Editor's note: The following is a guest article from Hector Aguilar, president of technology at identity and access management company Okta.
"We're customer first." Across small startups and well-established organizations, a customer-first approach is a common value. While many business leaders embed this value into organizations with the goal of driving employees toward achieving customer retention, it often fails.
When push comes to shove, many executives fall short in creating actionable short-term goals and broader culture standards that truly align with a customer-first vision.
For engineering leaders especially, enforcing a customer-first mindset across the team is critical to solving the right problems, detecting issues quickly and predicting future customer needs. So, how do you successfully achieve a customer-first strategy?
Implement the following three cultural principals across your team early and spread the values through channels that resonate.
1. An 'empathy-first' culture
Almost all, 92%, employees report their bosses undervalue empathy in the workplace and miss out on powerful potential benefits it brings. Empathy enables us to perceive the experiences of others with clarity, and it's a critical component of connecting with customers effectively.
Stepping into customers' shoes allows teams to consistently create products that work well and solve the most pressing issues.
For tech companies, "dogfooding" is one way teams can cultivate empathy by testing out a product from customers' perspectives.
Dogfooding enables teams to work out glitches, validate use cases and resolve design bugs before the product launches. It also sends a message to customers that a company fully stands behind the products it creates.
Leaders can also drive empathy through facetime with customers and frequent collaboration, whether at in-person meetings or through conferencing platforms like Zoom. Facetime creates stronger bonds and enables your team to catch an inside glimpse of how a customer operates on a day-to-day basis.
2. A 'spot and fix issues early' culture
On every engineering team, detecting issues early can make or break a relationship with a customer. Production issues could be simple to fix and require about five minutes to repair, but if it takes several hours to detect such issues. In that time, major damage can occur.
Many leaders still think continuous integration (CI) loops are the silver bullet — that they solve all problems as long as tests are well written. However, CI loops do not catch all issues.
Because of that, it is critical to have constant monitoring and to prioritize the importance of acting quickly in the case of an emergency.
Of course, a significant element of creating an effective team also means preventing problems in the first place by enforcing the need for solid code and good tests from all team members. Hold engineers responsible for creating good code, no matter their level or role at the organization.
The act of monitoring for production issues should also fall under everyone's responsibilities and not just on a small subset of team members; I like to say "we win as a team, so we don't lose alone."
If something goes wrong, engineers should see it as a team responsibility to do better next time rather than blaming an individual. This creates a culture that leans on each other for support in hard times and celebrates wins as a team.
3. A 'no mystery' culture
I love a good mystery — in movies or books, not on my team.
A "no mystery" culture means a willingness to solve any customer issue quickly and thoroughly, no matter the complexity. With engineers often heads-down on projects and strapped for time, it's easy to default to a "this is too hard to solve" mindset and brush it aside.
However, explanations like "it was just a network blip," "we need to upgrade, I'm sure the latest version will fix whatever just happened," or "we should just reboot to solve the issue" are just a cover and don't adequately address the root of any problem.
Teams need to be fully transparent, digging deep to find the source of every issue –– even if it takes weeks –– and preventing a minor problem from ballooning into a major one.
Manifesting this culture starts at the top. Team members won't default to this mindset on their own, so leaders have a responsibility to spread it through different channels that meet team members where they communicate — including Slack and during all-hands meetings.
Ingrain this "no mysteries" mindset into new hires' minds from the start by weaving it into onboarding processes and materials.
To combat any skeptics, store a few success story anecdotes in your back pocket that illustrate how solving complex problems enabled engineers to save time in the future (and most importantly, freed them from ever having to address that problem again).
A customer-centric organization isn't driven by just one team at a company. It's a culmination of each leader's unique efforts to address the core needs of its customers from different lenses — and the engineering team plays a key role in creating products that move customers' businesses forward.
By keeping these three cultural principles at the core of every move your team makes, you're well on your way to creating a team customers can count on and trust.