5 successful strategies to create a company culture that results in a fantastic customer experience

Customer experience does not live in a void of its own.

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October 18, 2022

Context is everything and company culture and employee experience have a huge impact on the experience that is delivered to the final customer. For instance, No less than 79 percent of employees at companies with above-average customer experience are highly engaged in their jobs, compared to 49 percent of employees at companies with average or below-average customer experience scores. And According to IBM, organizations that score in the top 25 percent on employee experience report double the return on sales compared to organizations in the bottom quartile.

But what exactly are the ingredients of company culture that drive a fantastic customer experience? That’s what I wanted to investigate with this piece.

Communicate a crystal clear customer vision

Every fantastic customer experience starts with a customer obsessed vision. The link between a customer experience driven culture and business success is perhaps most clear at Amazon, where “Customer obsession” is its No. 1 leadership principle:

“Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.”

But it’s not enough to integrate customer obsession in your vision and your strategy. You need to make sure that everyone – not just leadership – is looking in the same direction and knows, lives and breathes your customer relationship vision. It’s crucial that you figure out how you can translate your high-level strategy to the life and the context of every last employee. This results in a sense a purpose and a strong connection to your vision. The only way to achieve that is to literally convince all your employees one by one.

Image courtosy of TechPulse

At CoolblueBezorgt, for example, the delivery service of Coolblue, every presentation of CEO Pieter Zwart starts with the Net Promoter Score or NPS (the percentage of how likely customers are to recommend a company, a product, or a service to a friend or colleague). And each morning, employees are shown their NPS-scores of the day before so that they can celebrate or learn from that. This is how you get employees to share in the vision: with clear communication and by involving them every step of the way.

Hire for diversity

Society is a delightful potpourri of different nationalities, religions and cultures. Your workforce should reflect this diversity on all levels. How else will your people be able to understand what customers need, want and expect? It is very unfortunate that so many companies are still biased to hire WEIRD profiles, an acronym for people who are Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, And Democratic. Society isn’t WEIRD, and your customers certainly aren’t, so it’s only smart to have your team reflect the outside world.

But it’s not just cultural diversity that is important, it’s cognitive diversity as well. It is very comfortable and easy to hire people that will fit “your culture” and who think and talk alike. That’s a great approach, but this is too often translated into “we hire people who act and think just like us” and this is completely detrimental for innovation of any kind, especially when it comes to customer experience. Always hire for diversity.

Empower your team to aim for customer happiness

According to the Gallop Organization, organizations that empower employees, experience 50% higher customer loyalty. Zappos’ belated CEO, Tony Hsieh, which was a fantastic example of a customer obsessed company, completely understood that. He knew that customer experience was not something that could be molded into a script or a rule-book. Every customer is different and every customer context too. And so it’s impossible to make them happy with fixed scripts. The experience becomes just awful when they need to wait for a very long time because the organization is so hierarchical that every ‘special’ decision needs to be validated by management.

And so Hsieh trusted and empowered his employees on all levels to make their own decisions as long as they had customer happiness in mind. We all know that wonderful story of Zappos employee and his customer-service call that lasted 10 hours and 43 minutes.

An added bonus is that a culture of empowerment attracts the best talent. High potential employees don’t like to be confined with rigid rules and hierarchy. They need freedom and trust to make their own decisions.

Create a psychologically safe environment

A culture of customer obsession stands and fall with experimenting. Amazon, for instance, has the One-Way and Two-Way Door rule to stimulate this. About 99% of all customer improvements function like a two-way door: the impact of a possible failure of this type of small-scale experiments will always be so low that you’ll be able to retrace your footsteps – and go back through the door – without losing face, heaps of money and – worst of all – customers. But then there’s the remaining 1% of customer improvements, the ones that will deliver massive value when they do succeed. But these One-Way Doors tend to be a lot riskier, because you will not be able to turn your decision around if they fail, without feeling an extensive negative impact. So it’s important to think these innovations through and through before you launch them.

So what does this have to with culture? Well, you cannot expect employees to experiment with new customer experience approaches and then punish them when things go wrong. That is just the nature of experiments: that you try something and that very often it will just not work out. The trick is to perform this most of the time (except for the One-Way Door experiments, of course) on such a small scale that the failure will have as little impact as possible. And never finger point and blame those who were bold enough to try something new. Instead, try to figure out together why it didn’t work and look for something that can. If you don’t, people will just stop trying, innovation will dry up and customers will leave you for those who do innovate to make the experience better.

Don’t fall into the KPI trap

Sometimes, companies measure the wrong things and use the wrong metrics. Let’s say that a company wants to deliver top quality and sustainable products. That’s a great strategy, right? But how would you measure that? One way would be to tie that strategy to the returns of your product, let’s say with a metric of ‘less than 5% returns’. The expectation would then be that your customer service team will gather data about the weak spots of returned products and then deliver this feedback to your engineers who could then improve them. Less returns would follow from that approach.

But if your team is working towards the metric instead of the strategy, this shortcut will be much more likely to happen: they might strive to make the return policy and process so complex, difficult and hard to find that the rate of returns would indeed plummet. This would obviously result in a lot of frustrated customers and a dangerous informational blindness about the blind spots in your products.

It’s crucial that you understand the solid marriage between KPIs, culture and customer experience: if your company is purely KPI-driven and it has a ‘failure is not an option’ type of culture, employees will take shortcuts to meet these KPIs in ways that will be detrimental for the customer experience.

So, these are my 5 tips for creating a company culture that results in a fantastic customer experience:

  1. Communicate a crystal clear customer vision
  2. Hire for diversity
  3. Empower your team to aim for customer happiness
  4. Create a psychologically safe environment that drives experiments
  5. Don’t fall into the KPI trap

I hope to have delivered some inspiration and I’m very curious to hear how you organize your company culture to benefit the experiences of your customers.

This blog first appeared on Steven's blog. Read that and more here!

Steven Van Belleghem
Steven Van Belleghem
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October 18, 2022