared objective of having a positive impact on consumers every day.

Bozzuto — a real estate company with over $2 billion in annual revenue — is an example of this principle in action. Bozzuto’s strategy is driven less by demographics and more by the psychology of its most engaged residents. CEO Toby Bozzuto explained, “Our mission of creating sanctuary is something that unites and inspires our employees, as everything we do is focused around customers.”

To support the mission, every property has a dashboard that incorporates data from multiple sources, such as Bozzuto Listens, where customers provide real-time feedback, and a 3,000-member Bozzuto Resident Advisory Panel (BRAP), which discusses the living experience in online forums. The dashboard also includes a metric called the Online Reputation Assessment (ORA), developed by J Turner Research, to aggregate social media ratings for individual properties into a single score (from 0 to 100).

The onsite staff at each location is responsible for daily monitoring of its dashboard. Negative feedback, a suggestion from a resident, or a low ORA score immediately triggers action at the local level to address the problem or understand what staff could be doing differently. The idea of providing sanctuary promotes proactive dialogue and empowers property teams to nourish long-term relationships with residents. For example, knowing that a resident had broken a foot, the front desk employee at one property delivered a package to the resident’s front door.

Bozzuto’s obsession with customers has paid off for everyone: It has the best online reputation of any property management company in the U.S., and its employees have named it one of the best workplaces in the region for four years in a row.

Diversity and Inclusion

Despite a plethora of research making the business case for diversity and inclusion, D&I initiatives remain stalled in many organizations, in part because they are typically driven by legal concerns or a small group of motivated leaders. When customer obsession is the reason for creating a more inclusive workplace, however, real progress is possible.

Take Adobe. With its global audience in mind, Adobe has prioritized mitigating bias in its recruitment practices, building a pipeline that includes women and underrepresented groups, achieving global pay parity, ensuring that it supports diverse supplier and other partner organizations, and investing in making its products more inclusive and accessible.

The goal is an organization that reflects the diversity of its customer base and anticipates their needs. To meet the challenge of finding diverse talent in the tech industry, Adobe aggressively recruits among recent graduates and has also started the Adobe Digital Academy, a program that trains nontraditional candidates for a future in coding. Ameer Brown is an Academy alum who is now employed as a full-time software quality engineer doing user experience testing for Adobe Spark. The company’s support of his transition from sales and marketing has inspired great loyalty. “This program changed my life and gave me skills I didn’t have to pay for and opportunity that other companies and other people didn’t give me,” Brown said. “When the full-time position became available [after a six-month internship], it was a no-brainer.”

Employing people like Brown is also critical to Adobe’s development of artificial intelligence, where human values are being coded into algorithms. Wendy Steinle, Adobe’s senior director for digital experience and web strategy, explains, “If we build AI — or any technology — with people who all have the same backgrounds and experiences in life, how in the world is that technology going to reflect our diverse customers? As a global leader, we’re setting foundations others will follow, and if we don’t get it right, we’re exacerbating the problem.”

How to Get Customer-Obsessed

Customer obsession is a worthy goal on its own, but as these organizations demonstrate, it can also create momentum and accountability for major change. Here are three things you can do to become more customer-obsessed:

  1. Create a customer advisory board that isn’t afraid to challenge you. It’s tempting to put your best, most adoring customers on your customer advisory board, but resist the urge to do so! Instead, recruit your most demanding customers — their voices should be heard loudly and frequently throughout the company.
  2. Identify and empower your customer-obsessed employees. Seek out the people in your organization who frequently point out how the organization could be more customer-friendly. Give them roles as customer advocates in your strategy and product development processes.
  3. Tie customer metrics to organizational performance. How are customers reflected in your company’s dashboards — if at all? If you are what you measure, then make sure you capture what your customers are feeling and saying about you — and let their needs guide strategic objectives and transformation initiatives.

Staying focused on how change will make life better for your customers will improve your chances of success.