Build a Culture Your Customers Will Love

Stephen R. Covey

Creating an exceptional customer experience has become a top priority for the world’s greatest organizations as more companies realize that an exceptional customer experience can be a true competitive advantage.  An exceptional customer experience requires an exceptional organizational culture.

How NOT to have a customer experience culture
I was pretty sure that it was time for my mortgage company to remove private mortgage insurance from my monthly obligations. I logged in to my account, wrote them a brief note with a request to remove the insurance, and asked what else they needed from me.  I received the following response:

Dear Customer,

This is to acknowledge your recent email regarding the Private Mortgage Insurance on your loan. Please be advised we need a signed written request sent by mail or fax. Your request will be reviewed to determine if all requirements to terminate Private Mortgage Insurance have been met. Upon completion of our review, you will receive a written notification in approximately 30 days advising you if we are able to accommodate your request…

Sincerely, 
Tiffany
E-mail Support Representative

Dear Customer? This is to acknowledge? Please be advised? Real humans don’t talk this!

Now, I’m not proud of this (ok, maybe a little), but I’ve always been a bit of a smart mouth, so I replied:

Dear E-Mail Support Representative:

Please accept my eternal gratitude for the crisp formal reply, crafted with machine-like precision. I will mail my request forthwith.  :-)

Signed,
Customer

In response, I received a message from a different representative explaining, “We use templates to ensure consistency.” For some reason, “consistency” is more important to this company than the customer experience.

Delivering a customer experience culture the right way
What many organizations — including my mortgage company — haven’t yet realized is that improving the customer experience is more than a superficial improvement effort; it’s a cultural challenge. Sure, you can focus on improving customer service and making your website friendly, but as Edgar Schein noted in his Culture University interview, these are just the flowers and leaves on the surface of the lily pond. If you really want to improve the customer experience, you have to dig down to the roots.

To use another metaphor, to deliver a truly awesome customer experience, you have to travel all the way through the Culture Circle — through the goals, initiatives and actions, into the strategy and systems, and deep into the heart of the purpose and values. The visible elements of the culture — the “how we do things around here” — have to align with both the stated values and the unspoken assumptions that are the shadowy puppet masters of any organization. This is where my mortgage company went sideways.

To create a customer experience culture, many organizations focus on the knowledge, skills and abilities of front office employees. However, because culture exists at all levels of an organization, those that truly want to transform their cultures need to look beyond the front lines.

Do your customers love your culture?
To determine whether your company’s culture is one your customers can truly love, respond to the following items with “never,” “sometimes” or “always.”

  1. Leaders communicate that the customer is a top priority.
  2. Leaders focus corporate initiatives on customer impacts.
  3. Leaders actively and visibly support customer experience initiatives.
  4. Leadership actions and behaviors are consistent with the stated customer experience strategy.
  5. Managers translate customer experience priorities into employee priorities.
  6. Managers empower employees to make decisions in the best interests of the customer.
  7. Managers set goals, develop employees, and establish metrics with the customer experience in mind.
  8. Front-line employees have the tools and resources required to deliver an excellent customer experience.
  9. Front-line employees have the knowledge, skills, and abilities to deliver an excellent customer experience.
  10. Front-line employees understand the company’s brand promise.
  11. Front-line employees understand the actions and behaviors required to fulfill the brand promise.
  12. Front-line employees are recognized for their impacts on the customer experience.
  13. Front-line employees are recruited for customer-oriented attitudes.
  14. Front-line employees are involved in the creation of the customer experience strategy.
  15. Back-office employees understand their role in delivering an excellent customer experience.
  16. Back-office employees are recognized for their impacts on the customer experience.
  17. Back-office employees are involved in the creation of the customer experience strategy.
  18. Company processes and policies are designed with the customer experience in mind.
  19. The physical work environment reinforces and supports the customer experience strategy.
  20. Internal and external communications reinforce and support the customer experience strategy.
  21. Customer experience is a core element of the stated mission.
  22. Customer experience goals are an integral and explicitly stated component of the company strategy.
  23. Company values include the customer.
  24. Repeated actions or behaviors that undermine the customer experience strategy are examined openly.
  25. Official and unofficial policies or processes that undermine the customer experience strategy are examined openly.
  26. Unspoken rules or standards of conduct that undermine the customer experience strategy are examined openly.

Now score your little quiz. Give yourself two points for every “always,” one point for every “sometimes,” and a big old goose egg for every “never.” Add up those points to see how you’re doing:

46 – 52 points: Congratulations! You’ve aligned elements at all levels of your organization to create a truly customer-oriented culture. I’ll bet your customers love you!

31 – 46 points: Some of the elements of your culture are aligned to serve your customers, but some things are out of wack. Examine your “never” and “sometimes” responses for improvement ideas.

30 or fewer points: Something just isn’t right here. Take a close look at your organization to determine if the customer experience is truly important. If not, what kind of culture will best enable the organization to fulfill its mission and reach its goals?

Do you have experience with creating a customer experience culture?  Did you have to make changes at levels?  What worked for you?

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Eryc Eyl is a writer, speaker, coach and consultant focused on improving the human experience of work for leaders, employees and customers. He helps working folks integrate their work with a meaningful, fun and fulfilling life so they can keep their heads and their hearts while keeping their jobs. For more from Eryc, visit www.ErycEyl.com, or connect with Eryc on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn.

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