To be customer-centric, you need to change internal culture

Stuart McDonald
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There’s little debate that customer experience is the new business battleground, as companies look for ways to differentiate. Despite this acceptance that putting customers at the centre of operations makes sense, 2017 research carried out by the Institute of Customer Service in the UK shows that there’s still a large discrepancy between the aspirations and the experiences of customer-centricity within organisations. At Centrica, we’re no different.

Being customer-centric is more than understanding customers and their needs and stating they come first. It means making customers a priority. It means ensuring all colleagues are aligned in the common goal of creating a superior customer experience. It means making customers the focus of all-important business decisions. But, crucially, it doesn’t mean that we should do this at the expense of key business metrics.

Utilities brands still have some way to go to compete on experience against some of the established leaders

At Centrica we have the added complication that the company is made up of seven different business units and many group functions. To start with we undertook extensive internal and external analysis to determine the opportunity that could exist by becoming more customer-centric. There’s a belief that, as an organisation, we are customer-centric. However, our analysis shows that we currently don’t receive the value that we should from a relentless focus on the customer, and that utilities brands still have some way to go to compete on experience against some of the established leaders.

We decided that rather than creating a workstream designed to promote and engage on behalf of the customer, our intention would be to encourage ideas from within to increase the engagement at an individual business unit, by showcasing and publicising the work that’s already happening around the businesses. We did this by establishing a ‘coalition of the willing’ – a group of colleagues across the different business units who believed we needed to change, who shared our vision of the end goal, and who would act as catalysts of change to bring to light the activities that we want to encourage.

These activities will be framed within the best-practice behaviours that customer-centric organisations follow, and shared across the company. The approach we decided to take was two-pronged: a bottom-up view guided by data that focused on fixing customer pain points; and a top-down cultural shift to put the customer front and centre.

We needed to create a mechanism for our colleagues to get close to our customers

For customer-centricity to build into everyday process, at all levels of the organisation, we also needed to create a mechanism for our colleagues to get closer to our customers. They needed to experience customers first hand, ideally in their environment – not just learn about them from PowerPoint decks.

Rather than central ownership, we’ve created self-serve tools to enable all levels across the organisation to take part. The tools are split into effort levels: low (e.g. mystery shopping of competitors), medium (e.g. NPS follow-up calls) and high (e.g. customer safaris). We’ve also introduced a response mechanism (a postcard in this instance) that will be collated centrally to ensure that insights are shared and acted upon.

Our focus now is to bring this to life across Centrica by using our ‘coalition of the willing’ to act as instigators in their business units and promote the culture from within.

Our belief is that this approach will be transformative, and that the sum of the parts will be much greater than a single group-led initiative alone. And while this is a journey we’re only just embarking on, we know that it’s a critical one.