Today’s post originally appeared in Forbes on December 21, 2018.

How can companies ensure that they are ready to put the customer at the center of all they do?

Customer-centric companies put the customer at the center of all they do; they ensure that they make no decisions without first thinking of the customer and the impact that decision has on the customer. Putting the “customer” into customer experience means that companies are taking the time to understand their customers – through listening (e.g., surveys), characterizing (i.e., personas), and empathizing (i.e., journey mapping) – and then using that understanding to design a better experience for them. In short, customer understanding is the cornerstone of customer-centricity.

When you think about companies that are customer-centric or even customer-obsessed, which ones come to mind? Amazon, Zappos, The Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons, Southwest Airlines, etc., right?!  The usual suspects. How did they get there? What did they do differently to ensure they always delivered great experiences for their customers?

I thought I’d pose a few questions for you to consider to help you start down the road to customer-centricity.

1. What are your company’s core values?
Culture = values + behavior. Core values are the foundation of the culture; they are the fundamental beliefs of an organization and end up being summarized as, “what the employees do when no one is looking.” When paired with corresponding and expected behaviors, they help employees understand the difference between right and wrong and how to interact with customers and with each other. They also guide employees on how to act not only when they are presented with a questionable or challenging situation but also during the regular day-in and day-out.

More importantly, some of the values must support and be aligned with a focus on customers.

2. Do employees know, live, and breathe the core values?
In order for values to drive behavior and, ultimately, the culture, they must be communicated regularly, and they must be lived by all, employees and executives alike. Your core values are actually meaningless if they don’t inspire and drive the behavior that you expect everyone to display.

3. Are you hiring, firing, and promoting based on these core values?
To build the culture you want, you must be willing to hire, fire, and promote based on your core values. Companies that do so keep the culture intact and show employees that the values aren’t just statements on posters in the conference room.

4. Have you defined and communicated the brand promise?
Your brand promise is a promise to your customers that sets expectations and defines the benefits customers will receive from your brand. The brand promise – which is not a mission statement or a tag line – is then used to align all of the activities of the organization, guiding people, processes, products, systems, etc. Everything you do as an organization supports and enforces the brand promise. It is meant for both customers and employees because employees must deliver on the promise.

5. Are your executives committed?
You must have commitment (not “buy-in;” that’s different!) from your leadership team to focus on the customer.  But this requires an outright commitment from your CEO and the executives. Commit and act. Actions speak louder than words. Without this commitment, you will not get the resources – time, human, capital, financial, etc. – to shift the focus.

6. Is the employee experience a primary focus area for your executives?
What’s better than executive commitment to focus on customers? Executive commitment to putting people first, to ensuring that the employees are taken care of; they, in turn, will take care of the customers. Put employees “more first,” as Hal Rosenbluth has said. This is no chicken-or-egg debate; there is no doubt that the employee experience must be prioritized above the customer experience. Without employees, you have no customer experience. With unhappy employees, you get unhappy customers.

7. Is the customer ingrained in the organization’s DNA?
A customer-centric culture is one in which the customer’s needs and perspectives are woven into the fabric of the organization and are, literally, at the center of every decision, conversation, action, process, strategy, etc. The customer is infused into everything you do. To make that happen, at a minimum, you must employ the three techniques to achieve customer understanding that I mentioned earlier.

Other ways to keep the customer front and center and involved in daily conversations include: having an empty chair in meetings to represent the customer (a la Jeff Bezos), placing customer persona cutouts throughout the office, streaming customer comments and interviews on monitors across the organization, designating a customer advocate in every meeting, bringing real customers into meetings, creating a customer room (which contains feedback, personas, journey maps, core values, CX vision, etc.), and hiring a C-level customer champion (CCO) to advocate for the customer throughout the organization.

8. How are decisions made in your company?
There are essentially two ways that decisions can be made in an organization: one is customer-centric, the other is not.

When executives and employees look at the business from the customer’s perspective and then design products, services, and processes and make decisions based on what’s best for the customer, they are employing outside-in thinking. The business does things that are in the best interest of the customer.

On the other hand, when the business designs products, services, and processes based on internal thinking and intuition (“we know what customers want”), then they are employing inside-out thinking. Customers’ needs and perspectives aren’t part of the equation. Executives make decisions because they think it’s what’s will benefit the business.


You can probably see where I’m going here. It’s not enough to say you want to be like Zappos or Southwest Airlines. They’ve put in the work and have methodically and purposely built their organizations, their brands, their customer experience to be what they are today.

The first step to transform your culture into one that is customer-centric is a mindset shift – followed by a behavioral shift. That shift starts from the top. Make the decision to think and act differently. Answers these eight questions for your business and get started in putting the customer at the center of all you do.

Annette Franz is an internationally recognized customer experience thought leader, coach, speaker, and author. She recently published her first book, Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the “Customer” in Customer Experience (and at the Heart of Your Business); it’s available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. Sign up for our newsletter for updates, insights, and other great content that you can use to up your CX game.

Image courtesy of Pixabay.