I originally published today’s post on Forbes. It appeared on their site on June 7, 2023.

In my last article, I wrote about the benefits of a customer-centric culture, but I also mentioned the challenges of deliberately designing such an organization, including:

  • Lack of executive commitment and alignment
  • Siloed organizations and disparate data
  • Resistance to change, manifested in a variety of ways
  • Ineffectual tools and processes
  • Inadequate support for employees, including training and empowering them

While there are many others, these are some of the more critical challenges to be aware of.

Of course, the next question is: how does one overcome these challenges?

1. Getting executive commitment and alignment

Let’s start at the top, literally. We need executives to commit the resources – time, financial, human, capital – to transform the way things are done. I can write an entire article on this alone (and have done so), but this is probably the most critical piece to get in place in order to successfully transform your organization.

Getting all executives committed requires building the business case and appealing to the left and right sides of their brains – or to their heads (logical) and their hearts (emotional). Also, you’re going to need to link the work that lies ahead to business goals and outcomes. This requires data – data that provides insights into customer behaviors and preferences, data that tells customers’ stories, data that helps the business make informed decisions about how to deliver the expected experience, and operational data.

Ideally there’s at least one executive who “gets it” and can help bring the rest of the group along. And a little inside baseball on what legacy they’d like to leave behind can help, too.

2. Connecting and breaking down silos

Ironically, or perhaps not, leaders are the key to solving the silo issue because they may be the cause of said silos. By definition, a customer-centric culture is a collaborative culture. By definition, the entire organization rallies around the customer. Also, by definition, the entire organization must work toward a common goal, to deliver a seamless and consistent experience for the customer. That cannot happen in a fragmented organization. It can only happen when everyone works together. Breaking down or connecting silos takes some of the effort out of the experience for both employees and customers.

First you need to identify where and why silos exist; journey maps and service blueprints are great tools to help with that. Then you’ll need to decide if they need to be broken down or connected. We need data and information flowing easily across the organization, and we need teams working together to deliver a great customer experience. The trick to doing that is going to sound simplistic here, but I know it’s not. It’s about communicating openly, especially about working toward a common goal; creating governance committees; providing communications and collaboration platforms for teams to easily work together; and, as a leader, dropping the “my team, my data, my projects” mentality and focusing on collaboration and cross-functional teamwork. Toward a common goal.

3. Resisting change

One of the biggest reasons for resistance to change is lack of information. Communication is limited, and employees (and executives) don’t understand the who, what, when, why, and how – or the what’s in it for me.

Establish and communicate your change vision. If employees don’t understand why you’re transforming the organization, they’ll resist it, make excuses, or ignore it. So, communicate the vision and goals clearly, and emphasize why it’s important to put the customer at the center of all they’ll be doing.

Leaders must model the desired behavior and then recognize those who change, reinforce the message and vision, and provide resources, ongoing training, and support for employees.

4. Ineffectual tools and processes

My definition of a customer-centric organization is one that makes no discussions, no decisions, no designs without bringing in the customer and her voice, without asking how it will impact her, how it will make her feel, what problems it will help her to solve, what value it will create and deliver for her.

As a business, as noted in my previous article, you can’t make operational changes, develop processes, or update policies without viewing them through the customer lens. You need to do the work to bring the customer voice in, to create that customer lens. That requires the right tools, technology, processes, and policies.

Where does that customer voice come from? I sum it up as “customer understanding,” and there are three ways to achieve it: listening (feedback and data), characterizing (personas), and empathizing (journey mapping process).

These don’t all happen by accident. You’ve got to do the work to understand your customers in these three ways, and each of these ways will provide you with a ton of data, i.e., the customer voice. You need to have the tools to do that work and to ensure that the resultant data gets to the right people in the organization to act on it. And you’ve got to have the processes and training in place to ensure the data gets used as it’s supposed to be used.

5. Inadequate support for employees

Here’s a critical piece of the puzzle: you can’t build a customer-centric organization without taking care of your employees first – or without empowering them and providing them with the tools, training, and processes to do what you’re expecting them to do!

Ongoing learning and development are required. Employees should have access to the data and the information they need to live the culture and to deliver the desired experience, and they should be encouraged to continuously improve their skills and knowledge.

One of those skills, empathy, must be taught and developed over time through modeling and role play. At the root of empathy is understanding – understanding customers’ needs, expectations, and problems to solve. The same goes for employees. If you want them to care for your customers, you must care for them first.

Additional solutions

Are there other ways to overcome these challenges? Yes, most definitely. But start here. These will get you moving in the right direction.

There’s no use talking about the problem unless you talk about the solution. ~ Betty Williams


Annette Franz is an internationally recognized customer experience thought leader, coach, speaker, and author. In 2019, she 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. In 2022, she published her second book, Built to Win: Designing a Customer-Centric Culture That Drives Value for Your Business (Advantage|ForbesBooks), which is available to purchase on Amazon, Books A Million!, Target, Barnes & Noble, and thousands of other outlets around the world! Sign up for our newsletter for updates, insights, and other great content that you can use to up your EX and CX game.

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