How Customer Obsession Creates Accountability for Change

MIT Sloan Management Review

It’s well-known that organizational change is difficult — in fact, 70% of change efforts fail, but awareness hasn’t improved the odds of success. Companies continue to struggle with choosing the right projects, sequencing and integrating change initiatives, and establishing accountability mechanisms to measure results. In my work as an analyst at Altimeter, which specializes in technology research and strategy, I’ve found that the exceptional companies making strides with everything from digital transformation to employee engagement to diversity and inclusion have one thing in common: They are customer-obsessed.

Most companies claim to be customer-focused these days, to the point where the concept has lost much of its power. But when customers are truly at the center of your business, change proceeds from the organizing principle: What’s best for them? And front-line employees, managers, and executives who obsess over improving the customer experience are far likelier than appointed change agents to sustain initiatives when their purpose is to make that job easier. After all, who better to hold you accountable for meeting audacious transformation goals than your customers? If you don’t meet their needs, they will simply go elsewhere.

In this article, we’ll look at several organizations that are at the forefront of linking change efforts to customer experience.

Digital Transformation

According to our research at Altimeter, “evolving customer behaviors and preferences” was the top driver of digital transformation efforts in 65% of organizations surveyed in 2017. Yet only 35% invest in understanding the customer journey and using it to define their transformation agenda.

In customer-obsessed organizations, on the other hand, transformation begins with a clear idea of how change will enhance the customer experience rather than an abstract sense of the need to digitize analog transactions.

Comcast is a case in point. Delivering internet and video services is a complex business. Having grown through various acquisitions, the company found itself with a series of technical support systems that didn’t talk to one another, limiting its ability to provide the seamless digital solutions that customers have come to expect from providers. To address customers’ growing frustrations and achieve the quality of service the company envisioned, it would have to change the way decisions were made — and put its customers first.

Comcast’s customer obsession started with deployment of the Net Promoter Score (NPS) throughout the organization. Connecting business outcomes with customer satisfaction, it became the metric of choice for tracking and incentivizing everything from call-center interactions to employee engagement. Chief customer experience officer Charlie Herrin explains, “We love our customers, but we didn’t always use their feedback as a factor in our business decision-making. The Net Promoter system is one way we have been able to cut through to the issues causing customers pain and to build scalable solutions to address them.”

With NPS in place, Comcast began shifting transactions to digital channels to make them simpler for customers. The company assessed the percentage of a task’s components taking place completely on digital platforms and paired that with the task’s NPS to measure progress.

One example of how this worked comes from a common customer challenge that we can all relate to: moving. Through the stress of relocating, customers understandably want to remain connected to entertainment and the internet. Moving service from one home to another usually involved multiple phone calls and logistical wrangling. To streamline the steps, Comcast shifted the process from offline to online. A customer can now enter move dates and locations up front so that the transfer can be handled automatically. An SMS-based service then sends updates to the customer via text, including confirmation that the service is up and running at the new location.

This process, paired with simple self-installation kits, has dramatically improved the customer experience, leading to a 40-point increase in NPS. Armed with compelling data like this, and accountability metrics that connect customer outcomes to digital initiatives, Comcast is confidently investing in moving change efforts forward.

Employee Engagement

According to Gallup, 85% of global employees are not engaged at work. In contrast, IBM found that 80% of employees surveyed across 45 countries and territories felt engaged when their work was consistent with the core values and mission of their organization. And the Society for Human Resource Management recently reported that 70% of employees ranked being empowered to take action at work to solve problems as an important element of their engagement. Customer obsession could be the missing link. When an organization revolves around its customers and its employees’ goals are tied to customer experience metrics, engagement increases as people rally around the shared objective of having a positive impact on consumers every day.

Bozzuto — a real estate company with over $2 billion in annual revenue — is an example of this principle in action. Bozzuto’s strategy is driven less by demographics and more by the psychology of its most engaged residents. CEO Toby Bozzuto explained, “Our mission of creating sanctuary is something that unites and inspires our employees, as everything we do is focused around customers.”

To support the mission, every property has a dashboard that incorporates data from multiple sources, such as Bozzuto Listens, where customers provide real-time feedback, and a 3,000-member Bozzuto Resident Advisory Panel (BRAP), which discusses the living experience in online forums. The dashboard also includes a metric called the Online Reputation Assessment (ORA), developed by J Turner Research, to aggregate social media ratings for individual properties into a single score (from 0 to 100).

The onsite staff at each location is responsible for daily monitoring of its dashboard. Negative feedback, a suggestion from a resident, or a low ORA score immediately triggers action at the local level to address the problem or understand what staff could be doing differently. The idea of providing sanctuary promotes proactive dialogue and empowers property teams to nourish long-term relationships with residents. For example, knowing that a resident had broken a foot, the front desk employee at one property delivered a package to the resident’s front door.

Bozzuto’s obsession with customers has paid off for everyone: It has the best online reputation of any property management company in the U.S., and its employees have named it one of the best workplaces in the region for four years in a row.

Diversity and Inclusion

Despite a plethora of research making the business case for diversity and inclusion, D&I initiatives remain stalled in many organizations, in part because they are typically driven by legal concerns or a small group of motivated leaders. When customer obsession is the reason for creating a more inclusive workplace, however, real progress is possible.

Take Adobe. With its global audience in mind, Adobe has prioritized mitigating bias in its recruitment practices, building a pipeline that includes women and underrepresented groups, achieving global pay parity, ensuring that it supports diverse supplier and other partner organizations, and investing in making its products more inclusive and accessible.

The goal is an organization that reflects the diversity of its customer base and anticipates their needs. To meet the challenge of finding diverse talent in the tech industry, Adobe aggressively recruits among recent graduates and has also started the Adobe Digital Academy, a program that trains nontraditional candidates for a future in coding. Ameer Brown is an Academy alum who is now employed as a full-time software quality engineer doing user experience testing for Adobe Spark. The company’s support of his transition from sales and marketing has inspired great loyalty. “This program changed my life and gave me skills I didn’t have to pay for and opportunity that other companies and other people didn’t give me,” Brown said. “When the full-time position became available [after a six-month internship], it was a no-brainer.”

Employing people like Brown is also critical to Adobe’s development of artificial intelligence, where human values are being coded into algorithms. Wendy Steinle, Adobe’s senior director for digital experience and web strategy, explains, “If we build AI — or any technology — with people who all have the same backgrounds and experiences in life, how in the world is that technology going to reflect our diverse customers? As a global leader, we’re setting foundations others will follow, and if we don’t get it right, we’re exacerbating the problem.”

How to Get Customer-Obsessed

Customer obsession is a worthy goal on its own, but as these organizations demonstrate, it can also create momentum and accountability for major change. Here are three things you can do to become more customer-obsessed:

Create a customer advisory board that isn’t afraid to challenge you. It’s tempting to put your best, most adoring customers on your customer advisory board, but resist the urge to do so! Instead, recruit your most demanding customers — their voices should be heard loudly and frequently throughout the company. Identify and empower your customer-obsessed employees. Seek out the people in your organization who frequently point out how the organization could be more customer-friendly. Give them roles as customer advocates in your strategy and product development processes. Tie customer metrics to organizational performance. How are customers reflected in your company’s dashboards — if at all? If you are what you measure, then make sure you capture what your customers are feeling and saying about you — and let their needs guide strategic objectives and transformation initiatives.

Staying focused on how change will make life better for your customers will improve your chances of success.

A year and a half after the original vote, the outcome is still uncertain.
5 Programming Skills Every Business and Programmer Needs

If you want to survive in this automated, globalized economy, you should understand programming, and there are no shortage of coding schools and websites where you can learn. But software development is a constantly changing field, and languages high in demand a decade or even five years ago can fall into irrelevance.

Fortunately, we know which languages are in the highest demand currently by looking at job websites and coding schools. Here are some languages which businesses need today and through which employees can get the job of the future by becoming fluent.

1. Python

If you are completely unfamiliar with programming, Python is probably the best language to start with. Python has a very simple syntax, with little boilerplate code which you can find in other coding languages. It is often the first language that U.S. universities teach programming students, as it automates much of the trivial stuff. Programmers in other languages have to spend hours constructing those areas to make sure their program does not collapse.

Despite, or perhaps because of its simplicity, Python is used in major, growing technological fields such as data science and machine learning. Yet it also possesses the versatility to be used in other areas such as web development and boasts a wide community of Python experts and amateurs who can help you learn. Python can have some issues scaling up, but it remains a great beginner language you can learn to get an idea of what learning a programming language is like.

2. Java

Some programming languages may become less important in a few years, but Java will not be one of them. Despite being over two decades old, Oracle loves to trumpet the fact that over 3 billion devices use Java, and Java continues to be the dominant language with Android devices and apps. No matter where you live, there are wanted ads for Java developers with Glassdoor reporting an average base pay of $93,570 per year.

Java is not quite as easy to read, and thus understand, as Python is, and there has been some noise about companies moving away from it, but it remains a great way to read large amounts of code at once. Its backward compatibility means that it will be used for years to come. If you are in engineering or working for a mobile company, Java should definitely be the first programming language you learn.

3. SQL

SQL is technically not a programming language, as it cannot be used to build applications, but it is arguably more in demand than any programming language. SQL is used for create, read, update and delete (CRUD) operations in regards to databases, and every business today relies heavily on databases. This means that you can use SQL to more readily find information in massive databases beyond hitting Ctrl+F. You can also spawn new databases and reorder data into a more accessible format.

SQL is much easier to learn than Java, as you just need to know how to tell the database system to find or update data instead of creating a procedure from scratch to do those tasks. Free tutorials are readily available at or Codecademy.

4. C++

Python and SQL are easy yet important computing languages to learn, and Java is not much harder. But if you want to try out a challenging language that is still important to learn, you should give C++ a look.

C++ is a programming language used for applications such as games and operating systems, drivers and iOS and Adobe development. It is an extension of C, one of the oldest programming languages. Because it's a difficult language, you can find a C tutorial to help you and your team to master it. Importantly, C++ scales up very easily, making it suitable for large projects and C++ developers can at times write their own ticket since it is more difficult to learn.

5. The ability to learn

Do not forget that while learning key programming languages is a necessary prerequisite, programmers need other skills as well. Even if you become fluent in the above four languages, a good programmer needs to stay inquisitive and keep learning.

Companies, both small and large, will rarely hesitate to train prospective programmers in new languages if the programmer can show a consistent ability and interest in learning. Furthermore, programmers also need soft skills such as the ability to make programming clear to those with less tech expertise and communication skills.

Take the time to learn these aforementioned languages, whether in classes or online. But do not think that you can rest on your laurels because you know Python or Java. You are competing against millions of potential programmers, and thus should seek to stand out in other ways beyond knowing languages.

4 Tweaks That Can Make or Break Your E-Commerce Website

E-commerce continues to eat away markets from traditional offline retail. With every passing year, we see the share of total revenue from e-commerce increasing compared to sales at physical stores. The “retail apocalypse” is a direct result of increased online accessibility and is poised to wipe out a great deal of operational methods retailers have banked on for decades.

That said, the competition among e-commerce sites is just as heated. A new online seller, or a small one, finds it extremely difficult to acquire loyal customers or even make themselves seen and heard above the competition. If you’re a small-time online retailer are a few critical steps that you can take that can take you from survival to success.

Solicit public evaluation

No matter how great your marketing is, nothing can influence a consumer’s purchase more than another customer’s review. According to Pew Research, over half of your customers will check your online reviews before purchasing, yet most consumers admit that they rarely leave a review themselves. It’s your job to make sure you collect any positive recommendations from previous purchases and include them on your website.

To start collecting these powerful and lucrative reviews, all you need to do is ask. Seventy percent of customers will leave a review if they are asked, so setting up an e-commerce site that encourages them to leave feedback is one way to automate the process for online reviews.

Build in a star ranking system like Yelp and Amazon to make it easy for consumers to rate their purchases and also easy for future customers to gauge the usability of the product from those ratings. You can also send out automated follow-up emails requesting a review – such emails have been shown to be more effective than no emails in getting reviews.

Cultivate trust and credibility

For a customer to complete their online purchase, they must feel confident that their private information is secure. If there is even a hint of doubt in the credibility of a website, consumers are very likely to abandon their cart. Concerns like security, poor navigation, unclear payment procedures, unexpected extra costs or even slow loading times can bring sales to a screeching halt.

These details are often what encourage a customer to go through with a sale, so lacking these fundamental features could cause them to doubt your brand or website. For this, it’s essential that you choose the right e-commerce platform and shopping cart platform for your online shop – here are the pros and cons of the major ones. Your site functionality should be smooth and seamlessly lead from one step to another as customers go through the buying process.

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Once you choose the right platform that works for you, make sure you add clear product descriptions with full technical specifications, high quality images and add-ons that allow for multiple shipping options and payment methods to encourage new customers to make that first purchase.

Never miss an opportunity to include information and features that encourage trust on your website. Displaying trust badges that guarantee security and reliability of your brand also help encourage customer confidence.

Sell more

How many times do you go to the supermarket and come back with just the items that were originally present in your shopping list? If you’re like me, never. Upselling and cross-selling are the oldest tricks in the retail book.

These days, most e-commerce platforms, like the ones we discussed above, have simple plugins and add-ons that serve as recommendation engines. These automatically track visitors and customers on your pages, optimize content according to their location or previous purchases and even send automatic emails reminding them to buy items that they’ve added to cart but haven’t yet bought.

Obviously, product recommendations and upsells work quite well for Amazon, but does that apply to other companies, too? The answer is without a doubt, yes. Online businesses have reported that up to 30 percent of their revenue is generated through upsells, while cross-sells typically hover around a 3-4 percent conversion rate.

Automate reporting

In order to keep your e-commerce website operating in tip-top shape, it’s absolutely essential to track analytical data. Tracking down the data for important numbers like sales and conversions can be a hassle, especially if you are new to using Google Analytics for e-commerce. However, staying on top of these important numbers can lead to higher sales and improvements for future customers.

If you want to save time with these reports, you can set up automated tracking with Google Analytics by integrating it with your website. Shopify offers a simple integration system with its hosted sites, making it super simple to track instant data reports from your customer’s actions on your webpage.

For instance, if you want to see the information on your consumer’s habits, you can issue a behavior report from Google. This analytical overview will show you everything from bounce rates and typical shopping habits like time spent and purchase amounts to amount of page views and spikes in visits based off of time and dates. You can set up these analytics to be automatically sent to your email on a regular basis, too, so you don’t need to scramble to put together reports for the next business meeting.

An online store with limited resources will always find it difficult to strike an ideal balance between marketing and technology for e-commerce. Luckily, if you get the basics right, you can leave behind a lot of your competitors and build a loyal customer base in the process.

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