Expectations for customer experience are higher than ever. From Amazon anticipating when you’ll run out of toilet paper and having your Echo remind you to add it to your shopping list to your iPhone telling you when to leave the house so you’re not late to an appointment, we’ve been spoiled by brands anticipating our needs.

According to Accenture Strategy, $1.6 trillion is lost every year in the US because of poor customer experience. And changes driven by the COVID-19 pandemic put an even greater emphasis on customer experience.

“Employees will get their cultural cues not from what management says, but from what it signals. Those signals are embedded throughout the workplace,” said customer experience consultant Jon Picoult. “They can appear in overt ways, such as how compensation and recognition are done. Or they can emerge in subtler ways, as in which metrics managers obsess over.”

Disconnect Between Customer Experience Values and Reality

You can think that you’ll change culture by improving customer service and updating your website to be easier to use, but as Edgar Schein, Professor Emeritus with MIT Sloan School of Management, notes in an interview with Culture University, that’s like focusing on the surface of the lily pond rather than the root system.

Consider your own organization. Likely, without thinking too hard, you can point out multiple processes that just don’t make sense. Maybe an unnecessary hand-off was created to loop in a long-gone colleague who demanded to be included so they wouldn’t miss anything. Perhaps you’re still filling out reports created for a long-departed system. Or maybe you’re stuck with information and technology silos that were created as systems were implemented without much thought.

It’s great to focus on the customer experience, but only looking at the experience is like looking at the surface of the pond. To look at the root system is to consider why things are the way they are.

Much like the lily pond, culture develops organically over time. Nearly every organization has customer-centricity as one of their values. But if you step back and ask if that value matches how the organization actually runs, you’re likely to discover a disconnect. That disconnect between values and behavior is what forces you to look beyond the surface.

Related Article: CX + EX: The Formula for a Customer-Obsessed Culture

Delivering a Customer Experience Culture

When you start to look beneath the surface, that’s where you start to see the differences between what you’re saying and what your organization actually believes. It’s not enough to choose “We love customers” as a corporate value, put it on your website and post a sign in your breakroom. 

In most industries, customer experience is a key competitive differentiator. And that competitive differentiation is driven by your culture.

But how do you know if your culture is oriented around customer experience?

  • The customer is the priority, and that message is delivered throughout the organization. It’s easy to focus on revenue and lose sight of the customer and their needs. If your customer is the priority, that message should be delivered clearly, at all levels of the organization. Your CEO should be talking about customer needs and how your initiatives are structured to deliver them. Managers should be focusing goals, incentives and metrics around the customer. Consider customer service — why does first call resolution matter? It’s not just because you can handle more calls with fewer people. It’s because the customer gets the answer they need, the first time, without bouncing around between agents.
  • Digital transformation initiatives are focused on the customer. Digital transformation initiatives are large, complex projects that involve multiple teams and departments to be successful. So it would make sense that they are focused on delivering customers with a seamless experience across devices and platforms. But in reality, many of us look at digital transformation as a way to cut costs and reduce unnecessary technology systems. That internal view means that customers will have the same disjointed experience — just possibly a bit faster.
  • Leadership actions and behaviors are aligned with the customer experience strategy. If your executives aren’t out meeting with customers and sharing the results throughout the organization, you might have a customer-centric culture in words only. Tying initiatives and strategies back to the customer, making decisions for the customer’s benefit and stopping to discuss a decision’s impact on customers are all ways to make sure your customer experience culture trickles top down.

Culture isn’t only built from the top, but it is certainly reinforced by it. If you’re serving customers the way they want to be served, if your purpose is truly to make the world better for your customer, your employees won’t feel that they’re working around technology and rules to support your customers. Instead, they’ll feel celebrated for the work they do to help your customers achieve more.

Learning Opportunities

Related Article: Drive Growth by Improving Your Customer Experience Strategy

The Relationship Between Employee Engagement and Customer Engagement

And that’s where employee engagement comes into play. Much like the old aphorism “happy wife, happy life,” you won’t have happy customers without happy employees. Your employees are the ones who interact with your clients, and if they aren’t happy, chances are your customers won’t be either.

According to research, organizations with highly engaged staff outperform their competitors by over 150%. If you’re looking at a burnt-out, overworked, underappreciated staff, it’s probably time to invest in your workforce just as much as you’re investing in your customers.

The past two years have been a challenge for everyone, but especially workers. The rise of the “anti-work” movement — which, at its core, is employees asking to be treated like human beings — combined with a dramatic shift to remote working has left many leadership teams struggling to keep up.

One of the key drivers of employee engagement is feeling part of something bigger. But just like how customers can sense when your values don’t match your actions, so can employees. But employee engagement isn’t just about raises, rewards, and perks (although those all have their place). Respect, support and autonomy are all vital to a healthy, engaged workforce. This means being aware of employee needs and concerns so they feel like they are more than just a cog in the machine, and that their work has value to improving the lives of your customers.

You can look at employee engagement and customer engagement as two sides of the same coin. At the end of the day, employees who are the most engaged are the best fit for your company — and, unsurprisingly, just like engaged customers. Not only do they care the most, but they’re always seeking new ways to contribute and provide value.

Customer experience-driven cultures balance human connection with profit, so they can deliver personalization and service that makes customers feel special.

In a world inundated with hundreds of choices for every product imaginable, customer experience is a way to set your organization apart. And it all starts with your culture.