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Tim Lyons on Cultural Shifts

QSR International’s Tim Lyons explains the role of leadership in driving customer centricity.

Moving to true customer centricity is one of the most significant change projects a business can undertake. It requires the right people, processes, and technology to know and meet customer needs, from awareness to advocacy.

Tim Lyons is Chief Marketing Officer at QSR International, a qualitative research software developer. In past roles, he managed mergers and acquisitions, and this experience has helped him understand the importance of the people aspect of the change-management equation.

QSR International’s CMO, Tim Lyons

“What you’re acquiring, along with all the goodness of the company, such as the product and the IP, are the people,” Lyons says.

“There is no guarantee that the company will gel with the acquiring side. Planning for either cultural assimilation or cultural cooperation shouldn’t be underestimated. But often, it plays second fiddle to the commercial outcomes of an acquisition.”

QSR International has recently experienced a broader cultural shift from a product-focused team to a customer-centric organization.

As with M&A change projects Lyons worked on, he has found culture can’t be ignored. “From my perspective, regardless of what the project is or whether it’s commercial or internal, culture is going to be influenced or be influential,” he says.

“The idea of any change-management project is to onboard many people who are cognisant of the change you’re trying to make. And it’s likely to drag with the negative sentiment if you’re not paying attention to how the organization works.”

Laying Down the Customer-Centric Roadmap

Leading a cultural change to move to customer-centricity starts at the personal level – step one is changing your thinking.

“The traditional role of a marketing organization has fundamentally changed,” Lyons says. Now, more than ever, marketers can’t assume “the way we’ve always done it” is an approach that will cut it.

“It would be very naive of us to assume that all our customers are homogeneous – that they look the same,” he says. “We need to acknowledge that our customers, as groups or individuals, are unique and expect to be treated in a particular way.”

In addition to knowing customers as individuals, leading a change-management project means you can’t assume how your organization will react internally.

Lyons says too many organizations ignore internal communications at the start of change projects. Usual avenues of communication may leave some people in the dark about the project and the aims of the change, and organizations need to move beyond assumptions about preferred methods of communication.

“Making assumptions on how people will react, or how cultures are going to change, is likely to upset you at some point and make it difficult to conclude these projects,” he says.

“Anything that looks like an overnight cultural success will be years in the making.”

While business leaders are vital to changing an organization’s culture, junior staff members can have more influence than you first realize. They should be part of a group selected to champion change at all levels and across departments.

“Don’t assume hierarchy is the answer to this,” Lyons says. “If you look at the organization I work in, we have a lot of developers and technically oriented people. These people have different comfort levels about the communication side of things.

“We have people at different levels who are more than likely to be the go-to people to represent the thoughts and needs of their colleagues to a management group or in a larger town hall meeting.”

The second step in a successful change project of a shift to customer-centricity is to over-plan.

While over-planning seems to inhibit an organization’s ability to react with agility, Lyons believes the opposite – having a plan for anything wrong ensures you can respond quickly.

“For a well-executed cultural change, you need to plan for everything – positive and negative – and hope that a lot of that doesn’t come out of the woodwork,” he says. “You need to plan your reactions, reaction time, and processes.”

When you plan to this level of detail, everyone involved must move past disingenuous lip service. It ensures your executives and change champions use the same methods with a common goal.

Skills and Qualities that Influence Customer-Centricity

Change management and cultural change are not cases of “do as I say and not as I do”. That means those enacting change have to bring certain skills with them. In the case of customer-centricity, a marketer’s toolkit has to be much more data-oriented.

“You need to understand exactly what your customers are telling you,” Lyons says. “Your analytics arm becomes important to allow you to understand what your customer is saying and what changes are required and to pivot quickly. Otherwise, you potentially have a brand-equity problem, and you certainly have a vote-with-your-feet problem.”

Using data in customer-centric organizations allows for better measurement and financial accountability. It usually means marketers have the opportunity to broaden their skills and experience, too; data specialists are a luxury many businesses can’t afford to have.

“Return on investment and the value of a marketing organization has traditionally, and very jokingly in some circles, been very difficult to prove,” Lyons says.

“Now it becomes very clear what marketing is contributing to an organization. You’ve started looking at customer-oriented metrics – lifetime value of customers, attrition rates, retention rates, and onboarding scenarios.

“Your marketing leader needs to have a much wider purview and experience fit because the work, especially around growth and change, necessitates a non-traditional approach to your career.”

In particular, Lyons says marketing leaders looking to evolve their organizations must sell a vision of what cultural change will look like. This is primarily because metrics that measure the internal influence of a change project tend to be softer and slow-moving. Marketers should be looking for increased engagement, positive sentiment, and an increase in people within the business who can articulate the business goals and how they relate to “how we do things around here”.

“Anything that looks like an overnight cultural success is going to be years in the making,” Lyons says. “While we might celebrate the case study, the organization has gone through many iterations of change to get to that point.”