Putting Product Culture at the Core of Customer-Centric Transformation

2021 – 2022


This is the story of how we advanced the customer-centered transformation in a 30+ years old B2B software company by refreshing the product culture.

Our story with Mikrogrup began in 2019 when we embarked on a journey to design and activate the unique customer-centric transformation model (MOM) for the company. This model triggered the change from corporate strategy to daily practices on multiple levels. In 2021, our next step in the journey was to design critical interventions to accelerate this transformation. Knowing that product teams are the ultimate driving force behind an organization’s customer-centric transformation, we teamed up with them to create a customer-driven product culture that would shift the mindset, transform the practices, and change how we serve our customers.

The Mikrogrup story showcases how changing the product culture would turn customer-centricity into a common agenda for all key stakeholders across an organization.

The Challenge

How might we transform the product culture to accelerate the customer-centric transformation?

In a nutshell...

1- Create an insight-led and multi-stakeholder product development process

2- Create a common language and understanding around customer-centricity

3- Innovate new tools and mechanisms to harvest customer insights

4- Initiate customer-centric dialogues across the organization

The Story

Putting Product Culture at the Core of Customer-Centric Transformation

Looking through the last 25 years of Fortune 500 lists, you would see two significant changes. First, companies at the top of the list have changed dramatically. Second, even though there were lots of companies offering ‘superior’ technology, the ones that thrived were the ones that put customers at the center of their operations. Many companies claim to be customer-centric today, yet something always feels missing. From culture to strategy, customer-centricity should be at the core of an organization; it should unite all departments in a common ‘customer’ agenda and enable them to collaborate and create disruptive innovations around customers’ unmet needs.

As such, with Mikrogrup, we have spotlighted an untapped opportunity: Product culture, defined as the fundamental beliefs surrounding product development that guide how decisions are made, is the leveraging point for putting customers at the core. Due to its multi-stakeholder nature and close tie to the customers, changing the product culture would accelerate the customer-centric transformation across the organization.

Here are four key steps to creating and activating a customer-driven product culture:

Step 1

Create an insight-led and multi-stakeholder product development process

Changing the way we develop products is at the core of activating customer-centricity in an organization; it starts with challenging the fundamental beliefs surrounding product development. Understanding who dominates critical decisions might reveal the product culture pitfalls in your organization:

1- Engineering dominates the critical decisions – causing products to evolve technically yet without a human-centered mindset.
2- Sales overshadow the decision on what to build – forcing product roadmaps to evolve outside the overarching strategy and real customer needs.
3- Senior-leadership team dictates all decisions – hindering agile processes and limiting experimentation.
4- The product team leads the decisions but lacks deep customer understanding — making quick wins and quantitative data lead the process instead of customer insights.

The product development process should offer a counter-point and be customer-driven – rather than sales, executive, engineering, or product-driven.

From roadmap to release, product development is a multi-stakeholder process. In many organizations, product teams are detached from other departments, and little is known about how multiple stakeholder issues are dealt with in new product development. All phases, milestones, and activities of the product development process invite multiple stakeholders. The product team should constantly be in touch with customers to make sure insights guide decisions.

At Mikrogrup, together with the product teams, we designed a new product development process called Product 2.0, where customer insights lead the process from the very beginning to the end, and success is a product of collective effort instead of departments working in silos. To launch and test out the process, we ran pilot projects together with the product teams. These test runs enabled the team to adapt their mindset to the new customer-centric way of working with hands-on experience. Also, frequent check-ins during the test run phase helped us analyze the current situation deeper and map the potentials and barriers to adopting a customer-centric product culture. As a result, we reported action areas for better adaptation and utilization of new processes at the executive level.


Step 2

Create a common language and understanding around customer-centricity

Anyone interested in the product can influence product decisions or is affected by the product culture. Therefore, it is crucial for an organization that all stakeholders share a common language and understanding of customer-centricity. Key functions such as sales, marketing, and customer service can become great allies in gathering customer insights. As a result, all departments are closely related to the process of strategic alignment. As in the context of other cultures, product culture itself also creates its own language and meanings. Ensuring all stakeholders share a common language around customer-centricity is crucial for customer-centric transformation to succeed.

During our studies with multiple organizations, we have realized that teams even miss alignment on the definition of the most common terms such as ‘customer’. Although it is used very frequently in daily discussions, team members do not realize that they refer to different groups of people when they mention customers. Starting from the most frequent and obvious ones: ‘need’, ‘insight’ or ‘prototype’, it is crucial to understand what these terms mean to different stakeholders within an organization and make sure all are aligned around a common definition.

At Mikrogrup, we started by creating Mikrogrup’s dictionary for customer-centricity and aligned around common definitions for each term critical for the product team to nourish the customer-driven product culture. We then designed a 3 step basic module that targets all employees and a 3 step pro-module that explicitly targets product teams who will be ambassadors to shape and guard this customer-centric narrative. The modules were uploaded on the company’s internal education platform and integrated into the employee skill-building program run by the HR team. As a result, we empowered the shared understanding of customer-centricity and enabled better discussions between product teams and other stakeholders across the organization.

Step 3

Innovate new tools and mechanisms to harvest customer insights

In a customer-centric organization, strategy is built on insights. For the product culture to become customer-driven, it is crucial to diversify tools and mechanisms to harvest insights and let them guide strategic decisions on many levels. Although the global library of research methods and benchmarks is a great inspiration, each organization has its unique resources and limitations for defining the most effective ways of insight generation.

In the case of a B2B software company that reaches out to users via a dealer network and has limited cloud products that allow direct access to customers, it is a unique challenge to employ insight generation tools and methods. That’s why it is essential to innovate new ways that suit the organization’s unique needs and capabilities.

At Mikrogrup, we ran a pilot project with an offshoot team from the product management and product experience departments. The team picked a specific challenge, a target group to test out alternative user research methods, and logged every step of the process, including the time & effort put into the process, quality of outcomes, common barriers, and untapped potentials. The process provided both quick wins and a high-level action plan for activating new insight generation mechanisms that can be standardized for product teams and organization-wide use.

Step 4

Initiate customer-centric dialogues across the organization

As the great educator and philosopher, Paulo Freire once said, “the purpose of dialogue is to move beyond any one individual’s understanding”. Dialogue is an excellent tool in changing organizational culture because it provides a vehicle for exploring and understanding underlying assumptions and makes it possible to create a climate for more interpersonal learning.

When it comes to changing the product culture into a more customer-centric one, creating new environments and rituals that would encourage customer-centric dialogues between departments has a significant impact on transformation. In a customer-centric organization, all functions have a deep understanding of customer needs and values, so the stories they share also become great resources for customer insight.

At Mikrogrup, we have ideated different rituals and mechanisms to elevate customer-centric dialogues and prioritized one department that spends the most time with customers yet is positioned as the “problem solvers” rather than insight hunters. To unleash their potential in initiating new dialogues, we created a new Friday afternoon ritual: Dinle-Yorum (Listen&Tell), a series of conversations open to all internal stakeholders where Customer Service teams share their insights and stories regarding customers with other departments, ending with a Q&A session.


The story continues...

As of April 2022, the Product 2.0 Task Force is organizing multi-department trials that further promote the adoption of the Product 2.0 Product Development Process and is also having meetings with executives to embed this process into company-wide strategy plans.

Connect with us to learn more about the project.

View other stories.