After attending the 2010 Forrester Customer Experience Forum in New York I started to really think about how organizations become efficient, create winning customer experiences, develop sustainable business models and make great products and services. Therefore, I have decided to dedicate my blog to talking about these and other businesses practices. At best, I hope to generate dialogue and thought-provoking insights on how organizations can exceed customer expectations while delivering products and services consumers want and need. And by doing it in a sustainable way, hopefully they can give back to society while building a fantastic brand.
As many companies struggle to define their competitive advantages, develop unique products and deliver exceptional services I find one theme that matters most. The company’s culture is the single most important factor in how an organization operates. It determines how customers are treated, drives operations, and prioritizes spending for “keep the lights on” and “new cool innovations.”
For example, at the Forrester CXP, we heard from Patty VanLammeren, the Chief Customer Experience Officer at Allstate Insurance. She talked about how over the years, Allstate has been on a journey to change the customer experience. This is one of the major initiatives undertaken by Allstate to reverse course with their customer base and increase client retention, improve customer satisfaction, and get back to their core business. VanLammeren mentioned in order for them to begin to put their clients first, they had to change the culture, reinvent how clients were treated, and redefine what it means to be client centric. Although she noted it is an ongoing process and a long journey, Allstate is well on their way to redefining the company culture.
Allstate Insurance has implemented three key initiatives to change the culture. First, they started putting their money where their mouth is. Instead of providing lip service internally about being client focused, the Executive Team backed it with meaning. The company changed their 401(K) matching contribution plan to coincide with customer satisfaction scores. Essentially every employee’s contribution is driven by how well clients perceive the value that Allstate brings to the relationship. What a novel idea. We all know if you incent the behavior you want emulated, you will get faster results. Suddenly, everyone wants to know what they need to do to reap the rewards. Secondly, they began an ambassador program that, in a nut shell, is made up of volunteer employees. You know the type, highly engaged and motivated employees that ultimately form the coalition for change which is so critical in any organizational transformation. Third, Allstate created a Client First Forum that set strategic goals for the organization and defined, at a high level, how they would measure progress. Sub-teams were initiated to handle the tactical aspect of metrics. My interpretation is, with any organizational transformation, you have to benchmark first, and then measure progress. Otherwise, you’ll never know if you’re heading in the right direction. By making these three key initiatives a priority, Allstate has become more client centric and is moving to change the company’s culture.
An example of an organization’s culture driving innovation is the remarkable dynamic of innovation at The New York Times. Yeah, I know, it shocked me too. However, I was invited to take a tour of The New York times as part of the Forrester Customer Service Council. We saw how they continually innovate to deliver content on any device (laptop, iPad, Smart phone, Kindle, etc.) to any one in a manner that is meaningful to the customer. Think about that for a moment. This is no longer the “staunchy” news paper your grandparents read, they are innovating in content delivery. Today, the web drives their content delivery and determines what goes to print, not the other way around.
The New York Times also partners with advertising clients and agencies to develop cool new ads that attract and entertain the reader. One of these approaches is called the Home Page takeover referring to the web, mobile, and print editions of course. Another very cool idea is asking for reader participation. An example Karen White, Director of ABC, pointed out was their recent experiment called A Moment in Time. The NYT asked readers to stop, at 11 AM on a Saturday, take a picture of what they were doing at that moment in time, and send it in. Readers sent in an overwhelming response of 14,000+ photos. The collection of photos is an innovative way of amalgamating reader participation in a visual representation of what is happening around the world at A Moment in Time. This is truly a testament of their commitment to involve readers in the content.
At the New York Times, their culture drives their innovation. Business units collaborate with new ideas, products, and content methods. In order to innovate, everyone leaves their ego at the door. Now that’s an interesting concept. An established company without an ego. Nice! Again, this goes back to their culture and it’s expressed with innovation.
As many companies continue to try to gain competitive advantages or they flex their muscle in this global world, notice that the true winning companies usually have a unique culture- one that stands beside customers. Once you start to think about companies which are customer champions, take a close look at their culture. I bet you’ll see that it is the most important differentiators between them and their competition.
- Allstate’s customer experience journey (superhypeblog.com)
- The innovation machine – implementing new ideas (economist.com)