Building a Customer-centric Culture – Five Lessons Learned

The first time I listened to a customer call was in September 2012. My leadership team was in Utah for a site visit, and we stopped by one of our customer support call centers. I sat with a customer rep, pulled on the headset and had a front row seat for Adobe’s customer support experience.

It was an experience that struck a chord with me. I heard a fair amount of frustration that day – but, it’s rare that someone calls customer support when they’re a satisfied customer. That said, I also heard sincere appreciation when the customer’s problem was resolved. After the experience, I left committed to do my part to help make Adobe’s customer experience world-class.

The fact that we previously sold our products through channel partners for a long time meant they had the relationships with the customers. We had key opportunities in the relationship with our customers when our business model changed, allowing us to build strong, direct relationships.

I certainly did not expect, back in 2012, that we would combine HR (the employee experience) with Customer Support (the customer experience). It might sound like an odd pairing at first but not when you consider that employees have the power to transform a customer’s perception from loathe to like. We’ve seen it in our personal interactions with companies. Think about the retail employee who saves the holiday by scrambling to send a new gift when the original order is lost in transit. That interaction stays with us.

It also stays with the employee as a sense of accomplishment and pride. We’ve learned through research that when employees have high levels of engagement in their roles, they invest more effort into providing a quality experience. It points to an opportunity for HR leaders to play a larger part in the customer experience.

In the years since we formed the Customer and Employee Experience group at Adobe, we’ve continually worked on ways to put customers at the center. Here are five things we’ve done to help employees better engage with and resolve customers’ challenges and the lessons we’ve learned along the way:

  1. Set your org up for success. We formed the Customer and Employee Experience organization with the belief that people – customers and employees – are the company’s most important assets. We wanted to ensure there was a team focused on their success. We also sought to take all that we had learned about making Adobe a great place to work for employees and apply it to making Adobe an exceptional company for our customers.
  2. Share the customer experience. My team needed to experience firsthand what I had experienced during that first call center visit. To build awareness, we installed mini call center environments at our sites called Customer Listening Centers so people can listen into customer calls. We also give visibility into the top issues customers are having with our products by posting them on our intranet site for everyone to see. We also include a recording of a frustrated customer call right next to it.
  3. Develop empathy. Employees have a chance to walk a mile in our customers’ shoes through “Experience-athons,” where we get our product teams to lead them in solving various product tasks. It helps employees understand the products and also provides an opportunity for them to provide real user feedback before products are released. So far we’ve held 70 Experience-athons across 18 products and services reaching 2,400 employees.
  4. Make it easy. We have a “Report an Issue” form where employees can submit feedback on products and services to a team that then routes the information to the right person in the company. It takes time and guess work out of the equation so that people can take action quickly and efficiently.
  5. Incent progress. A metric added to our annual short-term incentive program encourages employees to routinely improve the customer experience and share in the program’s overall success. Customer experience goals are set by each business leader and we showcase how we’re doing against those metrics each quarter.

These changes have helped build a solid foundation but this is a journey. There’s always more you can do to delight your customers, and even the best companies never stop evolving. Good luck with your journey to align your employee and customer experiences.

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