FLUENT: Perspectives from Softcat
WHY CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE STARTS WITH CULTURE
By Richard Wyn Griffith Managing Director
As a business leader, you know that creating great customer experiences is an essential part of growth. But putting the concept into practice can sometimes be harder than it sounds. Why? Because to deliver experiences outside of your organisation, you also have to develop culture on the inside. It is an ongoing process of ‘seeing yourselves as others see you’, and that can be challenging for leaders in all organisations.
That is why, at Softcat, we see culture as something to work at constantly – and consciously – at all levels of the enterprise, so we can develop the customer experiences we want. How does it happen in practice? Here are a few of the lessons I have learned from my 18 years at Softcat. During that time we’ve grown as a business, prioritised keeping the customer at the heart of everything we do and created a culture to allow us to do so.
RECOGNISE THAT EVERYONE HAS A ROLE IN CUSTOMER SERVICE.
At any organisation, it is vital to dedicate time to define what great customer experience means to you – and how your culture has to adapt to develop that. That way, you can ensure that customer focus becomes part of the culture of your organisation, and the responsibility of all employees – top down and bottom up. This active focus on customer experience – and the role we all play in it – can be crucial. For example, if you are planning personnel changes or structural transformation, if you are not careful, that can have knock-on effects on customer touchpoints. Taking Softcat as an example: in our business, account managers are a vital point of contact, who build up a body of knowledge that helps us serve our clients’ needs. So we try to preserve that body of knowledge in order to create the “continuity of experience” customers look for in a partnership.
MAKE CONNECTIONS WITH CLIENTS AT ALL LEVELS.
GATHER INSIGHT FROM DATA - BUT MAKE IT USEFUL.
Business is personal. That means business relationships are about the personal connections we make – whether that is face to face, on networking platforms, or in Zoom or Teams calls. So, in B2B in particular, it is important to work on building connections throughout an organisation – so you can understand customers’ issues, and how you can help them meet their most pressing goals. That might mean developing deep connections at a technical level – but also working to build them at a senior level, so you can share knowledge, and understand a customer’s “direction of travel” as a business. Listening is the secret here. When we get to spend time with senior people like CIOs, we seek to listen, to learn, and to use the time to plan solutions and services to meet needs, so we can give a better experience.
Most business leaders understand the transformative power of data. That means working to get the most useful data in front of the most relevant person at the right time, so that it can genuinely improve the experience for clients. For example, when someone gets in touch with your organisation with a challenge or issue, you want to be able use what they’re telling you to help them solve it – no matter who deals with the query. At the same time, you may want to avoid off-topic comms at that time, as that might suggest you’re not ‘listening’ as an organisation. The trick is to provide data to employees in a way that helps them understand the situation from a customer’s point of view – so you can build trust and foster positive experiences in the long term.
GIVE CLIENTS A POINT OF ESCALATION.
There are times when customers just need to talk to someone slightly removed from the situation. That could happen if they need a quick answer to a question, a resolution to an issue, or just somewhere to share an opinion or feedback. So it is important to develop a culture of openness – so customers know they can always escalate an issue to someone senior if they need to. When it works well, it means there’s somewhere to turn for customers. And it has another advantage: the more open you are, the more knowledge you gain about their needs.
5. WORK TO PROTECT CULTURE AS YOU GROW.
6. HIRE FOR BUSINESS VALUES ABOVE ALL.
7. KEEP INVESTING IN A DIGITAL FUTURE.
It is an issue that often affects companies as they move through periods of growth. How do you preserve the culture you have developed as a start-up or small business, so customers still get the level of service they expect and are used to. At Softcat, our regional strategy has helped us meet this challenge. First, we have multiple offices around the UK, which means we take benefit from multiple small enterprises, as well as one big one. Second, to help preserve a ‘Softcat’ culture, we have “seeded” each new office’s culture with people from an existing Softcat office – as I did when I helped launch our London office nearly a decade ago. Sure, each regional office is different, but they are all recognisably Softcat.
When you want to maintain a business culture – the ‘DNA’ of your organisation – it is important to hire for the values that represent you. That is why, as we say on our careers pages, we seek passion and enthusiasm from new hires, alongside fun, intelligence and responsibility. That set of values underpins everything we do; and the reason we look for passion, for example, is because we want to provide world-class levels of service. We also try to do what we can do make Softcat a place where people enj