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Customer-Centered Culture (C3)


Customer-Centered Culture (C3) is a system for aligning

strategic direction and operational practices of an organization

to satisfy customer priorities and engage employees to excel.

The C3 system includes Philosophy, a defined model for transformation called 8 Dimensions of Excellence (8DX), Measures of Success, and a Voice of the Customer Methodology not found elsewhere.  Everything we do is built on this foundation.  The system is quick to learn, easy to apply and durable to build upon and integrate with any other excellence-building efforts you have in place.

Voice of the Customer Methodology – The Taste of an Orange

We are under no illusion that such a concise description truly explains much about C3.  Providing an adequate answer to “what is C3?” is a bit like how you might respond if someone asked, “How would you describe the taste of an orange?” to someone who had never even heard of it. You might talk about it as a fruit, where it is grown, its color, how it compares to related citrus fruits, its shape, its chemical and nutritional properties and its uses. Will the person you told this to now understand the taste of an orange? Sadly, no. In fact, that taste cannot be meaningfully described. It must be experienced. So it is with C3, our Voice of the Customer Methodology, and the answer here. In other words, I can explain it to you but I can’t understand it for you.

This taste-of-the-orange scenario is precisely the challenge we have had when asked to describe customer-centered culture (C3) practices. Sure, we can say those practices involve fully understanding the answers to critically important questions like the following:Customer-Centered Culture

  • Why do we exist, for what purpose?
  • What we do?
  • Why do we do it?
  • Who we do it for?
  • What do they want?
  • Why do they want it?
  • How well do and could we deliver on those wants?
  • How can success be measured, especially when expectations are squishy and seem immeasurable?
  • What are the main barriers to organizational transformation?
  • How do we create innovative, sustainable new successes we never thought were possible?
  • What are effective ways to win over the non-believers?
  • How can we enjoy and thrive, not just survive, as Master of Excellence?

We may believe we already know the answers and that they are just common sense. Just as the orange we aren’t familiar with may sound like the taste of a tangerine we know and love. In both cases, we are likely wrong. Remember that we often talk about common sense when referring to someone who doesn’t have it.  As we work together, we will get to the point where we actually have that common sense. When we do, we’ll want to be patient with those not there. They will have to go through some version, albeit with less detail, of the same process we will pursue for mastery. Only through experiential learning will these answers be revealed. The first step will be to become clear about what we don’t know. The goal is to know that we know, articulating and modeling the practices so others will follow.

C3 (pronounced see 3) is short for Customer-Centered Culture

Rob Lawton first coined C3 in his 1993 book, Creating a Customer-Centered Culture: Leadership in Quality, Innovation & Speed, published by Quality Press. He created C3 as a systems approach to organizational transformation. C3 is a pragmatic, powerful and unique way to link the Voice of the Customer (VOC) with your organization’s success.  He broadens and deepens the topic in his 2017 book, Mastering Excellence: A Leader’s Guide to Aligning Strategy, Culture, Customer Experience and Measures of Success.

Our Voice of the Customer Methodology, C3, starts with the assumption that rapid cultural transformation becomes possible only when a new set of beliefs is adopted. The transformation is then sustained by using new measures of excellence. Our C3 Voice of the Customer tools help you deploy and support the new culture.

C3 works first to change beliefs fast. Not many are eager to begin questioning or challenging closely held beliefs. Those beliefs may include Vital Lies (assumptions that constrain excellence), innovation and customer-centeredness. So every C3-based program involves the provocative, engaging use of humor to examine the laughable but real absurdities of current organizational behavior. It is well-established that our ability to laugh at our foibles reduces resistance to alternative or new views.

The second step is to replace internally focused, producer-centered thinking with an alternative: customer-centered thinking. This is accomplished not by telling you and your audience what to think. Every C3 program (whether a keynote address, strategic planning session, executive briefing, workshop or interactive game) uses a process of experiential discovery. It results in participants achieving new but predictable insights into the degree to which:

  • Customer priorities are really known (or unknown)
  • Performance measures address what customers care about most (or least)
  • We understand who “the customer” really is
  • Strategic objectives are consistent with customer values
  • The voice of the customer is anticipated, captured, understood and acted upon
  • Continuous improvement is mistaken for innovation (better candles vs. light bulbs)
  • High leverage opportunities have been identified (vs. just low hanging fruit)

The above elements set the stage for you to decide whether or not to put C3 to further work for you. If these initial insights require no further response, do nothing more. You will have at least been entertained with fresh, innovative thinking about how to better satisfy customers and profit by it. Certainly, you will have a more intimate understanding of what C3 is than can be conveyed here.

On the other hand, if the need is sufficient and the readiness to really achieve transformation exists, we will work to design a modular or phased deployment plan with you. In any event, you will have a working understanding by this point of where your organizational and customer needs can be best addressed.

Customer-Centered Culture (C3) Is…

  1. A jargon-free integration of past and emerging best practices, infused with a pervasive customer focus.
  2. A conceptual reframing that improves alignment of organization objectives and measures with customer priorities. Emphasis is on achieving improvement in desired outcomes first, internal processes last. (See Steps 1-4 vs. 9 of the 10 Steps to Customer-Centered Excellence).
  3. A set of management principles, especially relevant for:
    • Organizations engaged in knowledge or service work
    • Any enterprise: for-profit, public and not-for-profit
    • Leaders of transformation and change management, managers, professionals, key contributors
  4. A transformation deployment strategy designed to produce 5:1> returns on investment and measurably improved customer satisfaction over the first 18 months of deployment.
  5. Over forty tools that are easy to use. These tools enable users to:
    • Prioritize the right issues to achieve biggest improvement in both customer satisfaction and organizational performance
    • Establish a common transformation language that is unambiguous
    • Align organization strategy and measures with customer priorities
    • Organize and manage projects that produce compelling results
    • Capture the voice of the customer
    • Uncover unspoken customer priorities
    • Measure the seemingly immeasurable (expectations, values, behaviors, outcomes)
    • Design innovative products and services customers love
    • Shorten response time or process cycle time by 50% and more

C3 Philosophy

8 Dimensions of Excellence

The visual description of (a) relationships among key concepts, (b) voice of the customer and customer experience (above the line) versus voice of the producer (below the line), (c)  the sequence in which each topic should be addressed to achieve excellence, and (d) areas of performance to measure and set goals for improvement.

Measures of Success

Translation of intent and priorities Into balanced, objective criteria for success

The Need for Customer-Centered Culture (C3)

A common assumption about organizational improvement is that the use of new tool(s) will achieve a competitive advantage. That has often lead to programs such as reengineering, TQM, teamwork, lean, benchmarking, cycle time reduction, customer relationship management, process improvement, ISO, Theory of Constraints and, most recently, Six Sigma. While each of these initiatives has offered value, the following are some of their most common weaknesses:

  • Application is most relevant for manufacturing and production operations, difficult to apply to knowledge, service and creative work
  • Little or nothing is done to help the alignment between organization strategy and customer priorities
  • Significant implementation costs are incurred with no guarantee or limited evidence of ROI
  • Process improvement may occur without any measured impact on customer-desired outcomes, satisfaction or sustainable innovation
  • New skills are acquired but no fundamental change in thinking, behavior or culture occurs; vital lies remain sacred and unchallenged
Customer-Centered Culture

A forest ecosystem is a community formed by plants and animals of that particular area that interact with the chemical and physical features of the environment in which they live.   C3 is a system that includes Philosophy, a defined model for transformation called 8 Dimensions of Excellence (8DX), Measures of Success, and a Methodology.   Everything works together seamlessly with the goal of satisfying your customer and your organization.