The Art & Science of Fostering a Customer-Centric Culture


Mia Mulrennan

Dr. Mia Mulrennan has her doctorate in applied psychology and is known as a Hospitality & Travel Experience thought leader, Organizational Talent and Service Strategy Expert, and Georgetown University Professor. Has worked in top hospitality companies Marriott Corporation and The Saint Paul Hotel and also for large leadership consulting firms PDI/Korn Ferry and Right Management as an organizational psychologist and senior consultant. President and CEO of Rave-Worthy, a consulting and products firm dedicated to making their clients rave-worthy by transforming the art of service & hospitality through the science of psychology. Creator and researcher of The Five Factors Survey – a screening survey to find and develop high-touch, customer-oriented talent and author of the book: Passed Over and Pissed Off: The Overlooked Leadership Talents of Generation X.

Webinar Transcript

Speaker: Dr. Mulrennan is an organizational psychologist who advises clients in effectively applying tenets of psychology to achieve positive business results, in areas of talent management, organizational development, and service branding. She specializes in working with companies and high touch customer oriented industries, such as travel, hospitality, retail, and consumer products. Dr. Mulrennan is currently writing a book titled 'Becoming Rave-Worthy: Figuring Out What Motivates Your Customers, Clients, Boss, and Employees'. Please welcome to Elevate 2015, Mia Mulrennan.

Mia Mulrennan: Well hello everyone. And welcome. Today, we're gonna talk about the art and science of fostering a customer-centric culture in your organization. And we're gonna be very focused on the talent perspective, of course, as well as the strategy perspective. I'm Dr. Mia Mulrennan, and my company is Rave-Worthy. Please visit us on our website to find out a lot more information about leadership development, talent strategy, and customer experience, and service strategy as well. I know it can be fairly challenging to be learning on a virtual platform. So I will try and keep this moving and as engaging as possible. But I wanted to just give you some pointers and tips to have you focus here on this platform. I know, like I said, it can be a challenge when you're learning virtually. So we will keep things moving, and hopefully have you focused through the entire time.

This is one of my favorite quotes regarding talent and customer service by Simon Sinek. He speaks a lot about the why and purpose of why we do what we do. A lot of you are probably familiar with his TED talks. And one of my favorite quotes of his is 'If you hire people just because they can do a job, they'll work for your money. But if you hire people who believe what you believe, they will work for you with blood, sweat, and tears.'. And this really goes into values and strategy and what the organization fosters once they have great talent on board. I really recommend you looking at some of Simon Sinek's TED talks on the power and purpose of 'why'. It has so much to do with strategy and customer service and experience.

So we're here to talk about fostering customer experience strategy. And this may sound very basic but here's where you begin. You need to actually have an existing customer-centric culture and strategy in order to foster one. This is really important. So start with the basics of asking, when it comes to your organization, why people buy what you do? What is your brand? What are you known for? And what are the gaps? Because without that knowledge, you can't then reward and foster a customer-centric culture without that customer experience strategy. If you need to begin at the very beginning and don't have a current strategy, what I do when I work with organizations is tell the entire leadership team and everyone in the organization to become an architect. Be an architect and look at the strategic picture first. It's important to invest in a process for choosing the very best talent, that's number one. Invest in development for the good and best talent only.

Now this is really important and I learned this from many years of being an executive coach. As we all know, things like high-quality selection process and coaching are really important. But they're also very expensive. And if you invest in those things and give them, hand them, to your talent that's not performing, that's not utilizing those services in the best way possible. If you instead utilize those very expensive services for your good and best talent, for your top 20%, imagine how much more you can gain in the power of those different components. And also, investing in rewards for the best talent. Because what you actually notice and reward is going to speak volumes about your culture and your organization, almost more than anything else because everyone else will notice that as well. And then finally, to build a strong bridge between these two components: the strategy that you build and the talent that you have and that you select that is incoming. So be an architect.

Many aspects of customer service strategy are both a science and an art. The science part is what we look at most commonly. Does someone have technical know-how? Do they have deep knowledge? Are they good at executing and managing a process? Do they have the relevant background and experience, the training and education? And are we, as an organization, good at measuring and tracking abilities, and things that are related to the P&L, measurement of tracking finance. But the aspects of a customer oriented customer service strategy that are art, are things that are just as important. Can your leaders and talent lead and understand people and build relationships? Can they actually influence behavior, especially behavior of those who are indirect reports of theirs? Can they establish and maintain credibility once they've established it? Can they themselves foster engagement and a positive culture? And do they have the ability to be adaptable and innovative? All of these qualities are incredibly important. And they're not really the science and the technical know-how or background, but the art of the people side, and the communication side, and really, the psychology side of what we do.

So many aspects of a customer service strategy, and as we all know, talent management as well, are both a science and an art. And it's important to have both. So my company, Rave-Worthy, it has this beautiful logo. You'll see it on the bottom left-hand side. And it is not purely aesthetic, although it certainly serves its purpose in that way as well. It's a model for branding that we use in leadership development, talent management, and in customer experience, service, and strategy. There are three components to this model. And I created it when I was working in the luxury hotel industry. I started my career with Marriott Corporation and then worked for many years in boutique hotels, the Whitney Hotel and then later the St. Paul Hotel. As you can see, the format itself is very fancy, curly Q sort of look, which fits in with a luxury hotel environment certainly. But more importantly, it's functional. And in this model, we're talking about three sections. And if you think of this as a branch of a living plant, it functions in that way when it comes to strategy and brand of an organization. The first component, all the way on the left, the core, is really the essence and the soul of an organization and what you want your customer experience strategy to be. It's what feeds the entire component. It is the nutrients. The middle curly Q represents the heart or the back of the house of your organization. And it's who you are internally, your leaders, your talent; it really is who we are, who we define ourselves to be. And then finally, the largest curly Q, is the front of the house. It's how you show it. It's who you are externally. It's your brand, as the community and your guests and customers know you.

To look at this another way in the three sections, you can think of your customer service strategy, or even your talent strategy, employment strategy, this works for all of those, as a model in these three sections. And your goal is that your strategy stems from a healthy core, which you live internally and model externally. So your strategic core, all the way on the left, is your essence, your soul, what your values, what feeds your organization. Your strategic integrity is how you actually behave, how you live. And your strategic brand is what you model to the outside world. One little note here: remember that a lot of organizations will profess to have a particular set of values, and you can profess to have any and all kinds of values that you want. However, what happens on the ground is your actual behavior. And that's the integrity. That's just strategic integrity. They're two very different things.

Okay, so if we're looking at this model--we'll go through each section--think of your organization and what you want to be fostering as a customer-centric culture. What's your purpose? What's your mission? What's the vision of the organization? What values do you hopefully live by? What are your organization's strategic initiatives, the goals you want to accomplish? And have you outlined those via job analysis, job descriptions, and definitive competencies? I call competencies the fuel of a talent management engine. And the reason I call them that is because they suffice in so many different areas. If you have a set of competencies, you know what you are looking for when you're hiring people. If you have competencies, you know what to reward when you are engaging and rewarding people. With competencies, you also have a good understanding of a definition, if you will, at different levels of the organization, and what it means to be a superstar in a particular role. So that's the strategic core.

Next, in strategic integrity, how do you actually behave? So does your organization align with the entire core that you've outlined? Do you have the ability to establish trust? This is internally now. Do you communicate change, and do that honestly and in a timely manner? Are you constantly igniting the why, the purpose of your organization? Can you build relationships internally? Foster engagement and morale? Do you live by the golden rule with your talent? The golden rule, of course, being to treat others as we ourselves would like to be treated. And do you make your stated values overt? Do you walk the talk instead of making decisions covertly and in secret? That's the integrity.

And then the third section, remember, that largest external brand component is whether or not you demonstrate values in your partnership. So every business has outside partnerships. If you're a restaurant or a hotel, you have someone who does the linen and laundry. If you're a corporation, you're someone who gives you raw materials for your products. So do you demonstrate your values in your partnerships? How do you respond, react, or give in your community? What's your service delivery like? Not just customer experience, but how you actually deliver your process? Do you live by the platinum rule with customers? The platinum rule is unlike the golden rule. The golden rule says you treat others like you yourself want to be treated. The platinum rule takes you out of the equation completely and says you treat others the way they want to be treated, by their motivations, their perceptions. Period. And then finally, initiatives and goals. Do they not forsake your values? In other words, is your external brand something that truly lives out what you say at the very beginning your purpose and values actually are? So that's the strategic brand.

Now, let's talk a little bit about the talent component specifically, because we all know that hiring high-quality service staff is the first step. The people you hire are your brand. I will often tell organizations that if they think of their customer experience and customer service brand as a fragile glass globe, they're handing that globe, fragile globe, to everyone they hire who interacts with a customer, or guest, or shopper, or patient in their organization. We all know a lot of information about what bad hires can do in an organization, that hires average four times a person's salary. And certainly have untold, incalculable cost to your company's culture, staff engagement, leadership reputation, and service brand. Your product might indeed be why customers try you out initially, but your talent, your people, is the reason people do or do not come back. So it's really important to start here. As difficult as it might be, the hard part is your selection process. Choosing the best talent.

What is your selection process? Is it reliable? And does it have proven predictive validity? When I help organizations with their selection process, it's amazing to me how many components of the basics are not followed. For example, let's say you're trying to fill a role and you have four candidates for the same role. A lot of times, people will go through the interview process and the questions, and not ask all four of those candidates the very same questions. And also don't have strong interview or note taking capabilities. And then when the interview selection process is over with, they have nothing to really compare all the four candidates with that is reliable. So start with the basics. Make sure your selection process is a high quality and robust one because that's the only way you will have proven predictive validity in the end.

So let's talk about being that bridge between strategy and talent. Employee involvement and ownership in day to day interactions is something we want. And that requires hiring the right fit to begin with, understanding what motivates team members, and fostering a culture of trust and empowerment. Next, we wanna teach individuals and teams to be responsible for their actions and their results. And that really requires leading by example, communicating a clear vision and purpose, establishing clear procedures and good process. We also wanna instill a sense of accountability, through coaching and mentoring. And this requires rewarding talent, holding team members accountable when required, and declaring a commitment to and dedicating resources to coaching and mentoring. This doesn't even have to cost a lot but it's important. In all of those components we talked about, there really are a critical few priorities based on research and psychology. Like I said before, hiring the right fit to begin with, the leading by example component, and rewarding talent, and at the same time, holding team members accountable when required.

So ask yourself: do you have a high-quality process? Things like altruism, which is an important component, can be measured. Values, preferences, and motivators that correlate with job satisfaction, that information can be utilized across the board. Is there a lack of accountability? Is there honesty? And are you only doing what feels comfortable in the short term? If people leave your organization, why do they leave? That will give you information as well. And rewards that cause others to observe and learn, so that other people who have not yet been rewarded can say, "Oh, I understand. That's how it's done around here."

I've done research since 1989 on what makes people customer centric and service focused. And like I mentioned before, these things can actually be measured and be a highly valuable component of your selection, onboarding, and development process. So make absolutely sure you have a customer-centric and high customer experience strategy established that you want to foster, and that you then have a really strong process, and that a part of it is screening, selection, and rewards, and the components we've talked about in the model. I wanna thank you for joining me today. Please contact me if you have any other questions. And thanks so much for your time.