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Tips for Building a Customer-Centric Culture

By Academy Xi

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In the age of the customer, ‘Business As Usual’ is not enough.

Ask almost any CEO, and they will say that becoming a customer-centric organisation is a top priority. But ask how they plan to achieve that goal, and things get a lot murkier. 

Why? Because customer-centric transformations are hard. And unlike other change programs, they need to be driven from within, or grassroots culture will never shift at scale. 

Join Mark Cameron (CEO, W3.Digital) and Eric Lutley (Head of Partnerships, Academy Xi) as they discuss what tips, trends, challenges and solutions they are seeing in-market right now.

In this webinar you will learn:

  • Which levers can drive customer-centric change, at an individual, team, and organisational level
  • How even the most established institutions can rethink how they collaborate across the ecosystem to improve the customer experience
  • What tools you can immediately put in place to make for a more customer-centric culture

Academy Xi Blog

EdConnect Case Study

By Academy Xi

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When empathy isn’t a given: Department of Education on redesigning relationships [Case Study]

Completing the unit on time while bandaging scraped knees? A teacher’s everyday job. Answering 3,000 calls a day and managing 60,000 queries a month from every school across NSW? An EdConnector’s remit. When communication lags and empathy dissolves between the two parties, few problems get solved. 

That’s where Service Design and Customer-Centricity come in handy. 

EdConnect (part of NSW Department of Education) hired Academy Xi to help enhance communication and build empathy between its Help Desk staff and teachers across NSW. Instantly effective, the training was then scaled across the entire EdConnect organisation. 

The Department of Education’s roll-out of the SAP finance system was a decision that impacted all NSW public schools. As EdConnect solves technical issues and gives expert advice to schools in critical financial areas, they were a core player in the roll-out. 

EdConnect staff provide advice in areas like accounts payable, accounts receivable, transactional banking, assets, master data, and taxation. If it’s a complex issue, the call goes to an internal expert in one of these areas and those teams will resolve the issue with the customer and the school. With four contact centre locations in Bathurst, Newcastle, Wollongong, and Parramatta, EdConnect contact centres receive around 60,000 inquiries a month and roughly between 3K-4K calls a day. 

This can lead to a lot of frustration if communication isn’t efficient. 

What EdConnect needed from teachers was patience and understanding, and to see that admin weren’t a “jack-of-all-trades,” capable of waving a magic wand to solve all problems on the spot. 

“There are a number of ways schools can help things run as smoothly as possible, such as ensuring correct processes are followed and working together with the EdConnect team to get the support they need,” said Reece Mahoney, Director of the EdConnect Contact Centre. “What would be great for the schools before they call is if they’d advise of what they’ve already tried, whether they’ve looked at a handbook or an online guide, just advise what they’ve tried and what’s failed, and then we can get straight to the problem quicker for them.”

Meanwhile, teachers needed the same thing from EdConnect staff. With countless activities, responsibilities, and tasks to balance every day at school, they needed EdConnectors to appreciate the urgency of their issues and the time it might take for them to adopt EdConnect’s recommendations.

On both sides, receiving and supplying what was needed required a substantial amount of mutual understanding, and that’s where Academy Xi stood out as the perfect fit for the job. 

As part of their “Embedding Empathy” project, the EdConnect team and NSW schools used Xi’s help to increase empathy and understanding between individuals and teams. 

Part one of the training resulted in the creation of a Playbook outlining more human-centred behaviour to be adopted within the EdConnect team. An online booklet, flashcards and videos with practical tips were also developed for the team. 

 Part two involved scaling the initiative across EdConnect and all its departments, with rapid training programs designed to be self-sustaining once Academy Xi had finished its work. 

Digging into the problem

After 37 hours of research across eight different locations—which included desktop research, market and competitor research, customer interviews, stakeholder interviews, and contextual inquiries—Academy Xi helped EdConnectors and teachers unearth five major insights about their relationships and goals:

  1. Empathy is about balancing the needs of all customers.
  2. EDConnectors want synergy, not silos.
  3. An EDConnect interaction is part of a broader customer journey.
  4. Internal networks are seen as the easier option.
  5. Change is a constant for EDConnect and schools.

Staff on both sides discovered that there was a “lack of understanding and clarity on how teams can work together” and that many team members were “reluctant to adopt changes due to technology gaps and the volume of change.” They were able to dispel certain biases, such as the common refrain from teachers that “If I call [the centre], it’s going to take a while,” and instead show teachers that “99.9% of people want to do the best by the customer.” 

Co-designing a solution

The goal of the project was twofold: 1) Create a Way of Working (WoW) framework that supported individuals to think and work more collaboratively and 2) Use this framework to drive empathy across the organisation.

For this particular task, co-design was the obvious choice. 

“Co-design allows for the design approach to take place with stakeholders and business representatives, rather than alongside,” says Eric Lutley, Academy Xi’s Head of Partnerships. “When we work closely with an organisation to embed the design approach, capability is continuously built over the life of a project. This capability remains in-house long after we have departed ensuring the long-term success of the project. Importantly, this also allows the project to run at a much faster pace and decreases the need for a lengthy sign-off process.” 

What’s more, co-design means the long-term benefits will be even greater.  

“Having people in the organisation who have experienced the journey and understand in detail each decision point, we naturally created an internal group of people who championed the benefits of the project and will support it post go-live,” Faoro says. “Co-design also ensured that any outcomes not only align to the needs of our customers but also the strategies of the organisation.” 

Mapping different perspectives

As part of the Service Design Thinking process, teams created EDConnect Personas, which were workshopped using a behavioural matrix based on findings from the research across the various EDConnect teams. The behaviours were grouped and mapped, and aligned to the following axis:

  1. Individuals who value fixed processes vs. individuals who seek alternative ways of doing things
  1. Individuals concerned about change vs. individuals with a positive regard for change

Part of the power of this exercise was to show that Personas are not a one-size-fits-all classification, and individuals within the organisation may not resonate strongly with one specific persona. 

“They are there as a broad consideration point to ensure you think about a new approach from multiple perspectives and how it would be perceived or adopted by different audiences,” Faoro explains.

Creating Personas is an exercise in empathy itself, as it leads teams to rethink the preconceived notions they might have about certain groups or individuals and to, somewhat ironically, resist the urge to throw all individuals into one category or another.    

Using human-centred tools

With the help of Academy Xi, the EdConnect Team created a Playbook containing Tools, Templates & Plays that specifically helped EDConnectors overcome frustrations within the organisation. 

The Playbook contained the new EDConnect Way of Working (WoW) capabilities, including the Tools & Plays that would help embed those capabilities across the organisation, forming the future of EDConnect’s service design. 

For instance, to facilitate the “Achieving Service Excellence & Innovation Through Human-Centred Design” capability, participants were directed to do the following:

  1. Create a succinct set of Way of Working capabilities that align to the Way of Working strategy and framework as well as to the broader Public Sector Capability Framework and ecosystem.
  1. Create a set of practical, future-focused Performance Criteria for each capability at three levels of performance: Foundational, Intermediate, and Advanced.

These initial activities then led to two key sets of capabilities: the “Be”s and the “Do”s. 

  1. “Be” Capabilities: A higher-order set of mindsets that overarch all company operations, these capabilities allowed staff to support, practise, and apply certain behaviours in projects, everyday activities, and interactions, helping the organisation move progressively toward a human-centred culture and build its capacity to achieve human-centred outcomes and innovations.
  1. “Do” Capabilities: A set of practical skills specific to a human-centred design methodology, these skills allow staff to conduct activities throughout the double-diamond framework, and are used in tandem with “Be” capabilities. 

In addition to the Playbook, EdConnectors participated in a Training the Trainers program called “Walk in My Shoes,” which reinforced the goals of delivering a new Way of Working, learning new capabilities, and embodying a human-centred mindset.

Transforming communication 

EDConnectors and schools reported substantial gains in empathy and inter-team communication as a result of the Embedding Empathy project. 

One key to the project’s success was direct, face-to-face communication between EdConnectors and teachers. Directly connecting with actual school staff gave EdConnectors a new-found perspective and enthusiasm for their clients, and schools reported being highly engaged and gaining appreciation for EDConnect’s approach.

“Quantitative data does not paint a picture,” one EdConnector said. “The stories [schools] painted for us was the most powerful outcome.”

Reflecting on the program outcomes, another participant reported, “Importantly, the staff were not just telling the stories from the schools that they visited—they also described how it made them feel.”

Academy Xi provided a “comfortable learning environment” that allowed EdConnect participants to be “very collaborative when creating the empathy map and school profiles.”

As an added benefit, engaged participants went on to engage and inspire others who hadn’t been involved in the training directly. For that reason, selecting the right participants was also a key to program success, and to self-sustaining, continued training within the organisation.

If empathy builds trust, then trust promotes clear communication. Whether it’s juggling phone calls or lesson plans, both EdConnectors and teachers now feel well-equipped to handle problems that arise on a daily basis. Academy Xi showed up with the right tools for the job, but it was the trainees who empowered themselves to solve their own problems in the future.  

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Academy Xi Blog

Design Thinking for innovation? Yes please.

By Academy Xi

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More than just a process and a set of tools and frameworks, Design Thinking is a mindset that simplifies complex problems by putting yourself in your users’ shoes.

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By conducting research, constant innovation and iteration till you come up with something completely new, its main goal is developing innovative and creative solutions for complex issues.

Issues that are otherwise tough to solve using traditional ways of thinking.

Contrary to what you might think, it’s not the stuff of and for Designers alone. A growing number of strategists, leaders, managers and innovation specialists are turning to Design Thinking to gain a fresh perspective and come up with out-of-the-box solutions.

Integrating Design Thinking into business processes has a lot of benefits: increased ROI, faster time-to-market, improved work culture, reduced development and testing related costs, to name a few.

In fact, 9 out of 10 forward-thinking companies are expected to increase their investments and resources in design-thinking-related activities in the coming years (source).

There’s been books written about its contribution in other industries, TedTalks discussing its importance, and a podcast featuring change-makers and design thinkers. More so it’s been at the forefront of driving social innovation for years.

But what exactly is Design Thinking and how has it helped brands like Uber, AirBNB, Pepsi, and GE innovate products and improve how their teams operate?

Here’s a list of organisations (and products!) that have harnessed the power of Design Thinking and have created a culture of innovation in their teams:

1. Airbnb

The moment you Google “design thinking examples”, this is probably on the top of the list. And there’s a reason for it:  the company was on the verge of bankruptcy earning less than 200 dollars a week in 2009 and they discovered one simple problem: potential customers are not booking rooms because they can’t see what they’re paying for. Joe Gebbia, one of the founders learned about Design Thinking from the Rhode Island School of Design and thought that they have to put themselves in the shoes of their customers.

The founders embarked on a journey, rented a camera, spent time in their customers’ homes, and took photos of the properties themselves. This is where the first step in the Design Thinking process comes to life: empathy. Airbnb has now made its name as one of the most successful startups in the tourism industry, thanks to Design Thinking. The company reported an $859 million revenue by the end of last year—a long way from the $200 per week they were raking in before switching gears.

2. PepsiCo

PepsiCo’s CEO Indra Nooyi put Design Thinking in the center of the company’s innovation strategy when she led the business in 2012. From hiring a chief design officer, to the creation of more health-oriented products, to how they look in store shelves, and to how consumers interact with the products after buying it—they have reaped the benefits of putting “design” in every important business decision.

Pepsi ImagesThe Pepsi Spire that lets users personalise their favorite brands and allowing for a more emotional, user-centred experience (Source)

Products like Pepsi Spire (that let you personalise your favorite pepsi brands) and Mountain Dew Kickstart were created through Design Thinking processes. This is more apparent in the case of the latter, by making women ‘kickstart’ their day with its slim-can design and lower calorie content.

Nooyi emphasises however that good design is not all about how a something looks but, from a company perspective, adapting and offering consumers true and honest choices.

3. UberEATS

UberEATS believes in three things to solve its complex logistical issues: deep immersions, quick iterations, and constant non-stop innovation.

Learning a city’s food culture, studying transportation and logistical infrastructures, and interacting with delivery partners, restaurant workers, and consumers, are just some of the immersive activities that UberEATS is doing to address its logistical challenges. With constant innovation through rapid field testing, team experiments and quick iterations through “innovation workshops”, the company is also able to replicate and improve design processes as efficiently as possible.

4. Not-for-profit and Public Service projects

Not only does Design Thinking apply to for-profit organisations but to not-for-profits too.

In Cambodia, access to affordable sanitation is a big problem. Through Design Thinking processes, The Easy Latrine was developed by the International Development Enterprises which provided affordable and sustainable latrine designs that made household sanitation easier and healthier in Cambodia.

In response to a growing concern in the transformation of its public food services, design company Hatch & Bloom used Design Thinking to shift The Good Kitchen’s employees’ perception of themselves and their work, resulting in a 500% increase in orders and customers. Through prototyping, design workshops, and direct user insights and dialogues, it won the Local Government Denmark Prize for Innovation in 2009.

5. GE Healthcare

Healthcare company GE utilised the Design Thinking process to revolutionise high-tech medical imaging systems, resulting in a $18 billion revenue. They had one challenge: how do you create a CT, X-Ray, and MRI scanning procedures that children will love?

GE did this by observing and gaining empathy for young children at a daycare center, talked to specialists, experts from local children’s museums, doctors, nurses and staff from hospitals. This gave birth to the first prototype of GE’s “Adventure Series” scanner that was piloted in the University of Pittsburgh’s Children’s Hospital. Patient satisfaction went up 90%, children did not report anxiety, and this also minimised the need for additional resources in the scanning room.

Scan MachineGE’s Adventure Room and its Adventure Series scanner (GE-Adventure Series – The Adventure Room, Source)

Design-centricity and Design Thinking in practice does not refer to a concentration on designers or the abundance of them. But rather, companies and organisations that use and benefit from good design, emphasising user-centricity through empathy, and fostering a culture of innovation. 

If you’re looking for practical Design Thinking training with mentor support and classmate collaboration, check out our 12-week Design Thinking for Innovation course

Academy Xi Blog

Why most customer-centric problems aren’t about the customer

By Academy Xi

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As more organisations acknowledge customer-centricity as a business imperative, the barriers that stand in its way are set to be dismantled. These barriers are rarely presented by the customer and are more often the result of internal organisational friction. Read on to get our take on:

  • The internal dynamics that often hamper well-meaning organisational customer-centric efforts
  • Why the silo effect still exists and the practical methods you can use to break down silos to benefit your customer
  • Why EX (employee experience) is a crucial part of any customer-centricity strategy
  • How to lay the right foundations for broad-scale, consistent organisational customer-centricity

Moving from strategy to operationalisation.

A lot of energy can be spent developing a customer-centric strategy. The thing about strategy is that it is just that. Shifting from strategising to operationalisation is a key part of any business’ realisation of customer-centricity. Like anything operational, the key is to get everyone on the same page. It is at this point that executives need to establish and reaffirm a shared vision of customer-centricity to the whole business. This is also the time to get very clear on what this looks like for your business. Questions like ‘What is happening when someone is being customer-centric?’ and ‘How do we reward this?’ should be understood by everyone. At Academy Xi, we believe in establishing a ‘Customer-Centricity Playbook’, a tangible product that everyone has a copy of. Lay it out clearly, no ambiguity. 

Working in silos: still the major barrier

Despite being coined 35 years ago, the ‘silo effect’ still hinders the way we work in various ways. At its worst, the silo effect results in a customer perceiving an organisation to be disjointed, dysfunctional and incompetent. This is often the result of different parts of the business having their own, incomplete view of a customer. This ‘broken’ perspective frequently leads to the customer being serviced poorly or misunderstood. 

The fix is in the flow of information across your organisation. The Harvard Business Review calls this “Democratising Customer Insights”. For example, if your customer service team hears a certain complaint from customers, what levers do you have in place for that information to reach the problem-area? How critical is it to that specific team to solve the issue? Or are they disincentivised to step in as they are ‘better off’ working towards the KPIs they have in place to measure their performance?

Where is the best place to start in addressing silo mentality? Blueprint your organisation. In the Human-Centred Design world, this is the specialty of Service Designers. Develop a “current state” and “future state” blueprint to assess your gaps. From there you can start to align organizational priorities, communications, workstreams and reward systems to reinforce the importance of long-term customer-centricity.

Not just departmental silos: The hierarchical gap

Poor communication between your executive suite and customer-facing teams can lead to a disconnect between strategy and execution. While C-level is responsible for the overarching strategy, your customer-service teams have the real-world insights. How does Xi go about bridging the gap? We use training to teach both sides how to employ customer-centric tools, and then bring them together to air, share and communicate their respective findings.

For instance, frontline teams can use their customer knowledge to create artefacts like empathy maps and personas, while execs focus their attention on service blueprints. The magic? Bringing them together so each can share their work with the other.

Minimise the distance between what could be done and what is being done. 

Organisations have typically been built on layers of process, procedure and systems. This can be a thorny, complicated web for your staff to navigate when they’re trying to put their customer first. With only 38% of American consumers saying that the employees they interact with understand their needs (PwC), there is an enormous opportunity for businesses here if they can peel back existing processes, procedures, metrics and systems and assess whether they still serve their customer mission. 

Ultimately, you want to empower your people to make impactful, customer-centred decisions – and remove the impediments that stand in their way. For example, if your frontline staff have KPIs designed to limit their time on a customer call, you may actually be stopping them from delivering a good experience.

When data is a problem

Despite the growing availability of rich customer data, many organisations don’t have the capacity to analyse it and drive lasting customer-centric change. The key here is having enough structure in place to manage it meaningfully. Getting this right will enable businesses to use what they’ve learned about customers to their advantage. 

When CX is prioritised over EX (Employee Experience)

When employees are empowered and enjoy their work, the customer wins. It’s a concept we all inherently understand but one that is often overlooked at a strategic level. Businesses that excel in CX have employees that are 1.5 times more engaged than businesses with poorer CX ratings (Forbes). This is never more pronounced than with customer-facing teams. Interacting with satisfied customers not only makes for a better day for your customer service rep, but it also reaffirms that the business is doing good work overall. Happy staff > satisfied customers > increased ROI.

Could you use some help creating a “Customer Centricity Playbook” or blueprinting the service processes for your organisation? Get in touch.

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