Putting the customer first is what you typically hear from retailers that aim to build a customer-centric culture. That isn’t wrong, but it’s also not the full picture.
In fact, a customer-centric culture will not be sustainable without the commitment and conviction of the people who design, build, implement and serve every day. In other words, you need to look internally before you can externally drive success when it comes to building a world-class culture.
The importance of a great culture is widely known but one where employees are engaged and advocate for a retail brand remain elusive. Creating a customer-centric culture requires relentless commitment to employee engagement and must be consistently reflected in decision making.
Best-in-class retailers share the following principles that drive a culture-first approach to being customer-centric:
Hiring for Culture over Skills
Vocational skills can be developed over time but traits like a positive attitude, empathy, diligence and passion for customer service can’t be taught but are an essential to a strong CX. Today, there are a number of available tools and approaches to help you assure a cultural fit during hiring, and best-in-class companies are deploying these solutions.
Sweetgreen is a great example of this principle. It has a very defined culture in place, and hires based on cultural fit then trains for job skills. This creates passionate employees who are loyal to the brand and see advancement opportunities.
Building Emotional Connections to the Brand
Employees that are strongly connected to their company are more likely to share that positive experience with others, and are much more authentic and powerful brand storytellers. The employee experience should be treated as an emotionally engaging journey that flows from hiring to onboarding, anniversary celebrations, community service commitments and recognition programs.
Sephora is a great example of this principle in action. It has progressively hired across all demographics with a strong focus on embracing all types of customers and enhancing all types of beauty. When you walk into a Sephora, you will be engaged by a passionate beauty advocate.
Embracing Lateral Service, Empowerment and First-Party Resolution
These three important principles are non-negotiable foundations that all brands should embrace if they want to create a meaningful and sustainable customer-centric culture.
Lateral Service is the idea that any employee should be willing to step up and help a colleague complete a task at any time, regardless of role or level.
Empowerment is a core feature of creating a culture of trust and service. This operating principle means that each employee, regardless of level, is empowered to resolve, delight or serve customers using the financial and human resources of the company without prior approval.
First-Party Resolution focuses on ensuring that when a customer expresses a need or a concern to an employee, he or she must resolve it without passing the buck. Studies indicate that lateral service, employee empowerment and first-party resolution all have a tremendous positive impact on engagement and satisfaction scores as well as brand loyalty.
I recently had a challenging experience with Sugarfina, where my order was not correct. I also experienced shipping delays and ordering challenges with its portal. My first email was met with an empathetic and thoughtful human contact who issued a full refund. No additional communication needed. I was absolutely wowed by the tone, the immediate resolution that went beyond my expectations, and how the CSR created an authentic relationship via email.
There are no shortcuts to creating a strong organizational culture. It requires leadership buy-in, a long-term commitment, unwavering conviction and company-wide consistency. Doing so brings powerful payoffs to any brand or company – from customer and employee retention, strong net promoter scores, and financial results to market differentiation in a largely transactional world – because great culture is great business for retailers.
Antonia Hock is the Global Head of The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center