We’re up to the “O” in FOREfront which stands for “Obsessives”, because it’s about creating and curating a customer obsessed culture. This second step can’t isn’t a one-and-done step. Rather, it’s about fostering a culture of customer obsession throughout the entirety of your organisation.
What is a customer obsessed culture?
Growing a customer obsessed culture is like growing a houseplant. Houseplants can be fussy, unpredictable, and they often die off despite your best efforts to nurture them. Customers are just the same. But like houseplants, once you figure out what environment they like, how much attention they need, and the exact right brand of potting mix to use, they’ll grow and thrive.
The point is, watering once and walking away isn’t enough. It’s a long term relationship that takes time, care, attention, and according to some studies, classical music. If you want your customer relationships to succeed, you need to devote the same amount of time and attention to them that you would your Fiddle Leaf Fern.
And, because there’s no formula, each customer is different from the last, to make sure each customer is treated how they need to be treated, you and your staff need to be dedicated to them, to make them the priority. A customer obsessed culture is one that treats their customers how people on Instagram treat their houseplants: they care for them, nurture them, and keep obtaining more and more.
“Culture is the sum of the way we do things around here” - Mark Parry, Managing Director, Ron Finemore Transport.
A lot can be said about company culture, but it really can be summed up in that one sentence. Culture is the atmosphere, the set of behaviours and expectations in any given company. And culture starts with none other than yourself.
As a leader within your organisation, you have influence. You lead by example, and you have a say in how things run. There’s no strict formula for using your influence to shape your organisation’s culture into one of customer obsession, but here are a few ways that we do it at Yarno:
Embed it in your values
You might have heard of ‘trickle down economics’, well, I’m a proponent of ‘trickle down culture’. What starts at the top trickles down and through a company until it pervades every nook and cranny. I’ve found that a good way to put trickle down culture into practice is to use company values.
At Atlassian, one of their values is ‘Don’t #@!% the customer’. At Yarno, we live the slightly more SFW value ‘Delight the Customer’. Whatever set of words you string together, the point is that by making customer obsession one of your company values, you’re demonstrating to every employee and the rest of the world that customer obsession is what you’re about. Everything you do is about the customer, and you’re not afraid to show it.
Hire the right people
A good way to start your culture off on the right foot, is to start off on the right foot. Some people are just natural “people” people. They want to help others out, they’ve got the gift of the gab, and they want to do that extra little bit every single time. These are the people you need.
Of course, the question is, how do you tell who’s going to live customer obsession every day, and who’s just putting on a good face for the interview?
A simple way we figure it out at Yarno is by asking potential hires to give us an example of a time that they’ve gone above and beyond for a customer. It may be a bit cliche, but it gets to the point: if they can’t give us an example where they’ve done a bit extra for a customer, then they’re not the right fit.
Of course, there’s more involved in hiring customer-obsessed people than just asking for one example of good behaviour. The entire interview or interviews should be speckled with customer-centric questions, giving you a guide of each person’s values. It’s about ensuring that you don’t hire someone who isn’t customer focused, who isn’t a right fit. Which means you really have to get to know them. Take your time through several rounds of interviews, and ensure that every person you hire fits the culture. At Yarno we’ve moved towards a self-managed team model where the whole team will interview the candidate. Makes sense right? They will be the people working closely with this new Yarno-er - so who best than to understand if they will fit our customer obsessed mould?
This is a silly one. In our Yarno slack, we have a few custom emojis, one of which signifies our ‘Delight the Customer’ value. As small as that is, it does a lot. Whenever someone has a ‘Delight the Customer’ moment, we react to it with that emoji. It shows that we live the value every day, that it’s important and something to be celebrated.
I’m not saying you have to get your own custom ‘Delight the Customer’ emoji (though it is pretty cool). It’s more about creating a culture where customer obsession is celebrated and frequently spoken about. Every time someone does well with a customer - let them know! And not only them - tell everyone! Making a customer’s day is something to make a fuss about, so make a fuss about it. Every positive interaction with a customer is a positive outcome for the whole company.
Highlight the importance of customer feedback
You can’t fix something unless you know about it. Feedback is how you learn what you’re doing right, what you’re doing wrong, and what you can do to do better. One of my favourite sayings is ‘if you don’t know, you can’t grow’.
One way you can level up your customer-obsessed culture is to collate and review feedback. We do this at Yarno by having a #customer_feedback Slack channel where we post and discuss any feedback we get from customers. Putting feedback in a public forum has a couple important effects:
- Like the emoji above, it highlights how central customers are to the business. Shouting out when someone gets good feedback from a customer shows that delighting the customer is something to be celebrated and rewarded. This has a flow-on effect of encouraging others to take steps to delight the customer day in, day out.
- It allows you to analyse what customers like, and what they don’t. When customers give feedback on a specific aspect of your service, it means you can gauge how a particular aspect of your customer service is doing. For example, if a customer tells you that they really enjoyed your detailed summary of the meeting you sent them after your last WIP, you know that that method is working well, and you should continue implementing it with customers. Specific negative feedback is also useful, because if a customer tells you they don’t like doing meetings over Zoom and would rather just use the phone, you can arrange to call them next time instead. It might hurt a little in the moment, but down the line, you’ll work out the kinks, and be delighting them every single time. An example of this in practice is that for every job that we DON’T win, we ask the prospective customer to do a 15 min ‘loss review’ with Lachy, our MD, so we can learn about what we can do better next time.
These are just a few of the ways I use to sprinkle customer obsession in and through the entirety of our company. There are a million more. The point isn’t to get caught up in the details, but to get caught up on the customer. They are why you’re here. So treat them right, obsess over them, and in turn, you’ll find they repay the favour. When you prioritise them, they’ll prioritise you in return through repeat business, and maybe even rave about you online and off.
Mark heads up the Sales team at Yarno. He loves to chat, which is fortunate because he’s very good at it. He's our digital Swiss Army Knife, always armed with a solution to any problem.
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