How do we train our teams to think with a customer-centric mindset?

Top 3 CX Questions, Part 1

How do we train our teams to think with a customer-centric mindset?

How do we train our teams to think with a customer-centric mindset? 2400 2149 Diana Sonis

We field a lot of strategic and tactical customer experience (CX) and user experience (UX) questions. Sometimes they’re from perspective or existing clients; sometimes from colleagues at conferences probing deeper into our methods and tools. 

Over the years, we began noticing a pattern. One way or another, these questions are a variation of: 

  1. How do we understand our customers?
  2. How do we innovate?
  3. How do we train our teams to think with a customer-centric mindset?

Seemingly separate, these questions are intimately interconnected; one builds into the next. A surefire way to provide an excellent, holistic customer experience is to understand exactly how the above questions relate to one another. 

To start, let’s reorder the sequence of these questions to be: 

  1. How do we train our teams to think with a customer-centric mindset?
  2. How do we understand our customers?
  3. How do we innovate?

It’s a subtle change, but a necessary one.

Innovation is the result of understanding customer needs. Understanding customer needs is the result of putting together a team that consistently keeps customers’ needs in mind when creating solutions. Each builds on the last. The result is a customer experience program that is strategic as well as tactical. 

Since your internal team’s mindset and skill set are the foundation for understanding customers and, subsequently, innovating solutions – we’ll start there.

How do we train our teams to think with a customer-centric mindset?

There are a lot of approaches to train your employees to think customer-first. Over the years, we’ve tried them all, taken the best parts of each, and created our own customer-centric framework we apply with our customers. 

Training teams to think customer-first involves exercising empathy and creating a proactive workflow that will correctly identify real customer issues and solve them before they become “fires.” This seems straightforward, but cultivating these two foundational team skills takes time. 

Empathy, for example, is an innate skill for most humans that weakens if not practiced. Likewise, creating a workflow that preempts problems before they become emergencies requires a consistent team commitment to understanding customers before brainstorming solutions.  

Here are some approaches we recommend.

Weekly Team Sessions

This training approach could be in-person (or zoom!) weekly team check-in sessions. Each session is built around guiding the team to run actual work challenges and proposed solutions through our customer-first framework, and training them to employ human-centered principles in real time.

We’ve found this format is best suited for either distinct existing teams (i.e. product, marketing, sales, etc.), or cross-functional teams formed for the specific purpose of improving customer experience within the business. In the case of cross-functional teams, we’ve worked with groups of employees who are spending 100% of their time within this team, or employees who are devoting a portion of their time while also performing daily tasks within other groups. 

The key here is, consistent, ongoing, and hands-on practice with proven customer experience methods and tools. Over time, we’ve observed, each team member begins to clearly demonstrate a customer-first thought process when tackling work (and often life) related challenges and solutions.

This approach often requires a commitment to scheduled check-ins because let’s face it, changing your thought process takes time. 

Sprint Framework

Another effective way to train teams to think customer-first is to create a sprint-like program around a project.

Here, we guide cross-functional teams to gather, interact, and learn from one another. This is a shorter, higher-level, learning opportunity akin to a course at a university. Participants are usually selected by their team managers to participate, and are expected to bring knowledge back into their respective teams. 

Company-Wide Learning Sessions

Finally, we’ve also done a series of company-wide presentations with employees attending conference-like sessions. Afterwards, all participants practice in post-session, relevant practice activities, and use the learnings within their separate spheres.

This, we found, is a less effective way to train your teams to think customer-first mainly because there’s a lot of information to take in, and a lot of practice required to internalize the customer-first mindset. With this approach, there simply isn’t enough time. 

Whichever method you choose, the important thing here is that you choose something. Real life provides challenges and obstacles to any ideal business scenario. As long as you act intentionally to move your teams’ mindset towards customer centricity, you’re turning the needles of innovation.

About the author

Diana Sonis

Diana is a passionate believer in holistic, 360 strategy and design, with extensive expertise in UX Design, CX Design, Service Design, and the Design Thinking methodology.

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