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To be more Customer-Centric, Fight Against the Pull of ‘Company Gravity’

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‘Customer-centricity’ has become the (new) alpha and omega of business transformations. However, despite their claimed determination, corporate initiatives often struggle to bring about real cultural changes. Though companies are constantly testing new solutions to get closer to their customers (design thinking, agile methods…), they often forget to address the force that pulls them apart in everyday life, namely: company gravity.

The company’s force of attraction

Company gravity (or internal gravitational pull) is the set of contextual factors and behavioural biases that systematically bring employees – voluntarily or involuntarily – back to a company-centric perspective. This comes at the expense of customer-centricity: whether it concerns their brand, their role, or their career, employee inclinations tend towards selecting company interests over those of the customer.

Renowned behavioural economist Dan Ariely likens this phenomenon to a rocket launch. A successful ‘customer-centricity rocket’ must be designed to minimise friction with the surrounding atmosphere. But, very often, after a few kilometres of an expensive climb, we see the rocket fall back, victim of the ‘company gravity’. For launch,  the rocket must be provided with enough fuel and design features that minimise air resistance, but in the long run, it must also continuously fight company gravity to main- tain orbit. In this framework, CX plans and technological innovations such as bots, AI, and VR constitute the fuel. But it’s a daily endeavour to address the invisible biases in organisations that constitute company gravity. For this you need to change culture from within, and that’s where behavioural science comes into play.

The CX rocket features are key, but monitoring the environmental conditions it will face is certainly as important. At BVA Nudge-Unit we believe that it is often a mix of organisational solutions,  behavioural  communication, and nudges, inspired by behavioural science, that can aid companies to effectively overcome company gravity, beyond implementing technical solutions.

The paradoxical injunction: When companies simultaneously require two contradictory behaviours

Employees are often asked to balance the interests and perspectives of both the customer and the company simultaneously. Most readers have probably already experienced this: it is difficult to adopt the point of view of the person you are arguing with unless you first listen. Similarly, it is tough to correct a text you have yourself just written. It is therefore not at the same time, but rather sequentially, that effective customer service responses should be organised.

In a company, this difficulty is exacerbated when a department is allocated missions that lead its employees to be both judge and jury. Can one be simultaneously concerned with designing a quality service and measuring customer satisfaction? Perhaps at the level of general management, but when an employee experiences a conflict of interest that cannot be resolved at their level, they naturally favour their own party.

Detecting these paradoxical areas in the organisation – in order to adjust roles, KPIs, and governance – allows the interests of individuals to be reconciled with the objectives of customer-centricity. Working on the temporal sequence of actions allows the organisation to get out of this paradox.

  • Salience: Only what is visible is present in the mind. However, the client is often invisible to employees and remains an abstraction for many people in the company. The work environment may remind the employee only of the company’s internal operations, leaving customers out of sight and out of mind. However, behavioural science can insert the customer’s presence into the workplace, whether real or virtual. Between customer verbatims, forums, ‘personas’, the nudges used must, above all, be adapted to the profile of the target
  • Framing: Implicit reference points guide behaviours. Jargon often locks in a system that puts the customer at a distance. What about a customer called a ‘marketing target’? When an insurance company talks about a ‘claims file’, doesn’t it forget about the insured? Conversely, talking about ‘guest’ rather than ‘customer’ is not an innocent choice in the hospitality business. The choice of words in internal communication implies the place of the customer and their relationship contract with the employees: do you talk about the ‘buying experience’ or ‘selling ceremony’ to your salespeople? Words always betray a default orientation. Internal communication, by changing the framework of representations, has the power to change usage.
  • Familiarity bias: Repeated exposure creates the illusion of knowledge. ‘We know our customers well, as we are with them every day’, salespeople may say. However, such knowledge is often partial at best, and is based on what the customers say, not what they don’t say (willingly or not). It is possible to make teams achieve ‘what they don’t know they don’t know’ through playful challenges involving real customers, as long as the customer does not remain the ‘property’ or responsibility of a single department. In order to act on the collective’s customer culture, it is the employee’s desire to know more about the person who keeps the company alive that must be played on.

Beyond these examples, we have mapped many other components of company gravity. Their influence varies according to the company’s culture or departments audited: ego bias, overconfidence, social norms, emotional bias, relationship traps… Knowing which ones are at play in your own organisation is often a first step towards transformation. Indeed, in order to put oneself in the client’s shoes, one must first learn to leave one’s own.

The second step is to set the organisation in motion, starting with behaviours, because words are not enough. By establishing simple rituals, a favourable working environment, and customer-oriented default processes with employees, it is possible to have a lasting effect on company gravity.

By Richard Bordenave LinkedIn, CEO APAC of BVA Nudge-Unit