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Customer Experience: The Role of Company Culture (Pt. 2)
Note: This article is part two of the series. The first article is “Customer Experience: Every Employee, Every Interaction, Every Day” and the third article is “Customer Experience: Coming Full Circle.”
Shaping the customer experience is a systemic undertaking that’s not unlike sustaining an ecosystem, in which various elements must work together to reach a healthy balance. In creating positive customer experiences, an organization’s components—its employees from various functions and geographies—have to work together to meet the customers’ needs to achieve symbiosis, one might say.
The First Step in Customer Experience Management
Keeping customer relationships healthy is a day-to-day effort that requires cooperation across the entire organization. Getting employees to “achieve symbiosis” and create positive customer experiences is the result of a healthy company culture that is externally focused on markets and customers, rather than internally oriented. Don’t underestimate the impact of this type of culture, because along with workforce unity, a strong foundation rooted around common goals, a non-political environment with shared values, and a commitment to working together, it can drive top- and bottom-line success fueled by satisfied customers.
It’s no wonder that creating a company culture that prioritizes positive customer experiences is a business leader’s first call to action in their effort to start strategically managing their customers’ experiences. We examined the importance of taking a strategic approach in Pt. 1 of this series, Shaping the Customer Experience: Every Employee, Every Interaction, Every Day. Now, let’s examine what it takes to make this a reality.
Understand the Culture/Customer Connection
We shared a story in Pt. 1 about a manufacturer of telecommunications equipment whose long-term relationship with a customer went sour after an unfortunate in-person “meeting-of-the-minds” to discuss future work. In short, the supplier’s engineers made it clear that they weren’t happy with a change in direction put forth by the customer’s engineers, which ultimately resulted in the customer finding a new supplier who was willing to proactively address their needs.
It’s not uncommon for there to be differences in opinion between suppliers and their customers, especially when changes are brought to the table. The key takeaway is to approach such a discussion with a solutions-oriented mindset. In this example, the supplier’s representatives were focused on their own expectations and preferences with respect to carrying out their contracted work. It’s clear there was no prior discussion among the supplier’s leadership team and engineers that they needed in order to create a positive customer experience on that day. If they had come into the meeting with an inherent willingness to turn the challenges posed by change into opportunities to build their capabilities and strengthen the customer relationship, the outcome would have been very different.
Here’s the culture connection: a customer experience is actively managed when employees demonstrate a prevailing, and positive, outlook on what it means to grow business and serve customers. And here’s the payoff: when the underlying culture is open-minded, attentive to the customers’ needs, and promoting of a can-do attitude, customers receive the type of service that keeps them coming back for more.
Work Toward a Customer-Centric Culture
Most companies have experienced cultural change at some point, while implementing quality programs that promote safety in the workplace or motivating employees to embrace process improvements. The process of creating a customer-centric culture is essentially the same. Simply stating that “positive customer experiences are an important focus” is not enough and it certainly won’t result in happy customers or business success every company wants to, well, cultivate. It requires collaboration on the part of decision-makers and key influencers, as well as education, communication, and ongoing reinforcement.
Here’s a closer look at these components, along with some tactical advice to reach cultural targets:
Senior and front-line managers need to understand and commit to the changes being made. They have to believe that the way to ensure positive customer experiences is to create a work environment and culture that supports it. Also, it’s important that they embody the new culture in order to reshape it, through their words and actions, so employees will follow their lead. To move managers in the right direction:
- Include them in planning conversations so they’re part of the solution from the very beginning
- Make sure they see how their functional area(s) influence the customer experience, even if their employees aren’t customer-facing
- Provide them with the resources they need to cascade important cultural- and change-management messages down to their direct reporters
Promoting cultural awareness among employees will require a communication plan that prioritizes education. In addition to what employees receive from their managers, the communication delivered from the top will help them perceive the changes as companywide, and something that will have a direct impact on their departmental and individual performance. Employees need to understand what a positive customer experience looks like and why it’s important. Below are some ideas:
- Communicate frequently and through various channels—email, in-person meetings, social media, lunch room signage—with respect to how employees prefer to receive information, so messages are reinforced in different ways and at various touch-points
- Share real-life examples of positive (and negative) customer experiences, encouraging them to role play different scenarios
- Reward employees for participating in customer experience-building activities or otherwise demonstrating the values being promoted through the re-tooled culture
Building and maintaining an effective culture that puts the customer experience at its center takes executive support and considerable employee communication and education. It’s the first step to becoming a company that actively manages the customer experience. But there’s still more work to do with respect to planning and institutionalizing the concept within the organization. In the final installment of this series, we will lay out these next steps so employees, at every level, consistently deliver the positive experiences your customers deserve.