Great Customer Experience Starts with the Right Corporate Culture

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By now, most company leaders are well aware of growing consumer expectations, and even industry laggards are making moves to keep up with changing demands. But when it comes to meeting and exceeding employee expectations, the status quo is bleak.

That's unfortunate, because your employees are consumers too—they fly on Southwest Airlines, they buy shoes from Zappos, they pick up groceries at Costco. On a regular basis, they're interacting with brands that deliver some of the best customer experiences. But when they come to work, the way they interact with their company might not stack up to what they experience as a consumer, and the discrepancy leads to frustration. Does this sentiment then get projected onto your customers? You bet.

"There is a definite link between corporate culture and customer experience," Shep Hyken, author and customer experience expert, says. "What's happening on the inside is absolutely felt by the customer.”

Companies that don't prioritize a positive culture will have workers—and ultimately customers—who lack enthusiasm. Twenty-eight percent of employees are disengaged at work, and 45 percent are indifferent, meaning they’re neither engaged nor disengaged, a research report from Answers Corp., an online research and reference company, found. This lack of interest is disturbing not only because it points to a dysfunctional corporate culture but also because disengagement correlates with lower customer satisfaction and poorer customer experiences.

"The degree to which employees feel emotionally connected to the company is an indicator of how they'll interact with customers," says Eric Feinberg, senior director of product strategy at Answers Corp.

To measure the relationship, Answers Corp. conducted two separate studies—the Experience Index, which measured consumers' satisfaction with popular brands, and the American Employee Study, an evaluation of sentiment among workers. Taken together, the results of the studies demonstrated a positive linear correlation: Analyzed on a scale of zero to 100, where a score of 80 or above is "considered the threshold for excellence at which an organization meets and exceeds employee or customer expectations," companies that foster a positive corporate culture also excel in customer experience. For example, Victoria's Secret, a top performer, scored in the 80 to 90 range in the engagement category and the 80 to 85 range for customer satisfaction.

The correlation applies to customer service representatives, salespeople, and marketers who interact directly with customers on a regular basis. For employees not on the front lines, the effects of corporate culture on customer experience are harder to gauge, but culture still has a major impact, Feinberg says. Up until recently, little research has been conducted on the relationship between the two, adding to the reluctance of many organizations to make any substantial changes. But with the growing volume of supporting evidence, there's no excuse for inaction, experts agree.

THE DOS AND DON'TS OF BUILDING A CULTURE WHERE EVERYONE WINS

One of the main drivers of employee satisfaction and engagement is good leadership, Answers Corp.'s research indicates. Increasingly, employees expect to feel listened to not only by immediate supervisors but also by corporate leaders, including the CEO and CMO. Like customers, employees expect to be delighted by the company they're interacting with and want to feel "valued and valuable," Hyken says. But falling into a pattern of micromanagement or superficial engagement can be worse than doing nothing at all. Follow these dos and don'ts to strike the right balance.

DO: BE CLEAR ABOUT COMPANY VALUES

Employees can't deliver a customer experience that lives up to the brand promise if they don't know what that is—and it's up to corporate leaders to define it. Hyken recommends borrowing a few moves from the Ritz Carlton playbook. The high-end hotel chain consistently outperforms competitors in both employee and customer satisfaction, and Hyken insists that the company's success is largely a result of its clear vision. The company credo, "We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen," is both customer- and employee-centric and marries the two effectively.

Ace Hardware takes a different yet equally effective approach; the company's slogan is "the helpful hardware store." "In that short phrase, Ace is defining what makes its employees different for customers, and reminding them what is expected," Hyken says. "Ace might not be able to compete in [inventory] with Home Depot, but it'll be the most helpful experience a customer can find."

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