How HR can use storytelling to create customer centricity
Everyone in business is talking about customer centricity, but very few are getting it right.
Part of the problem is that it’s not entirely clear where ultimate responsibility lies – the CEO? The sales and marketing team? HR? We believe it’s up to everyone but a truly customer-centric organisation has the end user embedded in every department, so HR has a vital part to play in developing a culture that allows this.
As part of the research for our recent report, Two Years’ Warning: The Customer Centricity Crisis, we spoke to HR professionals in the world’s most successful organisations and found that even these companies are not getting it perfectly right.
Of all the functions, HR is the most worried about how their organisation deals with customers: three quarters (76%) consider their company to be ‘customer complacent’ – compared to 50% overall. Nearly all (86%) believe more needs to be done to put customers at the heart of their organisation.
In fact, it’s business-critical that action is taken now to address this issue, with three-quarters (76%) of business leaders admitting that if they don’t focus on customers, their company won’t survive beyond the next two years.
What do HR professionals need to consider?
At the moment, two-fifths (44%) of employees feel ‘powerless’ to solve recurring customer concerns because managers are unwilling to make changes.
Fewer than half (43%) are confident they wouldn't be reprimanded if they contradicted policy to make a decision in a customer’s interest. For HR, empowering employees is going to be key, as is hiring, training, retaining and rewarding the employees with the right motives and attitudes.
HR also holds responsibility for helping leaders ensure their teams know the strategic journey their company is on, leading the charge on clarifying focus to fit with the company’s customer needs.
As a job function firmly focused on understanding people, HR instinctively knows the importance of personal relationships, especially between leaders, their teams and their customers. Indeed, those who actively engage in and champion customer centricity, hold the power for creating competitive advantage.
With all this in mind and our focus on storytelling, we’ve developed our top three ways to use stories to help kick-start this change and put the customer first.
1. Write and communicate the business narrative
A clear and emotionally compelling business story can help employees visualise the journey the business is on, and the part they can each play in responding to their customers’ needs on that journey.
By positioning employees as the heroes of the narrative – effectively co-authoring the outcome through their actions and behaviours – leaders and their teams can work together with real intent towards a shared, higher purpose.
To do this, the business story must be defined collaboratively, articulated, written down, and shared across the business in a way that’s relevant and meaningful for each function and team. Leaders need to personalise the story and commit to championing and role-modelling the behaviours articulated within it.
This way, the narrative is explicit across the wider organisation, and allows every employee to take ownership of the personal contribution and changes he or she needs to make.
2. Collect and share employees’ stories to demonstrate new behaviours
Identifying and harvesting stories of interactions between employees and customers, and linking them directly back to the content of the narrative, can be a powerful tool in embedding customer centricity.
By illustrating the real consequences of their actions and behaviours, employees can visualise and appreciate the impact that the way they do business can have on the lives of their customers. Channelled in the right way, this can be a major driver for change. And with new stories emerging all the time, you can build momentum, maintain focus on the ‘new’ and keep the core messages alive.
Stories can have a profound effect on mindsets and behaviours. They can inject a sense of empathy and spark an emotional connection between employees and their customers, enabling people to see the benefits of positive change. Stories, and the implicit messages within them, can also encourage people to follow the example of others, so encourage valuable knowledge-sharing, new behaviours and the embedding of best practice.
3. Identify belief-building stories that build momentum
By planning for, creating and celebrating belief-building stories, you can show how genuine change is taking place, and the effect this is having on a wider scale. One of the reasons that change fails is not because people don’t want to change, but they feel the business can’t change.
Belief-building stories act as proof points of change. Positive change brings benefits – not only to the individual, but to the wider organisation. By bringing employees on board, and recognising, celebrating and ritualising their success stories, people will start to believe in change, and that what they do for their customers really matters.
Customer centricity is the responsibility of every department, and will be achieved not just through behaviours but process and systems too. And HR is ideally placed to be the champions of change. Complacency is the enemy of an aligned and customer-focused culture. HR: it’s time to be the change you want to see in your organisation.
Alison is Co-Founder and Director at culture change consultancy The Storytellers. She spent her early career in B2C PR and marketing before setting up The Storytellers in 2003.
Alison has spent the last 12 years working with business leaders of large, complex, multi-national organisations to help them use storytelling to make change...