It's been interesting to watch customer experience mature. The customer experience concept was born out of work consultants did across disciplines, including marketing, operations and customer service/support. They recognized that by understanding the lifecycle expectations customers had around value, trust, engagement and products, businesses could improve their performance. 

Then technology stepped in, with a dazzling array of new applications that captured, measured and reported on customer interactions and sentiment. As technology vendors became more sophisticated in their ability to understand, predict and act on customer interactions, we lost sight of that original holistic understanding of the customer. Instead of looking at engagement and value lifecycles, we zeroed in on key moments of truth that impacted sales, predicting who the next customer was most likely to be, and automating as many interactions as possible in the name of engagement consistency.

Technology became the "fix" that — we believed — absolved us from the heavy lifting of understanding customer expectations and thinking through the impact on company strategy, values and employees. 

Turns out technology isn’t the elixir that delivers outstanding customer experiences.

It Comes Down to Culture

As we look beyond the "fix," companies are going back to the basics. We’ve known for eons that happy employees lead to happy customers. Hence, the rise of culture in the customer experience discussion.

Listening to the discussion around culture and employee engagement, one might think companies have no idea how to define and shape their cultures. That isn't true — or is it the essence of the culture debate?

"Culture’s role in customer experience" is a euphemism for what will define successful companies in the future. Employee and customer values will shape organizations more than technology.

In this era of empowered customers, rapid technological and societal evolution, and changing definitions of what an employee means — how should companies operate, be structured and lead? 

People join companies because of what that organization stands for — its social agenda. It’s not about the paycheck, but about a how people can realize their life’s purpose through the company and work they do. 

Salesforce, PeopleSoft and Google led the way in defining their business models around their social agenda — social and environmental accountability. Progressive companies understand that committed, engaged employees contribute six times more value than someone who just shows up to occupy a chair. According to Gallup Poll, “business leaders worldwide must raise the bar on employee engagement. Increasing workplace engagement is vital to achieving sustainable growth for companies, communities and countries.”

How does this impact customer experience?

Building the Culture that Customers (and Employees) Want

It goes beyond employees having a pleasant attitude, being responsive and knowledgeable. Customers — both B2B and B2C — choose to do business with companies that reflect their social values. James Canton, in his book "Future Smart," cites five values customers expect of the businesses they support:

  1. Care about the customers’ concerns for social issues and the environment.
  2. Work to make the world a better place through committed social action.
  3. Believe as the customer does that business should lead in making the world a better place.
  4. Care about what the customer cares about — environment, equality, diversity, etc.
  5. Be fair and equitable about their people practices.

There is no cookie-cutter approach to building cultures that attract committed people and customers. Not because we don’t know how to define values, purpose and strategy, we’re just not clear how to do that in a world where tried-and-true practices no longer work.

Best practices are emerging in our consulting work that give companies a place to start:

  • Gain a holistic understanding of your high-value customer lifecycle expectations and how they define trust, value and engagement
  • Invite customers to co-create their high value lifecycle experiences with you
  • Task leaders with defining what your empowered customer culture is as well as the organizational barriers and "sacred cows" that prevent an employee-first culture
  • Engage all employees in defining how to align processes, teams, company values and technology to customer expectations
  • Tear down silos by organizing cross-functional teams around customer segments and connect the teams with SLAs and KPIs
  • Transparently share customer satisfaction scores, organizational performance, challenges and strategies, and showcase desired behaviors and practices so others can emulate
  • Lead by coaching so managers help their employees learn and grow, while holding him or her accountable for goal achievement
  • Implement closed feedback loops with customers and employees
  • Provide continuous real-time feedback on performance in lieu of annual performance reviews. Reward success and encourage support from teammates
  • Clearly define who's responsible for the customer experience — it’s the CEO plus everyone in the company.
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by  Paleontour