Customer Centricity Isn’t a Policy — It’s a Culture

August 31, 2016

customer centricity

Customer service demands online and offline have forever changed as a result of our always-on, everyone’s-a-publisher model. All the world’s a stage and how (or if) brands respond to customer complaints or even challenging questions is a critical component to reputation management. Customers can detect a canned, corporate response a mile away and if you’ve ever been the recipient of one (you know you have) it can just add fuel to the fire.

In his new book Hug Your Haters, Jay Baer makes a business case for the importance of superior customer customer service now that it has become a “spectator sport.” Yet, many companies continue to struggle with execution.


In part, it’s because implementation is more than a response matrix and checklist of dos and don’ts. It requires top-down support for embracing and communicating superior customer support as a company value, and creating a culture that enables it. Cultural change is hard, but when achieved — even in small steps along the way — it shows.

Last week I was shopping at the Container Store and while I was in line checking out, a store employee came to the manager on duty and explained that a customer in the store desperately needed an item they were out of, and was wondering if she could sell her the floor model.

Let’s back up for a moment to play armchair quarterback and consider the conversation that might have already transpired between the sales associate and the customer. Distressed customer asks if she could purchase the floor model because the store is out of the item she desperately needs. In that moment, the associate had some options for response:

(1) “No. That’s against store policy. We can order one for you and have it shipped to your house.”
Pretty typical corporate response, frustrated customer leaves store without the item she desperately needed today while a perfectly good store model sits inside.

(2) “Sorry. Store policy says no. Kinda stupid, I know, but that’s just how it is.”
Sales associate injects her own personality in an attempt deflect the customer’s anger  away from her and onto the store.

(3) “Let me go talk to my manager and see what we can do for you.” 
In this option — the one she chose — the sales associate empathizes with the customer’s frustration offering kindness and an attempt toward solution (while perhaps knowing it’s perfectly possible this will frustrate her manager to see she’s not just following protocol).

Okay. Back to the moment at the checkout when I’m overhearing this conversation. The manager’s response was simple: “You decide. Just do what seems best. I trust you to make the right decision.”

Not at all what I expected to hear and, by the look on the employee’s face, not the one she expected, either. But in that moment, that one response communicated culture and values that will shape that employee’s (and others) interactions for the future.

Think for a moment if the manager had instead said, “No. Store policy. We can ship the product.” The disappointed sales associate who just tried to go the extra mile for her customer retreats to deliver the news. How excited will that associate be to return to work the next day? How empowered will she feel to go above and beyond next time?

Or, “Yes, that’s fine. Sell the floor model.” Likely the exact same outcome (the customer would have walked out of the store, pleased that she was able to purchase the product she wanted) but the delivery gave the sales associate not only the gift of being able to deliver the positive news to the customer with pride, but has now empowered her and given her incentive to repeat this type of customer service.

From this point on, how many more positive customer experiences will that one employee now provide? And when observed by her co-workers, what will be the affect on the way they, in turn, treat customers in the moment? Knowing their employer embraces trust, empathy, and customer-centric decison making and trusts employees to execute is not a checklist on the wall. It’s not a policy. It’s an organizational cultural value.

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is a strategist, speaker, educator, and author of Brand Now: How to Stand Out in a Crowded, Distracted World and Get Scrappy: Smarter Digital Marketing for Businesses Big and Small. He is the Chief Brand Strategist at Brand Driven Digital, an educator at the University of Iowa, and host of the On Brand podcast. More about Nick.