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PHOTO: Igor Ovsyannykov

A company’s culture is as great a story to tell as any product narrative the marketing department can create.

Customer experience (CX) doesn’t start with the product after all, it begins with the first interactions people have with a company, which typically take place long before they buy anything. A toxic culture can lead to bad reviews and, in some cases, bad headlines. In a world where anything has the potential to go viral, having a story to tell about a culture of customer appreciation is vital.

While most companies strive to put the customer first, it's easier said than done. According to a 2016 Forrester Research report titled “Why CX, Why Now?” 84 percent of companies say they want to excel in customer experience — but only one in five succeeds in delivering good or great customer experience. The reasons cited all have to do with the organization itself. More than half of the CX pros who participated in the study said organizational culture impedes success.

Culture has become a great customer story over the years. Companies that are able to sell their cultures as part of their brands tend to be well known for great customer experience. Take Southwest Airlines and REI, for example: One is just an airline and the other is an outdoor retailer, but both are wildly popular in their respective industries and both can attribute their success in part to the fact that their employees want to work for them — and those employees want to help their customers.

How does a company create a culture that translates into great customer service? It starts with a great management team — one that trusts and empowers employees to do their jobs well. When employees feel as though they are contributing to the overall success of a company, they’re a bit more inclined to wake up and get dressed in the morning. But the C-suite can only do so much. Executives not only have to trust employees to do their jobs well; they also have to be proactive in investing in the right tools to allow employees to do their jobs well.

Empowerment Starts With Technology

The ability to do a job is even more vital than culture to great customer experience. Checkout lines at REI are long because people are willing to wait to pay for great products when they see cashiers working hard and efficiently. But without the technology to work efficiently, the cashiers’ hard work is meaningless. Customers can tell when a company skimps on technology. Employees complain about it, and the customers will eventually go somewhere else.

According to a 2017 Forrester report titled “The ROI of Customer Loyalty,” (pdf) investments in technology for customer experience can have a return on investment (ROI) of 61 percent. By empowering your employees, you are also investing in your customer base, and customers, in turn, choose to spend their hard-earned dollars on your products and services. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Every investment in technology that breaks down data silos and makes it easy for employees to search for information should be considered an investment in customer experience. If people in the sales department can’t find the right collateral from marketing to close a sale, then why bother creating the material to begin with? If marketing can’t see the call center’s system is down before sending a tweet about how customer service is a number one priority for your company, they’re asking for vitriolic responses. 

A company’s culture story is about perception. If people perceive your company as being a disjointed operation, then that perception will overshadow any culture story you try to tell.

Related Article: Pave the Way to Better Customer Experience by Dismantling Internal Silos

Everyone Is Customer-Facing

Oftentimes, an investment in customer experience technology is viewed as an investment in a call center. For many companies, especially in the B2B and technology markets, a call center is the heart of the customer world. It is where company culture is born. 

A call center is the front line of customer engagement. Typically, when someone calls a call center, they have a problem, so call center reps have to be problem-solvers. Their ability to solve customer problems depends on two things: the degree to which they are empowered (within reason) to solve problems, and the ease with which they can look up information, including details about parts, prices and processes, among other things. That means you have to break down silos, because information silos make it difficult for customer service reps to find information. This might require access to a digital asset management system or a product information management platform.

Call center employees who represent their companies well are among the best marketing tools a company can offer. They serve up the company culture directly to a client. Enabling them to solve problems is a way to ensure that your company is trustworthy and dedicated to them.

The marketing team itself relies on having a great story to tell. The content team spends countless hours storytelling, but when a company’s culture gets in the way, the best marketing team in the world can’t share enough content to turn things around.

As an example, when Uber’s toxic culture became newsworthy, the company’s competitor, Lyft, which positions itself as a friendly alternative, saw downloads of its app exceed downloads of the Uber app for the first time. Lyft and Uber offer essentially the same service. Clearly people were choosing one over the other because of their perceptions of the companies’ cultures.

It’s important to remember, however, that Uber is an extreme example. Typically the perception of a bad culture comes from bad customer experience, not from bad headlines.

Related Article: How an Engaged Front-Line Workforce Contributes to Great Customer Service

Boring Old Infrastructure

There are a wealth of choices when it comes to customer experience, content management and call center software. The procurement process can be overwhelming, especially because the software will have to be integrated into a collaborative tool. The technology that defines your company culture isn’t the flashiest software on the market, it’s the software that keeps your content, information and data from ending up in disparate silos and allows for seamless communication across the entire company.

If your workplace empowers employees to solve problems for customers, a great culture story will come naturally.