Blog Post

5 Important Needs for Strong, Customer-Centric ERGs

By Kaela Blanks and Stefani Murray
March 22, 2024

Prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace has proven to be a best practice when aiming to improve an organization’s overall business impact. Valuing inclusion in the workplace leads to increased productivity and attracts and retains talent at all levels. This value should radiate to all aspects of the workplace by centering the needs, wants, and preferences of employees in the company or organization’s business processes and strategies. To achieve this goal, organizations can consider using a customer-centric approach, a business model that centers the “customer” in every aspect of the organization and in which every business decision has the customer in mind. This approach would center the employees wants and needs, by making sure they are heard and appreciated. One of the best ways to foster this type of business model is to create and champion employee resource groups (ERGs) and DEI councils.

What Is a Customer-Centric Approach?

By centering the wants, needs, and preferences of the customer, this business model is successful for many companies by helping them ensure a positive experience for their customers. There are quite a few companies that offer a well-known, positive customer service experience, such as Discover and Target. These companies are sought out by consumers because of how well they treat customers, listen to feedback, and make the shopping experience friendlier and user-friendly for the customer.  

When done right, an organization is able to be proactive in its strategies, anticipating the customer’s wants, needs, and preferences. Al Ramich from Forbes said: “Think of customer-centricity as a strategy as much as a culture. It should be ingrained in an organization.” This same mindset can be used when thinking about establishing and maturing ERGs. For ERGs, their members and other key stakeholders are the customers. ERGs must ensure they are meeting the wants, needs and preferences of their members, which includes those within the community they are advocating for and their allies, or those who do not identify as members of the community.

To make the approach a strategic and culturally embedded one, here are five customer-centric points to keep in mind:

Have a Strong MVP

MVP here stands for “Member Value Proposition.” Your MVP includes the value, benefits, and impact that your ERG members receive from the efforts and strategies of your ERGs.

Core components of a strong MVP include a clear mission statement, defined purpose, strong business case, and attractive member and leader benefits. Those components are then pulled together to communicate the value add to the organization and members through impacting overall employee well-being and business impact.

Separate Fact from Fiction with First-Party Data

Organizations should ask their employees directly what they want and need to excel in that specific workplace. Benchmarking data and best practices from other organizations can be helpful, but every organizational culture is unique to that company. Organizations can use a variety and mix of methods to gather first-party data directly from members, such as surveys, focus groups, town halls, informational interviews, and talent and engagement metrics. An online survey may not be convenient for one group, but grabbing time with an internal stakeholder can give some guidance on the motivations of the individuals within your organization. Seramount offers a holistic solution for any leaders who want data that combines stakeholder interviews with anonymous employee feedback that can be answered at any location.

An important preference to ask members about is how they would like to be informed of ERG updates and how they would like to get involved with the ERG’s activities. Asking them how they would like to get involved with the ERG, such as through leadership roles, attending events, community service, networking, or access to resources and education materials, is a great way to learn what your members want, need, and prefer.

Prepare for Long-Term Impact

ERGs are more than the five F’s: fun, flags, friends, festivals, and food. Impactful ERGs are here for sustainable, long-lasting impact that enacts cultural change at an organizational level because that’s what our customers need. The ultimate goal is for members of ERGs to be retained and engaged, which requires long-term planning.

That can’t be achieved by sponsoring only heritage month webinars and social gatherings. ERGs that align with business strategies have a stronger foundation and are better prepared to be here for the long term. Business strategies are not the only factors that drive product innovation or market expansion. Your organization’s workforce; environmental, societal, and governance (ESG); and community and economic engagement priorities are also part of your organization’s strategies that have been proven to positively impact an organization.

ERG Leaders Are Customers Too

People have the best experiences with customer service departments when the representatives have been trained, enabled, supported, resourced, and empowered to meet the needs of the customer. Organizations can ensure that their ERG leaders are set up for success with strong onboarding, clearly defined processes and governance, ongoing support for leadership upskilling, and sponsorship and advocacy from senior leadership. ERG leadership teams are a talent development engine and have the ability to accelerate the potential of top talent within an organization.

Proceed with Caution

Implement your customer-centric approach with caution, though. “Customer-centric” is not the same as “the customer is always right.” The latter implies that regardless of the impact on the company and its employees, what the customer wants, the customer gets, which is not always realistic, equitable, or fair. A “customer is always right” mentality is also the fastest way to lead to burnout for your ERG leaders. Leadership burnout within ERGs is common, even if those leaders are successful. Organizations are now leaning on ERGs in ways they have never done so before. In order to prevent burnout, senior leaders can help set proper boundaries within the company’s guidelines to support ERG leaders in the voluntary work that they do.

ERGs can truly be a pillar of strength and creativity within your organization. By putting the wants and needs of the members of these groups first, customer-centric ERGs can excel while also working within the organization’s values.

If you would like to learn more about how Seramount can help you develop your ERG strategy or if you would like to talk to an expert about our DEI Research Partnership, contact us.

About the Authors

Kaela Blanks Headshot
Kaela Blanks
Associate Director, Advisory
Headshot Stefani Murray
Stefani Murray
Marketing Specialist