Improving Customer Experience through Culture (Part 7 of 7)

>>>Improving Customer Experience through Culture (Part 7 of 7)

Editor’s note: Recently we brought you the first 6 parts of our 7 part series “Customer Experience in a Business Discipline”. If you missed part of the series, please click the links: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6. Without further ado, we invite you to read the final edition of the series: Improving Customer Experience through Culture.

Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with Scott Barnyak, Principal Partner at SDLC Partners to discuss the three disciplines in which businesses excel. Discovered through Michael Treacy’s The Discipline of Market Leaders, and supported by personal observation, Scott has found that organizations tend to orient around operational excellence, product innovation, or customer experience.

“Or” customer experience?

Color me surprised. In an era when terms like “positive customer experience” and “healthy bottom-line” are nearly inseparable, what discipline could exist to the exclusion of meaningful CX?

As described by Scott, the answer is that excellence along one dimension does not preclude excellence along another; rather, businesses tend to favor one relative to the others. As a single case in point, consider that while Google ranks highly in operational excellence, few would deny that product innovation reigns supreme at 1600 Amphitheater Parkway. (Skeptics need look no further than the fanfare around the Google Glass Presentation at Google I/O.)

I share the preceding anecdote because my conversation with Scott sets an interesting backdrop against which I author this post. Corporate culture is a function of corporate values, and values beget countless behaviors from actions at the senior level all the way down to an organization’s custodial staff. It’s critical that those behaviors tie intimately to corporate strategy, because culture-strategy misalignment is a notorious killer of companies. It’s therefore important to acknowledge that there is no ‘correct’ culture, and that all cultures must not only be informed by, but must also reflect, the strategies they exist to support.

What role does a customer-centric culture play in the grand scheme of the Customer Experience Management discipline? According to Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine, “Culture has the single biggest potential to drive customer experience transformations.” Said another way, culture drives CX outcomes, and CX outcomes mean millions — or billions — in fiscal outcomes. Is it any surprise that the world’s most admired brand for customer experience is also its most cash-rich?

Whether or not your organization favors its customer experience discipline principally, or as a component of a more complex tapestry of disciplines, there is valuable insight to be derived from the design and management of a customer-centric culture. So where should an organization looking to develop customer-centric culture (or some of its teachings) begin?

First, assess your current talent acquisition policies and procedures. It’s far easier to hire the right individual than to change another to fit your culture. In Outside In, Manning and Bodine take this thought a step further when, they suggest that, “…screening candidates for customer-centric values as part of the hiring and selection process is one of the most effective ways to shift the overall makeup of your workforce.” One of my favorite examples of scrutiny over intake comes care of Zappos, which famously offers new hires $2,000 to quit. Why? Because those 2-3% of individuals who accept the offer are unlikely to ‘get’ Zappos and its extreme brand of customer-centrism.

Second, socialize key behaviors through storytelling, rituals, and training. These are arrows in a quiver called ‘behavior adjustment’. The internet is chock full of examples of effective rituals, from Disney’s identification of its staff as ‘cast members’, to the Starbucks green apron awards for excellent customer service. Less known is the role of storytelling in great organizations (for a great read on this topic, see The Science of Storytelling: Why Telling a Story is the Most Powerful Way to Activate Our Brains). How do you communicate tales of exceptional customer experiences across your organization? If you don’t do so today, what would happen if you did? Never underestimate the power of a compelling story to motivate and inspire.

Finally, reward customer-centric action. How do you reward the right behaviors to support customer-centric action? You can do it formally, through pay raises, bonuses, and other cash incentives. But you can also reward those behaviors informally (often to equal or greater effect). In Now’s a Good Time to Reward Employees, Michael Alter of SurePayroll advises that rewards should be personalized and meaningful, should win over one’s family (a nice but unnecessary bonus), and should be unpredictable. Whatever you do, act with the mind that ‘you get what you reward’, and tailor your recognition program for the customer-centric actions you favor most.

Cultural change is an incredibly powerful tool in the Customer Experience Management practitioner’s toolkit. It should be managed delicately but deliberately, and always with careful attention to its role in overarching corporate strategy.

If you’ve followed us from the beginning, you now have knowledge of each of the six pillars of the Customer Experience Management discipline: Strategy, Customer Understanding, Design, Measurement, Governance, and Culture. We, in SDLC Partners’ Requirements Management Community, bid you heartfelt wishes for success in your endeavor to improve customer experiences in your own organization. And as always, we invite you to get in touch with your thoughts, tips, and feedback.

Brian Lash is a Consultant II at SDLC Partners, a leading provider of business and technology solutions. Please feel free to contact Brian at with any questions on this blog post or to further discuss Customer Experience Management.