EDGE 2018: Employee centricity key to customer centricity

Nancy Rademaker (Nexxworks) delivers the opening keynote at EDGE 2018

Nancy Rademaker (Nexxworks) delivers the opening keynote at EDGE 2018

Credit: Christine Wong

I had the honour of delivering the opening keynote speech at EDGE 2018 on Hamilton Island, where I talked about extreme customer centricity and the fact that companies need to embrace this to survive the digital tsunami.

With the smartphone as the most powerful tool ever, customers have literally put themselves in the centre of the world and if you don’t follow them into this new reality, chances are you become obsolete.

In his book Managers the Day After Tomorrow, my business partner Rik Vera uses the customer centricity model below, showing that you must build a strategy that really starts with the desired customer experience.

It requires full adherence to new principles to enable a truly customer-centric operation mode: a shift to value-driven behaviour, an accompanying culture with new KPIs, a new management style and an organisational structure that allows for more self-steering and working in teams.

Rik Vera's model of extreme customer centricityCredit: Nexxworks
Rik Vera’s model of extreme customer centricity


The desired customer experience (CEX) should be the starting point in everything a company does. The first and most important interface – hence the next circle – is the employee.

As every customer and every desired customer experience is different, the employee can’t be framed by top-down processes. Instead, employees need to be really empowered to help, serve and delight customers always and under all circumstances.

So, processes need to be replaced by value-driven behaviour. Employee centricity is a natural result of really putting your customer in the centre, as digital processes and procedures will never delight the customer.

Value-driven behaviour?

But what really is value-driven behaviour? As human beings, we always have a strong urge to know and measure if we are doing things right.

Employees have the tendency to look towards their organisation to measure or judge them, hence organisations tend to put extensive performance management systems in place.

Companies build scenarios: if A happens you need to do this, if B happens you need to do that.

The big question is, if it is not processes and procedures, what is it that makes employees know whether they are doing the right thing or not? How do we really know we are doing the right stuff? The answer is simple: it is value-driven behaviour.

Zappos (an Amazon company) is a perfect example of a value-driven company; people are trained for four weeks on the values of the company and how these translate into value-driven behaviour. Two of their most important values are “Deliver WOW through service” and “have fun and create a little weirdness”.

This means that employees are empowered to decide for themselves what it takes to WOW the customer, they are even stimulated to colour outside the lines to achieve this, no matter how much time, energy or even money is involved.

How to sustain a business model like that? If you go back to the model, one of the outer circles is Logistics, which needs to be of the highest level to support this customer-centric behaviour.

At Zappos, only three per cent of all transactions need customer service support. Next to that, their famous customer support is not being considered a cost centre, but as a non-expensive marketing tool. Zappos is known as a very customer-centric company that is fun to do business with.

Although traditional companies refer to their employees as “human resources”, the rate of disengagement amongst employees is sky high.

Nancy Rademaker (Nexxworks) delivers the opening keynote at EDGE 2018Credit: Christine Wong
Nancy Rademaker (Nexxworks) delivers the opening keynote at EDGE 2018

According to the The Worldwide Employee Engagement Crisis research, it is as high as 87 per cent. No wonder!

Their idea of an employee is still close to that of a robot: someone who does what he is being told, who works on similar tasks every single day, and is completely interchangeable.

It is easy to understand that employees at a value-driven company like Zappos feel much more engaged. First their behaviour is more about Why than about What, second their reward is variable since it is outside-in, coming from a happy customer.

Not unsurprisingly, research has shown that there is a very strong linkage between employee behaviour and attitude and customer satisfaction.

High time for companies to change their perspective on employees and regard them as their most important assets!

Culture is eating strategy for breakfast

In one of my blogs Why Digital Transformation is useless without a Cultural Shift, I discussed the need of a strong culture to accompany this new value-driven customer-centric approach.

Culture nourishes this behaviour; it stimulates, rewards and keeps inspiring people to continue to satisfy customers.

You need to be persistent in doing this, the temptation is strong fall back to the ‘good old recipes’ of strict processes and procedures. You need to move from a traditional culture of control to a culture of trust.

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