Building a Customer-Centric Culture: Five Lessons Learned

Disrupt or be disrupted" is Donna Morris's rallying cry. From abolishing Adobe's annual performance reviews to dramatically expanding its family leave policy, she has set the industry agenda while making Adobe a great place to work. In her role as executive vice president of customer and employee experience, she leads the product, customer service and technical support experience for all Adobe products, in addition to all aspects of human resources and the workplace.

Donna sits on the board of directors for the Society for Human Resource Management and the Adobe Foundation. She is also a member of the Fordham University Parents Council and mentors with C100, a nonprofit that supports Canadian technology entrepreneurship.  

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, put on the headset and had a front-row seat for Adobe's customer experience.

It was an experience that stays with me… I heard a fair amount of frustration that day—but who calls customer support when they are happy? However, I also heard 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. We had started off at a deficit because we sold our products through channel partners. That meant we did not have a direct relationship with the customer. As our business model has evolved, we now have a platform for a direct customer relationship.

I certainly did not expect that we would combine HR (the employee experience) with Customer Support (the customer experience) back in 2012. It might sound like an odd pairing, but customers and employees are the two groups of people who drive business success.

Employees have the power to transform a customer's perception from loathe to love. We've all seen it firsthand in interactions with companies. Think about a retail employee who saves the holiday by sending a new gift when the original order is lost in transit—that interaction stays with us.

Research shows that when employees have high levels of engagement in their roles, they will invest more effort into providing a quality experience. This means we, as HR leaders, need to play a larger part in the customer experience.

We recently hit the one-year mark since we formed the Customer and Employee Experience group at Adobe, and we've been experimenting with ways to evolve our culture to put customers more at the center. We still have a long way to go, but here are five changes we've made to get employees engaged with customers' challenges, and the lessons we've learned along the way.

Set your organization up for success. We formed the Customer and Employee Experience organization with the belief that people—customers and employees—are the most important assets to our company.  We wanted to ensure we had one team dedicated to  attraction, retention and success across the company—for customers and employees. We also wanted to take all that we had learned in creating a great place to work for employees and apply those practices to make Adobe an exceptional company for our customers.

Share the customer experience. That visit to the call center fundamentally changed my team. We needed to put every one of our employees into that "hot seat" so they would take action, too. It really started with awareness. We installed mini call center environments at our sites, called Customer Listening Centers, so people could listen to customer calls. We also gave visibility to the top issues that customers were having with our products by posting the most pressing ones on our intranet site for everyone to see. In addition, we included a recording of frustrated customer calls right next to each posted issue.  

Develop empathy to drive action. It's not enough to know there are problems; your employees need to walk a mile in your customers' shoes. They have to live it. For us, that meant getting employees from across the organization—from engineers to administrators to legal pros—to use our products to provide feedback to the teams. We do this through "Experience-athons," where we get our product teams to lead employees in completing various tasks while using our products. It's helpful in getting employees to understand the products and provide real user feedback before products are released. So far we've held 60 Experience-athons across 13 products and services reaching 1,600 employees this past year.

Make it easy. We realized that our employees had feedback about our products and services, but did not know what to do with this information. We created a "Report an Issue" form where employees could submit their issue, and our team routes it to the right person in the company. It takes the guess work and time investment out of the equation so that people can take action.

Incent progress. As HR professionals, we realize the importance of incentives to drive behavior—linking pay with performance. To incent employees to take action to improve customer experience we added it as a metric in our annual short-term incentive program. Customer experience goals are set by each business leader, and we showcase how we're doing against those metrics each quarter. We also expanded our program participation to all employees, unless they participate in a sales incentives plan. The new incentive plan provides all employees with an opportunity to focus and share in the success (or challenges) with the customer experience.

These changes have helped build a foundation for solid progress, but this is a journey. There's always more you can do to delight your customers, and even the best companies never stop evolving. Given our role leading the employee experience, we all have the opportunity to take a look at the role we play in supporting business success through our strategies.


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