One question we hear often, especially during times of crisis, is:
What is the one human-centered practice I can implement in my organization now to create the most impact?
With HCD having such a robust toolkit, the answer potential seems endless. Yet, there is one critical practice we turn to time and again. It doesn’t cost tons of money, nor does it take years to implement. What it does take is some good, old-fashioned discipline and focus. Sounds doable for a curious and passionate business, right?
So, what is this magical Human-Centered practice?
Ensuring the people in your organization speak a shared, customer-first language.
By developing a shared, customer-first language you reorient company communications to be more human-centered. Your teams become motivated around a shared value. The customer’s experience becomes everyone’s responsibility. Barriers between leaders, departments, and employees fall away. Efficiency and quality of experience increase. Best of all, when pitfalls and crises arise, your organization is ready to tackle them, together.
What is a shared, customer-first language?
A shared language “refers to people developing understanding amongst themselves based on language (e.g. spoken, text) to help them communicate more effectively.” In short, it’s a workplace language where people share an understanding of what spoken/written words mean.
A customer-first language is one that is spoken from the customer’s standpoint, putting the customer’s needs/wants at the forefront.
Thus, a shared, customer-first language is an agreed upon set of terms and phrases that take the customer point of view, and whose meaning is shared amongst all who use it.
Why do you need a shared, customer-first language?
Developing and using a shared, customer-first language within an organization not only ensures strategic alignment among different parts of the company, but also aligns brand image, builds trust, and creates brand ambassadors out of employees.
Having a shared, customer-first language removes the subjective, “What do I/my team get out of this?” thinking. It shifts employee mentality from “what do I get?” to “what do I give?”
Once employees are in a “what do I give?” mentality, there is a shared value created amongst everyone in the organization. Everybody is looking to help the customer succeed. Barriers to customer success, like holding on to old school, red-tape policies or siloed thinking, slide away.
This is especially true in a crisis. We’re seeing it now during the Coronavirus Pandemic. Companies who created a shared, customer-first language prior to the pandemic are reaping the rewards now that times are tough. Others, who haven’t, are struggling to find their footing.
Creating a shared, customer-first language
Several months ago, we were approached by a client who had an idea. As Director of Marketing, he was strategizing ways to increase customer acquisition while also ensuring higher customer retention. His idea was to differentiate the company’s Customer Experience, thereby securing a long-term competitive advantage in the mortgage space.
As you may have guessed, our recommendation is to start with creating a shared, customer-first language that will help the company’s employees provide a delightful, but uniform customer experience.
The first step we suggest in developing this language is to gain a clear understanding of the customer’s experience. In our example, we guided the marketing team to dig up insights from past research, as well as to gather new insights by interviewing customer facing co-workers and listening in on customer calls. We also instructed them in conducting different co-creation activities to spur additional insights and ideas into their customer’s experience.
With all that understanding at the surface, the second step was to document it. We guided the team in creating a visual customer journey map which revealed the customer’s current experience and highlighted the language customers used as they interacted with the company at various touch points.
A shared, customer-first language emerged from this two-step process.
Instead of thinking from a company-first perspective, team members began speaking as if THEY were the customer. Their innate empathy skills kicked in, and they were able to think outside of their internal solos to unearth further gaps and opportunities.
Better ideas emerged. More effective solutions surfaced. Progress was made.
But, that wasn’t where the value ended.
Using a shared, customer-first language
As the shared, customer-first language became the main language of the team, they started to use it elsewhere. They began by bringing larger teams together to dissect the current customer journey further.
Using the point of view of the customer, they spoke about and prioritized potential updates to their marketing and other customer-facing approaches throughout the company. They even began to rescript conversations employees were having with customers in order to better align the conversations’ priorities with customer expectations.
Also, by using this shared language, other departments were adding ideas to further develop the customer journey map and improve the customer’s experience within their own departments. Instead of feeling threatened by the marketing team, they felt invited in.
Best of all, this was all in play within a matter of weeks instead of months and years. And, it required very little, if any, additional monetary investment.
Yes, there are pitfalls
The process of developing your shared, customer-first language isn’t all roses. There are some clear pitfalls that can and will crop up.
In our marketing team example, we saw the downside of inviting too many people into the conversation before the shared language was fully developed.
In an attempt to be diplomatic, one marketer brought together all the stakeholders he thought needed to see the customer journey work they’ve been doing with us.
Although his intentions were good, he didn’t yet have a fully-fleshed out draft of the customer’s experience. This meant his customer-first language had some serious gaps.
With a smaller set of stakeholders, perhaps he could fill those gaps (and this is what we recommended), but with so many people in the room, the conversation went awry.
Keeping your shared, customer-first language alive
Another point we need to make clear, the development of your shared, customer-first language is never done.
You will quickly get to a point where you have initial customer language to support each step of your customer’s journey (with your flushed out customer journey map). But, like any language, a shared, customer-first language is a living, breathing entity.
What this means is that you and your team will be constantly on the lookout for new ways the customer is talking about and interacting with your company. Stay in touch with your customer-facing co-workers and speak to actual customers whenever possible to keep up.
It also means you need to frequently go to your customer journey map to update it any time new language or insights arise. By doing this you ensure that your customers are always in the room, and that your employees are empowered to make those customers successful interacting with your organization.
The dream of a shared, customer-first language realized
By now you understand how developing a shared, customer-first language reorients company communications to be more human-centered. You also see that by using this language a shared value between employees is created, and efficiencies and quality of experience increases.
Finally, you can see that by using your shared language as often as possible, and by keeping that language alive and well, you’ll realize lasting impact for times to come. Your organization becomes more Human-Centered, and much more resilient, even in the toughest of times.